Do you want real vocal change or just vocal enlightenment? Do you want to build your instrument, or just be entertained by learning things about singing? After more than twenty years of working with voices and countless hours studying voice pedagogy (the science of how to teach singing), I have come to realise that you can’t teach someone to sing – they teach themselves. Let me explain this…
I believe a fundamental flaw in the teaching and learning of singing is to confuse what is informative for what is transformative. Put simply, as a teacher I can’t just teach a whole lot of facts about how the voice works and expect you to improve. I have observed many singing lessons where there was far more discussion about singing and what is desirable in singing compared to actual singing. These kinds of lessons often miss the mark, because…
information about singing does not create change – only enlightenment.
Even if I get everything right in a lesson, great singing lessons also do not create change! It always excites me when good teaching achieves rapid improvement. Sometimes, in the space or one or two lessons, students are able to hear and feel their voice functioning better. However, this is not real change, but only demonstrates that the student has the capacity or potential for change.
if information about singing and positive singing lessons do not transform your voice, what does?
If I want to learn how to drive, I can’t do that by sitting down and reading a book about road laws. Yes, I need some foundational knowledge and must learn my road rules. However, at some point, I am going to have to get behind the wheel of a car and start figuring it out for myself because doing is important! In the same way, I can’t think myself into being a better singer. It takes some sort of action.
To continue the analogy, learner drivers in my State are required to complete a minimum of 120 hours of supervised driving before they are eligible to sit their driving test. Ideally, the 120 hours should include driving in various conditions – at night; in the day; in the city; in the country; in the rain and the sunshine. That equates to a lot of action over theory!
So how might the hours stack up in your journey to be a better singer? In a typical 24 hour day, you are using your voice for possibly 8 hours. Across a whole week, that equates to 56 hours of voice use. If you’re an ideal student, you probably have a singing lesson once a week for about an hour and you practice singing each day for about 45 minutes. 🙂
Represented on a pie chart, you can start to see the grim picture. As your voice teacher, I have a very small influence over what happens with your voice in a typical week and, as a singer, you have a very large influence! The way you use your voice throughout the week has the potential either to reinforce things you’re learning in the lesson or to totally undo them!
How you use your voice between lessons has the real transforming potential!
If you practice poor vocal technique in your speaking throughout the week, then that is a lot to undo in the small amount of time you are working on your voice technique. If you do little or no home practice, then your singing muscles are getting a work out for a very small fraction of your vocal week. If, on the other hand, you work with a recording of your singing lesson, even two or three times in the week, then the influence that this lesson can exert on improving your voice begins to increase dramatically.
It’s this time you spend away from the lesson trying to work it out for yourself and trying to apply concepts that is so important. This is how you really transform your voice. I feel that a singing lesson is like a dinner party. It’s a nice experience, but I’m generally on my best behaviour; trying to be co-operative and do whatever is asked of me. Sometimes my teachers make modifications to my singing, but I can’t really hear the difference, until I listen back later to the recording. It’s not until I take the insights I gained from that lesson away and start working with them, struggling with concepts, working them into my voice that I really start to feel the benefits.
So… no one can teach you to sing. You actually teach yourself to sing. You do that by taking the insights and skills you gain in singing lessons and applying those to your singing regularly and over a period of time. You need to apply that both in voice exercises (technique) and in songs (application). It is the combination of regular work, working things out for yourself and time that really will transform your voice.
You can’t think your way into a better voice. You have to behave your way into a better voice.
For some suggestions on how to maximise your voice practice, you could see these links