As singers, we have all probably experienced the thought, “I could do it in my teacher’s studio, but I cannot do it anywhere else.” Being unable to reproduce results outside the studio is very frustrating and leads to insecurity when working away with the teacher. When I work with my students, I will often ask them to describe for themselves what they are experiencing. When I learn a new concept, I must boil it down into more manageable bits, or name it, before I can easily apply it. I believe this practice to be fundamental when learning how to sing.
To name and describe for yourself what you experienced in the studio offers a pathway to successfully mastering what has been learned. It offers a small but necessary first step to navigate through new techniques. Without this, a student may fall into the trap of trying to reproduce results without working through the method of achieving them. This can lead to fatigue and frustration and, ultimately, less desire to sing.
Where can this be applied?
Most obviously, this can be applied whenever you learn a new technique. Less obviously, it can be applied when you have to switch styles. Often, I am asked to sing in a musical theater setting where a total operatic production is inappropriate. Being able to name exactly what must change is a safe way of switching in and out of stlyes. There is less chance then that habits will leak from one style to the next.
There is a process to naming. Namely, it is:
- Why: Why must you do this?
- What: What, as clearly as possible, must you do?
- Name: This must be simple.
These steps cannot be taken out of order, or else the names have no clear meaning to the student (and perhaps for the teacher as well).
Recently, I received a coaching that was very useful. What I primarily learned was:
- It is important to open my throat throughout my range to feel and communicate ease and beauty in my singing.
Of course, that “why” does very little for me process-wise, and so the coach and I had to boil it down into “what to do” ideas that are more concrete:
- My voce naturale is in my chest voice.
- Remember that voce naturale relaxation throughout my voice.
- In chest voice, feel the vowel in my mouth. I can trust the sound of vowels here.
- In the passaggio, leave an open [a] feeling in the throat and pronounce pure vowels with the front of my mouth. I cannot trust the sound of the vowel here to my own ears.
- In the passaggio, protect my voice with closed vowel shapes in the front of my mouth.
- Pick repertoire, for now, that reminds my throat what my voce naturale feels like.
And from there, with these understandings, I can break these ideas down further and name them.
- voce naturale.
- Open throat.
- Mouth vowel.
- Pear shaped vowel.
- Cover or cuperto.
- Be smart.
You’ll notice that the names I ended up with are common names that we classical singers use regularly. The problem arises when the name is used first without clear description of how to achieve it. When a problem arises with a name that has been carefully crafted, you may go back to step two and adjust the meaning. If the name no longer works, it may be abandoned.
Those descriptions and names work for me. They may not work for you. You may need something more, or less, esoteric. More and more, I am coming to the conclusion that a lot of what we do in lessons is try to find descriptions and names that really speak to us. And that is very important. If a description does not work for you, or for your students, drop it and try something else. We all have different tastes in literature, movies, music and so on, and why should it be different in singing? Just look at the varying descriptions of registers. All of those descriptions worked for somebody at some point and therefore should not be totally discounted. Vocal science, singing, and our imaginations interact in weird ways, and if the goal is good singing, being “right” in our descriptions of it may not be the most important priority.
As always, I would love to hear from you.