A Singer is Both the Instrument and the Player - The Challenge of Singing Well.

As a teacher I work with a variety of students some with plenty of experience singing and some who are exploring the idea of singing for the first time in their life. I have lost count of the amount of times a new singer has come into my studio and spends the first part of their lesson trying to warn and convince me they cannot sing and that they are really bad. They then sing me something and they are actually not bad at all! Are they brilliant developed singers? No, but they are certainly not as bad as they think they are! When I first started training as a singer I too thought I was bad. I had been an instrumentalist prior to this (it’s easier to hide behind an instrument). I too would nervously try and warn my first teachers I was not very good, I had some experience singing before but I never called myself a good singer. People seem to think singing is some natural thing you either have or you do not. Would those same people say someone is a good guitarist or not? Can guitar skills be developed? Most would argue yes! Why is singing seen as some mystical thing? I believe it is because people forget or simply do not realize a singer is both the instrument and the player of the instrument. Sometimes people struggle with singing because their instrument is in an unhealthy shape. This can be due to poor voice habits.

It can also be due to thinking habits sometimes caused by the environment in which they grew up in (thinking habits can cause body tension which in turn can tense the voice). Poor voice use and lack of self esteem can actually inhibit the vocal instrument to the point singing becomes more difficult. It is much rarer you see a “natural” singer who sings well after being thoroughly discouraged or teased about their singing in their youth. I believe environment has more to do with “natural singers” than a mystical inner gifting. Sometimes people have a voice that is not in the best of shape but they are very good at playing it! The reality is a singer is both the instrument and the player!

When you separate these two things then it is easier to embrace vocal flaws. As I say to students “We are building your instrument so it does not matter how it sounds or whether there are mistakes”. Any vocal instrument (aside from permanent medical problems) can be improved and a singer can get better at using it!

The Larynx (Voice Box)

The Larynx

Building the instrument is done through vocalizing daily.

Vocalizing is about using exercises that build specific vocal habits into your voice. While vocalizing a singer should not be concerned about sounding good (a singer can never truly hear himself accurately while singing due to internal vibrations) but whether they are maintaining correct vocal habits. This is similar to a golfer practicing his swing or a basketballer doing specific drills to build coordination and strength. A few of the key components of vocalizing are-

  • Consistent breath flow from lower body connection (not force)

  • Proper use of pharyngeal vowels and resonators ( Balanced resonance)

  • Aiming for a released and stable larynx (voice box)- No squeeze or pressure.

Vocalizing properly daily transforms any voice into a much stronger and freer instrument over time! Playing the voice:

One of the important parts of learning to play an instrument is learning to apply techniques to songs to improve the songs. After vocalizing songs can be tackled carefully. It is a good idea to work line by line and make sure you are avoiding squeeze or force. Part of playing the voice is also learning to sing expressively. No one wants to hear a singer going through the motions! Just like no one wants to hear a monotone boring speaker give a speech! If you can learn to separate these two things vocal development will come much easier and without lack of confidence. Making mistakes is a part of a building your vocal instrument and learning to play it! Just try to keep making new ones each week so you keep getting better! Happy Singing, Luke

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