Conscious Awareness

What is evidence of conscious awareness in singing?

Many times when I work with college students in a master class or young adults in a private lesson for the first time I ask if they have had any vocal training. It isn’t unusual to be told they have “studied singing” since they were in third or fourth grade or that they have “singing lessons” since they were 10 or 12. When I look at them, there is little evidence that they have learned anything. Poor posture, no sense of vocal production, sometimes not even a good ability to control pitch or sing across two octaves of range. In other words, no evidence of vocal training of any kind.

This is only possible in two ways. The first is that the kid didn’t understand or apply anything that was taught and the second is that the teacher didn’t have much to teach. The gap between these two things is a grey area and probably includes most people most of the time.

You only know that you know when you can demonstrate it. It also helps if you are going to communicate about it to be able to explain in words, in clear terms, what you are doing. Then, you are in touch with the process in a grounded practical manner that makes sense and is both useful and replicable.

Unconsciousness – Thoughts Aren’t Magic

t few years ago I taught a man at one of my training sessions as a part of working with various individuals (something I typically do). This man had a very stuck, tight throat and there was no movement at all in his throat muscles. The constriction was deep and complete. His high notes were pushed and his low notes were forced and his middle voice was monotonously the same. When I asked him what he felt, however, he gave me a detailed description of all kinds of things like his false folds and his soft palate, none of which had anything to do with what he was actually doing — tightly squeezing his throat. In fact, he was quite incensed when I suggested that he might not actually experience having a “chest” register and  “head” register, and natural movement between them, since his vocal production was tightly constricted, pushed and pressured mix in mid-range. This man’s awareness had little to do with what was actually occurring . Unfortunately, he was also a singing teacher.

Sometimes people describe what they feel and have no idea that what is happening has little to do with that. You have to have seen the vocal mechanism in a live video to comprehend how far away subjective perception can be from physiologic reality. You might “feel” head register as being “higher up” but that happens when the larynx can rest low in the throat (and you can’t make that happen on purpose without causing other problems). Brightness in the sound doesn’t come from head register it comes from chest (high closed quotient) but you may not recognize that and the confusion resulting from that mistake could cause other issues.

I have people argue with me saying “I absolutely feel my diaphragm” and “I move my larynx into the second adjustment” or “I leave my belly out and relaxed” while I sing. I wonder what they have been told in order to make those associations. Surely, they did not come up with them on their own.

Conscious awareness means that what you think, what you feel and what you hear are congruent with what others hear, what they see and how you sound.

If you can’t do something deliberately, easily, and on demand, and you can’t describe what it is that’s happening accurately, your conscious awareness isn’t too good or useful. The purpose of training is to bring things up to the level of conscious awareness. Without that, no training really sticks. You can waste a lot of time doing vocal and breathing exercises and get nowhere if you do not make a very clear, deliberate and conscious connection between what you want to have happen, what you are getting and how you experience that in each moment.

If you do not have a conscious connection to your singing, or you don’t even know whether you do or not, you can get very confused or lost. The purpose of vocal training is to cultivate awareness on all levels: physical, aural, emotional, kinesthetic, and intellectual. If your lessons don’t do that, find another teacher.

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2 thoughts on “Conscious Awareness”

  1. Yes, and the definition of technique in my studio is something you can rely on and replicate fairly consistently–of course it takes years to get to this point. And some singers consistently replicate tension! The toughest singers to work with are the ones who think that they have nothing to learn (why take lessons then?) or find it too difficult to stick with in order to make some progress. Habits are hard to break, and it is our job as teachers to help our students and provide encouragement, but we cannot do it for them.

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