Dysfunctional Training

“Spin the tone more from the top”.

“Release the back as you ascend”.

“Engage the respiratory muscles before you begin the tone”.

“Aim the tone high into the mask so you can generate the singer’s formant”.

“Support from the lower chamber to find the inverted triangle used in belting”.

“Sing as if you have no jaw”.

“Sing as if your head is empty”.

“Let the tone go up and back but lift the soft palate into a dome”.

“You’re listening to yourself!”

“You think too much!”


Nonsense language. Meaningless language. Impossible to understand phrases. TYPICAL phrases of a singing lesson.

These phrases and the hundred others just like them belie profound ignorance of kinesthetic learning, of the way the brain is hooked up to the larynx and the throat, of the responses the body makes to a verbal stimulus and an intention. (What intention? Is “spinning” some kind of intention? Is having no jaw an intention or a goal?) Want more of the same? Just go to the internet. What’s there is endless and mostly ridiculous. Worse, look on the NATS website forum and take a look at the things the singing teachers say there. Scary stuff.

It is absolutely and completely unnecessary to use anything other than plain simple English with no voice teacher jargon to teach singing based on vocal function. Of course, if your teaching is based on your own unverified ideas, and your basis for “proof” of those ideas is your own singing, and you have decided, based entirely upon your own personal observations that what you do is what everyone else should also do, you will have no choice but to make up words to describe your “discoveries”. If you have drunk the Kool-Aid of some method that is not based on science but also on vocal health and music marketplace reality, and you teach what you have been told without really understanding it personally as experience, then you will have no choice but to be stuck when trying to help someone else learn to sing. You will have to resort to making up meaningless phrases to convey your ideas to others. This will add to the profession, what? Exactly nothing. That we are still there, 50 years after I took my first voice lesson, is appalling, but so.

If you teach or coach singers and you don’t run your ideas about what the voice does before an actual honest-to-goodness voice science researcher, or a laryngologist or a qualified speech language pathologist, you may not know that your ideas are incorrect, or incorrectly applied, and what you think is happening is not what is actually happening at all. You can make up new terms, you can call what you do by any description including naming the sounds orange, pink, purple and red, but that doesn’t make those terms real, accurate or even useful. In fact, even if all your students do really well singing the red sound and win contests with the one that’s blue, it’s still not useful to anyone but those particular students and only useful to them while they study with you and not if they ever study with someone else, ever.

As long as the profession tolerates or even encourages this behavior we are doomed to remain in the past. We will continue to disagree about “breathing in” and “breathing out” and “forward placement” and “masque resonance”. We will argue over small irrelevant things instead of deciding how to use common language, grounded in science, and applying function to actual present-moment music and the demands of the music marketplace.

Dysfunctional training? We are surrounded by it.

CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute at Shenandoah Conservatory (ccminstitute.com). Think different.


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One thought on “Dysfunctional Training”

  1. Excellent! As an Alexander Technique Teacher and Licensed Andover Educator, I have occasion to work with singers as well as instrumentalists. Singers by far have the most confusing training. I believe they have convinced themselves that the only way to teach singing is through imagery. Check my website at www,allsensepress.com.

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