Yuri Sabatini Singing Teacher

Yuri Sabatini Singing Teacher
Voice coach in London

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Masterclass at the Royal College of Music

Ahhh! Finally I witnessed a great masterclass, led by the oustanding Roderick Williams. The singers had all great voices and distinct intelligence (even though they all exhibited the absence of proper breathing management which hindered what could have been otherwise exceptional performances) and they made great use of the advice and the tips given about interpretation, audition technique, connecting with the audience and the necessity of not overdoing things when singing and letting the music and the character speak for themselves. The point here was not to get in the way and having the courage and the ability to be blank first, and then replacing mannerism with individuality. Interesting, educative, stimolating masterclass. He never went digging into singing technique, wisely, even though you could see that what stopped some of them from improving straight away was the impossibility to get rid of the feeling of straining and having to worry with the difficulties of the singing. Well done to everyone, anyway, and thanks for such a quality event!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Daily tips on voice matters

Facebook is proving for me to be much more easy to deal with, so if you want to follow me giving brief but valuable insights and advice on singing, you want to like Yuri Sabatini Singing Teacher on FB!.

See you there!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Busy times

It has been quite a while since I wrote for this blog. Partly it is because I find it easier to share quick thoughts regarding the singing on my Facebook page, Yuri Sabatini Singing Teacher; and partly because of the inherent lack of time in this period of my life... I am gradually but steadily seeing an increasing number of students, many beginners for some reason, which led me to a consideration I will share later in the post... I am also spending more time with the children, aware that this is the best time of my life in terms of the enjoyment that we can get from each other. They will grow soon, and life will take a different shape. There hae been also things to fix and change at home, and I had to learn new pieces for concerts I had..

So, as yesterday we went to sleep very early (trying to build the habit for them), this morning at 5 I was already awake and with no sign of the intention to getting back to sleep I decided to come down and reflect on things. Opening the blog and beginning to write has been the consequence.

I am keeping open to my own criticism, I always did, as a way to improve and never be satisfied with what I reach - in terms of my singing. I believe that's what brings about excellence in anything: your constant will to get better at what you do, to master what you can't yet. I had 2 concerts since the summer break, and they were good. The first one has been good. The second in fact was great. But I had to keep working on my voice as I am doing, because I need to arrive to the point of total control, or better, total freedom in using it. I need to, because I realised this is not there yet: last Monday I auditioned for Glyndebourne and tension kicked in, which spoiled my performance. I wanted to understand what happens, physically, that hamper my performance when I tense and worked on my voice to create the habit of singing effortlessly. I still am, but very happy with the results so far. There is a point, no surprise, just in the "area di passaggio" where I am more prone to grip, to "go of fibre" as we say in Italian. I mean to push more, and it happens when I am not fully rested and relaxed, or when the acoustics is bad. BY continuosly and conciously shifting into the head voice by releasing any thick quality, any grip to the modal voice, and compensating (balancing) by gently darkening the sound (copertura), the voice becomes free of any excess weight and moves higher and with extreme easyness.

Ah, yes! I promised I was going to share the consideration I made regarding my beginner students. Here it is: I find I am really the best of my job in bringing up students with good technique, it's my good share in a world in which many potential good voices are held back by defects that have been left undetected. Pointing them out when they are at postgraduate level is so painful, and often you meet resistance and denial.. Yet, it's a pity to watch a masterclass with Kiri Te Kanawa or Roger Vignoles, as I did last week, and to witness the breathing and vocal faults in the singers who performed at the RCM. Maybe, by the law of statistics and numbers, those who I teach won't reach performance status, but they will always enjoy singing and show what a free sung voice sounds like, with no defect in tone. And this for the enjoyment of those who listen too! ...what a delusion to hear at the RCM sopranos with breathy emission, or straight tone, difficult and noisely breathing, or tenors with distorted timbre... and see that they are completely oblivious to the defect.

Hmm, hungry. Morning is coming and is time for breakfast. Keep well everyone!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Back home!

Welcome back to everyone, I hope you all had a great summer!

