Of all the instruments that I’ve ever played - and there have been many - the voice has always been the hardest. Yep, the thing that is constantly with me, that started making sounds akin to singing before it even formed a coherent word, is that most challenging instrument I have ever played.
The trouble is, I have very high expectations of this instrument of mine. I was lucky enough to be born with good raw material and left to its own devices; it probably would have been okish. A fairly pretty tone, some agility but perhaps a little lacking in stamina and maybe the range would be a bit limited. Do you know what? That would be ok. If that voice was functioning healthily and its user was happy with its abilities – that’s fine.
The thing is, I didn’t want an ok voice - I wanted a great voice. I wanted a voice that was capable of singing whatever music I threw at it. I wanted a voice that could express the whole range of human emotion. I wanted a voice that could happily carry on working through high demands I wished to place on it. And so, the lifelong process of building and maintaining that instrument began.
Building your instrument is not a finite process. So many factors influence our vocal function that the voice, like the rest of the body, changes. A good teacher should be able to help you build a solid technical foundation, diagnose faults and help you correct them and above all, help you to keep it functioning healthily through your career.
I honestly don’t think that everyone who sings needs to take lessons. If you are trotting off to sing in a choir once a week and your instrument is happily belting out Jerusalem and the descant of O Come All Ye Faithful year on year, then great! Be on your way. However, if the above is happening with the addition of not being able to speak after rehearsal, then your instrument needs a some fine tuning.
Vocal problems can crop up for many reasons – the culmination of years of poor technique, physical or emotional trauma, illness or merely advancing years. If there were a sudden onset of a serious vocal issue, a referral to a voice clinic would be the most appropriate course of action. However, with a clean bill of health, it can be truly amazing what good technique can do for a voice!
Before you begin searching for a teacher, it’s important to think about what you want to achieve in your lessons. Over the years I have seen many singers with “characterful” voices who are presenting with problems arising from misuse. In building healthier habits, we may be changing some of those “characterful” traits and that type of intervention is not always welcome. If you are considering exploring your voice and your singing technique, it is important to be realistic about the desired outcome. As amazing as singing teachers are, we cannot perform miracles.
Whether you are a complete beginner or a seasoned professional, singing lessons should be a positive experience. Using our voices to create music is one of the most natural, joyful things a human being can do and formalising this by taking lessons should enhance these feelings – not kill them.
In my next post I will be talking about finding the right teacher….