“Freeing” the Voice

We all know about “freeing up” the voice and letting go and having things relax and allowing them to “be easy”. That’s correct, right? We understand that deliberate squeezing and pushing isn’t good. We get that the breathing has to have some kind of “move low on the inhale” direction. We realize that screaming isn’t a particularly useful way to go most of the time.

Yet, how do we know the sound someone makes is “free”? How do we know if it isn’t pushed when it’s loud? How do we ask for “release” when the singer doesn’t feel what is restricted? What’s the purpose of telling a student to “get out of your own way and let the voice do what it wants” when that phrase has no real meaning until after it happens by itself?

What if you are embarrassed by the sounds you make because you don’t like them or because they feel awkward and you don’t really want to make those sounds in front of anyone else, even your teacher? Are you being neurotic or just being human? If you have a huge big scar all the way down the middle of your face, what does it take to go out into public without any inhibition? Ask someone who sounds pretty bad about why they don’t sing, and you might get an answer that makes sense.

Even in a student or singer who is willing to

“let go” it is not sufficient to bring the physical response of the vocal organs into a realization of their full functional potential. The fact is, some sort of movement, i.e., action, interaction or reaction to a stimulus, is involved.
– Cornelius Reid, “The Free Voice” (a book you should all read)

If you want to see how much confusion there is about singing and learning to sing, take a few hours and scour YouTube for “singing instruction” or some related topic like “singing lessons”.  You will see all manner of misunderstanding by “teachers” meaning to share their “knowledge” and people who want to sell you their courses or books. [Ten easy lessons to sounding like a rock star!!] The actual amount of honest-to-goodness accurate, useful information on singing in YouTubeland would fit on the head of a pin. Some of it isn’t bad or harmful, some of it is just plain silly, some of it is old-fashioned, and some of it, sadly, is scary. Let the buyer beware.

Stimulus (externally directed vocal exercise) should produce a response (internal adjustment of the vocal organs). A specific exercise should produce a specific response. If you can get a student to make a sound that he/she has never made before, no matter what it is, good or bad, then you have begun to teach the student something. New information is arising in the body and the mind is going to learn to track that sensory data by paying attention. It is so that the teacher must provoke this change through vocal exercise in order for the student to recognize AFTER IT HAPPENS that something is different. In going towards new movement, we are going towards freedom. Staying still is only useful in a mechanism that is weak and chaotic. You, as a teacher, must also know what kind of movement should come next and, therefore, what kind of stimulus would take the student there. YOU must know, not the student. YOU.

Be careful that you do not spend too much time trying to get the student to “let go” and “stop being afraid of your high notes”. Work where work can be done with relative ease, stimulate movement, allow for awareness, and acknowledge what happens when it does. That’s enough.

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8 thoughts on ““Freeing” the Voice”

  1. Excellent advice Jeanie! I am a speech pathologist, voice coach, and advocate for an anatomical and physiological understanding of the voice among occupational voice users, and I find there is so much subjectivity in many so called singing methods and practices today. Your blogs are quite refreshing and I appreciate your healthily critical perspective on vocal instruction. Many thanks!

  2. Here here!!! The relax and release approach does not make sense for people with register imbalance, especially those attempting to sing with TAD production, be they belters or men. They know better. If they just relax and let go they’ll crack. Are teachers really so stupid as to believe the student hasn’t tried that already? The reason the student won’t “relax and let go” is that he/she has found it is a failing strategy. In this situation the student is smarter than the teacher. The student knows a failing strategy when he/she sees one, and the teacher shows his/her ignorance by insisting the student follow this failing strategy. Yes, some muscles need to let go, but other muscles need to engage. Until the muscles that must engage are strong enough to engage fully the muscles that need to let go will be incapable of doing so. -Andy

  3. Great post Jeannie. Yes I actually have Cornelius Reid’s book and have read it many years ago!

    Miss not seeing you.

  4. This is what I struggle with. I want to make sure that what I’m doing provides value and knowledge for the student. Sometimes I fail then I’ve got to go back to the shed and figure out what I need to do to impact the student appropriately. Always trying to learn.

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