There is a common misconception that those who can, do & those who can’t, teach. In reality, especially in vocational subjects those who can both do & teach. It’s arguably the only way that expertise can be passed from one generation to another.
The process of creating something out of nothing, be that musical, artistic, dramatic, literary, masonry, physical, vocal, conceptual or concrete is a multi-faceted one & anyone who has tried to acquire a new skill will have found this to be true.
Nothing is easy when you first start doing it & significant training is undertaken in order to hone the kernels of pre-existing ability into a proficient craft.
This is not only true for creativity, but also everything else that we attempt to do as human beings. Working in an office may not be everyone’s cup of tea for any number of reasons, but none of us are born with a natural affinity to file, answer telephones, liaise & negotiate with clients, operate a fax machine & deal with a tsunami of daily emails & yet the skill, training & practice embedded into these activities is often considered ‘nothing special’.
When it comes to singing, acting, dancing, drawing, painting & playing musical instruments there is an assumption that those who engage in this activity have an innate talent. In truth those who truly excel in the field have trained for years, attempting to perfect their craft, making it nuanced, engaging, truthful & a reflection of life around them.
Artists strive to hold a mirror up to the world around them & show their audience an interpretation of what they see. It’s this interpretation that holds the key.
The question is, how do we interpret when we don’t have the skills to express ourselves fully?
Technique is a term bandied around in creative circles, but those outside the inner sanctum are often none the wiser as to the depth to which this truly goes. The best artists I know (in every facet of the creative arts) depend upon & relish the strength & decision-making power their respective techniques afford them.
Singing is something that we all do as kids & depending on whether we find the activity fulfilling, easy & are encouraged to develop, we either dedicate time to it or dismiss it as a folly.
Have you ever looked at the drawings of young children? Ostensibly, they’re all of an equally proficient standard until a certain point in time when those who find creative freedom within the medium continue to practice (train) themselves by constantly drawing & are encouraged accordingly. This cements the idea that they have a ‘talent’.
For singing, we all have almost identical equipment to produce sound. It is only the use of this equipment that enables us to be labelled ‘someone who can sing’ or ‘someone who is tone deaf’.
Learning to sing should never be solely about repertoire. When singing a song, creative choices should be made by a performer after scrutiny of the lyrics, melody, narrative & emotional arc of the piece & not dictated.
It is from this scrutiny & rigour that we find variety & individuality of performance, so frequently lacking in this increasingly digital era.
A large number of young people ‘learn’ songs by visiting sites like You Tube & copying the choices made by the performer on screen. The skills of reading music & furthermore sight singing are swiftly becoming a lost skill. I regularly encourage my students to avoid the Internet, original cast recordings & ‘pop’ versions of songs they are learning in order that they find self-expression in their own artistry rather than always imitating.
Working with vocal specificity is essential to developing a controlled & responsive voice. Copying your teacher or coach & approximating the sounds they make is often potentially damaging to an inexperienced voice user. Far better to target the physical requirements of a sound & practice creating & recreating that action & sound in order to become accustomed to the muscularity required.
Remember the golden rules:
1. If it hurts, stop doing it!!!
2. If it doesn’t hurt & feels easy to make the sound, you’re probably on the right track.
3. There is a HUGE difference between tension, strain & muscular effort. They’re easy to confuse, but once you can tell the difference, there’s no looking back!
4. Nothing beats lots of good practice…& it truly does make perfect (well as close as possible…)!!!