SORTING OUT TECHNICAL INFORMATION & VERBAL DESCRIPTIONS

MOST SINGERS AT SOME POINT, EITHER AS A STUDENT OR PROFESSIONAL, EXPERIENCE SOME CONFUSION OVER A TECHNICAL POINT OR AN IMAGE SUGGESTED TO THEM BY A TEACHER, COACH, ETC. THE FACT THAT THE SINGER “IS” THE INSTRUMENT MAKES THIS ALMOST INEVITABLE. THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO SAY THE SAME THING WHEN IT COMES TO OUR CRAFT.

TODAY’S BLOG IS ABOUT THE USE OF WORDS (SEMANTICS) AND THE VARIOUS EXPLANATIONS GIVEN FOR THE SAME TECHNICAL ELEMENT.

THE CHOICE OF WORDS AND IMAGES WE HEAR AND USE IS ALL IMPORTANT. THE USE OF A CERTAIN PHRASE BY A TEACHER OR COACH WILL UNDOUBTEDLY PRODUCE IMAGES THAT VARY FROM SINGER TO SINGER. THIS IS WHY A TEACHER MUST:

A) ALWAYS HAVE A WIDE PALATE OF WORD DESCRIPTIONS AND IMAGES
B) MUST HAVE A VERY GOOD KNOWLEDGE OF THE SINGER’S PHYSIOGOMY – HOW THE INSTRUMENT WORKS TECHNICALLY.

IT IS EQUALLY IMPORTANT THAT THE SINGER BE ON GUARD FOR ACCEPTING WITHOUT MUCH THOUGHT THE WORDS (SEMANTICS) OR IMAGES USED BY TEACHERS/COACHES/ETC. . TOO MANY YOUNG STUDENTS ACCEPT THE SEMANTICS BLINDLY WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING THEIR MEANING. REMEMBER THERE IS ALWAYS MORE THAN ONE WAY TO DESCRIBE A TECHNICAL CHOICE OR A DESCRIPTION OF HOW OUR INSTRUMENT WORKS. OUT OF POLITENESS OR NOT WISHING TO OFFEND THE TEACHER, A SINGER MAY HESITATE TO ASK FOR A CLEARER EXPLANATION. AND, OF COURSE, A STUDENT MAY FEEL HE IS CHALLENGING THE TEACHER IF HE QUESTIONS THE INFORMATION.

HERE ARE SOME EXAMPLES OF HOW CERTAIN WORD CHOICES THAT MAY OR MAY NOT WORK FOR A PARTICULAR SINGER.

THE WORD “SUPPORT MAY PROVE TO HAVE A POSITIVE EFFECT FOR ONE SINGER BUT CAUSE UNDO MUSCULAR TENSION IN ANOTHER.

ALSO THE SUGGESTION TO “PROJECT” MAY BE MISUNDERSTOOD. TO SOME IT COULD CAUSE THEM TO PUSH THE AIR AND SOUND WHILE OTHERS DO NOT FALL INTO THAT DANGER.

I FIND THAT THE WORD “ATTACK” CAN OFTEN CAUSE ONE SINGER TO AWKWARDLY SING THE FIRST NOTE OF A PHRASE & NOT ANOTHER. IF IT DOES ONE MUST FIND ANOTHR WORD I.E. “ONSET”.

CONFUSION MAY ALSO BE EXPERIENCED BY A YOUNG SINGER WHEN DIFFERENT EXPLANATIONS ARE GIVEN IN DESCRIBING HOW THE INSTRUMENT WORKS. HERE ARE TWO EXAMPLES SOME OF YOU WILL RECOGNIZE I AM SURE.

VOWELS: SOME TEACHERS WILL INFORM A STUDENT THAT THE VOWEL IS FORMED AT THE BACK AND DELIVERED FORWARD BY THE TONGUE. ANOTHER TEACHER MAY INTRODUCE THE IMAGE OF THE VOWELS ALREADY BEING FORWARD ON INHALATION.
YET ANOTHER TEACHER MAY INFORM THE STUDENT THAT THE VOWELS ARE MADE IN THE LARYNX. NONE OF THE ABOVE INFORMATION IS INCORRECT. BUT TO ONE STUDENT THE FIRST IMAGE MAY CAUSE A SINGER TO “FEEL” OR “IMAGE” VOWELS IN THE BACK AND THE TEXT WILL LACK CLARITY. ON THE OTHER HAND THE IMAGE OF THE VOWELS ALREADY BEING FORWARD COULD ERRONEOUSLY CAUSE A SINGER NOT TO PREPARE THE WHOLE VOCAL TRACK ON INHALATION. AND THE THIRD DESCRIPTION OF THE VOWELS BEING MADE IN THE LARYNX, WHILE NOT ALTOGETHER WRONG, MAY CAUSE THE SINGER TO FOCUS ON THE LARYNGEAL MOVEMENT WHICH, OF COURSE, RESULTS IN AN UNSTABLE LARYNX.

BREATH: OF ALL THE TECHNICAL ELEMENTS DEVELOPED IN THE VOCAL STUDIO THE ONE THAT SEEMS TO CAUSE THE MOST CONFUSION IS THE BREATH MECHANISM. EACH SINGER THAT I HEAR FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MY STUDIO IS ASKED WHAT THEY ALREADY KNOW ABOUT THE “SINGER’S BREATH”? THE VARIETY OF RESPONSES IS STAGGERING. SOME ARE EITHER TOTALLY UNAWARE OR ILL-INFORMED OF THE INHALATION/EXHALATION PROCESS. OTHERS ARE ABLE TO NAME EACH MUSCLE INVOLVED. YET IN BOTH GROUPS SOME MAY NOT BE ABLE TO USE BREATH MANAGEMENT EFFICIENTLY.

