Making A Sound That Doesn’t Exist

As I see it, my job is to get someone to make a sound that he or she has never made, and therefore has no concept of. It’s my job to trick the person’s throat into some new behavior that has never occurred so she can say, “Gosh, I never made that sound before”. I consider that kind of comment a mark of success.

This does not involve the idea of remembering anything…..a common practice in teaching someone to sing. Make an [i] and then remember that feeling and make an [a]. That idea never helped me, I couldn’t really do it. It worked better for me to just bring my tongue up and forward in the [a] while I was singing the [a] and let go of the [i] when I wasn’t singing it any longer. If I can get a student’s tongue to be able to come up and forward, that’s helpful. Some people have trouble with that, so you have to work at it in stages. When it is finally an accomplishable task, this gesture alone is sufficient to affect the sung [a], so no “remembering” of anything else is necessary.

Register change, the primary adjustment in vocal quality that is available to humans, is a response, or a reaction. For instance, a light lyric soprano can’t just decide to sing in chest register if she doesn’t have one, or much of one. Chest register has to be cultivated, slowly, if it is going to become active, through various stimuli, such as the “fog horn” or the “Santa Clause” exercises. “Thinking” chest register would just be silly. You can’t think yourself into a sound, no matter how clearly you imagine it. (I can imagine singing C above high C, but I can’t sing it, and I never will). Singers must be guided to make sounds, in shapes and patterns that are different from their normal “default” patterns (usually based upon their speech), so they can discover these sounds, and the sensations attached to them, in order to gain awareness of both processes. Only then can the new sounds be replicated through practice until they become part of the individual’s permanent lexicon of vocal gestures.

The teacher’s job is to provoke the responses from the singer through exercises, used effectively. The singing student’s job is to attempt the exercises until they are done correctly and repeatedly so that the response can surface. Patience is required on both the part of the teacher and the student, as the throat and/or body doesn’t always respond immediately. Even if the stimulus is doing its job, the amount of time that it will take for it to create the desired result in the sound will depend upon the length of time the patterns being changed have been in place, and the amount of change that needs to take place between the situation at hand and the one being sought in the person’s singing behavior.

It’s fun to get someone to sing in a brand new way. It’s a thrill to watch someone’s face when they hear something they have never heard before. It’s also exciting to see if such sounds can be discovered along the way. It makes teaching an adventure, rather than a chore.

We all have all kinds of sound within us. Never stop looking for new ones, as you never know what you will find.

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