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On Singing

If you want to get into an argument online, then you can resort to politics, sure, but you could also just go to any vocal coach forum. There’s plenty of arguing going on there. Most of it is posturing about what school of thought people have come from in voice training. None of it is actually worth following. But, man do the people there get passionate about their positions on the voice.

The truth about singing, and training to sing, and coaching is it’s a very newly developed art. People would have you think otherwise because of opera and the kind of voice training that people used to do to sing it, but that’s like looking out at the modern electronic music field and saying it’s the same world we’ve always been in because…harpsichords. In music, across the spectrum, from instruments to delivery, and including training - everything has changed in the last 25 years. The only thing that has been truly static is the underlying language of it. Otherwise…chaos. Explosive chaos.

That includes singing.

We know a lot more about singing than we used to, for two primary reasons: 1. really amazing performing vocalists started to need to teach, and 2. singing became big business and medicine decided to respond to its medical needs.

When it comes to #1, I’m not denigrating voice teachers who are primarily academics. They serve an important function in the hierarchy of the voice world, mainly by training adult vocalists who are talented enough to take control of their own vocal development later inside a professional career. Those tools you learn in academia are important. But the daily exploration process of your own voice is truly what makes any singer great. And that can take a lifetime. And it will probably also travel you through a maze of different schools of thought about the voice. At least it should, if you’re actually serious about it. But the fact that performing singers with not only the academic background but the due diligence of stage time started to teach has changed the landscape of being both things, either a singer or a voice coach.

Number two has given us a wealth of knowledge about how the body - more importantly, how the vocal cords - have responded to our adaptation to modern styles. There’s no greater selling point for great singing technique than what doctors know now about vocal cord stress and damage. Some of the greatest voices on the planet right now are risking silencing themselves because of their lack of consistent good technique.

In a Berklee thread on Facebook about singing a few months ago, there was a consensus among the pro singers that when we were in college, all of the methods were incomplete in some way to masterfully teach current styles. It has only recently been developed, and it still exists in a fractured state with different coaches pushing different methods and some classical trainers clinging desperately to an old guard line that won’t give up the ghost.

Is there actually ONE great method for teaching modern voice? Yes and no. I’ve seen it stretched across different methods from Alexander to SLS, but we get hung up on the divisions. Sticking points about whose subtle idea about one of the hinges is better or an overcautious approach that tries to handle the voice with constant kid gloves because of the risk of “damage.”

But I also see great stage vocalists who now teach talking about it. Agreeing on the points that deliver the best results and how the voice can be trained in some of the same ways that we train the rest of the body. Bursting some of the mythologies. Cutting to the chase instead of prolonging the struggle.

We’re not the most organized bunch of people. Singers and musicians. And our translation skills probably need some work at times.

And YES, SOME of us are real divas. (Not me, of course.) ;)

But the future of voice training is slowly becoming an art with real backbone. That should excite a lot of people. Even just casual singers looking for some basic training to improve their personal lives.

So…breathe with us through this transition, if you will. And come back often so we can explore it together.

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