How Do You Translate?

It’s Sunday evening…

I very often, and on purpose, don’t discuss vocal technique specifically on this blog. Why? Because to me, vocal technique is not a one-size-fits-all and that needs to be done in the studio one-on-one. That’s just how I have processed and developed my blog subjects.


How do you translate technical information?

And yes, you need to translate what is being talked about, especially it if is generic and using old school language.

I had a HUGE “a-ha!” moment, when I realized that I, as a singer, had been translating literally.

What do I mean?

What was SAID to me, was being translated PRECISELY AS SAID.

Did this help me vocally? Absolutely not. Not at all.

When I realized I was literally trying to DO what was being said, and it wasn’t working and only hindering my physicality and my voice, something had to change.

Language is agency.

Vocal pedogogical language is often in absolute opposition of what is required.

Yes, yes it is.

Think about what you are told:

“Breath low”

“Bring the tone forward”

“Place the voice…”

Those are just three typical regular ‘isms’ of language that we hear in the studio - from teachers and coaches.

Add other possibilities like…

“project your voice to the back of the room/theatre/space”

“could you belt that?”

“push out your ribs”

And the list goes on…

I was told all of these and many more throughout my early studies (and sometimes later study!) and even though I am sure many meant well, they were using language that didn’t make sense to me.

This is when I had an “aha!” moment: As an artist, I translate what is being said to me, LITERALLY. So, I will try to “breathe low”; “bring it forward”; “Place it”.

And guess what? It didn’t work. It doesn’t work.

So, what do you do? Do you translate literally and mess yourself up? Or have you figured out how to re-translate for yourself so you don’t get messed up? Bully for you if you do!

First, “breath low” is physically impossible as lungs aren’t “low”. So figure out what that is for you.

“Placement” doesn’t exist in acoustics, so what does that mean?

“Forward” doesn’t exist in acoustics, so what is that really for you?

“Project” isn’t push, and doesn’t move out the body the way we think it is supposed to based on what we are told, so what is it?

Am I going to answer these questions for you? You know me better than that, don’t you? Hell, no. This is up to you. Just a friendly reminder: language in vocal pedagogy is not what it appears to be.

Ask questions.

Ask why. And listen for an answer.

Yes, I was frustrating. Yes, certain teachers in my sphere were not happy with me by asking because they couldn’t translate, or had never been asked before.

I needed to figure that out. And I continue to.

It is my job as a teacher to recognize that language has agency, that artists tend to translate literally, and that it is my responsibility to give each singer a specificity they can figure out physicality and intellectually in order to physicalize.

Each singer must figure out how they translate. You need to be honest as to how you translate and when it’s necessary. If something isn’t “working”, it could simply be the language and in turn, the translation.

In my studio, I have many “Susan-isms”: ways of describing and physicalizing what is happening with intangibles like breath, intrinsic muscular, vocal vibration, sensation. These “isms” change, morph and grow depending on the singer who is in the room with me, and dares to jump in and re-translate and give me more information in the lesson!

We are never done! Teacher to singer, artist to artist - we keep growing, we keep discovering ways of communicating, discovering and revealing, together.

So, take a moment through this week to discover how you translate. What you seem to “know” - take a moment to see if you could explain that to someone. What would you say? How would you describe it? Explore those possibilities. You may discover another way to translate to yourself and learn more about what you actually do, and need to do in order to access more effective physical behavior!

Susan Eichhorn Young covers all things voice—strong and sophisticated singing and speaking. 

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