How can I sing better? That is the age-old question we all secretly want the answer too. The problem is of course that there are so many approaches out there than we know what to do with: teachers who have developed their own system; schools that teach another; and books upon books of vocal science that would make your head spin. And when you learn about the dangers of incorrect singing, it’s enough to throw an ambitious singer into a panic.
So how do we know what is the most efficient, and useful technique to be the best singers we can be, and get our vocals the way we want? Further, who will understand, and know what to do with, the nuances of our own, unique voices?
We cannot become better singers if we are attached to an idea of vocal function that is incomplete or incorrect. The only plausible reason why there are so many vocal techniques to begin with is because the overwhelming majority of those approaches have been insufficient in providing a means, and the sensible answers to, a flexible but strong voice for ALL singers.
Why? The voice is the only instrument that is both directly affected by the nervous system of the human body, and is virtually invisible (even our most modern technology cannot observe the exact details of what happens, both at the vocal cord level, and below the visible surface of the cords, particular as they vibrate at such lightning fast speeds – in excess of 400 times per second). So the majority of teachers and techniques try and attach their system of vocal development onto aspects of the voice they CAN see – breathing for instance. But even the most brilliant singers have admitted to never coming close to mastering their own breathing – it’s impossible to control! How are we to know the exact amount of expelled air required on every conceivable sound combination, on every pitch in each registration of the voice, and then on every dynamic??? I get a heart attack just thinking about it… I’d be dead by the time I finally learned exactly how all that works, even on my own voice alone. And then once you’ve “perfected” your breathing, guess what? It doesn’t mean you’ll be able to sing well.
And why is that? Focusing on breath control without considering how the vocal cords will MANAGE that airflow is dangerous, and silly: the easily produced, overwhelmingly powerful blasts of air, against the tiny glottis within the delicately vibrating vocal folds are vastly unequal partners, particularly as they thin and lengthen to vibrate faster and create higher pitches. The voice is an interdependent complex system of: air propulsion (abdomen against lungs), valve control (position of larynx), pitch making (inside the larynx), compression, shifting resonance qualities, and emotion, all controlled by thought alone. Is there any wonder why singing is referred to as a high art?
Even today, there is much discrepancy over how the voice functions, and therefore taught, among the various traditions of singing that have emerged. Many just avoid technique altogether by teaching style, and then get frustrated when the student doesn’t make suitable improvements. Further, just because someone claims to teach, for example, Bel Canto, doesn’t mean that they are equipped to teach the purity of Bel Canto that was so essential to that precise and mostly lost Italian tradition that is often referred to today.
As the prospect of making money from teaching singing became more and more possible, different approaches have emerged that have created a host of hot debates amongst the diverse lot of the singing community. The only thing you can do is:
- arm yourself with common sense (you know more than you think you do; trust your instincts)
- investigate the quality and sensibility of methods which you come across (don’t fall for gimmicks)
- be very careful about you or anyone else, who might over-intellectualize the training process; singing is an experiential act of DOING
- and step into an experience of a particular approach you’ve investigated thoroughly and that you trust, with your own voice.
Let yourself be guided by the intelligence of your mind, and the feel of your voice as you experiment with it. When singing is right, it should be natural and easy, strong and virtually effortless.