Working With or Against Your Own Default

It is very hard to incorporate your own default into teaching singing.

What is your default?

If you have sung all your life with one kind of instrument (which is true unless you do something radical, like voice change surgery), you make the sound you make. Your sensations and experiences are natural to you and you take them for granted. The amount of effort it takes for you to breathe, to sing softly or loudly, to sing high notes or low ones, to make a warm sound or one that is bright, is whatever it is. Even if you have worked diligently and for a long time to make something out of your voice that was not originally there, once you get used to it, it more or less blends into whatever you do and stays that way as long as you keep singing regularly. What you do without thinking is your default.

What is not so good about this is that everyone is different. What you can do falling asleep might take someone else more effort than climbing Mt. Everest. What they can do whistling Dixie might be completely out of your grasp. If you assume that everyone else has the same experience that you have……….uh-oh.

Even if the person who is working with you is very much like you in terms of the kind of voice he or she might have, the person might still not EXPERIENCE their voice the same way you experience yours. So many factors are involved and so many things influence what we perceive, it’s probably a good assumption that, in fact, the amount that you have in common is probably less rather than more. That is why studying pedagogy is very important if you are a serious teacher of singing. How can you address or compensate for your own default? You need to know and understand a variety of approaches based upon vocal function.

And, if you are a student with a small light voice studying with someone who has a big dramatic voice, how do you emulate that? Even if you try not to, the person teaching you is your AURAL MODEL. You have to copy their examples, unless they are totally silent (and I know at least one teacher who refuses to sing at all). How do you imitate the sound but not what the person making the sound is doing? It takes skill to sort that out and, if you are a student, you don’t have that skill. The teacher has to know the difference between what is happening with the sound and the instrument itself. Functional training is the same for everyone, THE SAME, but how one teaches it, how one experiences doing something functional is always unique. If you know you have a small light voice and your student has a big dramatic voice, one thing you can do is remind the student that your own instrument is not a good role model and that the student should go out and listen to people who are more similar to them. It’s probably more the rule that teachers have students with lyric voices, which are not only common, but typical of young people, whereas dramatic voices are much rarer. Dramatic voices, however, have a much better chance of getting work (especially in classical music), and, therefore, are more likely to end up as teachers because they have had careers. Catch 21.

If you have a background as a jazz vocalist, you most certainly will take for granted that chest register is easy, available and part of natural sound making. If you have a background as a classical soprano, however, you might have no real experience with singing comfortably in your chest voice and find getting one to show up and using it comfortably quite a task. And, if you are a classical vocalist who has never sung rock and roll you might not understand how to “get rid of” your classical sound while singing rock and roll so you don’t sound silly. But if you are a rocker then you might wonder how it is that anyone could produce so much resonance as to fill a room without electronic amplification. How would it work teaching across these defaults? Not impossible but very very tricky.

Best to know your own instrument (are you a piccolo or a tuba?) and understand its plusses and minuses before you assume that you can teach others to do what you do when you sing.

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2 thoughts on “Working With or Against Your Own Default”

  1. How do you imitate the sound but not what the person making the sound is doing? It takes skill to sort that out and, if you are a student, you don’t have that skill.

    I usually say the exact opposite – what I’m trying to get my students to do is imitate the function NOT the sound/quality. But yes, it’s tricky, and your warning is good – I can’t assume that my students are skilled enough to discern sound from function.

  2. I usually say it the other way too, and thanks for commenting here. What I meant was that you can’t help but imitate the sound, since as a student you cannot tell the difference and don’t know yet what the function is anyway.

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