I received this email the other day and I think he has made a valid argument.
Your article on Jonas Kaufman was truly ridiculous. I’ve also a degree in voice, I’ve been studying singing 20 years, and have students. I think anyone who harps on about the anatomical facets of vocal production to be a quack… Some of the greatest charlatans do (and have done) this throughout their dubious careers. What happens anatomically has nothing to do with how it feels to sing. Neither can it help the student or the teacher. The result of such teaching is ridiculous methods like Dr White’s Sinus Method. Unfortunately, I’ve seen them all.
The truth is, buddy, that Kaufman, like many famous singers, is out there with what he’s got. There is no ‘right’ way to sing, just like there is no ‘right’ way to play piano or guitar. I play three instruments and know many musicians, and I can tell you this off pat. There is only style, form, and art. The rest is using what you have to produce that art.
I feel that he has certainly put me in my place and I have decided that what I am doing is just a waste of time. So I’m taking his implied advice and getting out of the business.
I’m sure you could see this coming. But I can only guess that this is what he wants me to do. Since there is no right way to sing and all you have is “what you’ve got”. Then there seems to be no point in trying to improve. Which then seems odd because he says that he has students. So maybe he should quit as well.
I am familiar with Dr. White’s Sinus Tone Method that he refers to. It was a method that encouraged singers to move the air through their sinuses to produce the tone. Which is obviously an impossibility. In fact it seems to me that this is an example of what can happen when we ignore the physiological facts of the vocal instrument, not emphasize them.
Another thing, what happens anatomically does have a great deal to do with how it feels to sing if it is being done correctly. I have to disagree with just about everything this writer said. But this kind of email is part of the territory I have placed myself in by writing publicly on the Internet.
There is actually some truth to the statement that what happens anatomically and how it feels to sing are completely different. This is definitely true for singers that have trained themselves based on imagery and technique based on beliefs. This approach tries to develop an ideal “sound” and uses images and sensations of the result.
The problem is the images and the sensations are illusions of the resulting sound that we get after we sing. And often they are based on what we hear when we listen to a good singer. So we try to recreate the image our mind creates when we hear a good vocal sound.
This imagery based on illusions and impressions is the basis of a lot of the technique that is out there. Now, this is not to say that these illusions and images don’t exist. They do. But they don’t accurately tell us what causes them to happen. They only tell us the quality of the result.
And working for a result rarely is successful. We must understand the causes that make up our vocal result. This is why if we use imagery, which we almost have to because of the nature of our instrument, it must be based on the physiological behavior that causes our vocal sounds. And if we use sensations to guide us, which again we must because we don’t hear ourselves accurately and sensation is how we understand what our body is doing, they must be the real sensations of our physical behavior and not the illusory sensations of the resulting vocal tone.
The only other thing I would agree with is that once we get onstage we are out there only with what we have at that moment. But this means where we are in our developmental process and our current level of skill in coordinating our instrument.
So we train to improve our condition and our coordination, then when the time comes we only can do what we can do. So we must just do what we can at that moment to the best of our ability. And the best way to accomplish that is to be as sincere as we can in that moment.
That is what it means to “do the best you can”. We have heard that phrase since we were children, but I wonder if we ever really sit down and investigate what that really means. Often it seems like to just do the best we can is a cop-out, opening the door to failure. Making it OK to not do well or try our hardest.
But what that belief assumes is that trying our hardest is the best option for achieving success. Often it is not. By trying hard we are likely doing more than is necessary. Often it includes complicating things and overworking.
The concept of balance is defined by doing what is necessary for the fulfillment of our action. No more and no less.
Unfortunately it is very easy to fall into the trap of doing more. Especially in a performance. We want many things in a performance. Naturally we want to feel successful with the outcome of our performance.
But if we are honest we likely can identify an element of wanting to impress others with our performance as well. And this is the danger.
Because if we allow this desire to impress lead our actions we will risk over-doing everything in an attempt to impress the listeners. Anything that we do well we will likely over-do if we are trying to impress someone.
And this is very difficult to deal with because when the instrument is balanced it tends to not seem very impressive to us. That is the nature of being balanced. But we have to learn to trust that the balanced voice will actually produce the most impressive possibility we are capable of.
So to get back to this email. There are many people who have shown me repeatedly that we can learn to sing “the right” way. What this means is learning to sing as the design of the instrument desires to function. With some pretty simple guidance many have experienced vocal coordination they never believed possible.
Sometimes the first time we experience this natural behavior it can be very emotional because in that moment we can see that it is possible to overcome the difficulties we’ve been held by for years.
This concept applies to every instrument. There is a right way to play every instrument based on how it is designed to operate. By playing it that way you will get the absolute most potential of expressiveness out of that instrument.
With the voice there is the added element of staying healthy. But by playing the instrument in line with how it is designed we maximize the likelihood of keeping the voice healthy. And for anyone who loves to sing that should be the most important thing.
Because who wants to lose the voice before we are done wanting to sing?
I did forget one thing I wanted to talk about. I joked about quitting at the beginning of the post. I thought it would be a little bit of fun. I don’t think I could ever actually quit. This is so ingrained into my being that it is just how I think and it comes out of me naturally.
And the reality is I am very good at it. For whatever reason this is my gift. I have worked hard at it for a long time. But my ability to assess vocal function is not a product of that work. That work just made me better at it. I have had an innate understanding of the voice since I started teaching in college.
Having said that, I think there is a great deal of value in regularly considering quitting what you do. It is a form of refreshing your commitment to it. If we never think of quitting we may be doing something on autopilot. And that is never very good because our heart isn’t in it. We might be doing something because we think we can’t quit.
So I do ask myself occasionally if I want to quit, and each time I am reminded of why I do what I do and am re-energized in my commitment to it. Consider this sometime when you need a pick-me-up. We’re taught in our youth to quit is bad. But sometimes quitting is what makes room in your life for what you are really good at and what you can actually make a difference in the world doing.
So don’t be afraid of quitting. We can quit anytime. But if we answer that we want to continue, then continue with your whole heart.