Author Archives: goodkarmamusic

About goodkarmamusic

I am a voice teacher and singer.

William James on Habit, Education, and Our Nervous System

“Seize the Very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make…”

A New Year can be an opportunity to form new, positive habits.  I am inspired by this article on William James’ Treatise on Habit. 

Psychologist and philosopher William James wrote Habit (public library; public domain) in 1887 — a short treatise on how our behavioral patterns shape who we are and what we often refer to as character and personality.

When we look at living creatures from an outward point of view, one of the first things that strikes us is that they are bundles of habits…

James begins with a strictly scientific, physiological account of the brain, exploring the notion of neuroplasticity a century before it became a buzzword of modern popular neuroscience and offering this elegant definition: Plasticity … in the wide sense of the word, means the possession of a structure weak enough to yield to an influence, but strong enough not to yield all at once.

He then bridges the body and the mind to shed light on how “habit loops” dominate our lives:

Any sequence of mental action which has been frequently repeated tends to perpetuate itself; so that we find ourselves automatically prompted to think, feel, or do what we have been before accustomed to think, feel, or do, under like circumstances, without any consciously formed purpose, or anticipation of results.

He eventually brings us to the question of education, whose responsibility it is to chaperone the formation of habit:

The great thing, then, in all education, is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy.

He proceeds to offer three maxims for the successful formation of new habits:

  1. The acquisition of a new habit, or the leaving off of an old one, we must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible. Accumulate all the possible circumstances which shall reenforce the right motives; put yourself assiduously in conditions that encourage the new way; make engagements incompatible with the old; take a public pledge, if the case allows; in short, envelop your resolution with every aid you know. This will give your new beginning such a momentum that the temptation to break down will not occur as soon as it otherwise might; and every day during which a breakdown is postponed adds to the chances of its not occurring at all.
  2. Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life. Each lapse is like the letting fall of a ball of string which one is carefully winding up; a single slip undoes more than a great many turns will wind again. Continuity of training is the great means of making the nervous system act infallibly right … It is surprising how soon a desire will die of inanition if it be never fed.
  3. Seize the Very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of the habits you
    aspire to gain. It is not in the moment of their forming, but in the moment of their producing motor effects, that resolves and aspirations communicate the new ‘set’ to
    the brain.

Reblogged from Brain Pickings


How does Craniosacral Therapy help singing?

When I was in my mid 20’s, I had chronic low back pain.  I used to sleep on heating pads.  I felt a grip in my back when I would stand and sing. My voice teacher advised me to go to The Skylight Centre for Craniosacral Therapy.  I would lie down on a table, and practitioners would put their hands on my head, sacrum and feet.  The stress would drain away and I would enter this deep state between sleep and awake. And the back pain went away.  I was so inspired that I studied Craniosacral therapy (CST) after returning to California in 2007.  I found success practicing CST on singers and musicians, and I began to include craniosacral unwinding and jaw massage in voice lessons.  Students would completely relax their jaw tension and sing with a softer, easier tone, yet still be aware of the muscles needed for singing.  Because CST is such finite work, it also enhances the body awareness needed to individually sense and train the small muscles and structures associated with singing.  Imagine a meditation sit of 30-60 minutes where your muscles are not stiff afterwards, but deeply relaxed.

Warm-Ups 3.0


This blog is a part of The Directory of Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers, found online at


As I prepare for each new academic year, I woefully look at my tried-and-true-yet-boring-to-me roster of warm-ups.  I don’t think I’m the only one.  Voice teachers are always looking for the Holy Grail of warm-ups – that warm-up that will help a student free up their voice, get their breath more engaged, get them more in the mask… you name it.

Each year I try to add new warm-ups to my repertoire, sometimes cycling old ones out.  Last year, I discovered a great book of warm-ups from the 1940‘s at the New York Library for the Performing Arts.  This summer, I received some great pop/rock warm-ups at the International Congress of Voice Teachers courtesy of Swedish contemporary music guru Daniel Zannger Borch.  I also met Australia musical director Luke Hunter and…

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Can’t Sing? Who told you that?

Tom Waits

I just saw a voice student whose father told him “you can’t sing” in front of the whole family. So many of us are shamed as kids that we “can’t sing” and we carry this story throughout our lives.  Singing is simply muscle and breath training.  And believing in yourself! You don’t have to sound perfect.  Heck, there are many famous people out there who don’t sound “pretty”.  Hello Tom Waits?  Billie Holiday? (Add your favorite singer here).  They touch us because they sing from their truth.

Speech Level Singing

I am currently studying Speech Level Singing and incorporating it into the Frederick Husler Body Based Awareness method that I currently sing and teach.  Today’s lesson with my teacher Kathy was a trip.  I never knew I could ‘belt’ (pop style) sing a high C.  Larynx stayed low, voice felt fine after the lesson (I didn’t die or bust a vocal chord).  What I like about this method in my voice is that it deepens my chest register.  And I’m finding an evenness of range, whether singing pop/belt style (which feels narrower and more held but also more relaxed) or opera (which feels lighter and open in the chest and throat but a more intentional breath). Lots of crossover in releasing jaw/tongue tension etc.  More updates soon…