My wonderful voice teacher Virginia Grasso told me, “You have to teach yourself how to sing.” and also that a singer must eventually “have one or two, maybe three thoughts” in mind when you’re about to sing. When you have learned dozens of tricks, techniques, and actions, they cannot all be actively thought about at once!
Each idea or technique that you learn needs to be explored with purpose and concentration. Those that seem helpful need to be practiced to the point of automaticity. You can’t remind yourself of eight things to do before (or while!) you sing a phrase, and hope for artistic success. As each building block is placed into your voice, it has to become trusted and unconscious to be useful. Getting new concepts and techniques into your singing is the “teaching yourself” part. Being able to forget about them in performance because they are integrated into your singing is the “think about only one or two things” part.
Eventually, after much study and practice, you will be able to have the thought “sing” or “breathe, sing” or “ready, sing” and it will “mean” all the things you have learned that have become automatic. The act of singing should be a whole that activates all at once. Many untrained singers can give great performances because they sing in a holistic way, whether they have good technique or not. The techniques we learn in voice lessons must be deeply integrated and feel as natural as singing felt when we were children.
Whether you are a singer with great technique, or have a long way to go technically, you can only create a good performance when you are committed to living inside the music and words and communicating them to the audience. Thinking a lot of other thoughts, such as “Am I breathing right?”, “Is this performance going well?”, “Is my soft palate up?”, “Am I projecting over this heavy-handed pianist?” is a handicap.
It keeps coming back to the upward spiral of learning. Things are introduced and practiced in isolation, then in combinations, and then, if they are good, they blend into the overall action of “singing” and do not require reminders from self or others. Someday you may need to come back and visit a concept or technique, so that it can re-integrate with current conditions in the voice.
When new habits become permanent and automatic, “Less is more” becomes truer and truer.