After more than one month holiday, I'm finally back to normal routine - if there is such think as "normal" routine in my life!
This is the first time I am away for such a long time and I must admit it feels strange to find myself in London which is a quite different setting than my hometown Rome... But there you are! I am sure this feeling will soon go away: I am looking forward to meet my students and to make music myself.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Blessed week for a father like me!

As from today, all is back to normal routine... but at the same time from now on nothing will be the same for me anymore.

My wife went on holiday in Florida, with her sister, for 8 days. Saturday to Sunday. It has been the first time I was alone with the children, now aged 6 and 3, and the first time for them their mum was away. Relatives and friends were quite worried it would have been difficult for me to juggle between the house chores, keeping them well fed, bringing them at school in time, teaching my students... and with the aggravation of having to sing for a private audience in concert on Thursday, even myself started to doubt I could manage to make it through... But instead of being a stressful period of my life, it has been the most intense, fun, rewarding and bonding experience the three of us ever had so far!

Even though I always helped my wife, it is different when she is not at home: you are in charge all the time, you have to organise their time to keep them entertained, doing shopping, prepare their meals, and so on... I must say that I felt blessed to be able to spend most of my waking time with them (and all of my sleeping time as at night they slept with me in my bed!).

I lived the life of a lone parent, and honestly enojoyed any minute of it. The weather has been magnificent and we played many adventures in the park. We played music together at the piano. Jonathan helped me in the house and the little one, Oscar, who usually prefers his mother company, came much nearer to me, hugging me and kissing me of his own initiative... and there's nothing more sweet than being cuddled by these lovely, affectionate boys.

I thought I was helping before, but my perspective has completely changed: now I just want to spend more time with them and it's an honour I wouldn't renounce for nothing in the world! :)

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Quality vs Quantity

Sometime ago, I promised my students and facebook friends that I would have written a post about the topic of breathing for singing... and there we are as I've finally found the time.
Techniques of breathing abound, right and wrong, and confusion too. ...At times, is not only the confusion the issue, but an incomplete, superficial knowledge, both theoretical and of one's own coordination.
The subject is actually so complex that it's complicated to start it.
You hear the advice to push in and the opposite one, to push out.
You hear the term support, invoked as one-for-all cure of any vocal ailments, but few can explain it. And few are those who get it right in doing so. You see, the fact that it seems to make sense in one's explanation doesn't mean that it's right. You come across another word, appoggio, Italian term devised to evoke and convoy a certain feeling that is experienced when the right coordination takes place, but which, again, often is misunderstood or not completely understood.
(Patience! As I said, the matter is complicated, but I will explain what that is: bear with me!)
We'll start by analysing some of the most common mistakes inexperienced singers make (actually, the majority of singers, in cases even those working professionally).
So, the singer start by taking an intake of air and... you hear the noise. Many things are wrong with it: incompletely open glottis and tension in the abdomen (there could be other unfavourable conditions to singing present when this happen, but this are always the case and enough by themselves to affect the tone and the performance.
Then the singer starts to sing and... you see the abdomen contract and the side of the ribcage being squeezed in (the chest collapse quite quickly, too). What does that imply? Too much pressure in the lungs for a start, which translates in too much sub-glottic pressure, which means the vocal folds can't meet properly to vibrate. How can you tell that? Look and listen: you'll notice either a breathy sound and a fast loss of air, or tension in the throat and rigid sound as the singer try to contract at laryngeal level to stop the air to escaping from his mouth. IN BOTH cases, vibrato is affected by being either less natural or too quick. Quality of sound? You can hear the effort, the forced nature of this voice, the impossibility to move fastly between notes in scale like phrases (agility) and the preclusion to diminish the sound to piano (dynamics, or messa di voce if you like).
Now the singer has to take a subsequent breath fairly early and snatches one, again audibly. You notice it seems strange that another one was needed so quickly. Time passing by, you see also the chest raising up and down with any cicle of breath, the shoulders slowly but steadily get involved in the process, the singer gets tired, the voice is badly affected. At the end of the performance, if it was a long one, he is knackered and hoarse.

