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Vocal Journal for Singers

Mrs. Carolyn Russell, voice/piano faculty, discusses her new book with Academy Director, Ryan Cullen. Her book entitled, "Vocal Journal", is designed as an organizational tool allowing singers of all ages to chart their daily, weekly and monthly progress so they can meet and exceed their goals!

Vocal Journal for Singers

- contributed by Carolyn R.

Ryan (00:07): Hi there folks. It's Ryan here at the Louisiana Academy of Performing Arts, and we are here today with a special guest in the studio, Miss Carolyn Russell, instructor of piano and voice. And the reason for the visit today is she has written a new book for vocalists. So it's called The Vocal Journal. She's going to tell us all about it. Carolyn welcome.

Carolyn (00:34): Thank you.

Ryan (00:35): So tell us, a lot of work went into this, obviously, what was the motivating factor of creating this work for vocalists?

Carolyn (00:45): The main reason I created it, part of it was for myself because I was finding that even though I had good intentions to practice things that I wanted to practice, I was constantly having to practice things for gigs or different events. And then it left me just always in survival mode, musically. And so I had to plan out my life, then I could find better practice time. And then I see the same thing in my students, whether it's work or school or extracurricular activities. Good intentions, they want to practice music, but just couldn't find the time. And so this will help balance everybody, so you can see where you can manage the time to do the things you love.

Ryan (01:26): Awesome. Well, very good. And so when you were creating this, tell us a little bit about your background as a professional musician, a producer and educator. You have lots of experience all around and certainly as an educator in the school system.

Carolyn (01:42): Yeah. I taught high school vocals, choir, piano for about 20 years. And then I did some work in the music industry professionally and then vocal coaching professionally, in studios and things like that in Nashville. And so, yeah it just kind of ends up being life coaching and yeah.

Ryan (02:04): All right. So we've taken all of that experience and all of those various things in your life and you've compiled them into this one work here, and it's an organization tool, I think at the core of it.

Carolyn (02:22): Right.

Ryan (02:23): So that's so important, especially as you mentioned for practicing and finding the time, so if you organize your life, you can have time to practice.

Carolyn (02:32): Right. And especially as creatives, I find that we get a little scattered and so we have all these projects we want to do. And so if you can-

Ryan (02:39): Oh boy, I know that.

Carolyn (02:41): Right. And so we have all these ideas and then sometimes as creatives, we tend to not finish the idea and follow through. So this will help everybody, not even just music goals, but the other things that you're creating, it could be arts, it could be just projects around your house. It could be things related to school. And so if you can declutter your mind from all those things that you want to do and you're completing them, then that gives you more success and more esteem to do, just keep building on that.

Ryan (03:10): Great. Well very good. So let's take a look and where do we start? How do we get started?

Carolyn (03:16): First, you have to start at the end. So you have to look, "Hey, where do I want to be in 10 years? Where do I want to be in five years vocally or just in life?" And then you can go, track it back to a year and then down to three months. So that the planner is for three months because I want to make it bite size. So you can feel like you're achieving things. And so there's a lot of tools in here. So whether you're five or 50 use as many of the tools in here as you'd like to, or as little. Or sometimes you might just want to start with part of it and then you can add on to it. So this is intended to bring to your lessons each time too. So for your teacher to write down the goals for the week. Then you can add to that.

Carolyn (04:03): But yeah, so definitely bring this to each lesson. You use it every day at home, but also bring it each week with you. So you'll start the very last page. So if you look at, it's reflections on this journey, and so the left hand column actually talks, you're going to write down, where are you vocally right now? Do you not like parts of your voice? Do you love parts of your voice? Do you feel like there's some health issues vocally? Maybe you're just coughing all the time or dehydrated or whatever. So you put all that down, and then gratitude, what are you thankful for right now? Because and we'll talk about it in a little bit, but what you're thankful for directly impacts your day every day. So even if it's just like, "I have a nice warm house on a rainy day," put that down there. It doesn't have to be vocally.

Carolyn (04:51): And then goal setting, what do you want to get accomplished in these next three months? And there's a page also here-

Ryan (05:00): So talk a little bit about written goals and how important just that is.

Carolyn (05:04): Yeah. So we'll get back to-

Ryan (05:06): If you write down your goals, you're more likely to actually do something about them.

Carolyn (05:10): Yes, there's a lot of studies. So if you go to at the beginning on page three, I actually have, it's called smart goals. And so studies have shown that when you're writing things, even if you're practicing math problems, there's a connect between what we write and what we think. And so when you write a plan down, you're definitely going to have more success in achieving it because you're accountable at that point, it's not just this wishful thinking. It's taking wishful thinking to intentional thinking to significance.

