The uncomfortable place

As teachers, we want to get the best results with our students. There are big picture goals, like easy breathing, good body alignment, efficient use of breath, accurate intonation, and ease of pitch change, that are almost universal. Then there is the how-to.

What is a teacher’s way of getting better results in the broad areas above, and with more specific goals? There is a false dichotomy of approach propagated throughout current discussions of teaching: imagery versus science. It is really getting old. We need to be more tolerant, kind, and open to each other. The things you can learn!

If you are an experienced teacher, and you have a creative way to teach one of the big picture goals above with imagery, and the gain in that area does no harm, then why not continue to use it? I say, keep on! However, there is increasing pressure among the academic folks to know and explain why it works. If you want to go there, okay, but on the other hand, if it works well for you and you know when to use the image / trick / useful lie, what does it matter?

It becomes a problem when the teacher’s favorite useful lies (imagery, etc.) don’t work with a particular student. Is it the fault of the student that they are not able to respond, translate, or understand something that isn’t even true? If you are an imagery-based OR a fact-based teacher, you had better have many possible ways to elicit the same response. You can push “drinking in the tone” onto a non-believer only so long before you will feel failure. You can push “antagonistic expansion of the ribs to resist their collapse during exhalation” all you want, but if a student can’t figure out how to make it happen in their own body, constantly restating the scientific facts is not a problem-solving strategy.

As a teacher you need to have ways – several of them – for getting each new behavior in place. Because I had a horrible imagery-based teacher when I was young, whom I could not understand, I was 100% anti-imagery for a long time. Then I melted a bit. I saw that the body’s wisdom and movement toward better function is often invoked by ideas, which are not the same as facts, including mental pictures, feelings, and sounds. These are not easily translated to biomechanical analysis. The results may be, but the possible processes to get there may not be.

To continue to teach with tricks, tips, imagery, and imagination, while being told we are fools who do not embrace hard science, requires some fortitude in professional settings. We all want to enable better singing. Let’s give each other some space with which to do that, and honor each other’s truths and experience. We have a lot to learn from each other.

If you enjoy this blog, consider grabbing a copy of Sane Singing: A Guide to Vocal Progress, available in print and ebook!

3 Replies to “The uncomfortable place”

  1. Love this post. Thank you for writing it.

    A mediation teacher told me something years ago that has rung true with me in life as well as the studio. She said: “Put an image up against a fact and the image will win every time.” It’s true—and observable in politics every day. She might as well have said “idea,” “sound,” or “feeling.” Empiricists are not fools for using these tools if only because the brain is hot-wired for them. Facts are something else altogether, coming, as it were, after the fact.

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