Feb 05 2015

Q&A: Help to Assess my Voice Teacher

I am studying under a vocal teacher, although I am in constant doubt, because what she teaches sometimes contradicts what you and David Jones teach.

(Pure venting: for one thing, she is the “more breath” kind of teacher. For another thing, she often requests me to lower my jaw and close my lips beyond what I consider comfortable and natural. And it really makes me look very awkward.)

But besides these, there are also two points I would very like you to help clarify:

1) Sometimes when I sing some notes, with a lot of breath, my lips would wobble and she calls it good. She says this is because I relax some muscles I was contracting all along. Is her explanation sound? If not, why such explanation can keep circulate among the singing community?

2) She advocates yoga-like exercises to strengthen the abs and therefore achieve a better muscle control. Is this even making sense? I am not even sure those yoga exercises train relevant muscles. I understand that even if the abs stick out as we breath deeply, it does not mean the muscles there is controlling the breath …

She advocates that singing requires some effort, but not too hard. But often times I feel that what she means “not too hard” is hard enough for me to tense up and break my voice. It seems that the singing community has a kind of mentality that “good voice is hard gained”.

I don’t understand. I simply cannot understand why there are so many vocal teachers that can break students’ voices running wild. I did ask her and she said it is NORMAL for my voice to become hoarse after lessons. She said my vocal chord is simply tired and I need to sing more to make it stronger. I already lost almost all of my interest in singing because of all the suffering her exercises induces on me. (Thank God your site and David Jones save most of it!) I am already considering ending the lessons, but I want to make sure I am ending it on legitimate ground, and not a purely emotional decision.

Thanks a lot!

Thanks for sharing your situation with me. From what you describe I think there is enough evidence of wrong concepts that you should at least get a second opinion. Pretty much everything you describe is not healthy, at least from my experience.

– We shouldn’t arbitrarily use “more breath”. We need to be energetic, find balance and not waste the breath.
– We shouldn’t lower the jaw. We should stretch the jaw and feel like we are opening in an upward direction so we don’t drop the tongue and block the resonator.
– The quivering lips is a symptom of imbalance. It is a common misconception that we should be relaxed when we sing. There is another condition besides tense or relaxed, I would call it elastic. That is what we should be.
– I don’t have a problem with Yoga as a general exercise. But I don’t know if it has a direct relation to anything we are doing when we sing except for what I would call strength while stretching.
– Singing should not require effort but it does require energy. There is a difference. And we should be able to function effortlessly at a low intensity before we try to sing at a high intensity.
– The voice should not ever become hoarse after a lesson. In fact many of my clients notice that their voice speaks much better after the lesson than before because of healthy exercising.
– I also can’t understand why there are so many voice teachers teaching unhealthy practices. Even well-respected teachers are limited in their understanding of the voice. I’ve had the good-fortune to meet several new singers in the last month who have a history of working with respected teachers who didn’t help their issues. They tell me of learning more in their first lesson with me than in all of their lessons with the others.

So it is always the singers decision to walk away from a teacher, and I am reluctant to advise someone to do it. But I think from what you have shared that you already feel you should cut things off with this teacher. And you would be correct in doing so. Good luck and let me know if you would like to discuss this more. Thank you.

  1. when i heard someone say “you should be able to sing virtually all day”
    I knew i was using too much effort when singing. And when i mean effort i mean Muscle Tension.
    Having strong abs & muscles is irrelevant. But a strong Diaphragm is good. We have to relax our Stomachs, Shoulders and Jaws!

  2. Michael, how do you think singing teachers should be trained/should learn? Do teachers need to learn through institutions, or through a career as a singer, or something else? If even well-respected teachers don’t give students what they need, then maybe their training is failing them.

  3. This is a tough question. I don’t know if there is a single answer for this. You would think that a curriculum would be the best route. But that is what many of the teachers in Universities have done by earning degrees and the level of instruction is mediocre. Then there are singers that move on to teaching after their career. They also are limited in what they can offer.

    I guess what I feel is necessary is some education, some performing, some mentorship and a lot of learning by doing. Plus, there are different levels of good instruction. Not everyone is going to be elite, but I think through mentorship good quality teachers can be developed. The doing is more important than the performing. Spending the time to work it out for oneself is really the only way to truly understand the voice.

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