Now: I know, probably you don't do any of this so blatantly.
Yet, something is not completely right or you wouldn't be here reading this article, is it?
So, let's delve into the matter and give you the insight you were looking for.

How do I take a breath for singing?

Rule number one.
Be still inside.
Be calm.
DO NOT tense your abdominal muscles, particularly the rectus.
(Why? Tensing the rectus tenses the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the larynx. Also, the resistance to the descent of your diaphragm - brought about by the contraction of the abdominal muscles which squash your organs inside of your belly - make so that the effort in inhaling is more than needed and chances are that the volume of air in not enough, but more importantly, that the recoil of the diaphragm is accelerated from the very onset. The breath will last less and there will be no possibility to control it with ease. At the opposite, loose viscera -the content of your abdomen - will weight on your diaphragm and counteract its ascent, thus saving you breath! This feeling is what we call appoggio, leaning upon something, passively... the concept of support ("support the sound", "support from below!") is, on the contrary, an active action foreign to the coordination and the feeling of appoggio: appoggio is relief in singing, support is one more thing to work on!)

Rule number two.
DO NOT inhale much. "Quality, not quantity". By the way mark this: the higher the notes you will be singing, the less breath you will need. Yes, you read it correctly. You don't need a big quantity of breath, even for the longest phrases. It's what you do with the breath, how you manage it - how quickly it is expelled by your lungs - that counts. This is the crucial point, the result of appoggio. THIS MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE.

Rule number three.
Don't tense in the larynx and throat at the onset. If you have inhaled in the conditions outlined above, there will be a sense of relax in the neck, throat and in the upper chest area. The intake of air will be silent. The larynx will feel out of the way, and recover with each new inhalation.

Rule number four.
On the onset, keep the sense of ease: don't contract the rectus abdominal muscle - the transversus and the oblique will do the work assisting the exhalatory activity, without you having much to think about it.. forgive me if I don't go SO MUCH in depth ;) . That will guarantee the right amount of airflow and will leave the larynx to work in an optimum condition. You will hear a focus in the voice and you will feel it in particular area of your skull (depending on vowel, pitch and volume you are singing in), with the impression of the sound floating on the breath, effortlessly (remember the old saying? sing ON the breath, not WITH the breath!).
Air will not escape quickly, the chest will remain comfortably high and apparently always in the inhalatory position reached upon adopting the so called noble posture. Vibrato will appear naturally at the correct rate, unaided. Quickly moving passages will be easy to accomplish, as it will playing with dynamics without affecting the quality of tone. Singing in high tessitura will not call for tension, in either holding or pushing anywhere in your body.
That's appoggio, or one way - pretty simple, yet subtly correct - to put it into words.

As usual, comments are welcomed!

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Art or Technique: what comes first?

When I hear about the invitation from someone to sing naturally, in an inspired way, as a solution to a technical issue, I hardly agree.
Many do already sing well-connected to their artistic side, with emotion and a natural talent in "feeling".... their problems often are not related to Art, but must be ascribed to Technique.
These singers come to us with a problem and they want a solution. It's often an incorrect use of their body to prevent the blossoming of the singer's voice, and the invitation to "be natural", to "feel", to try and express more in most cases yields no significant result.
Of course, in order to have a "complete" singer, you also need this connection... but a good teacher must be able to identify and remove any existing mechanical impediment, then he and the student will instill a more efficient coordination which responds to the laws of physiology, acoustics and phonetics under which we all operate. Then everything falls into place.

On the other hand the attempt to awaken sensitiveness in the subject that for too long has left this skill dormant calls for a much longer and often unsuccessful process.
If it is emotion that lacks, and if the singing feels devoid of that magic, of the inner dimension and, ultimately, of interpretation... well, it will be quite difficult to bring back artistic sensibility (the ability to experience, to recognize, appreciate, and to reproduce emotions) without educating in a very broad sense the culture and life experience of the student.

