What does vocal progress sound like?

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If a 40 year old bass comes to your studio and wants to extend his range, and he has no access to pitches above D4, what will the first steps toward extending his range sound like? If he wants to explore falsetto and there presently is none, what do you do? Are you willing to accept the sounds of rushing air with no phonation at first? Are you willing to wait for the first wisps of tone to multiply and eventually sound like something musical?

If a young soprano has little flexibility and no trill for the Handel and Vivaldi pieces she wants to sing, what kind of wavering, unstable sound might you hear on the way from “no trill” to “good trill”? Do you have the patience and encouraging nature to help her get past “quasi-trill wobble” (which many people seem to accept as an endpoint), in order to accomplish a really free, distinct alternation of a 2nd (or more)?

If a singer has a tongue that is stiff and pushing down on the larynx in an attempt to sound “big” and “dark”, how will the process of improvement sound (and look)? Such a voice is like the seed that sprouts under a rock. The rock is removed, and the seedling is white and weak. But with proper light, water, and soil, it can turn green and strong, and grow. The seedling will not look pretty or have normally functioning leaves right away. It will take a little longer to grow tall and bear fruit, but it can happen. We do not stretch the stalk and paint it green so that it can pass as a normal plant.

Students with voices that previously have not been allowed to develop in harmony with Nature need special attention. We have to give permission to sound bad, unfinished, and “not good but better”, sometimes for long periods of time. Sometimes a new knot is created while loosening an old knot, and we have to step backwards further than we realized to untie both knots, always with patient attention and kindness.

Diagnosing a problem, introducing a corrective exercise, and especially¬†knowing whether it’s working are different teaching skills. When helping a singer, pay attention to how things sound along the way. Be respectful of how the singer hears and feels the process. As you feel more confident about the unfinished sounds that point to improvement, you can know when and how to encourage the student.

 

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

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