I have spent many a year sat behind a piano observing someone whilst they sing into my face. Within these, what people often call, ‘singing lessons’, I have noticed trends. Trends in student persona and their behaviour. The interesting thing about these trends is the effect they have on the voice and becoming a better singer.
“Really? The the way I act has a relationship with my vocal development?” I hear you ask. Of course it does… and my aim within this article is to expose five of the most common archetypal characters and outline why being one makes you awesome, and why it could also be holding you back.
Please note: I aim not to be sexist by the titles added here. In experience, the sex defined is more likely to be the one carrying those particular traits. Don’t hate me.
Little Miss Disney Fairy
Now don’t get me wrong, the softly spoken, polite, ‘wouldn’t say boo to a goose’ types are lovely. Some would even say ‘cute’, but one
wouldn’t want to condescend. Young girls like to be pretty and they sometimes carry this thought and persona through to later life, whether that’s by buying the latest MAC makeup or speaking like a disney queen. Giggling and excessively apologising are common traits.
It’s cute (there, I said it). This ‘style’ can also work well for certain genres and songs, especially if you like Enya.
We must remember that we use the same voice for speaking and singing. If voice use is approached tentatively, it usually results in less than optimal cord closure and a breathy tone. If we programme our voice to act this way for speaking, this will carry over to singing.
Another small problem is that singing requires a certain level of energy and conviction. That energy and conviction is translated into muscle activation and sufficient airflow support. Without these two fun
damentals, everything can be, well, just a bit lame. Recruiting a bit more ‘oomph’ may not feel comfortable to this usually reserved and unassuming character, but it has to be worth considering to experience change.
“You need that fixing? Give me a hammer and some caveman-esque grunting and I’ll have it sorted in a flash”. This approach to life is awesome when you have a broken tap or when that guy cuts you up on the roundabout, but it can often create a barrier when approaching the delicate art of singing. The words “no, I can do this” or “fingers crossed for this top note” often emanate from this human being.
There is nothing better than working with someone who is prepared to get stuck in. In fact, multiple studies show that ‘grit’ or ‘passion and perseverance for long term goals’ is a important trait to have when it comes to achieving goals  That and, if we get it right, ‘giving it some welly’ can sometimes help us attain some normally considered out of reach notes.
Unfortunately, contrary to popular belief, volume doesn’t always equal talent. In fact, too much volume (or airflow) will overwhelm the instrument and the singer may have to find unnatural ways to make pitch. Do this for long enough and we will not only be limiting development, but we may also be purchasing a one-way ticket to nodule town. Metaphorically speaking.
Er, hello self review! This one is easy as it comes from experience. Before I sung, I played football. To quite a high standard, which meant that I had logical, linear training pounded into me from a young age. “Do this exercise and you’ll get that result”. “This is the process that will fix that problem”. Clinicians are analytical, calculated and like control.
Jobs often get completed and ability can be attained relatively quickly.
The arts require creativity and a certain level of the ‘unexplained’. Clinicians like to know why and how things happen and this information isn’t always available to a singer, nor is it necessary. This ‘becoming fixated on the small things’ mindset can hold back development. It could be said that the magic in singing is produced when singers truly ‘let go’ (ahem, whatever that means. Lol).
Once upon a time, a man had a dream. A dream to show the world his music. That dream was created by a magical wizard called creativity. Creativity, the wizard, lives in a little town called chaos. The problem with chaos town is that nothing ever gets done. There are lots of people with big dreams (and hallucinogens, probably) but nothing ever gets completed and the town never progresses.
Did my story paint an elegant picture? The point is, a wise man once told me that we need to balance creativity. We need to juggle that, and the chaos that produces it, with some sort of structure in order to achieve success and realise dreams. It’s hard for the two to exist in the same place at the same time. Musos are very creative and therefore love a bit of chaos, but this doesn’t often produce the desired results. Whether it’s a practice regime or taking regular song writing classes: structure and systems helps us get there.
Some of the best ideas are created when we ‘let go’. It could even be argued that the best song writing duos are made from one side creative, one side structure.
There are a lot of broken hearts when dreams aren’t fulfilled and aspirations don’t materialise.
Some people just know everything. Nope, sorry, what I meant to say is: some people think they know everything, but actually just have some knowledge, experience and confidence. These attributes are fine as long as one or all three don’t spill over into an over inflated self worth. In the singing world, Mr Know-It-Alls have studied every vocal pedagogy, twice. They could of also taught them all, at the same time. If only they weren’t so busy being brilliant.
Arrogance has no pros. Sorry about that.
If a student continues to pay for lessons with a teacher they consistently know more than, it means one of three things:
- They need a different/more advanced teaching stimulus
- They require a regular ego massage
- They are stupid
Either way, the Mr Know-It-All mindset is the same as saying “I am done with learning’. At best, this is a personal limitation. At worst, it’s hideously unattractive. Don’t be that guy.
 Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D., & Kelly, D.R. (2007). “Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals”. Personality Processes and Individual Differences, 92 (6), p. 1087.
Co-Founder of Singfinity, writer for iSing Magazine and co-founder of The Naked Vocalist Singers’ podcast. He has lectured workshops at conservatoires and vocal development programs in the UK and USA.
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