FROM MY EXPERIENCE IN RECEIVING SO MANY VARIOUS RESPONSES, I COME TO THE CONCLUSION THAT THERE ARE THREE APPROACHES TO THIS ALL-IMPORTANT SUBJECT BEING USED IN VOCAL STUDIOS BY THREE DIFFERENT TYPES OF TEACHERS:

1) THE TEACHER WHO FOCUSES ON VOICE SCIENCE & USES TEXT BOOK INFORMATION IN DESCRIBING THE PROCESS IN MINUTE DETAILS

2) THE TEACHER WHO DOES NOT WANT THE STUDENT TO BE OVERLY OBSESSED WITH BREATH MANAGEMENT AND DOES NOT DEAL WITH IT SPECIFICALLY. THIS TEACHER MAY SUGGEST THE SENSATIONS SHE OR HE FELT IN THEIR OWN SINGING.

3) THE TEACHER WHO BALANCES THE PHYSICAL KNOWLEDGE OF THE INHALATION/EXHALATION PROCESS COUPLED WITH THE MUSICAL VALUES OF A PHRASE, I.E. LONG LINE, LEGATO, ETC.

THE INDIVIDUAL SINGER WILL RESPOND BETTER TO ONE OR OTHER OF THESE APROACHES.

AN INTERESTING STORY —- I HAPPENED TO BE AT THE ONLY MASTER CLASS GIVEN BY THE GREAT AMERICAN BARITONE, ROBERT MERRILL. HE WAS A VERY OLD MAN AT THE TIME BUT WAS ABLE TO SING RIGHT ALONG WITH THE YOUNG SINGERS WITH A STEADY TONE. A VOICE STUDENT IN THE AUDIENCE PUT UP HIS HAND AND ASKED: “MR. MERRILL, I HAVE BEEN TO EVERY VOICE TEACHER IN NEW YORK IN AN ATTEMPT TO UNDERSTAND A SINGER’S BREATH AND I STILL DONT KNOW HOW TO SUPPORT. COULD YOU HELP ME?” MR. MERRILL IMMEDIATELY RESPONDED:
“OF COURSE I WILL — HERE IS HOW IT WORKS: YOU TAKE A BREATH AND YOU SING” WAS HE WRONG? — OF COURSE NOT. FOR ROBERT MERRILL THIS SIMPLE EXPLANATION WORKED FOR HIM DURING HIS LONG CAREER. HOWEVER, THIS LACK OF A MORE DETAILED EXPLANATION DOES NOT WORK FOR EVERYONE.

HOW DOES A YOUNG SINGER DEAL WITH THE SUBJECT OF “SEMANTICS” AND/OR CONFLICTING TECHNICAL EXPLANATIONS? BY ASKING QUESTIONS IS A GOOD PLACE TO START. IF THEIR IS ANY CONFUSION AS TO WHAT A TEACHER OR COACH MEANS IN THEIR CHOICE OF WORDS YOU MUST RECOGNIZE WHEN THEY DO NOT CONJURE UP THE RIGHT IMAGE FOR YOU. IF YOU HAVE HEARD THE SAME TECHNICAL POINT DESCRIBED DIFFERENTLY BY ANOTHER TEACHER OR COACH BRING THAT UP DURING THE LESSON. A GOOD TEACHER WILL ALWAYS HAVE THE PATIENCE AND IMAGINATION TO HELP YOU UNRAVEL THAT CONFUSION.

A GOOD RULE OF THUMB IS TO BE HONEST WITH YOUR VOICE TEACHER. TOGETHER YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO CLARIFY ANY CONFUSION WITH THE INFORMATION ONE GETS EITHER FROM OTHER SINGERS, TEACHERS, COACHES, ETC. YOU WILL BE SURPRISED HOW THAT WILL HELP YOUR GROWTH AND CONFIDENCE. IDEALLY YOU AND YOUR PRIMARY VOICE TEACHER WILL DEVELOP A LANGUAGE THAT WORKS FOR YOU. THERE IS REALLY NOTHING WORSE THAN BEING CONFUSED AND DOUBTFUL. NIP IT IN THE BUD BEFORE IT GETS THE BEST OF YOU.

HOW DOES A TEACHER DEAL WITH THE INDIVIDUAL STUDENT WHO MAY NOT GET A PARTICULAR EXPLANATION OR WORDING USED ? BY HAVING VARIOUS WORD CHOICES, OF COURSE, AS WELL AS A VERY THOROUGH KNOWLEDGE OF HOW THE INSTRUMENT ACTUALLY WORKS. ABOVE ALL, TO HAVE PATIENCE AND TO USE IMAGINATIVE VERBIAGE BASED ON SOLID KNOWLEDGE. IT IS A GOOD IDEA TO ENCOURAGE THE SINGER TO USE THEIR OWN DESCRIPTION OF A VOCAL SENSATION THEY EXPERIENCE. PUTTING IT IN ONE’S OWN WORDS IS SO HELPFUL.
TO QUOTE A FAVORITE MAXIM: “IF YOU ARE NOT ABLE TO EXPLAIN IT SIMPLY, YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND IT WELL ENOUGH”
(ALBERT EINSTEIN)

IN SUMMING UP, I THINK ANOTHER MAXIM SAYS IT BEST FOR BOTH YOUNG SINGERS & TEACHERS/COACHES ALIKE:

“EDUCATION IS NOT THE LEARNING OF FACTS BUT THE TRAINING OF THE MIND TO THINK” (ALBERT EINSTEIN)

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