“It’s never what you think” An acronym is born!

When practicing, I find it helpful to record snippets and play them back sometimes. They so very often remind me of what one of my wise voice teachers, David Christopher, says: “It’s never what you think”. You think you’ve discovered THE WAY TO SING, and it seems to have worked so brilliantly, then you listen and it sounds awful. I was playing a recording of a voice lesson yesterday and it is ever amazing how the sound I was making at the time was better or worse than I thought. Because I am not quite in love with my own voice except on rare occasions, I am one of those who believes he needs to sing by feel, rather than by sound. For me, most of the sounds in my head are not very pretty, even when I am making pretty sounds! So I need to know when to stop recording/listening back and just continue to cultivate the feel, and trust my ears for non-aesthetic uses, such as whether a sound is louder or softer, or whether my vowel seems clear.

One manifestation of “It’s never what you think” is intonation as it relates to resonance. When I am in my droopy place, I can sing [i][e][a] on (what I believe is) a single pitch and then play it back and plainly hear it drop, both in pitch and in resonance. Then I can repeat that sequence from my “happy vowel place” and it’s all in tune. They both seemed to be in tune at the time, but they weren’t. On a good day, I find this a fascinating phenomenon. On a bad day, I curse the heavens for this warping of reality that results in me sounding like a hack. Another INWYT phenomenon is related to vowel clarity. Sometimes a sequence like [A][a][o] can seem perfectly clear and well-differentiated in my mind, but on playback turns into only two vowels, or peculiar sounds that have no use in Western art song.

Because I am a believer in a functional approach, I try my best to not go for “pretty” sounds. Going for pretty is usually doomed to fail because of INWYT. Oftentimes I will get a nice clear vowel that can move and swell and speak beautifully, and am delighted about how fine it sounds on playback, but I will never get it back if I try to go for the timbre again. I will not get a beautiful “sound” unless I have a clear concept of its functional elements. Vowel, pitch, intensity, rhythm, go!

The way I see it presently, the positive attitude that the singer needs to adopt about the results they’re getting might encompass one or more of these: 1) Be very clear about your intention, and know that the more clear and correct the concept, the better the result. 2) Believe that everything you do is beautiful, so you short circuit the question of the “beauty” of what you do (seems to be helpful for performance mode). 3) Allow yourself to be a combination of slightly stupid and optimistic.

INWYT is the reason why we must have other ears that we trust to help us to improve. When we are in the practice room by ourselves, we must remember that the ears we possess at the time of singing are not the same as the ears we have when we play back the recording. Learning how our monitoring system relates to the sounds we are making is one of the great skills of singing.

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