Carolyn (05:48): So intentional thinking is, "Okay, I'm going to be strategic when I do this." And significant thinking is, "What am I going to do every day to actually impact the life of others?" So when we think about music, what we're doing, it's not just for ourself. So when you're performing for others, you're actually giving a gift to others. So that takes your thinking from that intentional wishful to intentional, to significance.

Ryan (06:11): It's powerful, that's... yeah.

Carolyn (06:13): Right. So it takes the focus off us. And so when you're performing, if you are always performing and thinking, "I have to be great, I have to do this perfect." Then you get nervous. If you're thinking about it, "I'm giving a gift to the audience." You're focusing on them and you're less likely to have stage anxiety. So it's a full circle.

Carolyn (06:33): So it's setting goals. I have these smart goals. And so you want your goals to be specific. So you might write, I need to practice 30 minutes a day, and even put a time to it. Like, I need to practice 30 minutes a day at three o'clock, or whatever works for you. It might be different every day. And then you see a measurable, so that's if you want to say, "I need to drink water," because I'm hydrated, I need to drink 60 ounces of water a day, whatever, your body weight, you need to drink half of your body weight in ounces a day. That's a free health tip for you. And then it needs to be accountable. So that's where your voice teacher, or if it's a health goal, maybe a personal trainer will help you, be your accountability partner with that. And then they need to be realistic, so that's why we're going to start with three month goals in the journal, and you break it down to monthly, then weekly and then daily.

Carolyn (07:29): So make them super achievable. It's better to do really easy things and achieve them. Then over time, they're going to snowball and you'll have like, "Wow, I accomplished all this in three months." And then they are time-based. So that's why we would need to say, Hey, "On Mondays I'm going to do this." Or, "Every Friday I'm going to do this." And so you want to even break it down, not just practicing, "I'm going to practice, go through the song 10 times for 30 minutes." You want to say, "Hey, I'm going to work on breathing today. I'm going to focus on singing with a good tone, forward tone." Be very specific and that'll help break down how you practice. And then you end up practicing longer probably.

Ryan (08:12): Great, yes.

Carolyn (08:13): So it's not just running through the same song over and over again.

Ryan (08:15): Love the specifics, right? That's so important with practicing, because a lot of students will just, "Okay, play it 10 times." Well, play what 10 times?

Carolyn (08:23): And you can be practicing bad habits 10 times in a row and reinforcing bad habits, instead of just honing in on one part.

Ryan (08:31): Right. Great.

Carolyn (08:31): Yeah. And then, so we'll walk through the journal. So then you'll break down your goals and there's a monthly calendar. And so you can write your monthly goals there. And any other notes you have for the month, maybe you're planning a party or birthday party or something else.

Ryan (08:50): Multipurpose.

Carolyn (08:51): So you put your whole life in here. The idea is so you can visually see where you have time to practice and really work on music. And then you'll back up. There's an example of what to do for your weekly calendar. And so if you see at the very top, there's three goals, three little spots to write down action steps towards your monthly goals. So you'll break them down by week. There's three spots. Sometimes if I'm doing mine, I might add some more or I might just have one. And then right underneath that you have daily tasks and reminders. So there's three little blanks for you to fill out, like maybe errands you have to do, or a homework or feed the dog or whatever you have to do. Just because studies show, if you just do three intentional things a day, three towards your goal, three towards just daily life, just those little three things, it makes a big difference.

Carolyn (09:47): I had to put that there for myself, because I tend to do an entire summer project, I want to get done in a day. That doesn't happen.

Ryan (09:57): That's a lot.

Carolyn (09:57): So just do three small things a day and it will make a difference.

Ryan (09:59): All right. Well that sounds great. What else can we expect out of this book?

Carolyn (10:03): Yeah. So you'll just take the weekly part and on Sunday evenings I'll plan, I'll take my phone out and I'll see what I have in my calendar and I'll plan everything out. So, pick a day of the week that you'd like to do that, maybe it's Monday morning or Saturday or whatever. And then, so you've done your weekly, your monthly goals. And so this is the really impactful part that at first it was hard for me to get in the habit of it, but it might take a little longer the first couple of days that you do it, but after a while, it just takes 30 seconds in the morning.

Carolyn (10:35): So on the daily planner, you'll put your goals for the week there. So just another reminder of what you need to get accomplished. And there are some inspirational thoughts just to encourage you for the week. And if you want to take those and write those on post it notes all over your house or mirror, whatever, just so you're feeding yourself, just good, positive thoughts. And so there's a lot of science backed by this little chart here. And so science has shown that when you wake up and you assess how you feel in the morning, it's going to really help your day when you can figure out how to energize yourself. So if you're like me and it's sunny day, I'm ready to conquer the world. But a day like today, it's overcast and rainy, I don't even want to get out of bed.

