Awareness is what you pay attention to or what you notice. It can be something you do deliberately or something that you discover spontaneously.
In our society we spend a lot of time thinking. Some people think that thinking is all there is. (I think therefore I am). Those who have delved into other perspectives, however, do not regard thinking as anything other than something the mind does. Very frequently, it is something the mind does constantly and with little oversight. It is also something that can be silenced while still awake and functioning.
Learning anything requires that the mind be still and concentration be focused. It could be focused on looking, listening, feeling, or doing, or some combination of those. If you cannot get your mind to concentrate, it’s hard to do anything well. Keeping the mind directed towards some specific task can be a tricky thing in itself to master. One of the big problems with teaching unskilled beginning singers who have never tackled a skill that requires a high level of neuromuscular ability is that they get distracted or bored too quickly with what they are trying to learn to do.
If you are not used to directing your awareness towards what you feel, what you hear or what you see, you may not be able to do that easily. Even if you can manage this, you may not easily understand what you are perceiving while you are being aware. You must learn to “watch” what is happening, without judgement and without intervention (at least while you are being aware), and analyze it later. Most people don’t function that because life in our society has no requirement for such an ability.
Cultivation of awareness is a key ingredient in helping someone learn to sing well. A person has to be guided to pay attention to what is going on the in body, very specifically. The mind can learn to focus on various parts of the body, first individually and then, gradually, in a more coordinated manner, particularly noticing those areas that have a direct impact upon the sound as it is being produced. It can take quite a while before the person who is singing has any capacity to analyze her awareness, capturing it in words, so that she can recreate the same behavior at some later time.
Remarkably, it does seem that awareness has no end. No matter how acute one’s awareness becomes, there is always another level available that makes the awareness keener, sharper, more finite, more universal and more dynamic, all the while it remains quiet, still and concentrated.
This is where the idea of moving versus manipulating a vocal tone matters. The very subtle differences between guiding something to happen through awareness and making something happen through deliberate muscle contraction are two very different things.
If all you observe is the end product, you might suppose that any way of getting to that end product would be OK. That would not be a correct observation. There many paths to the same end. You could have two cars driving along the same road at the same speed but one car is new, fancy and takes the road smoothly and the other car is old, beat-up and bumps along the entire way. Both of them will get you to your destination but you will enjoy both the ride and the scenery better in the nicer car. How you get there is just as important, if not more, than your destination.
So, paying attention to what you are doing while you sing, how you are doing it, where it is happening and in what manner, is part of being consciously aware of the process of singing. In each moment aural and kinesthetic perceptions are feeding back to the brain how the vocal and breathing muscles are responding to what the brain is asking for. Learning to perfect those responses while they are happening is called “developing vocal technique”. If you are lucky, you will develop vocal skills, musical skills and perceptual skills of equal capacity and understand that while you do. You will be more conscious, more aware and more able to sing than if you had never learned to concentrate, direct your mind, and organize the sensory data into a workable method.