Experience Is The Best Teacher

In my work as a teacher, I have always done better with experienced students. Not that I don’t work with beginners or singers of average ability, it is just that people who have been around quite a bit seem to respond best to what I have to offer. My list of such students is longer than I can give — singers of all styles who have been to 4, 5, 6, or more singing teachers for 5, 10, 15, up to 35 years (yes!) with no success in solving specific, persistent problems. Sometimes those teachers are themselves well-known and experienced, but have been unable to unlock the issues these dedicated vocal artists are striving to address.

Singers who sing well, in spite of limitations, are sometimes aware that they aren’t doing their best, but can’t seem to get out from behind their own problems. It undermines their confidence and prevents them from going full out toward their own career success. They report to me that they have been told “there’s nothing to worry about”, “your problems aren’t so bad”, “no one is perfect”, “it’s no big deal” or even “there’s nothing wrong”. The singers are left to feel like vocal hypochondriacs, narcissistic babies, or super perfectionists. They feel like frauds. In their work with me, however, I can often find the not so tiny places where the vocal machine has a couple of “knocks” that are causing trouble, and with work, get them to disappear. The statement I hear most with these singers when that happens is “Why couldn’t the other teachers do this?” My answer is always they same: “Because they don’t know how.”

Think about it. You have a group of people who believe that all one needs to know is wrapped up in classical vocal technique. Fix the support, or fix the resonance, fix how you do the vowels, or let go of something (by osmosis, of course), or else just know that “your voice just doesn’t do that”, and stop trying.

Fixing “support” is good if the person has issues with inhaling sufficient amounts of air, or of not having enough strength to keep the ribs up during exhalation or has no control over the abdominal muscles. It isn’t good if the person has an issue that isn’t about breathing. Fixing “resonance” is good if the person is an opera singer and needs to sing over an orchestra unamplified, but useless (really) if they are singing CCM, as an end in itself. Fixing the vowel sounds so that they are “placed” differently, fixes the vowels so that they are “placed” differently. It will not change the registration, it will not give the singer a way to handle constriction, or tongue stiffness, or anything else. It will change the way the vowel sound is shaped and thats all, folks.

It is any wonder that when I address the musculature deep within the throat itself that things change? Is this a mystery, a miracle or is it something akin to “pyschic healing”? No. It’s none of these. It is skill, based upon experience, garnered from my use of my own throat in every and all vocal styles, and in working with those muscles until I understood them from the inside out.

Any decent teacher can work with a decent singer and help them improve. Any person with eyes can see external tension and with ears can learn to hear squeezing and swallowing. Only someone with experience can undo negative non-volitional non-visible vocal behavior. If you are a teacher, the place to begin is with your own throat, and if you aren’t willing to do “bad” things with it, so you can learn, you needn’t bother at all.

To those teachers who think there is nothing more for them to know because they know it all, I say, how many kinds of music can you sing authentically? How well do you understand how to sing BADLY? Can you replicate any sound your student makes? Could you go from Mozart to Motown, or from John Larson’s RENT to Puccini’s LA BOHEME? Why not? (and you can hear me saying now…….I can, and there ain’t nothin’ special ’bout me!!)

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