The Tiger Woods Trap: How I Get Unstuck in Piano, Singing & Life
If you want to get better at singing, or develop confidence with your current singing, you should completely focus on singing…right? Not quite.
When you see someone like Tiger Woods, he fits the cultural ideal of how one could become a top performer in a domain: He started at a young age and kept exclusive focus on golf.
As an aspiring singer with zero natural ability, I tried my darndest to focus exclusively on singing.
I joined the choir and took voice lessons…voice lessons consisted of my teacher opening the door with a cringe-face and playing a note for 30min hoping I’d find it. Choir consisted of my teacher asking me to “stay in the back” and “sing quietly” because he knew there was no way he was going to have the time to try to help me sing in tune…and, what I didn’t know at the time was that college music schools don’t teach you how to teach someone to sing in tune. In fact, college music schools accept singers that are already good at singing and hire famous opera singers or other famous people to “teach” singing in order to draw great singers to the school. Then the focus is on learning songs and performing…not quite exactly on how singing works.
This goes deeper though, in fact, there was no scientific backing behind singing technique until a few decades ago…so you would have professional singers that are teaching their very first voice lesson, ever, to a college student who is paying many thousands to attend said school with assumption that said student will get to learn how singing works.
Now let’s back track to me in middle school. I had no idea that teachers had no idea how the voice actually works…and these teachers relied on traditions of teaching that were fraught with controversy.
Then here’s little ‘ol me, wanting to learn how to sing, not really improving but too young and innocent to know what I don’t know.
Here’s where things totally changed: I got a keyboard. I played random notes, wandering around aimlessly with no direction, just doing it for its own sake. The process of listening to the keyboard, then humming, then singing along, quickly awakened the ability to sing in tune…which was always there, but having had teachers that had always been able to sing well, they didn’t really know how to help me.
The improvements in singing continued, to the point that I was the strongest music reader in my choir…by miles.
This experience for me, the experience of taking a sideways route towards singing better, was an exception. When I would go towards goals…I wouldn’t suffer anything that didn’t look like it was leading me in a straight line towards said goal.
Had I started learning how to sing when I was, say, 26, or maybe 30…and let’s say I wasn’t singing in tune (which is likely if I hadn’t worked on any music-related skills)...
Then let’s say I go to a teacher who says “before you take voice lessons, take piano lessons”. I probably would have said “excuse me, I’m paying you for voice lessons, not piano lessons, I’m the customer, give me what I want!”
My progress going forward, without the sideways route, would have been unnecessarily slower and harder.
This is actually true in my own studio. Of my students, the students that make the most progress in lessons usually have had experience with another instrument.
Now how does this connect with Tiger Woods?
In David Epstein’s book, Range, he describes how Tiger Woods, which perfectly fits our ideal of how one gets to be a top performer in a field…is an exception…but not in the way you think.
Most top performers in sports (and I’ll also say for music, among other domains) actually don’t stay squarely in their domain. Most top performers in sports played other sports on the way to the sport that they performed the best in.
This holds true in breakthroughs in science, business and for me…my experience getting better as a singer.
You may have noticed that I’ve been emphasizing piano lately. For beginner singers especially if you don’t already play an instrument, you can’t go wrong completely quitting voice lessons and switching to piano for say, 3 months…especially with the explicit goal of getting better at singing…and especially if you’re working with a piano teacher that sings and can connect the dots more explicitly (Although remember I made accidental progress in singing by playing random notes and essentially wandering around aimlessly on the keyboard…so it can start that simply).
This is why my studio is called Synergistic Singing. The benefits of taking sideways-routes towards your goals and dreams…are actually the more predictable routes to get you where you want to go. Synergy is when the sum of two agents produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects. So when you learn piano before, after, or with singing, the benefits of learning music through these two mediums will make you better at singing faster than studying singing alone.
Of course, there are other routes that are especially powerful…like changing or sensing your movement habits as a whole…and finding ways to enjoy and play with performance nerves… but those are topics for another day…and when combined with piano watch out! Your inner diva will make a surprise cameo.
BBUUUUUUUTTT why does piano help with singing so much? (you’ll be hearing all about that in my next article)
BBBUUUUTTT what is the Tiger Woods trap?
The Tiger Woods Trap, as I’ve dubbed it, is when you get overly attached to one particular way to get better at something, without considering the many ways you can get to where you want to go.
Signs you’re in the Tiger Woods Trap:
You’re making zero progress in something.
When you practice said thing, there's either a boredom, frustration and numbness feeling (like if you practice a song the same way 100 times)
Practicing said skill takes away from everything else:
When I practiced with grim determination the same exercises in the same way, with no awareness of what my body was doing…I found myself really exhausted and grumpy after practice.
When I learned to work sideways and look at said exercise from many different angles, I was ENERGIZED and excited, or calm and content after. Practice lifted me up and helped me handle other challenges in my life.
You don’t listen to expert advice if it seems counter to where you want to go:
“I want to learn how to sing, but you’re telling me to do piano, first…but I’m not interested in piano so I’m only willing to sing”
As a teacher, I know you have another teacher, named experience. If that’s where you’re at, that’s where you’re at…but if that’s in combination with other things above, I’d challenge you to doubt your assumptions a teeny bit more. Worse-case scenario: you’ll learn to play piano!
If you’re meeting all those criteria, its time to let go of your old ways of going about things and do something new.
Once you see the trap, you’ll find it everywhere, even in arguments with your loved ones (don’t ask me how I know, and yes, I was the rigid one). This in fact, will be a life-long process of continually free-ing yourself from rigid ways of being that don’t actually work for you and everyone else. I’m still learning.
Now if it’s related to singing or piano, I’m here for you! I’ve been down most/all those dead ends…you’re not alone 🙂
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