Letting Go of Holding On

Some systems of teaching singing are based upon holding onto the muscles in the throat deliberately while singing. This makes people feel in control and gives them a sense that they can “make” their throats do what they want. Why anyone would want to sing this way is a mystery to me, but I think that people who don’t have natural talent or coordination who decide to force themselves to sing, regardless, can end up sort of singing decently enough to fool a few people. If they happen to end up in a position where they are asked to teach, they will teach from the mess they have in their own throats and think that what they do is what others should also do. Some of them have even developed “methods” of training. : /

Amazingly, I have heard some pretty famous people in voice pedagogy and voice science sing in public and let me tell you, some of the singing was scarily bad. People who had tons of information and education stood up in front of their peers and sang with squeezed, pressed, swallowed, overblown, unwieldy, just plain ugly sounds and seemed to have no notion that this was the case. Seems to me, if you are sane at all, that doing that would only be possible if you were (a) in denial about how bad things were or (b) had nothing to go by other than this kind of singing as being your only experience.

I was blessed to be born to two people who sang nicely and sang at home and had an aunt who was a professional singer in New Orleans on Bourbon Street in one of the big supper clubs back when there were supper clubs. I had a nice voice as a child and could easily match pitch and sing sweetly by the time I was 7. This blessed memory guided me back to sanity when, as a result of some really rotten training, I nearly lost my voice and my ability to sing. When it got so hard to make a sound that I was literally choking and had a vibrato about two feet wide, I had that memory of making effortless sweet sounds back there to prod me into reality. People who have no such memory, however, would think that effort and struggle were part of singing and that making whatever kind of sounds they made was just part of the process of “training the voice to be professional” or something like that.

Last year I watched someone who is teaching at a university sing for a classical master class. The master teacher was a very beloved artist, one of the greats of her day, who sang internationally for several decades and who has only retired from performing very recently. The vocalist in this master class sang so badly that it was embarrassing to think that she had been chosen as a candidate for the master teacher at all, but there she was. The teacher graciously treated her like nothing was amiss, going past her vocal production to talk about the music and the character’s behavior. Still, I couldn’t help but think of the vocalist teaching young students, believing that doing what she was doing in her own singing was what should be taught to others.

I really don’t know. Maybe some people just don’t hear or feel the difference. Maybe they think they sound like a great opera star or a pop diva. Who can know? I wonder how it is that no one of the teachers who work with such students tells them – you know, something is wrong here with the way your throat is working. Do they all think that “this is just the way her voice is”……not very pretty, not very warm, not very steady…….etc.? Do they not know that all voices can be balanced through functional training and when they do, they sound just fine. I guess not. What else could be an explanation.

If you are holding onto your throat in the idea that this is what you should do in order to sound “professional” or “classical” or “operatic” or “in control”, PLEASE let go of that idea. Please know that you can let go of holding on and when you do, I promise you that you will not only sound much better, and feel much better, but you will be able to express your own truth and that is what heals us all. Let go of holding on!


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One thought on “Letting Go of Holding On”

  1. It took me my entire adult life to learn that the voice does not respond to volition. I think that because I had an instrumental background, I associated making music with trying really hard and doing a lot. It took me so long to get a better balance of doing and letting go.

    I only got there with the guidance of an amazing teacher. My harsh, strained high notes really do sound better inside my own head than my heady, easy ones (which sound breathy to me). As for effort, I had thought that effortful was good. It never occurred to me that singing could be as easy as healthy singing actually is.

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