It must be remembered that often these skills are already present in the "natural singer"(and that is why he or she wishes to have a freedom in the use of their voice: they want their instrument to be able to go hand in hand with what suggested by this inner world within!).
In my experience, the hindrance is often of technical nature(read: mechanical) and I'm sorry to say that the teacher who cannot link the effect to the cause and doesn't know how to precisely cure it, for as mystical, inspired and inspiring as this teacher can be, simply is not qualified to teach singing.

If I had to sum it up, almost often it is because Technique is wrong that Artistry has no way to come to life. On the contrary, all the feeling and sensitivity of the world are useless if a problem caused by improper coordination be not addressed and the correct physiological process be adequately restored.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

How do you stop the larynx from raising when singing higher in the voice?

To the Italian singer and teacher that follow this blog...
This has been my answer, in my own language, to a well known Italian singing teacher who asked me how I help my students to avoid the problem of the raising of the larynx when moving into upper voice. It goes very much into the specific of the teachings of the Belcanto practice but at the same time is common knowledge for a well-prepared individual. The all thing started with my observation that in order to teach effectively, one has to avoid confusing jargon and mystical explanations by using factual terminology that allows an immediate understanding of the message one wants to deliver. I will translate it properly in due time for my English-speaker followers, meantime you want to try with google.translate.com... but I don't guarantee the results!

Come affronti il problema della eccessiva risalita della laringe andando alla zona acuta?
Premetto che cio' che segue sono informazioni ed idee comuni al patrimonio di conoscenza di tutti gli insegnanti di canto che fanno il loro mestiere con responsabilita' e onesta', non mi sono inventato niente ne affermo di essere il solo ad applicarne i principi. Sono messe in maniera meno elegante di come il Maestro le saprebbe mettere, ma spero non meno valide!
A noi.
Allora immagino, Maestro, che stiamo prescindendo dalle complicazioni che sorgerebbero in partenza con una posizione della laringe che sia troppo alta o bassa, anche in note della zona del parlato. Queste possibilita' derivano, come sappiamo, da un concetto del suono, da una concezione interna del suono che e' non fisiologica allo strumento in questione. Se l'idea del soggetto e' di sentire un un suono piu' grosso, pieno, e forte di quello che naturalmente gli appartiene, e' facile che egli crei una distensione eccessiva delle pareti faringee ed un abbassamento della laringe: una ricerca di spazio interno che finisce per mascherare il suono. Se, all'opposto, il concetto e' quello di una voce piu' leggera, fina e chiara di quella di cui si e' dotati, la laringe assume una posizione piu' alta in partenza per adeguare il suono a tale timbrica.
In ultimo, il timbro esibito e' inconsciamente prodotto ed e' quasi sempre condizionato da fattori emozionali, caratteriali e culturali – che variano da Paese a Paese. In Italia per esempio, ( in linea generale almeno!) abbiamo sviluppato un unanime consenso per il suono naturale, completo, reso bello all'udito dalla presenza del “chiaroscuro” della tradizione vocale Italiana, dato da rotondita' e corposita' che coesistono assieme. La voce che lo produce e' percepita come libera, viva, e la completezza del suo suono e' infatti data dal rispetto della fisiologia dello strumento vocale, privo di tensione superflue e aggiuntive (che tolgono o aggiungono armonici di troppo e alterano la distribuzione dei picchi di frequenza, o formanti). In Germania, ancora per esempio, si preferisce un suono diverso (che spiega la tecnica del Deckung, della copertura anticipata e improvvisa di alterazione del timbro esibita da alcuni cantanti: tecnica non gradita dall'estetica sviluppata in Italia (e tra l'altro meno sana!) che predilige una copertura graduale e un timbro costante nell'ascesa alle zone acute della voce.

