If You Don’t Sing Well and You Don’t Know That

I have had some people come to my studio over the years with all manner of tension and distortion in their sound and vocal production and when queried, “How was that?”, the answer is “Fine.” I might have gone further,”How did it feel?” (Looking at a distorted neck, overly tense jaw, and a distorted mouth shape.) and get the response “Fine.” If I asked “Do you like how it sounds?” I might have been told “Yes, it sounds OK to me.”

In this situation, particularly since many of the people I see here are professionals, you have to ask, “What is going on here?”

Is this just my perception, that the voice is skewed and the production off? On what do I base my evaluations? Maybe, since I am human and quite fallible, I am just wrong in what I see and hear. Maybe the sounds are actually better than I think.

First of all, I try to ascertain why the person came to me. If you are completely satisfied with your sound, you usually do not seek a vocal technique teacher. Secondly, I ask what kind of singing the person does and under what circumstances. There are exceptions to everything, so perhaps this person is one. Third, I ask if the singer is healthy. Does the voice stand up to stress, performances, travel, colds, and other environmental factors or is it not strong enough to do its job consistently? Then, I ask what kind of a sound the person thinks he or she would ideally like to make. Sometimes, although the sound as he produces it is acceptable to the vocalist, it isn’t the sound he really wants.

Then, with all this information, I check range, volume, and adaptability. Can the sound change? How much control is there over it and how freely is the sound being made? If there is only one primary sound, no matter what it is, why is that the case?

The vocal folds are always the driving factor in the sound. If you are vocally tired, no amount of “breath support” or “resonance” is going to make up for being tired, but it might help you “get by” if you have those tools (at least). On the other hand, if the muscles in the neck, throat, mouth, face, and lips do not move, you are not going to be able to make much impact on the sound and that can have an impact on what the vocal folds can do. It is a two way system, with the folds first and everything else second, but the secondary stuff is not nothing.

Posture is important, breathing is important, resonance is important for opera/classical singers, articulation is important in some styles, but different things are important in different styles and there are ways to sing well, maybe very well, without some of these things. There are all kinds of variables involved in singing but the one thing that is never left out is the vocal folds and their ability to change pitch and quality.

If you never sing for anyone else who is a respected expert and you never get honest feedback about what your sound is, could be, or even should be, you don’t actually know if you sound “good” or even acceptable. If you teach, you have an obligation to let someone tell you what you sound like from time to time, and not just your best friend. And, if the news is bad, you really have to seriously address sounding better by going to work on your voice with that goal in mind. If you do not understand that everyone can and should sound good in whatever style they choose, shame on you!

Don’t be someone who doesn’t sing well and doesn’t know or can’t accept that this is so. Ask.

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