One of the most destructive things a singing teacher can do is to make you feel that what you are doing is wrong. Teachers sometimes will tell you that you are wrong or perhaps they just say, “That is not right.” If you knew all you need to know about singing, you would be singing right. But you don’t, so they tell you that you are wrong. The teachers respond to your inability to sing as you would wish by telling you exactly How Wrong You Are. I would prefer that singing instructors would be more sensitive to how personal this is for their students. I deeply regret negative language in singing lessons. I looked up the word “wrong” in several online dictionaries. It means things like inaccurate, invalid, false, illogical, unsound, flawed, bogus, phony. And there are more definitions. All of those synonyms are negative. When a student tells me he is “wrong,” I disagree. I say something like, “No, you are not wrong. You are using your voice in a less than efficient way and you are doing this because you do not know how to use it efficiently. That is what I am teaching you and things will get better.” Not to know something means you do not know it. It does not mean you are wrong.
What negative talk from a teacher brings on is a state of self-criticism. If the student singer is busy telling herself that she has it all wrong, she will not be able to focus on positive approaches to change. I am not a psychologist, but this seems obvious to me. Please look at the instructions below. If you do not know how to follow any of these sufficient to please the teacher, you may be told you are wrong, or not right, or inadequate in some other way. Note my comments in italics, please.
“Each breath drops low in the body.” You cannot breathe lower than your lungs will go.
“Open your throat to prevent gasping.” If you gasp when you take a breath, you’ve got a bigger problem than how to breathe.
“Chest stays steady as you inhale.” Your chest cannot “stay steady” as you inhale because the
rib cage moves out, so your chest moves out a little.
“Body movement consists of the lower abdominal area and the ribs expanding upon inhalation.” There is nothing except your gut in your lower body. It has nothing to do with breathing.
“With exhalation, the abdominal area moves in as the air is slowly released.” The amount of movement of the gut area when we breath is minimal, in or out.
- Step in front of a mirror so that you can see the full length of your torso from the side.
2. Place your hands on both sides of the bottom of your stomach.
3. Open your mouth and inhale.
4. As you inhale, allow the breath to expand your stomach outward.”
This is ridiculous. This does not happen; it cannot happen. Your stomach has nothing
to do with breathing.
5. When you exhale, allow the breath to bring your stomach back in.” Breath has no muscles!!. It cannot bring your stomach back in.
6. If you see any movement in your shoulders or in your chest, you are doing something wrong.” How can you POSSIBLY not move your chest when you breathe when your ribs and your lungs are in your chest!!!
Number 3: (I’m going to get some feedback on this one.)
“Use the Lip Trill to Warm Up Your Voice”
“ A lip trill is an itchy exercise, but it’s great for feeling the movement of the exhalation. Loosen your lips and just let them hang free as you blow air between them. Lip trills are a fantastic tool for helping singers develop a consistent breath flow, take vocal weight out of the voice, and develop a smooth legato line just to name a few. They also put the voice in protection due to the fact that the vocal tract is partially closed in front.”
There is very little air escaping through our lips when we sing. This is total nonsense. You take excessive “vocal weight” from the voice through correcting registration, the balance between the powerful chest voice and the soft, sweet falsetto. Whatever is wrong with your voice can only be fixed while SINGING! The answer to whatever is bothering you is correcting registration. Lip trills will do nothing whatsoever to make your voice better. They will not help breath flow. They will not give you a “smooth legato line.”
Try this book title: “How to sing better than anybody.
Sing vowels with your jaw open. This is a beginner singing tip that makes you sound better instantly, so I call it the “Instant Fix.” Sing with your chin down for more power without strain. Control your vocal vibrato.”
You cannot sing any vowel except “AH” with your jaw open. Try it. (Maybe “OH” I’ll grant that one provisionally.) If you bring your chin down to make a wideopen mouth, you will not have more power and you will avoid strain. YOU CANNOT CONTROL YOUR VIBRATO!!!!!!
I could go on but I will spare you, except to say that if you read how you can sing beautifully through taking air into your stomach, that you can learn to sing beautifully in five minutes, that you can control your vibrato, that you can breathe into your stomach, the people writing this stuff (names withheld) are ignorant and they cannot teach you to sing.
Learning to sing is very similar to developing an athletic skill. I frequently use the example of a college track coach. He/she will not say, “Go out there and run as fast as you can.” What you will hear is, “Okay, what we’re going to do is analyze your movement. We will make some moving x-rays to see how your body is working. We will see how your feet are placed as you run. We will make sure your arms are against your body to cut down on wind resistance.” Etcetera. I know nothing about running and I may not have this all right, but some version of this will be necessary to speed up your racing. Once the coach has made such corrections, then she/he can tell you to run very fast.
How does this relate to singing? Well, we have muscles that we use to sing, muscles that help us make sound, muscles that position the larynx just right, all the things my long suffering students listen to me talk about. The difference in singing and racing is that we do not have much control over our singing muscles, but we still have to understand how they work and design programs of vocal exercise to learn what we can and cannot control and how to help the whole system work better and more freely. It is PROCESS – a popular word these days. It means “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end” (source unknown) or “a series of actions, motions, or occurrences” (Webster), “a natural phenomenon marked by gradual changes that lead toward a particular result” (Merriam-Webster).