Per sperimentare e riconoscere il colore del suono senza deformazioni, l soggetto deve essere invitato a concepire la sua voce cosi' come l'ascolta in condizioni di tranquillita', di attiva, positiva rilassatezza. Come immagino che anche Lei concordera', metterlo a suo agio e invitarlo ad inalare come se si prendesse una sana boccata di aria pulita o si annusasse un profumo, mette lo strumento vocale nella migliore conformazione possibile, immune da pre-dispozioni che modificherebbero la conseguente produzione del suono. E' da notare l'importanza della decontrazione del muscolo retto addominale, il quale ha una connessione neurologica con l'attivita' glottidea: alla sua contrazione corrisponde di riflesso una tensione laringea.
Rispettando la postura assiale o nobile, e non contraendo I muscoli dell'addome, una facile distensione del diaframma favorisce la lieve discesa della laringe ad una posizione neutra, ne' alta ne bassa. Iniziare il suono, con una vocale nasale o consonante continuativa come la bocca chiusa ( “m”) -in cui la mandibola non sia serrata ma lasciata morbida, avendo cura di non contrarre a livello faringeo e lasciando la lingua nella posizione neutra (quella adottata quando si e' in silenzio, o quando si pondera e poi si esclama un “mmm”- e poi aprire in una vocale, si rivela il miglior modo per riconoscere il proprio suono. Non deve esserci nessuna ricerca di situarlo in nessun punto, la sensazione fisica varia da persona a persona (conformazione) da vocale a vocale (distribuzione degli armonici) e da nota a nota (punti di convergenza delle vibrazioni simpatetiche condotte per vie ossea). L'orecchio del soggetto e, solo di conseguenza ,il feedback del proprio corpo, lo guidano e informano la sua attivita' vocale.
Stabilito questo suono naturale, cioe' prodotto nel rispetto della propria fisiologia e osservante delle leggi della fonetica, il concetto, l'idea del soggetto puo' far conto su una costante: egli sapra' riconoscere il suo timbro e, nell'affrontare l'escursione in tutta la sua estensione, aver cura di non lasciare che questo suono, la sua voce, cambi – evento indesiderabile nel buon - e bel - canto ;)

Ora nel centro del mirino con la risposta alla sua richiesta, Maestro:

Nell'ascendere la gamma di altezze nella voce, si incontrano punti in cui le corde vocali incontrano di necessita' dei cambiamenti nella massa e nella lunghezza (ad opera di muscoli anch'essi presenti nella laringe e che non andro' a menzionare nel dettaglio perche' non lo gradisce, ma che invito tutti a conoscere!). Notoriamente, questi punti si trovano ad altezze differenti per le varie categorie vocali (es. tenore, basso, soprano, contralto), ma relativamente prevedibili all'interno della singola categoria (essi variano in base alla tipologia, di solito arrivano prima per voci drammatiche e piu' “in alto” per voci piu' leggere): e' in corrispondenza di queste altezze (in cui l'attivita' di un set muscolare cede il controllo a quella di un altro set, ndr.), che la laringe tende a salire.
L'allievo salendo nell'altezza del suono dalla zona della voce parlata, arriva ad un punto in cui avverte un cambiamento di colore del suono, che si sbianca, assottiglia e che (proprio per evitare che tale cambiamento sia evidente) gli richiede un maggiore sforzo e lo porta ad una sensazione di fastidio.
Oltre quel punto, puo' spingere ancora un po', ricorrendo al gridare: certo il suono e' sforzato e non sostenibile a lungo. Ad un certo punto continuando a salire, la voce si fa' stridula ed e' impossibile salire ancora (secondo passaggio).
Rivediamo il problema. Il suono si fa' piu' “chiaro” (ovvio: la glottide si fa' piu' piccola, le corde piu' fine) e d'istinto, poiche' non avvengono modificazioni nell'apparato di risonanza (copertura) e poiche' non perviene un'attivazione maggiore dei muscoli intercostali a contro-bilanciare l'aumento della pressione del fiato (appoggio), il soggetto cerca di mantenere la qualita' del suono uguale (cosa che non puo' avvenire, come abbiamo spiegato, perche' l'affinamento delle corde vocali e il loro allungamento de modificano il risultante suono nella sua composizione – non entro nei termini acustici che ne spiegano le caratteristiche!) e... la laringe sale!
Un esempio si fa' d'uopo: e allora l'insegnante dimostra come il suono muta nell'ascendere e spiega all'allievo il concetto della modificazione, a livello articolatorio, della vocale ( che non e' altro un adattare le cavita' di risonanza – orale e faringea – all'altezza, in base a una semplice legge acustica, e che viene ottenuto aprendo gradualmente la bocca: questo modifica la vocale verso una piu' aperta o piu' chiusa (a seconda della vocale di partenza) e produce l'effetto chiamato copertura, bilanciando la risonanza e mantenendo la presenza del chiaroscuro e una gradevole distribuzione delle frequenze).

