Why people think ridiculous imagery works

How imagery-based instruction works, in two scenarios:

Scenario A

  • Teacher gives weird image-based concept, like “breathe through the soles of your feet” (real advice from a real voice teacher).
  • She sings the passage to demonstrate.
  • The student copies the demonstration.
  • Teacher thinks the imagery “worked”, when really it’s modeling better singing that actually worked, and the student found the same effect in her own voice. The teacher may as well have said “feel it in your knees” as long as the demonstration was adequate.
Scenario B

  • Teacher gives weird image-based concept, like “inhale the air all the way down to your genitals” (again, I did not make that up).
  • The student repeats the passage and sounds better because the student is: a) amused, b) grossed out, c) grasping at the meaning and trying to sound different any way he can. With any luck those reactions take his mind off of an interfering thought or habit such as fixing the larynx low with the tongue, exaggerated lip shapes, pharyngeal manipulation, or “technical checklisting”.
  • Teacher thinks the imagery “worked” when actually it was the student being distracted from doing something stupid. Teacher keeps it in the magical toolkit and swears by it in pedagogy chats.

And so it becomes singer lore that you breathe through your hoo-hoo, shoot the high notes out of your crown, bear down poopingly for loud singing, and direct “air” to all sorts of strange places.

I have noticed that some of the most outlandish teaching in terms of explanations and maxims come from retired opera singers. If the singer still sings well, their students are likely to sing better than if they don’t, because humans naturally imitate and learn by example. However, in addition to soaking up the experience of an extraordinary voice singing into their ears, students tend to put too much value on nutty verbal advice, which is often not at all what the teacher is actually doing. Sort of a positive bait-and-switch, or “Do as I do, not as I say.”

The teachers who teach really well, but are/were not A list performers, are usually much more down to earth, fact-based, and less likely to use ridiculous imagery. I’m not saying that all imagery-based teachers are wrong, just that most of them could be better if they would use good singing to teach good singing more of the time.

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