In a previous blog I wrote about the importance of those funny repetitive sounds (i.e. vocal exercises) we often hear singers do during singing lessons.
Check out the blog entry here:
The Difference Between Vocal Exercises and Vocal Warm Ups
Yes, there really IS a point to all those nay-nay-nay’s and gee-gee-gee’s us singing teachers force upon our students! The ability to vocalise well is an important process in any singer’s vocal journey. However, we must remember that there is much more to singing than just being able to vocalise a great “gee” or a fabulous “nay”.
When I was a kid, I took drawing classes. Before I had my first class, I always thought that a pencil was, well, just a pencil. It wasn’t until after taking taking lessons when I learnt that there are in fact many different types of pencils to choose from. I distinctly remember that my first few lessons consisted solely of using different types of pencils to draw tiny little lines one after another. Starting with slight pressure on the pencil tip, the goal was to create thin wispy lines that gradually became darker and bolder as you drew across the page.
At the time all I really wanted to do was draw a picture of Moonchie – the new puppy my parents got us. Being told to sit still and draw line after line after line wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time. However, being the kind of kid who generally did what she was told, I hunkered down and concentrated hard on creating my little lines that went from light to dark in perfect gradation. In fact, I spent hours and hours trying to get them just right. If I was going to create the masterpiece my 9-year-old self had envisioned of our beloved Moonchie, those lines had better be perfect! In fact, I was so determined that I became increasingly caught up in the practice of this exercise. I got lost in the intricacies and imperfections of each and every line. I got frustrated when after 10 minutes of focused drawing, I looked over my work and saw that my lines were becoming shorter and shorter and no longer of equal length. I had somehow convinced myself that if I couldn’t master this basic process then I wouldn’t be able to create any kind of drawing worthy of display.
Needless to say, I am a recovering perfectionist.
Fast forward decades later and I am the WORST player to have on your team in a game of Pictionary, any attempt at drawing results in unintentional abstract art, and sadly, no Moonchie masterpiece.
In the process of perfecting my line-drawing technique, I clearly lost sight of the bigger picture – in this case both metaphorically and literally! In my obsession with getting my technique perfected, I forgot that the reason I enrolled in classes to begin with was so that I could become a better drawer, NOT a master line-maker.
As a singing teacher, I am fortunate to have so many curious and inquisitive vocal students who want to know all the nitty gritty details on how to sing. I absolutely love when students pepper me with questions about the voice. In fact, I could happily spend the whole lesson discussing appropriate vocal fold adduction, laryngeal position, resonators and vowel shaping. However, we need to remember that great technique alone does not make a great singer.
All too often I encounter students who put far too much emphasis on mastering their technique. There are even some who develop an irrational fear of singing actual songs because they feel that their technique is not yet up to standard. The old perfectionist in me totally relates to this by the way.
Yes, establishing good technique is crucial for any singer. But to place this much importance on the mastery of singing exercises in and of itself is to miss the whole point entirely.
My advice to students of singing is the same as what I’d tell myself if I could travel back in time to my childhood drawing days:
Whatever craft you choose to develop, don’t isolate your learning to what can be accomplished solely within the practice room.
If you want to draw, find as many opportunities as you can to draw actual pictures of things that you enjoy. If you want to dance, go out and dance like no one is watching. And if you want to sing, well darn-it, get out there and sing your heart out. Remember, there are many singers with poor technique who are loved by the world because they sing from the heart. In contrast, in all my years of singing and teaching others how to sing, I have never once heard of a famous vocaliser.
Practice vocal exercises so that you can sing forever and express yourself the way YOU want to. Just remember to spend just as much time actually singing (even if it’s just to yourself) without worrying about your pitching, whether you’re breathing correctly, etc.
If you commit to doing both regularly (i.e. vocal exercising AND singing), I guarantee that your technique will eventually make its way into your performances without much conscious effort on your part. And THIS is ultimately the end result that we all want from singing lessons.
With much love, joy & music,
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