Carolyn (10:35): So I have to kind of bribe myself, "Okay. If I get out of bed, I have some hot tea or I'm going to go take a walk." I've got to figure out what I need to do to energize myself to get motivated. And then, so you write those things down and then write down immediately what you're grateful for. So in the first 10 minutes of the day, if you are thinking about what you're grateful for, that does set the tone for your day. And then you write down what your top project is, the thing you have to get done before you go to sleep and then why it matters to you. So again, once we attached purpose to it, why it matters, if it matters for somebody else, if we attach the purpose, why this actually helps your family or somebody else, then you're more likely to get the project done.

Carolyn (12:07): If you're in school, and you just need to get that A, maybe it's to get a scholarship or to get some special reward. So put the purpose to it. And then what's one small action step you can do either towards that project or towards your goal for the day?

Carolyn (12:22): And there's also a little chart there, because as vocalists, our health affects our instrument.

Ryan (12:30): Yes, right. It's hard to be sick and sing.

Carolyn (12:31): Because we are the instrument. So you've got to stay healthy and I've put what you're eating every day and a part for your water intake, because if you're hydrated and your immune system is strong and all, you're going to sing better. You have more flexibility in your vocal muscles. So you'll go through that every day in the week, once you get the hang of it, it'll take 30 seconds to do, but it really does have an impactful part to your day. And then you'll go to the practice log, which is really the heart of this. And so you can get as detailed as you like, you can... and the whole journal, feel free to put stickers on it, draw.

Ryan (13:13): Right. So if you're a five-year-old student, it's going to be maybe a little more fun looking than an adult's journal.

Carolyn (13:20): Right, yeah. I have one student, she's an adult and she's been drawing flowers every week, all over her cover. And I have somebody who's drawing cars all over it. So make it yours. We made it real neutral so you can decorate it however you like. Yeah, and so this practice log, it's a lot of reflecting as a vocalist. You have to know how your voice feels. You have to know where the tone is placed. There's a lot of feeling going on with the voice like physically. And so this is just good reflecting time. Not only what you're getting done, but how was it compared to the day before? Maybe you just didn't get enough sleep, or maybe you just dehydrated, or you ate a lot of dairy before you practiced. Dairy affects the voice a lot. And so then it has warm up and workout and songs you worked on. So it's a good tool, like I said, use as much or as little of this as you like.

Ryan (14:17): But the thing is that I'm realizing just from chatting with you about this, is that because the person is the instrument, right?

Carolyn (14:26): Right.

Ryan (14:26): All of these things are important. Right? It's not just singing, it's everything. And I just never thought of that before. So this is just kind of a revelation, probably for everybody. At least for me.

Carolyn (14:39): Yeah. It's very much-

Ryan (14:40): My piano world.

Carolyn (14:43): Yeah, that's why I'm always glad to find tools for life coaching. Because I'm also glad that I play piano also, because if I'm sick, I'll go more towards piano.

Ryan (14:56): I mean, it's kind of the same for piano too. It's different because you're the instrument. There's nothing else.

Carolyn (15:01): You could have a cold and still play piano.

Ryan (15:03): Yeah. You could, right.

Carolyn (15:04): Singing, they'll tell. You can tell you have a cold. So yeah, that's why I just felt the need to make it just something to encompass your whole life to really go on with a purpose. So you don't feel stuck vocally. And at the very end you have all the songs you can work on next. So in a lesson you're like, "I don't know what I want to work on." You can just whip this out and you have like, "Here's my list."

Ryan (15:30): Nice.

Carolyn (15:31): And then the page before that, are all the songs that are ready to go for performance or even auditions. They're polished, stage presence. And so these are the songs that you put it's beyond knowing the notes and the words. It's, "I have it polished. I know where I'm going to look at the audience on a verse, if I'm going to be in character for an audition," so they're ready to go at a moment's notice.

Ryan (15:57): Great.

Carolyn (15:57): And so those are also great ways when you're practicing, the first song you could practice is one of these older songs to keep them fresh too.

Ryan (16:07): Yeah, fantastic. That's very exciting. So we can get this book at all of our campuses, right? It's shipped from our Mandeville campus. You can also go online at It will be on the homepage there, and yeah, any other final thoughts?

Carolyn (16:29): No, I'm just excited just to help everybody get launched on their purpose.

Ryan (16:35): Great. Well, thank you so much and thank all of you for joining us today. And we'll see you next time. Take care.

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