You can make it about rocket science if you want

Great singing is simple, but it can take many years to find the simplicity. Usually there is difficulty layered on. A large majority of the activities around effective voice cultivation have to do with removing difficulties, taking down barriers, stopping unnecessary actions. Building strength, flexibility, and artistry is fairly straightforward, but is hampered by all the extra stuff in the way. Some lucky people never layer on much garbage, but many of us do.

Whole careers in the voice training scene are now based on gimmicks, scientific approaches, or products. It is easy to forget why any of us were interested in singing in the first place, with all the science and industry in the field. I hear people making broad claims that teaching students about (insert favorite body of knowledge or “system”) makes every student better, and it is so obviously untrue. There are, and were, many great singers in many genres that didn’t have to know about anything scientific, analytical, or mechanical in order to thrive.

So it’s your choice. How much do you want to load up on all of this stuff about the voice? Does reading all the latest books and engaging in scientific or other Talmudic discussions online displace time spent listening to music, making music, and getting in touch with your own voice, body and soul? If yes, is that OK? Is a “balance” between book knowledge and empirical knowledge required when people in the past didn’t concern themselves with the former?


3 Replies to “You can make it about rocket science if you want”

  1. Oh, the irony of the ad for my book coming after this post! In my defense, my book is a philosophy of vocal study. It’s about how to study – not how to sing or scientifically describe and prescribe.

  2. Sorry for the awkwardness inherent in replying to a post made more than a year ago, but this resonates so much with both my own opinions and experiences. It is a constant issue, in my view.

    I’ve been a member of several FB groups where these “Talmudic discussions” is very much the norm. Either it is talmudic in a scientific sense, or in a methodological sense (i.e. solving problems within a certain school of singing), as you elude to. Almost all of it is exactly as you say: talk -about- the voice. As if we could ‘understand’ our way into better technique, or talk students of voice into it by relaying this or that little tidbit of scientific info. Sadly, this is not the case. We can know everything about what makes X or Y happen, but becoming better at it will always be a very concrete and practical endeavour – solving vocal problems and developing/advancing vocal abilites.

    I find it all pretty frustrating, because it seems like people walk out of these discussions feeling as though they have solved their practical problems with theoretical knowledge. It’s a lot like reading science about procrastination – knowledge about it will make virtually no difference. And the added problem with very advanced scientific information about the voice is that it can make it seem like very high level singing is about executing many, many incredibly advanced technical maneuvers simultaneously – and yet that is very far from what such singers report doing & experiencing when they go to sing. Another negative side effect is that when we read that “such and such muscle must do Y and X in order for Y to happen…”, it is easily misconstrued as something that must be actively made to happen, something that we must aim to have direct control of. Also a misconception, at least is most cases. All of this amounts to a case of missing the forest for the trees – and as you say: losing precious practice time. We should instead aim to become more of a ‘practice scientist’ – trialing and evaluating and experimenting to gain tried and tested practical knowledge.

    1. Hello Jakob,

      Thanks for your message! You are not alone. You might enjoy the new podcast I’m doing with Justin Petersen – The Voice Culture Podcast. We try to fight for reality in voice training daily!

      Causes and effects will always be confusing. Thank you for sharing this: “… it can make it seem like very high level singing is about executing many, many incredibly advanced technical maneuvers simultaneously” – this is something I have encountered as both student and teacher taking continuing education courses. We must not kick ourselves for being unable to handle thinking 10 thoughts at once!


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