Your Own Default

If you are a “classically trained” singer, and all of your training was “classical”, and you are still singing decently, you have a “default” that doesn’t go away. You will sound “trained” to a knowledgeable ear at breakfast, in the supermarket, at a ball game and while you are visiting with your grandchildren. “Classically trained” voices are resonant, clear, articulate, unique and dynamic. They are generally not breathy, nasal, noisy or harsh.

(Story: I was shopping at my corner deli a few years ago. The store is small and I was alone. In came three young people, two women and a man. They were picking up cheese, crackers, fruit and beer. The discussion went back and forth between them about what they were going to choose. I couldn’t help but see and hear them. When they came to check out, as I was paying to leave, I asked them, “Are you opera singers?” With startled faces, they responded, “Yes, all of us are.” The young man explained he was here to make his Met debut and that his friends were there to support him. They were incredulous about how I could guess, but, really, after a lifetime of teaching singers, it was hardly a guess. They couldn’t have been anything else.)

You cannot make that sound go away any more than a body builder could disappear his ripped abs. You can cover up a developed body with clothing but even there, the shape and definition of the muscles under the cloth can be perceived, especially if you know what to look for.

If you are someone who sings CCM material that never demands you to make a sustained loud sound, over and over, throughout your pitch range, you might be able to make a “classically trained” sound (create a specific resonance response) but you will not be able to sing an entire song there unless you practice daily for quite some time, maybe a year or more.

Vocal exercise that asks the entire apparatus (voice and body) to work to a max (without fatigue) will produce vocal stamina, enough to do an entire opera without electronic help, but not right away. Even very good students don’t automatically sing consistently enough in demanding repertoire to sustain singing a long performance, especially for several days in a row.

If you run, you might be able to run at a moderate pace in your neighborhood to keep in shape. If you wanted to start training for a marathon, however, that would not do much to help you be in one. You need to do more in order to be ready so you won’t have to drop out or take 24 hours to finish.

So it is with singing. You need to learn what a complete machine can do. Two or more octaves, clear tone, undistorted vowels, articulated consonants, variable expression, and loud volume as needed, over most of the pitches, takes time to cultivate. Without that, however, you don’t have a fully functional voice. In fact, you may not even really know how you would sound if you had developed it in that way.  And there are other ways to be trained.

If you do not sing in a CCM quality, particularly if you are “classically trained”, you will not automatically be able to get your voice to do what CCM singers do effortlessly. That’s because the muscle responses in the system are different and you do not get these very different responses automatically. Training in this way means something very different. You can’t will yourself to belt a high note if you don’t belt high notes well, not just once in a while but over time.

When you teach, be aware of your own default. If you are an opera singer, know that you sound like an opera singer even when you are in the deli. If you are a high belter, be aware that your vocal production is easy for you but someone else might find doing the very same sound hard. Even your vocal examples in a lesson matter, particularly if you don’t know what they are and how they sound to others who are not like you. (And most students are NOT like you.) Learn to pay attention to what you sound like when you are not thinking about how you sound and don’t think for a minute that it disappears when you are teaching someone to sing.


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