Simple Answers to Complex Problems and the Opposite

If you have a simple vocal issue and you apply a complex solution to the problem you are violating the principle in science called Occam’s Razor, which says that the simplest answer is the one to seek first. Here is what Wikipedia says:

Occam’s razor, also known as Ockham’s razor, and sometimes expressed in Latin as lex parsimoniae (the law of parsimony, economy or succinctness), is a principle that generally recommends that, from among competing hypotheses, selecting the one that makes the fewest new assumptions usually provides the correct one, and that the simplest explanation will be the most plausible until evidence is presented to prove it false.

This matters because if you have tongue tension the way to get rid of it is to loosen the tongue. [Short pause here.]

Seems logical, no? Not if you do a complex approach. If you start with “breath support” and then try to get a different “place” for your “resonance” and maybe, after that, you have to “release” your jaw and then hope that somehow, doing all this, has made your tongue more of a friend and less of an enemy are you getting anywhere? How about if you just do tongue exercises?

Why not do what is needed instead of all that other stuff?

Because most singing teachers have NO CLUE as to what exercises do what. They think that there is magic in the syllables themselves, coupled with the notes and rhythms, done repetitively. That might work, as long as the person singing didn’t have tongue tension. Singing notes and syllables on certain pitches doesn’t guarantee anything because it depends on what notes and what syllables at what volume and for how long and IN WHAT VOCAL QUALITY you are doing them. And, even with all that, the tongue might remain stiff, particularly if what you typically sing is jazz. The style lends itself to tongue tension. In fact, in all the years that I have worked with jazz vocalists I have had very very few singers come in with no tongue tension at all. Hmmmmm. Since most of them are skilled professionals, must be the style, no? [Yes!]

If all that doesn’t work, the singing teachers go to “breath support”, the universal catch-all when nothing else works. After that, it’s blame the student.

Tongue exercises that release tongue tension by making the tongue change position solve tongue tension issues. Occam’s Razor, people.

How do you solve tension in the throat?

Depends on where in the throat it is.

If you don’t know (and you have to be very experienced to know) you can’t fix it directly. How do you like that can of worms? What to do then — live with it? Stop singing? Just “be off pitch”? Just “squeeze”? A lot of teachers of singing would say that those are correct answers. They would blame the student for “squeezing” their own throat or being “resistant”.

But, if you were creative, since the student doesn’t know how to fix the problem or she would not be in your studio, you can try all kinds of fancy maneuvers to make it look like you are trying to do something helpful. (Sounds like Congress!) You might accidentally bump into a remedy that works!

If you have a complex problem, and there are many voices that do have such complexities, what would be the simple answer to solving all those issues? One thing at a time, starting on the outside and gradually working in. Simple remedies, taken in a sequence, waiting for each to do its job of un-winding, retraining or reorganizing the musculature until it responds in a more normal manner.

How do you know if it’s working?

If it feels better, sounds better and does what it needs to do better, it’s working.

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One thought on “Simple Answers to Complex Problems and the Opposite”

  1. Amen!

    I’m looking forward to a good review of Somatic Voicework™ level 2 this summer. If you’re reading this and have never heard of Somatic Voicework™ (perish the thought), you would do yourself and your students a HUGE favour by attending the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute at Shenandoah University Regardless of the type of music you teach/sing (opera, musical theatre, jazz, early music, rock, art song etc.) SVW™ will open new doors for you and your students. I promise!

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