Complementare alla modificazione della vocale e' l'appoggio, che non e' altro che l'uso dinamico dei muscoli, transverso e obliqui, addominali e il constante lavoro dei muscoli interni intercostali, che contrastano l'ativita' espiratoria della risalita del diaframma. Tale rallentamento – assieme alla modificazione della vocale, fa si che la pressione sottoglottidea riamanga minima e costante e il cantante possa cantare nella parte alta della sua estenzione senza affaticamento laringeo - in modo che egli rimanga all'oscuro dell'attivita' della laringe o del suo diaframma! - e possa dedicarsi all'aspetto interpretativo e comunicativo della sua esibizione, e ripeto: senza dover essere cosciente a livello fisico dell'attivita' laringea o diaframmatica: 1) il diaframma non puo' essere sentito ne' controllato 2) le corde vocali non possono essere controllate localmente.

Esistono vocalizzi specifici per sperimentare, capire ed ripetere a volonta' e con precisione gli aggiustamenti necessari allo scopo in questione (impedire la risalita della laringe). Tali modifiche degli spazi di risonanza sono semplicemente definibili, spiegabili e comprensibili, e rispondono alla legge acustica della ridistribuzione delle frequenze, necessaria qualora si voglia mantenere il timbro vocale costante per tutta l'estensione della voce.
Non richiedono assolutamente di andare contro natura come il distorcere la bocca, ne' il cercare l'affondo, ne' lo sbadiglio... ma, per me piu' importante, allo stesso tempo non richiedono allo studente di avere, a priori, sensazioni fisiche e coordinazioni motorie che non ha ancora sperimentato e che quindi non puo' conoscere ma solo immaginare e cercare di imitare (e come sarebbe possibile altrimenti? Se le avesse gia', il problema non c'e'!).
Questo processo informato di apprendimento gli da' gli strumenti per arrivare a quelle sensazioni, e che poi sia lui - o lei - ad associare immagini, emozioni, pure filosofie!, ad esse: allora, se crede, dira' di poter percepire un asse verticale e uno orizzontale, di sentiri come sulla cima di una montagna o chesso', se gli aggrada... ma noi abbiamo il dovere di dargli strumenti e indicazioni comprensibili cosi' che, risolte le difficolta' tecniche, possa dedicarsi allo studio del repertorio:
la vita e' breve e se c'e' un modo di spiegare e capire i concetti dell'arte del canto che sia piu' immediato, cerchiamo di usarlo e diffondiamolo!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Trusting and nourishing the singer's inner wisdom... and having the courage to affirm it

What the mind conceives, the body delivers. We could put it this other way: what the musical ear conceives, the voice delivers.
Powerful and true reality. A simple, undeniable fact.

We would do better to analyse the implications of it, from a singer's point of view.

In my career as singing teacher, I came to realize how most of the times the faults that keep persisting in a singer's voice are there for a reason, and one in particular, often not mentioned: the singer is not aware of them! It may sound too simplistic, but.. think about it: if he has not the awareness of something not being right or only vaguely so, he will not be able to do anything about it. If the idea, the concept of the sound is not cured (healed, cleared up, sorted), the common scenario is that one goes by sewing patches on the fabric of his technique... which makes the resulting voice look like a mix and match of colors which nothing did to sort the problem but actually add to it. In this setting, often comes in the teacher that tries to fix the problem with very little understanding of it and by means of one or two tips based on wrong preconceptions about how to confront the issue of... whatever the problem may be. This is another big problem altogether, which I touched in previous posts and on which I will not linger in this occasion, but let's concentrate on a more relevant argument.

