Terminology – From the Corner Deli and From Mars

We all know that singing teachers make up things, images (mostly), but ideas and concepts, too. Some actually base what they come up with on reality, but many do not. “If I create it, it must be good” is a point of view that singing teachers often have, even if sometimes they don’t recognize that they do.

Terminology that is not based on function or on clear pedagogically accepted concepts that are universally used and understood, without argument, by a large majority of teachers, is not helpful. New terms for things that have already been defined are also not only not helpful, they muddy the waters and make the confusion that has always been there worse. No matter how much the individual teachers understand themselves what they are doing and why their labels “explain” things, it is an act of Ego (with a capital E) to expect others to regard these labels objectively, as if they meant something to the world at large.

More harm has been done by the use of vague, imprecise, incorrect, or patently dumb descriptions of vocal production than by any other single precept. Until and unless singing teachers learn to ask for things that students who have never had a singing lesson can replicate without fuss, the process of learning to sing will be fraught with frustration and angst.

If for no other reason than this, it is to voice science that we turn to for our “rescue” from insipid terminology and “creative” descriptions of voiced musical sound. If, however, the singing teacher has read two articles and one chapter of one book and thinks from this that he or she has “got it” and then uses words cheaply, without regard to whether or not a specific concept has been correctly assimilated (something one cannot determine without outside feedback from an expert in the field), then this is worse than the person who says, “I don’t know about this voice science stuff, but just think of an elephant’s trunk while you sing and you will be able to make a nice legato phrase”, who is at least being honest.

If you teach singing, ask yourself, “If I said this to someone who was a carpenter, a nurse or a bus driver, would they understand me, immediately, without further explanation?” If the answer is “No”, you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem. Even people without any knowledge of voice or music understand “open your mouth”, “relax your jaw”, “take a deeper breath while keeping your shoulders quiet”, “please hum this” etc., but who would understand “inhale the shape of the tone”, “release into the upper resonance chambers”, “vibrate your sinuses more”, or “lift the sound into the dome”?

I remember the time I saw a teacher who was purporting to teach belting (the same person who said it was invented in the 60s to sing over rock music)at a national conference tell the student to “open the lower chamber” in order to be able to belt. When I asked if that was all that was necessary, to “open the lower chamber”, whatever that means, the answer I got was yes. This was at a university at a national conference, mind you. Did you know that we have a “lower chamber” somewhere? I haven’t found mine yet, but I keep looking just in case it shows up one day.

How about the “spin the high notes” or “increase the support” phrases? They sound like they should work, right? They sound like they make sense, but do they? Notes do not spin, they are not on wheels or gyroscopes, they are not round or pear shaped or global, and throats are not, and mouths are not, and faces are not, so what can this mean? How about “sing the high notes as gently and sweetly as you can, putting as little pressure on your throat as possible, but using enough effort in your belly muscles to keep the exhalation steady”? Lengthy, but more accurate. And what about “please contract your abs more deliberately while you are singing that note/phrase/word/tone”. (Of course, that might not be what would be necessary to make the sound better).

THINK, folks. WHAT DO I WANT TO HAVE HAPPEN HERE? WHAT IS THE SIMPLE PLAIN ENGLISH WAY TO ASK FOR THAT OR SOMETHING CLOSE? USE WORDS THAT ALREADY EXIST IN THE DICTIONARY. Do Not Make Up New Terms For Anything. Use What We Have.

And now I must go to place my voice into my forehead while releasing the breath through the vowels and consonants as I gaze into the eyes of the “other”. [I have to go talk to my friend face to face].

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One thought on “Terminology – From the Corner Deli and From Mars”

  1. …What??? You mean telling someone to sing “as if you have a warm pink mist in the back of your throat…” isn’t going to create their Met career??

    Egad… you mean we have to THINK about the stuff we say to students?

    Sounds like work to me!! 😉

    Someday I’ll figure out how to sign in on this thing and stop being “Anonymous”…

    Robert

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