Because They Can and We Can’t Stop Them

Something that singing teachers do that is truly detrimental to the profession, and something about which I have written here many times, is label what they do in lessons as if no one else in the world has ever done it before.

Seriously, people, there are only so many sounds human beings are capable of making, given the formant frequencies of a human throat. The vast majority of adults stick to a small pitch range, limited volume under most circumstances and not a great deal of variability. Even trained singers are typically limited to about three octaves of range. The voice is a reflexive instrument, meaning that it responds to the desires of the singer indirectly through the mental images the singer has of what he or she wants to do vocally. If you directly manipulate the muscles of the throat (and many people teach just that), you will never ever sing freely or expressively because holding the throat into a place prohibits such emotional expression. This is a big, big deal and it is completely ignored by many teachers of singing. It is not my idea, it is based on the ability of the body to both breathe and swallow and allow free movement of all the vocal muscles so that the mechanism can easily inhale and exhale without effort. You cannot override Mother Nature without paying a price. If you work in concert with our gag reflex, you can learn to direct the sound without suppressing anything.
What happens typically is that someone finds a certain kind of sound she likes or that he feels is the “right” sound for a certain kind of music. They decide (without checking with anyone from voice science) that this is THE ANSWER, and they teach it as that. They behave as if no one else has figured out how to manipulate the throat, the breath, or the “resonators” in the same way they have and then, sadly, that’s how they set themselves up to teach.
Susan Warblebird has discovered that she and only she can do things with her throat that no one else can do and, by golly, she is going to teach you to do those same things! Yep. Maneuver Number One is sliding the larynx down into the trachea, Maneuver Number Two is hiking it up into the sinus cavities, and Maneuver Number Three is pulling it back into the back wall of the throat where it sticks into the soft tissue. These Maneuvers will make you are fabulous opera singer, a great rock singer and give you the ability to out rap every rapper who’s wrapped up in rapping. Of course, she is in conflict with Wilfred Wobblethroat who has discovered a way to prove that vibrato arises out of the movements of the diaphragm. He has done research on himself to establish that by wiggling his belly button in and out he can jiggle his diaphragm until it makes the pitches go up and down, up and down, like horses on a carousel and presto! The vibrato is right there. This is the famous Wobblethroat Method created by him and only by him. He can teach you to do it, too. (For a price, of course.) You can also purchase his videos, his CDs, his DVDs, his tapes and books, and watch him on YouTube. Unfortunately, he sounds when he sings like he is close to vomiting. A pleasant sound.
Truth be told, all anyone can ever do is organize what we know about human sound-making into a relatively cohesive whole and discuss how that applies to making whatever sounds one needs in order to be able to sing effectively and expressively in any style of music. Calling the things we “discover” plaid or pineapples is of no consequence if we do not understand that what we do isn’t unique, special or even new in any way. Speaking about it in plain, simple English, in a way that makes sense to many other human beings without translation or further explanation is the only way to proceed.
Somatic Voicework™, my method, is an approach to singing Contemporary Commercial Music. It is not and never will be THE approach, the RIGHT approach, or the ONLY approach, and it will continue to evolve and change as we learn more from voice science about how things work. It will always be concerned with the human and artistic factors of making music through singing. I am not ever going to be interested in making “human sound robots”, no matter how important it is for people to sing from a functionally correct place. The terms I use are, by and large, as accurate as I can get them to be and are taken from voice science or long accepted (as in a hundred years or more) pedagogical concepts from classical singing training, or from the marketplace, primarily Broadway. I did not make up one single term myself.
Yet, when I speak to other teachers of singing, particularly those who have a method they are selling to the public, they all have their own jargon. Most of them do not want to let it go because it is theirs. The phrases belong to them. No one else can have them. No.
If you want to understand what they mean with their “coined” words, you have to study with them so they can explain them to you and let you experience them as sound so you can comprehend their label and make it meaningful. It precludes having a discussion amongst equals. It precludes being able to discuss insights about various approaches that are broad based and equal, but different from each other, because the creator of the new terminology is married to the words and the “special” approaches he or she has created.
I have asked a few of these people to change to a more objective terminology in the interest of benefitting the profession at large and of the students who seek to sing in the best possible way. I am always met with the same resistance. “I don’t want to give up my terms because I created them, they are mine, they work and they make sense (to me).” This is a lost cause and very sad. They won’t budge because they don’t have to.
So the profession lumbers along, stumbling over the use of made up words and terms and their relevance to modern day demands placed on singers’ voices in a career.
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