The Awareness of The Singer.
This awareness should be nurtured by the responsible student (I here mean that you are a student throughout your career, in singing) and by a competent, trusted teacher. In many cases, it is not so...: The average student relies totally on his teacher, trusting that the teacher alone, knows what the voice should sound like, and giving away all the power of one's inner instinct and intuition - ultimately what really tells us what's right or wrong.
This give-away of one's inner guidance is at the source of the persistence of most - if not all- the troubles a singer encounters. Shame, really, 'cause it shouldn't be the case...

Every so often one can witness this mechanism at play: the teacher who is surrounded by a mystical aura sees there are faults and hears the troubles in the voice.. but he/she doesn't know exactly where these faults originate, why those troubles are there: instead of precise knowledge, this teacher is armed only of a somewhat good career as his background, and imprecise information. Out of good intentions, this teacher thinks of passing on the advice which worked for his/her case (even if the problem was a completely different one!) and the instructions don't bring any positive, consistent improvement...
Well, let's stop a second and focus the perspective on the student instead of this improvised teacher, because it is here that lies the real problem, the one factor that allows this sad reality to come to life. This singer/student in analysis - the common case - is in the first place projecting expectations on the teacher. Consequently, the student is giving all the responsibility to this teacher. In this setting, the singer will not likely voice his concern even if he can feel that a)something is wrong, that b)it's clear that the teacher is not really spotting the problem and that c)the advice doesn't really work - or if it does, it does so at the expenses of one's inner intuition because it asks too much effort and causes a feeling of discomfort and not of calm and mastery.
Two are the possible likelihoods of how this situation will evolve.
If the contact with one's inner wisdom is totally removed, this student is likely to continue seeing this teacher (or others) and eventually will believe that the sound made it's just his sound. There is no much chance that any future comment on his incorrect way of singing will "wake him up", and actually the chances are even less likely for nobody will have the courage or bother to approach someone whose awareness is so far from what he is actually doing, unless specifically asked to express a professional opinion - which may be well be rejected, for the same above reasons!
If this person listen to his inner feelings, he will quit taking lesson, disappearing from this studio giving no feedback, and either embark on the difficult journey of finding a knowledgeable teacher who is able to help him or cease studying voice for good (too bad, and too frequent).
A third option would be very unlikely, but would be the only one which could really prevent other damage: the student voices his concerns directly, therefore bringing the teacher to question himself about his being qualified to teach. (if humble and honest enough, he will start to look for more knowledge on which grounding his profession).

Now let's look at things by taking a step back and see the bigger picture.

As one can see, the power shouldn't be given out completely to someone else, not even if the teacher is a very good and knowledgeable one. Ultimately, it is always up to you. It is up to your commitment, to your connection with your self. Yes, it is up to your talent too, but mostly, the bottom line is: it is up to your commitment.

A singer should always be responsible for his own growth and development. Part of this responsibility is to observe, to listen, to be an active researcher of his own and other's voice. Critical to one's success is the curiousity, the ability to compare different coordinations resulting in as many diverse sounds, and the power of justly appreciate the connection between cause and effect. (This is what the good pedagogue has done himself: without this process, the singer who becomes teacher is bound to generate random results.. and too many casualties)

P.S. : With this attitude, the singer is capable of developing his own discernment and his own "palette", his "vocabulary". With this approach he is to award himself of the very tools of the singing trade.... tools that can help him above anyone else decide what does constitute a good sound and what doesn't, tools that will allow him to conceive the tonal concept that will shape his voice production. And here we are, back to the starting point: what the musical ear conceives, the body delivers...
Cultivate your knowledge then. Don't be lazy: listen, observe. Commit to learning and growth.
Your tonal concept will improve, and your voice will follow!

Friday, 7 January 2011

The famous singer who becomes (in)famous teacher

The most successful career - however valuable the experience can be in some respects -doesn't qualify a singer to set up as a teacher.
Ambitious pupils always feel attracted by big names. Yet it is only a few advanced pupils who mature to perfection in so-called masterclasses.
I've seen clips of such "high-level training" given by artists of the calibre of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Pavarotti, Kraus and many more... the advice given in such events is either correct in its purely musical character or, at the opposite, completely nonsensical when in regard to the technical side of singing. In these recordings, one can read in the mind of the poor student the frustration he feels when trying to apply the advice given without really knowing what it is that they want him to do!

