My mother was a professional dancer. She was very young when she started (age 14) and had little formal training (back in the day, and this was way back, that was possible). She was taking class and had her leg up on the wall. Now, mind you, she was already dancing well enough to get a good job and doing several shows a day. The teacher insisted that my mother could put her leg further up the wall. My mother assured her that this was not possible. Her leg would not stretch one more millimeter. The teacher said something like, you are just lazy, and pushed my mother’s leg hard at which point my mother screamed in pain. She was lucky to be out of work for only two weeks (no sick pay in those days). That story stuck with me very vividly.
All Muscular Systems Have Limits
Muscles go as far as they do. We stretch just slightly past the comfort point every day and they gradually get stretched out. Dancers know this, as do gymnasts. You don’t start out touching your toes with your fingertips but if you stretch every day in a few weeks (or months, depending on where you start) your toes will get closer. You have to do it consistently and regularly, always going just past where you were the day before and then waiting there. Only this is this.
Same with strength. Muscles are as strong (or weak) as they are. In order to get them to be stronger, they must go past their limits, just a little and for just a while. If you go very far past you will get hurt. If you do not go past, you will not gain strength. The key is in the balance. How much “stressing” is enough, how much is too much, how much too little? Only life experience helps you make an educated guess.
While the vocal folds are ligaments, not muscles, the entire system is slightly flexible (except for the hyoid bone and the mandible and hard palate). Stretching chest register up is stretching chest register up and there is no substitute for that. Ditto, coaxing head down. If something else could substituted for that (breath support, resonance adjustments, etc.) then everyone would learn to sing every sound in every style like water off a duck’s back and we wouldn’t be teaching technique at all. No. It is something that has to be done for its own sake, slowly, repetitively, over time. This reaps rewards that are very important and the work is worth the effort and the time because of what you have when you get it to “just be there” easily. Again, a dancer knows that even after she is skilled and experienced, she has to stretch on a regular basis in order to keep doing what she does.
The Muscles Can Be Taught To Go Beyond Those Limits
The idea that you find the sound in one special moment and have an “ah-ha” moment and never have to work for that sound again, or that you somehow “remember” the sound is silly. The “ah-ha” moment is just a doorway. You have to walk through to the room, stay there quite a while and then there will be another doorway to a different room. Until you stop singing or die.
If you try something with a student three times and it doesn’t work, assume there is a physical reason why FIRST. Especially if they are generally cooperative, they generally try and succeed with other exercises and they are attempting to get what you want — if they don’t get there, they can’t (T H E Y C A N ‘ T ! ! ! ) at least at that moment. It has nothing to do with your intention for them or theirs to do what is asked, it has to do with the limitations of the physical system. If your leg won’t go up the wall any further and I insist that you are just being lazy and blame you, I will be telling you that I know better what your body can do than you do. If I then force you, in some way this is aggression and that doesn’t work. In Somatic Voicework™ we try not to do that, even unintentionally.
If you think that singing is “finding the sound” but not developing the sound and practicing the sound until it becomes ingrained muscle response and memory, you do not understand exercise physiology and professional singing at the highest level. It is muscle training as much as it is several other things. If you do not have a conditioned response to the stimulus of pitch, vowel and volume that you know is going to consistently arise BEFORE you open your mouth, the song isn’t going to be as good as it should be. If you dance with an injured tendon, your dancing will be less than its best, and your knowledge and experience as a dancer will compensate for the injury, but it will not make it go away. Singing is the same. THE SAME.
All muscular systems have limits but those limits can be transcended if approached intelligently, slowly and with awareness. That’s the point of training.
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