Judging Your Own Function

Functional training is very important if you have to work alone. You can sound fine, and feel fine, but not be doing what you need to do in a way that works. Sometimes checking for functional reasons is the only way to tell what’s going on. Listening won’t do it, acceptable musical results won’t do it, but functional evaluation will.

I am preparing at the moment to sing at a community concert for the holidays, doing a classical piece that requires a sustained pianissimo high Bb followed by a top of the staff G. I am also doing two jazz pieces. Getting ready for both of these at the same time has been challenging.

I sound fine but I don’t feel fine, although the voice is almost where I need it to go. The high stuff was always available. I could sing the piece but I thought it sounded frail or lifeless and I was working much too hard on the breathing. The jazz pieces seemed too high to do in mix but I didn’t want to do them in belty chest, either and I would never do them in head. The middle jiggled back and forth between too light, too heavy, unstable and stuck. Frustrating. Still, I knew better than to let that get in the way of practicing every day (something I do not do when I don’t have a performance pending….bad, bad). Today, for the first time, both sides of the equation were comfortable, responsive and not very hard. I know, however, that it can get better and do more. Good that I have another 10 days.

Most of the people I work with develop the ability to tell when the voice is “off” and generally can fix it themselves using the functional work we do. Sometimes, however, fixing your own voice is likely a bit like trying to fix your own teeth if you are a dentist…….

Learning what healthy function is can be a very important thing to a working singer but learning what your own healthy functional default should be is even more important and that is different for each performer, based upon what that person primarily sings. Balance is always first, but then the override has to be aimed at the material the person sings. The individual singers are the ones who have to say where their own voice needs to go. It takes me a while to find out what anyone’s voice is like when it is balanced and then a bit longer to discover how to counter-balance it towards that individual singer’s personal preference. I don’t tell the vocalist where that is, the person tells me. Sometimes it takes people a while to decide and sometimes they need to change their normal default for various reasons. They need to learn how to do that without harm and how to get back again when a particular gig or performance that demands the change is over.

Functional training is very important. It has almost nothing to do with “resonances” and “breath support”. If you do not know what it is, come to the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, in January and do the Level I training of my method, Somatic Voicework™. Contact Marcelle Gauvin at marcelle.gauvin@aol.com for more info.

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