You can’t tell me how to feel

I read excerpts from a book on singing today and I was disturbed by how many times there were phrases like “you should feel as if..” and “the feeling should change from ____ to ____ when you do such and such” and “Imagine that a long thin balloon has been inserted into your mouth and throat. Now imagine that we squeeze it near your teeth so that it bulges at the other end below the base of your tongue…” and “you will feel ____ directly on the vocal folds.” Oh really?

When I am in the moment of teaching a lesson, and I am trying to get a person to do a new vocal behavior, I generally refrain from telling the student what to feel because there is no way that a) we can be guaranteed to have the same feeling and b) even if we agree that we are feeling something identical or similar because we describe it with the same words, it might be the WRONG way for that person to do things in their body, due to everyone’s unique build. Sometimes after an exercise, a student will describe their sensations in their own words, and I might tell them that other people report something similar. But I think it’s important to circle back to whether we came closer to a desired vocal outcome, before we try to reproduce “feelings”. And if we do hit upon something better, we need to remember what pattern of pitch, vowel, intensity, etc. encouraged the change, and see if it is reproduceable.

It is very frustrating to a student who is struggling to be told that they “should be feeling such and such” if they do not or cannot. Without giving alternative tasks to work toward a goal, they are stuck at a dead-end where they either give up on that vocal goal or they force something to happen and pretend to agree with the teacher. I have been in “Emperor’s New Clothes” master classes where everyone claims to hear an improvement that is not there. An intelligent singer who is working on vocal problems will find it frustrating to be in one of these studios where everyone has a certain semantic and imagistic approach (because Teacher said so!) that doesn’t seem to work for them.

Don’t tell me how to feel! Give me something to do!

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