Cold Case Detective

What happens when something you work with that is always successful suddenly does not work? What do you do?

When teaching functionally, using vocal/singing exercises with a clear knowledge of what they do and how they do it, it is possible to elicit a specific response from the vocal mechanism that is free and able to respond in a normal manner with little fuss. As long as there are no interfering factors, the exercises will work when done correctly. Period.

But, those interfering factors can be tricky little buggers, folks. They can be very stubborn and tenacious.

If you have a conscientious student, who practices, who is motivated and who is responding decently over a period of time it would seem to make no sense when you hit a road block when a persistent problem refuses to go away through any available means of functional correction. It’s like a cold case that refuses to be solved and gets put on the shelf begging to be forgotten or overlooked.

Even after 42+ years of teaching and a lifetime of singing, and thousands upon thousands of hours of listening to people sing in lessons and outside them as well, sometimes I just don’t get where I want to go with a student who wants my help and who is cooperating fully.

What do I do then? First of all, I discuss the issue with the student. We discuss what could be interfering with the singing and why it would be so. We agree to dig deeper into the process and sometimes I ask the student to make note of certain aspects of the practice regime in order to see what is happening there.

The next thing I do is go back and go over virtually everything I’ve done with the student, approaching it as if for the first time. We look at every possible combination of vowel sound, volume, pitch range and register quality; every physical behavior of the jaw, mouth, face, lips, tongue (front and back), and soft palate, as well as the posture, breathing and the coordination of all of these. We re-combine combinations of vowel shape, volume and pitch change with the idea that something, somewhere got overlooked and put in the cold case file by mistake.  Particularly if the problem has moments when it goes away but doesn’t stay gone, it is often so that something was missed the first time around. We talk about mental concepts of singing and sound.

There is no reason why a person who desires to sing and works at getting better at singing has to settle for a compromised vocal output because something isn’t working right. There is always an answer in the body. Looking for that answer requires a great deal of patience and persistence, as well as curiosity, creativity, and a subtle awareness of both movement and sound production. Sometimes, with that attitude, the thing that was blocking the final goal turns up, right in front of you, and says, “Hi! Thought you’d never find me. I have been locked in that room for years! Thanks for letting me out at last.”

Resistant problems are very good teachers. Being a cold case detective of the voice is a particular kind of attitude to cultivate. We can all solve those difficult cases if we just don’t give up.

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