Yuri Sabatini Singing Teacher

Yuri Sabatini Singing Teacher
Voice coach in London

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.


  1. I’ve become used to hearing the opinion that technique is first and foremost and that emotion will follow on naturally afterwards. I think that the sentiment of ‘singing naturally’ or in the way which ‘feels’ best stems from the reality that, when technique is correct the feeling throughout the body is that you have achieved the most natural and comfortable way of singing – you may have been striving for so long to achieve an aspect of technique, poring your effort and concentration into it but when you finally achieve your goal it becomes as comfortable as breathing and you cannot believe that you found it so difficult. Whilst emotion should always be present in singing, until one attains good technique, you emotional range and subtlety will be constrained by the technical issues.
    Obviously a competent teacher should be aware of what a student is doing wrong technically in order to be able to fix it but I think that whether or not the teacher makes the STUDENT aware of the problem is completely dependent on the individual. Some people improve the fastest on a full understanding of the problem which they are dealing with and will even benefit from diagrams of the throat. However others will find this approach completely overwhelming, may ruin their self-confidence and can lead to obsessing over the problem. It’s also worth noting that many major vocal problems are caused by stress in some form or stem from deep-seated emotional issues. In the case particularly of young or light voices, a common issue is striving towards the ‘perfect sound’ rather than working out what is THEIR sound. In some such cases it can be more helpful to distract from the vocal issues entirely and get them back to the joy of simple making sound. I think a skilful teacher can do this whilst fixing vocal problems simply by choosing their exercises carefully and over time building up new vocal habits.
    Personally I have been taught at both extremes of the spectrum. First I was taught purely emotionally which gave good promising performances but in the long run limited my abilities and as my voice developed left me with stumbling blocks. Then I was taught purely technically for a while but this created like you mentioned, dead performances where technique was foremost in my mind. But what I find particularly helpful at the moment is learning technique but keeping the emotion ever present. Explain how to do the exercise clearly but also associate the exercise with an emotion eg. Sing this with a very light, small sound but with a touch of pain. Overall though, I think that different approaches work well for different people so an understanding of the student is paramount to successful teaching. However generally when learning pieces by myself, I learn it thoroughly technically then go back to scratch, starting with the text and context to add the emotion – building in layers.

  2. Absolutely Letty! That's exactly what I meant to say: emotion and technique need not to be separated, a good teacher will know that too.

    What I wanted to point out is that a teacher who doesn't know his stuff and tries to make you overcome vocal problems by inviting you to "put more emotion", it's a pathetic case and gives no results... on the other hand, it's obvious that too technical a teaching will never let the individual develop his communication skill, and never fully engage the right response from the vocal instrument.

    Said that, a real artist, a natural talent, will find boring such teaching but it won't be impaired when outside the studio. On the opposite, the other approach ( the "emotion, emotion, emotion... and the sound will be there" one) will not allow the singer to identify and resolve the issue, and thus will represent the real impediment to his progress.

    I stress this, because in my experience many can resort to the advice "from your heart, my dear, mean it!!" while only a few in my profession have the know-how to significantly help the student when he exhibits technical issues.

    But, as you say, ideally there must be a balance... it's just that too often amongst teachers knowledge is scarcely there to complement artistry!