“The most important responsibility that any instructor in any area of education has laid at their feet can be defined in one phrase: to teach others how to teach themselves. And I now believe that this overall concept is demonstrated no better, than in the area of vocal pedagogy.” - Stephen J. Childs, Voice Lesson Log, May 10th 1994
I have trained singers for over 15 years. I have trained hundreds upon hundreds of people who all have come to me with the same goal in mind: To be the best singer they could possibly be. And if I were to say to them “push this button” or “throw that switch” they certainly would do it with little to no hesitation. But if I said “you have to learn how to become you own voice teacher, to learn how to catch flaws within the voice and correct those flaws as you sing”, the attitude quickly changes to one of self-doubt and overwhelming questions.
It wasn’t too many years ago that I had a very strange realization. I understood something that would change me forever as a singer and ultimately as a teacher of voice. It was the simple fact that I never had to go back to a voice instructor to improve my voice ever again. I would never need to hire a voice instructor at this point in my development because obviously … I am one.
I hear myself making mistakes while I am in the process of singing and I know why I am doing it and I know how to fix it so quickly that you would not recognize that I am fixing it. At least that is the goal. That is the perfection mark that I am forever aiming for and that is what keeps me moving forward. You see…all singers must ultimately become their own voice teachers. And as obvious as all that sounds, this may be one of the biggest problems within the average voice studio today. The instructors seem to want the students to become dependant on the lessons and to continue on year after year with the same stagnant training. And this obviously leads to little or no development as a singer.
Contemporary voice training has ultimately become less and less serious in its education through the years and there are unfortunately, far more poor quality teachers than good. It’s very common to find piano teachers for instance offering voice lessons because they can simply carry a tune. But this is not what voice training is about. A voice teacher or coach has a “responsibility” to make sure the singers achieve and maintain there absolute best without ever hurting themselves. If the teacher doesn’t know what to look for how can they recommend the appropriate exercise?
If the student doesn’t know what to look for when they are practicing then how can they improve? Because contrary to popular belief, practice alone does not make perfect. Only practicing with clear goals in mind and then practicing to achieve those goals leads to perfection. But there lies the confusion within a thousand questions. What are the concepts and rules that can lead someone to becoming a great singer? What about physical flaws? Do smaller people sing quieter than bigger people? My teacher said I needed to sing from my diaphragm. I thought we sang from our vocal chords??? These are the type of questions that unfortunately go unanswered, at least with accuracy. And yet so much of what makes a great singer “truly great” is how they think. And how we think is only developed through what we know.
It is commonly said that the act of singing is around 98% psychological. And this is the guiding truth that I wholeheartedly believe makes voice training work indefinitely. Not just for a few weeks or months, But ongoing throughout the singers lifetime. The key to developing any skill lies within the understanding of the concepts that govern that skill: By educating the mind to know what is really going on with my tone; To know why I cannot hit that high note without straining; To understand why my vibrato is shaky sometimes but beautiful other times.
For example, to be under the false belief that we somehow “sing from our diaphragm” which is a typical voice teacher phrase, will never help us to truly know what role the diaphragm has in allowing me to hit that high note inmy favorite song. (It’s funny when you realize that the diaphragm itself is only used to inhale. Its not even used to exhale… Let alone sing. There is in actuality another group of muscles called “the transverses muscles” which we use for forceful exhalation, like we do when we sneeze or cough. So if my thinking is not on those correct muscle groups I will be trying to fix something using the wrong means.)
To sum up, education should be accurate in its fundamental principles. If I don’t know what “singing on the breath” means for example, how am I able to achieve it and why should I even try to achieve it? I have noticed time and again that so many voice students that have come to me from other teachers were surprisingly still making basic mistakes. Even simple breathing tests are often failed (even though this is supposed to be the foundation of voice training.) And the explanation behind the vast majority of these difficulties was due to a simple lack of knowledge. They never actually knew they were making the mistake to begin with; let alone how to correct it. They only remembered back to their lessons when the teacher said, “ Sing on the breath, or sing from your diaphragm” as the student gratefully nodded and continued on, hopeful by chance they wouldn’t make that mistake again. This is not voice training. Voice training teaches. All of singing can be analyzed and then learned. And yes…everyone can indeed sing! We just need to learn the underlining concepts and rules behind singing and then train ourselves to follow straight towards them. Singing Success