Kinda Sorta Tight

How many times have I encountered a student who has been told something that isn’t harmful, and isn’t even really wrong, it’s just useless? “Leave your voice alone and it will take care of itself” (except when you do and it doesn’t). “You are grabbing onto your high notes. Don’t do that.” (OK, how do I do something else instead?) “You are not releasing the tone to turn over on the way up.” (I would love to do that. What does it mean and how does it work?) You are not using the breath correctly. If you had better support your sound would release and go into your head. (Really? I am already taking a big breath into my “diaphragm” and tightening my belly a lot for those high notes. It’s not working. Is there a better way to breathe than inhaling and exhaling?)

Inevitably, the student is being told……You are (fill in this blank with something that’s wrong).

When the throat gets tight on the way up and the student is clearly trying to sing as freely as possible and follow the instructions of the teacher, and the throat doesn’t let go, THE STUDENT IS NOT TO BLAME. THE STUDENT IS DOING THE BEST HE CAN. It is the teacher’s job to work the throat until it lets go spontaneously. It is the teacher’s job. 

Throats do all kinds of things on their own that we don’t want them to do and when there are ingrained habits in a singer it can be very hard to retrain the muscle responses to make them let go and move in a new way, but that’s too bad, because it is still the teacher’s job to deal with that, over and over until it changes. The student is not the person who is supposed to do the “figuring it out”, that’s the job of the teacher. The reasons people go to teachers is to fix problems, break bad habits, learn new good habits and feel free while singing. They can usually figure out on their own that there is something wrong. It is frequently the reason they seek training in the first place.

Years ago when I saw two female opera singers present a talk about women composers on Broadway. Their demonstrations of belt, pop, and rock songs, sung in their warbly opera voices, presented all the songs in the same way….. as if they were all written by Schubert. I commented to them at the time that the music wasn’t sung that way professionally. One of the women responded by saying to me that I was stupid and that, of course, the students knew how to sing the songs. I did not say so at the time, although I probably should have, that in that situation the teachers should have been paying the students, since they were educating the ears of the teachers. This mentality, that the students will figure it out, is one of the seriously awful things in the profession, as it not only tolerates genuine ignorance of what teaching singing is, it fosters the idea that this is a good thing, expecting the students to “figure it out”. The students know how to make the sounds………..yes, well, then why are they studying with you at all?

Be very careful about giving your students generic advice.

Just sing forward all the time and you will be fine.

Don’t worry about registers, they really don’t matter.

Be sure to sing as though you never had a jaw. Leave the jaw alone.

On and on. When the student does something like move the jaw in order to get a better sound or make a consonant, the student gets blamed. “There you go again, hanging on to your jaw. You have to stop that!” (Since it is part of speech to move the jaw and part of vocal acoustics to change the jaw opening to move the formant/resonance patterns, you are in big trouble if you don’t have a jaw.)

Generic teaching is kinda sorta teaching and it makes for kinda sorta singing in a kinda sorta vocal technician.

Do us all a favor, don’t go there!

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