"You Don’t Need To Understand Physiology"

“You don’t need to understand physiology to sing well.”

“You don’t need to understand voice science to sing well.”

“You don’t need to understand vocal function to sing well.”

These statements are all true. If they were not true, there would be no singers without formal training in physiology, science or function, singing in any style, who have had big careers. Since most singers are in CCM styles, with classical singers being in the minority of money-earning vocalists, and since it is highly probably that many more CCM vocalists don’t have any knowledge of these subjects (no stats to refer to here, just life experience), it is self-evident that a majority of CCM singers have sung without any knowledge of physiology, voice science or vocal function. A lot of them do very well without this knowledge — until there is a problem.

Then, when the voice decides to go south, they get “motivated”. Suddenly, it might seem like a good idea to learn about anything, all things, that have to do with making a voiced sound. Why? Is that going to bring the voice back? The answer is, it just might.

If the alternative is doing what you’ve always done (nothing much) it might be that a vocalist would conclude that being blithely innocent isn’t any longer a good idea and that probably she needs to understand the machine and what makes it go if she wants to keep using it to earn a living.

So why not learn these things in the first place? Why would any singers want to sing without this knowledge? Because it isn’t expected and because it isn’t really life and death necessary until there is a problem. And, if they should seek out some kind of instruction, there is a good chance that they will either encounter people teaching singing who don’t know these topics or know them but don’t understand how to apply the information gleaned from them to improve their work. That’s a big deal.

Knowing that the vocal folds vibrate and the air comes from the lungs isn’t going to make you a great singer but understanding that every sound you make starts in your throat in your vocal folds is a much better piece of information to have than not. It is also useful in case some “vocal expert” should tell you that your voice has to come “from your diaphragm” or that you need it to be “in your masque”, because it would allow you to know that such statements have nothing to do with what actually happens when you make a sound, and that the person dispensing this advice is not going to do you much good.

Knowing where your carburetor is won’t help you drive the car. Neither will knowing that the gas tank is inside the car if you run out of gas, but if you thought the car ran on fumes from the carbon dioxide of people’s exhalations, or if you believed that the car had a little man inside who was running really hard to make the engine work, that wouldn’t be so good, would it? Better to have an idea of what actually happens even if you think it has nothing to do with your driving. If your car stops running or has problems, at least you would take it to a garage looking for a reliable mechanic and not to the place that feeds the little man a better dinner.

Just because you don’t have to know something doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t know it because you choose to know it. Having information that has to do with whatever you are doing can only be a good thing, even if at first you don’t know exactly how to use it. If you run into trouble singing, having information about physiology, voice science and vocal function could help you choose a good “repair person” or “garage”, but not having it could lead you to run around, lost, not knowing what to look for, or even give up looking, thinking there was no help to be had.

If you sing, take the time to learn about your instrument. Go to workshops, take classes and seminars, read articles and books. It will protect you in the moments when things aren’t going along nicely all by themselves, and there will be such times. Be pro-active. Learn before you have to.

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