Mechanistic directives – useful or of the devil?

For this article “mechanistic directive” means: an instruction for a specific physical action to make some aspect of singing work differently.

Example: Make a widening stretch in the soft palate when singing an ascending interval.


  • If it makes singing more beautiful with less effort.
  • If after many conscious attempts it starts to become automatic. The body, once allowed to taste freedom, will find it easier to free up further. This will tend to cause us to make positive changes fairly quickly most of the time.

Of the devil:

  • If, after hundreds of repetitions, you can’t do it without commanding yourself to do it. No one should have a permanent list of “to-do’s” every time they sing a phrase.
  • If it creates a new problem.
  • If it makes singing feel harder.

If we as singers with our body-minds have never done a particular desirable thing, we will need to have a first experience before we can move toward that thing. Getting ourselves to have and feel and remember ANY new experience is a clunky process. Great art is rarely not born out of the ethers. Physical experience is not conveyed strictly by ideas and words. This is why mechanistic directives are a viable class of tools in teaching. If a directive doesn’t work after a few days’ effort, throw it out. If it doesn’t become automatically incorporated into your singing to some degree after a number of weeks of steady work, forget it. If you see something working for many others but not you, get more clarification, retry, then if is still a dead end, throw it out for now. There are probably only hundreds of other ideas to get you to the same place.

One tricky thing you will find about these “mechanics” is that something that does not help in year two of your study may make perfect sense in year 10. I have eaten so many words over the years that I will never go pedagogically hungry again. And then there are things that are stupid forever.

Clunky process, be brave, try stuff, be kind to yourself, pay attention. Peace.


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