How I’m Learning 60+ Songs This Year

Performing my solo show, “Shining, Shimmering, Splendid!” Photos by @hollyspiegellis

A little over a year ago, I put on my first solo show.  I had been dreaming (and talking) about doing so for literally years, but I had never found myself able to push through the inertia of daily life in order to do.

Ideas spun through my head, only to flutter to the ground.  I joked about missing the structured accountability of school (even as I thanked the heavens I didn’t have to write papers anymore), as I seemed to get so much more done in that environment.  I felt like I needed something to help me accomplish all the things I wanted to do, only I didn’t know what that “something” was.

And then I was introduced to Habitica.  (No, I’m not being paid for this!  I am just that grateful for the app!)  Long story short: Habitica was the reason my solo show ever saw the light of day night.  I’d sort of forgotten how amazing it was over the last year, despite relying on it daily, until I ended up introducing a friend to it the other night (she’s as jazzed about it as I am!) and realized that perhaps I should evangelize on the blog here, too.

If you like gamification

If you like structured organization (making lists, checking things off)…

If you like free apps…

The app logo

If you’re looking for something to help you take control of the minutiae of daily life…

If you need a kick in the pants to get a big project off the ground…

If you’re kind of nerdy

Then you’ve got to try Habitica.

I could sit here and tell you how it works, but there are much better, clearer, and more comprehensive resources for that. Instead, I’m going to share one of the projects I mentioned I’m tackling this year, and how Habitica is helping me get there.

One of my resolutions this year is to learn new music.  As a singer, it’s important to keep my “book” of music fresh, as it’s helpful to have new pieces (both to perform and practice) that inspire you and help you to grow.  I also realized that I am sick of always sort-of knowing jazz but never feeling confident when someone’s like, Do you know any standards?  My answer is almost always…uhh, not by heart.  And I don’t know what keys I’d want songs in, or even what titles I know!  It’s so embarrassing.

So I set myself the goal of learning one jazz standard each week, along with a minimum of ten (but hopefully more!) other, more musical theatre songs.  That means by New Year’s Eve, I will have learned at least 62 new songs in one year.

Yeah, it sounds a bit daunting, I know.

Admittedly, it’s not as hard as it sounds.  The beautiful thing about jazz standards is that they adhere to one or two standard “forms” – typically AABA or even just AA.  So they’re repetitive, catchy, and highly memorable.  And because you’re memorizing lyrics AND melody, they actually support each other.  I’ll often find myself humming a song I’m learning and slowly piecing the words together in my head over the course of one or two days.  They were brilliantly written melodies and lyrics, and so they make sense to memorize – each thought leads naturally to the next, and they’re tied to each other to help you remember both.  (Relatedly, this is why my first instinct in prayer is often a hymn!)

But in addition to memorizing the song, I’m encouraging myself to listen to numerous recordings of each song, studying intently one or two “key” recordings, determine my optimal key signature (so that it’s not too high or too low!), make sure I have sheet music in that key (which sometimes involves writing out my own), and finally, creatively brainstorming different ways I could play with the song as an actor (different scenarios for it).

(Good grief, that sounds like the kind of homework you’d find in school, doesn’t it?  Haha, I actually hadn’t really realized before I just wrote it all out for you.  #nerd, I know.  And it only takes about five hours over the course of a week – less than 1 hour a day!  Considering how much I’m accomplishing, that’s a really productive use of time. And I’m not paying college tuition – a very affordable education, haha.)

What’s keeping me ACCOUNTABLE is Habitica.  (Know that I’d insert praise/prayer hands here if I had emojis on my laptop keyboard.)  Each Sunday, my end-of-week check-in day, I have a “daily” task that asks whether or not I learned my song for the week.  And inside it is a checklist for each of the steps I outlined above.  Not only does it enable me to keep on top of my own schedule, but I get rewarded with gold and experience in the game for doing it!  And as an added incentive, I run the risk of punishing my teammates (a mix of family and friends who play with me!) for not completing it on time, which really does make a difference.

My team. My avatar is the one on the far left, riding the Thunderstorm Wolf Mount. We look so cool, don’t we?! #dontanswerthat

It’s a totally voluntary, delightfully fun way to tackle my New Year’s Resolutions.  I could keep waxing rhapsodic, but I think by now you get the picture, and either you’re bemused at my nerdiness or drooling over starting a character yourself.  So let me know what you’re doing to dig into those New Year’s Resolutions!  Can’t wait to hear what apps and systems you find most helpful!

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