Your Personal Skew

Whether you like it or not, you will teach from your own skew (angle).

If you are a dramatic tenor, you will listen and feel through that filter. Especially if you have never sung anything outside dramatic tenor repertoire, you will teach everyone to be like you, whether you realize it or not, for quite some time, even if you don’t really think that’s the best way to teach. This will influence how you approach repertoire also.

Your students will follow your vocal example, even if you are not asking them to imitate you. If you manipulate your own sound to be more like theirs, they will model your manipulation, because that’s all they can do. Read that last sentence again. You are the model. Your sound is all they have to go by, along with your verbal description (which is dicey at best). Only after they have studied for a long time, with lots of people, can they sort out what you are doing from how you sound.

And, if you have a certain intuitive sense of “feeling” what a sound is doing in your student’s throat, but you do not yourself make the EXACT SAME SOUND functionally, your intuitive feeling could be misleading. In fact, it could be wrong. You have to make the exact same sound, doing the exact same vocal things, and even then it might feel different to you then it does to the person studying with you — EVEN IF IT IS FUNCTIONALLY THE SAME.

If you are laid back jazz singer with a moderate “mixy” sound, you will not breathe with the kind of “breath support hook-up” as will a classical singer with a big, robust voice. If you are a high belter, you will not sing with the kind of open ringing head register as a lyric soprano. If you are a country singer with lots of “twang” (the real kind, not the one used in Estill Training, which applies incorrectly to just about anything loud), then you will not understand “sing into the mask” because that is all you ever do or will have done. It might take some doing to learn how to sing “dark and back” for comparison in order to know that “mask” was your home. A fish finding out there is water.

NO ONE ever talks about this, writes about it or even, really, thinks about it. If you are a 6’4″ male who weighs 250 lbs how can you possible know what a 5′ 1″ female weighing 100 lbs feels? Could her voice be at all like yours? Could either of you teach the other?

Yes, functionally, a larynx is a larynx and function is function, BUT in application, everything is personal and subjective. When I am making a bright “forward” belty sound I won’t sound the same and probably do not feel the same as would a low alto with a substantial voice, even though we are executing the same vocal function. If you teach, “Do what I do by sounding the way I sound and feeling the way I feel”, without a clear understanding of how functional response  varies with each individual, you can get lost and cause your student significant trouble. Learning to hear function is the only way to sort this out. Learning to authentically make sounds other than the ones you typically make might be challenging, but it’s the only way to really become familiar with what’s happening in someone else.

When we disagree with each other based only on our own experiences, valid though they are, it is because we do not have a broad enough base upon which to evaluate our expectations. If you have only taught kids, or college students, or the local folks from church, or if you have only taught jazz vocalists like yourself, or opera singers like yourself and you suddenly find you are teaching people who are nothing like you, singing music you have never sung, then you have a skewed perception of what’s possible filtered through only your own experience. REMEMBER THAT!!!!

Pedagogy is about what works for the most people most of the time. Clearly, there cannot possibly a universally applicable “way” that suits all people all the time. The only thing that is humanly possible is that the method used applies to most people most of the time with allowances made for age, training levels, musical style, experience and vocal weight and color, and with the knowledge that these things are resting in a physical body of a certain shape and condition. If you do not know it, please investigate Somatic Voicework™. It comes close to this description.

Be careful about generalizations, folks. They never work.

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