Science versus Application

There are quite a few people who understand vocal function very well but do not understand how to apply functional exercises. Some of these are the people who can quote you the latest scientific research from the most important books, and are the people who have the biggest reputation for presenting at conferences. Unfortunately, few pay attention to whether or not any of those same people can sing well. As a singing teacher, if you cannot find a way to apply functional information such that it helps you get better and therefore it helps you to help other people get better, then what good is it?

Conversely, there are people now and there have always been people in the past, who do not know a thing about function who understand what it means to be an artist, to sing and to be expressive. They know whether or not a vocalist is communicating through music and they know if the singer is doing a good job without hurting the vocal folds, even though they can’t exactly say why that’s the case. They know how to communicate in such a way that a singing student improves. That’s enough.

Clearly, people have learned to sing using imagery that we now know makes no sense, doesn’t apply to what we understand about how the body works and does no direct good when solving a physical problem the impacts vocal production. Talented people always find a way to overcome any obstacle if they want to do something. Imagery has worked in the past and, for some, it still works.

I am one of the people for whom subjective imagery was a waste of time. Perhaps because I always had a fertile imagination and was naturally emotionally demonstrative, I didn’t need help seeing images. They came with the music automatically. What I needed was guidance about the sounds I could make — all kinds of sounds — and why some of them were OK but others were not. The interface between them was something I did by ear alone and it got me into trouble functionally for reasons I never understood. None of my many teachers understood either.

If you belt enough, your throat can close up. It can pull you out of your high notes and make your throat close and your voice seem “small”. It can cause your throat muscles to hurt, your voice to fatigue, and your pronunciation to seem garbled. You may sound acceptable enough to get by and to do a decent job from a strictly musical place, but you could find that when you attempt to sing something that wasn’t a belt sound, you could no longer easily do what you once did. Conversely, if you find a way to sing in a classical sound and you spend time there, when you return to your normal CCM sound, you might find it weak, unsteady, and not particularly available. If you are doing both decently, you might not have a reason to suspect that anything is wrong with either, and that could actually be true. The fault lies with the crossing over or “mixing and matching” of the sounds when you don’t actually know much about how either is being produced or how either is affecting your vocal production overall. That’s a lot not to know. Imagery, no matter what it may be, in this situation won’t help.

The boundaries between understanding function, using functional exercises, understanding style, using things that interface between the two and being able to communicate about all of it in a meaningful way are very uncertain. Knowing that, however, is better than being totally clueless. Understanding that you are looking for something specific is better than not knowing what you are looking for at all.

Science is only useful to us as teachers of singing if it serves the art of singing by allowing each vocalist to sing freely and easily in whatever sound she wants. The information is only useful if the person dispensing it understands how to break it down for the vocalist into useable, practical bites.

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