I have seen much discussion this week about terminology in singing.
We, as a community of singers and teachers and coaches, use vocal terminology often without thinking about it.
So why blog about it?
Because there is a responsibility we must take more seriously about our teaching and coaching when using terminology; and there is a responsibility we must take as singers more seriously to understand and translate!
First and foremost, are we, as teachers, aware of the vocal terminology we use? Are we prepared to address it, define it, and re-define it fully for a singer to translate it into their consciousness and their physical instrument? This is crucial.
I believe, my philosophy of course, so if it's not yours no worries, I'll sleep well: I teach the SINGER, then the material. I do NOT work out of a "manual". My job is to find the singer where they are, not for them to walk into the studio and try to figure out what I want. To me, that's ass-backwards!
So, I must be very present in order to access what the needs of the singer are at each session; what we are working on in an overall arc; where they are in that process; where they are with ME in that process (trust takes time!); and what reveals itself in a moment to change the direction suddenly if needed.
If I, the teacher, am not present, I am not serving the SINGER. Nor am I serving the profession of singing.
But, that's just me.
I do not believe one size fits all.
As a young singer, when given terminology, I took it literally. And when I asked why, often I was met with resistance. Sadly, I still see that today. Many use terminology that they simply cannot explain. They cannot describe what it means as it pertains to the task at hand, or the singer at hand. And sadly, much of our current terminology is just incorrect. Yes I said it.
I really encourage teachers and coaches to keep asking questions. Find answers. Discover new ways of describing technical behaviors, physicality, acoustics, resonance, vibration. Or simply, learn what it is first before you start using over-used words that mean nothing and can put singers at risk.
Singers, it is your responsibility, because it is YOUR voice, to ask questions until you get an answer that is real, and one you can work with; to keep exploring your knowledge outside the studio about voice, the study of voice and YOUR voice.
Real teachers aren't afraid to say "I don't know but I will find out for you!". Real teachers are never lax about their teaching and often have a voracious appetite to learn more too. Find one like that.
Question your knowledge of general words in the lexicon of vocal-speak. I am not even going to call it pedagogy as many are incorrect. Figure out why it could have been talked about that way, and find out what the true physicality is behind it in order to give a more accurate and more obtainable result with a singer. The more ways we, as teachers, as able to bring some of the pedagogical principles to light, the more possibilities a singer has to access it fully!
If teachers do not understand WHAT they teach, then a singer has a hit or miss chance. If a singer doesn't understand what he/she is DOING, then when they enter the business of show and translate literally what someone outside the studio is saying literally, someone who knows even LESS about the voice in most cases, they are screwed.
Think about it: all theatre terminology is in opposition: stage left, stage right, downstage, upstage, etc etc. We learn it, we get it into our bodies and we don't think about it - we just do it.
Perhaps we must discover what the terminology of voice actually means, and get rid of the words and phrases that make no sense - literally or physically! - to what we are doing.
To take that responsibility means focus, time, and attention. It means being present every step of the way.
Ask why. Find out why. Find out why not. Don't just use the words if you don't really know what they mean. If you cannot define it fully, then it's not realized.
Take full responsibility of your terminology and how you use it. Challenge its use in yourself.
It will make you a better teacher, a better coach AND a better singer.
Language has agency. Therefore, it is crucial we use it well.
Susan Eichhorn Young covers all things voice—strong and sophisticated singing and speaking.
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