Singing is more than pulleys and levers

anatomy of the larynx 2
Image: http://www.edoctoronline.com/medical-atlas.asp?c=4&id=21680&m=2

As a singer, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the act of making a tuneful and /or crowd-pleasing noise had been reduced in recent years to nothing more than a series of sciencey-sounding  manoeuvres. Teachers appear to be obsessed with the muscles of the vocal tract and – even more exciting! – formant tuning, compression, twang, inertive reactance, sub-glottal pressure and on and on and on….

Much arguing – and a megaton of research – is done about the ‘correct’ application of each and every item on that list and many more, and each teacher, method or school of thought seems hell bent on outdoing the next with how much they know.  Is that a bad thing? No, not completely! (Well, not apart from the last bit, which we think is daft). Of course it’s great that there’s all this knowledge – assuming that the teacher knows how to apply it, and that’s not always a given! – but aren’t we missing something here?

Our position at The Voice College is:

a) All research has something interesting to offer, but one size cannot fit all and no single method, school of thought or researcher can possibly have all of the answers, and

b) singing is an art form underpinned and informed by science, not a hard science that’s wandered into the world of the creative arts.

What would you rather have? A technically perfect voice that ticks all of the sciencey boxes, or a voice that moves an audience? And is it possible to have both? Maybe. But until science tells us objectively what constitutes the perfect voice, we’ll be left wondering what that might sound like… We think it’s as unlikely as being able to define the perfect novel, the perfect painting, or the perfect sculpture. So much of what makes art wonderful is subjective, and a listener’s response to the singing voice is very definitely a subjective thing.

Just to be clear: we love, love, love technique! We believe that all good teachers should be able to listen, interpret, and develop when it comes to working with the voice, using their knowledge of the pulleys and levers of our blog’s title alongside all of the other sciencey-sounding stuff. It’s not efficient, acceptable, or even good return on investment (!) for teachers to trot out exercises in class because that’s what their singing teacher made them do, with no understanding of why the exercise is helpful (or even if it is)! We should know what, how, and why, when it comes to teaching voice. But isn’t singing more than this? Form is great, but what about art? What about performance?

For singers, it’s about connecting with their audience. It’s making people feel something. We’d hazard a guess if you named your favourite three vocal performances of all time, they wouldn’t all be technically perfect from a singing teacher’s perspective, but they will certainly move you in some way. Voices carry emotion. It’s pretty much what they’re for!

There’s a slowly-growing trend that we think is massively important: that of getting our students to connect with the emotional imperative as a means of creating, by default, a more technically-correct sound. To try to explain something very complicated in one sentence: our voices reflect our ‘inner landscape’; whatever we are thinking and feeling at the moment of intention (the intention to make sound) is carried in the sound that we then make. So, if what we are thinking and feeling is “I hope I hit this note” or “I am going to place this note here and support using these muscles and use this amount of compression” then the sound that we make carries those thoughts. The best that it can sound under such circumstances is ‘correct’. Is ‘correct’ really  what a singer is going for? Yes of course, in terms of ‘the right pitch at the right time’, but that cannot be all that there is when we are discussing artistry, because it’s not even all there is when training the voice to function in a healthy way. If we want to sing in a truly healthy way, we must address the primal drivers of the voice and of communication, not just the pulleys and levers of the vocal tract.

We believe that the training of a singer must involve harnessing the deeply-rooted instincts that exist in all humans – to communicate effectively and honestly via sound, facial expression and body language – in equal measure to teaching them how to control the voice via our physical pulleys and levers.

Happy singing, everyone!

 

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