Why an exercise works

If an exercise makes my singing better in some way, should I care about WHY it works?

Everyone can certainly benefit from an exercise if they know WHEN it works. For example, some exercises help you warm up, some help you extend your range, some help you to find your maximum resonance, some make you more flexible. So, when you need those things, you know which exercises to work on. Good.

But what benefit is there to knowing WHY it works? I think that teachers need to go to that step, and singers can also benefit from it. I can think of two main reasons for getting to that level of understanding an exercise.

  1. It creates more trust in the exercise. With a solid reason for both when to use it, and why it works, it feels reliable and real, devoid of magical qualities. When trying to create art, magical qualities are wonderful, but when trying to solve a technique problem, magic is a slippery slope.
  2. As a teacher this one is huge: Analogous additional exercises can be created. Once you know why a thing works, you can expand on it, make it even better for EVERY INDIVIDUAL. With additional analogous exercises, you can find new ways to reach different learners. Not everyone responds the same way to the exact same thing. Another benefit as a singer is to fight boredom. Rote repetition of an exercise for years can diminish its effectiveness. “Different ways of saying the same thing” isn’t just for spice; it helps learning. It’s good for your brain and good for your inspiration to attack a problem from multiple angles, including those little technical things that you encounter in the practice room every day.

I had a puzzler recently. My teacher had me do the syllables “vee, ee, voo, oo, vo, oh” as part of warming up. I really like these and was trying to figure out for a couple of weeks why they make me sound better. I finally realized how they link up to some particular issues of mine. Sometimes I have a tendency to pull down with my face, making it too long and droopy like a bassett hound, with a low embouchure and all the dulling and flatting that goes with it. I finally realized that you can’t pronounce a “V” with a long face and a low embouchure. “V” requires making the sound at the upper teeth. If I keep my mouth opening and my “sound” (whatever the hell that is) up in the “V” region, I’m on a much better track. I’ll stop describing my embouchure and resonance issues here, or else we will get into the shitstorm that is my singer’s brain. Anyway, point is, I figured out why it worked and then I was able to expand on it and find my way warming up better. My teacher didn’t tell my why it worked. I got that myself, but it enriches my experience and benefits of the exercise to walk that extra mile of understanding.

Sidebar: I’m well into middle age, but I keep studying, and I keep learning new things. It always amazes me what new stuff there is to learn. It keeps you humble and it makes you better.

Side sidebar: As a child, I asked “why” all time. It drove my parents crazy.

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