What ought to matter most is the basic instruction of a pupil at the introductory and intermediate stages: this requires individual tuition by a teacher who - apart from being a singer - possesses interdisciplinary knowledge of anatomy, physiology, musical acoustics and psychology, plus of course an extremely fine ear and common sense. With the latter it is possible to detect the faults in the student and, with the former, one can connect cause to effect and come out with the solution required.

I must admit, I have witnessed many, too many singing teacher who lack the required competency. Yet they have many pupils attending their studios... In 90 per cent of the cases, these singing teachers teach at the best music institutions!!
It is no exaggeration to say that teaching singing is the least-regulated of all the professions and the saddest thing is that it seems that those responsible for the Music Staff are happy that things stay the way they are and that no formal training be given to them. What do they fear, I ask?

But don't get me wrong, there are also good teachers out there: it's just that they are not known enough.

So, when you chose your teacher to sort out your voice, my advice is: don't be fooled by their charm and popularity. Go for those things only if what you are looking for is fame and networking... you too will be able to say "I studied with such-and-such, who blablabla...", but that's another matter altogether!!

Monday, 3 January 2011

An interesting parallel

Yesterday we brought the children to bowling and ice skating. It was real fun for all of us and we decided to repeat it soon and make a habit of it.
For me, it has been a great learning experience. And you will see how later.
Preface: I have never been ice skating and only twice bowling. The evening before, I wanted to google for ice skating on youtube in search of some tips for beginners ice skaters... and that is part of the way am now: I don't jump into things because I know one should have some knowledge beforehand if doesn't want to end up doing what many seem to do keep doing - repeatedly making the same mistakes. If information is available for you, why not equip yourself with it and make the most of your experience, in whatever field?
Thanks to that search, I learned the theory of the basics for ice skating the night before and when we arrived there I knew what to do - as opposed as simply enter the ice ring with no clue. Surprisingly for my wife, I didn't end up falling all the time: to the opposite I went in confidently and progressed pretty quickly, to the point of going round the the ring at reasonable speed. Many things of what I learned the night before were the centre of my attention, as the example of those who were skating with elegance and effortlessly.

And here is the parallel that stroke me with the singing. I hope I can put it in words for you to see the point.
If you look at the seasoned skater moving around, you see that even if he/she moves with speed, he keeps the balance in the centre, there is no excessive shift of the weight in anticipation of the movement. There is a sense of calm. And the result to the eye is: beauty. Well, in the elite singing, exactly the same is in place. One doesn't lose the inner calm at any point, there is no tension going on, no pushing. There is, as in those athletes, positive tonus in the body, but any manoeuvre is approached with dynamic muscle balance and harmoniously. This is most evident in the torso, the shoulders, the neck and the tongue.

Both in ice-skating and in singing, the one who doesn't give a thought about the task on hand and is too busy juggling himself in the continuous attempt to react to the situation, is clueless of those things on which he should instead pay attention to.

I don't think you can learn efficiently to skate if you don't give a thought about what you are doing and if are not coached. In bowling, I witnessed yesterday, this is also true: one who simply throw the ball without analysing why it doesn't go where one wants it to go, and keep putting in place the same wrong coordination not aware of the reasons why he fails, will not improve: only if one gives thought on the swing of the arm, the balancing of the body by means of the back crossing of the other leg and consider the spin/effect phenomenon that can be imparted to the ball... only then one can move forward.

In learning to sing freely, the same applies: you need to think analytically, to observe the coordination that brings about the right results and that which brings about the wrong ones, and to practise with intelligence, in a step by step fashion and building on gradually. Well, maybe the first bit is more for the teacher than the student, but it wouldn't be a bad thing!

Mmmm. I'm not sure I was able to deliver the message I had so clear in my mind. Apologies, but I'm not so good with writing, even less in a second language.
Well, I know I am good in teaching these things though... and so far that's enough for me :)