De-coupling habits when vocalizing

When I am working with a student, especially in the first few sessions, I try to be a silent observer as much as I can. For example, we start an exercise, and I hear and see things that are problems, but I don’t stop the exercise right away to correct. The more I observe, the more precise I can be about my response, most of the time. This lets me observe their habits better. Everyone has habits, some good, some bad.

One thing I like to do early on is work on the concept of high pitches as “up there” and low ones as “down there”, which often comes out in the body as unhelpful habits. So I will do one of my distracting exercises, such as having the singer swing their body from side to side as they sing arpeggios. That in itself can start to get the body freer, but even here there is more opportunity to observe limiting behaviors. Very often, something like this emerges: The singer will move so that all the high notes happen when they are pointed to the left, and they tend to sing all the beginning and ending notes pointed to the right. So I have them reverse it; start the bottom of the arpeggio turned to the right and end on the left. It feels different and usually results in some surprises and laughter, and the beginnings of easier high notes.

This approach starts to decouple things that don’t need to be coupled. We want to free our singers up to be able to sing any note in multiple bodily positions (not necessarily EVERY position!). Continuing the example above, movements can be added that may not obviously relate to witnessed tensions. For example, the singer could flex their knees for the high note, or gently wiggle their jaws, or deliberately move out of phase with the arpeggio so that if they sing five arpeggios, the five high notes are all in different places in the arc of their movement.

This can be done at macro and micro levels. Keeping the tongue in motion while vocalizing, focusing the eyes in various places, moving the jaw gently, moving arms and hands, even using different facial expressions, can all help to get a singer unstuck. Honestly, I can’t be sure when the movement is helping freedom per se, or when it is simply sucking mental focus so that they worry less about the “hard notes”. But if a better result comes, it’s worth doing. At any rate, standing stock-still at all times can be inhibiting and mask a lot of problems.

Allowing the voice to do what it wants to do without interference is the goal of taking away these companion habits. Then we can look at habits we MIGHT want to add (said with extreme caution).


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