Introduction to Vocal Technique

“Hard to Learn, Easy to Do”
People love to sing, and it has almost nothing to do with talent, custom, culture or finachal reward. Almost all people, professionals, amateurs, tyros, or kariokists, love the act of singing to the point where we can be suspicious of those who profess to be indifferent.
The act of singing has some deep primitive connection with the human-being’s great need for self-expression, which manifests itself in many curious ways, from poetry to aggravated assault – all expressions of the self in more or less useful directions.
Self-expression is an extremely strong driver of human behaviour. People who devote their lives to it – singers, for example – set themselves up for a life of ambiguity, uncertainty and misunderstanding, stress, upset and self-denial, ameliorated by the wonderfully gratifying, irresistible and addictive, intellectual and physical act of expressing ideas and feelings that is good singing.
The voice is an instrument of almost fantastic potential for delivering the entire range of human expression, which can only be brought to its ultimate fruition when properly managed and disciplined. At least, that’s what we’re aiming for.
Vocal technique – what is it? When you learn to drive a car, you are given a set of rules: what to do first, where to look first, how to move on in certain circumstances. Then, it is to be hoped, all these rules turn into habits so that you don’t have to think about it in all that detail as you’re actually driving in real time. It is exactly the same in singing. We try to make habits so that we can express ourselves as exactly and as beautifully as we can imagine, with the delicate and fallible instrument that is the voice. Not quite the same thing as an automobile.
Anyone can improve his or her singing voice to a greater or lesser degree.
There is one exception to the “anyone can learn to sing” rule – it is almost always useless to try to teach someone who cannot match pitch. Poor dears, the climb is too steep.
The amount of improvement depends upon some basic factors. How horribly is the student currently abusing his or her vocal organs in order to produce that dreadful sound? Does he or she have some awareness of his bones, muscles, bodily processes? Is she willing and intellectually pliable? What about imitative capacity? Does he have any imagination? How badly does the student really want to learn to sing?
If I had a penny for every time I’ve said . . .
Why would anyone want to be a voice teacher? If I had a penny – just one penny – for every time in thirty-five years I’ve said “open your mouth”, I’d be a rich woman. But I would still be teaching people to sing, in between shopping and drinking champagne, because I absolutely love it. It’s the most fascinating activity I can think of, except for actually singing, of course.
If you are starting out as a teacher, you won’t have seen everything yet. Even if you have forty years’ experience, believe me, you can still be surprised. Teaching singing is a never-ending mine of amazing variation. Voices are all exactly the same, and all completely different at the same time. Never turn your nose up at a prospective experience, especially if you are a young teacher. You need to see and hear every possible variation in production that you can find.
Every voice you come across is “grist to the mill”. Attend other teachers’ seminars and workshops. You may not agree with everything they say and indeed, you might object mightily to everything they say, but at least you’ll know what else is out there. And there is a lot of almighty rubbish out there. You will hear an enormous amount of confusing, not to mention ridiculous, nonsense bruited about. There are people teaching with either very little experience or their experience has been gained on a different planet from the one you live on. You will find the teacher who hasn’t a clue and doesn’t care, and the teacher who firmly believes his misguided fantasy to be “the true way”.
The test of good teaching is simply the improvement of the students. If he and she can express themselves more beautifully with less effort and strain, they will be happier, which is a great achievement. And you are doing something right and earning your living.