Repetition

If the training process is done well, the muscles in the throat and body are coaxed (and that is the operating word, coaxed) into new and different configurations until they settle into efficient adjustments specifically directed at singing. The coaxing is done in very small increments over a rather long period of time so as not to make the voice artificial, or to simply mock a particular kind of vocal production. When the muscles of the throat are authentically able to maintain a specific “set” or adjustment on their own, with no conscious help from the singer, the new “default” position allows the singer to concentrate on the communication of the words and music.

Sometimes the correct position, that is, the one that is the most efficient one for the kind of music the person wants to sing and the kind of voice the person singing has, can be rather far away from the sound the person is used to making as an habitual expression. Cornelius Reid differentiates “habitual” from “normal”. This means that you can get used to some very skewed vocal behavior that becomes a comfortable habit, but that isn’t what most voice experts would call functionally normal. To make matters worse, there is a difference between “normal” and “average”. Normal behavior is based upon function. No pathology, no symptoms of musical problems, etc. Average vocal behavior is whatever you do most of the time, and that could be normal or not. Abnormal usually implies pathology but not always. It could just be unusual but not abnormal. Whew! What a mess.

If you can find your way through all of this, you might end up making a sound that is functionally good, correct, efficient but very unfamiliar and, therefore, weak. Most people solve this problem by making the weak sound instantly louder but that doesn’t usually work. The way to strengthen a weak sound that is correctly produced is to repeat it over and over at whatever volume you can do without distortion or lack of control until the sound becomes stronger “all by itself”. It allows you to make it louder by simply thinking “louder” (and maybe by pushing harder on your belly muscles, but that’s not always necessary. Remember, most people with healthy voices that are NOT trained can get louder without thinking about “breath support”).

Lots of young people with lyric voices are asked to sing too loudly too soon. It pushes the voice out of shape, distorts things like vibrato (gets too wide and too slow) and makes the vowels lose their optimal shape. Most people need to grow into their voices and their bodies for a period of several years before sustained loud singing works well (be it belting or opera), but rarely is that considered by teachers or singers. The few people with wide sturdy bodies who are also strong can sometimes be too strong for their own good. Vocal folds are not automatically as strong as the rest of the body. They have to resist quite a bit of breath pressure during a loud sound, and if they are not conditioned to do so easily, the extra air blasting up against them from below can cause overstretching (which leads to sharping) and a slow legubrious vibrato. The answer to all of this is that the exercises for balance, stability and strength must be done repetitively if they are to be useful in solving the problems mentioned above.

Most people practice but do not necessarily understand how to use specific elements of each exercise to guide their own vocal behavior. Strengthening exercises are different from flexibility exercises but neither of these will work in a system that is stuck. Exercises that promote individuation of muscular response within the vocal appartus are requirements if repetitive exercises are to do be done correctly. Repeating the wrong thing over and over just makes things that are wrong more wrong. Uh-oh.

The moral is, do not repeat what you do not know for sure is functionally correct. Do not get louder to solve weakness. Do not push past weak areas as if they didn’t matter. Do not overblow weak sounds with “breath support”. Do not assume that good singing is just about breathing and resonance.

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