The fundamental difference between all forms of (for lack of a better term) “Classical Singing” and almost all forms of (again with the lack-of-a-better-termness) “CCM” (and Jazz, and every other genre that doesn’t want to fall under the ‘contemporary commercial music’ label (which: FAIR. #youdoyou)) and Music Theatre is that classical singers are not amplified and (almost! (do not send me letters about this – I KNOW YOU CAN’T MAKE A SWEEPING GENERALIZATION ABOUT ALL THE THINGS … AND YET? I AM ABOUT TO. #Iamanenigma)) every other singer IS amplified.
In the voice studio, this necessity to create a sound that “carries” without amplification means that singers who are working on singing in classical styles are always working to maximize efficiency of production in order to create a sound that can be heard un-amplified and can “cut” through the sound of other instruments and/or singers, no matter which time period, style, or composer they are singing. (wow. now THAT’s a sentence you can really get lost in, isn’t it? #yourewelcome)
OF COURSE there are other things at play BUT consider that this may be where some of the issues with classically-trained voice teachers arise; we tend to conflate the things we were taught to do that help a sound to “carry” in a hall with “healthy” sound production.
I’m a compulsory teacher; if I know something that you don’t know? I will really, really want to tell you that thing. (And, yes, I am aware that that compulsion, if not controlled, can make me a bit of an asshat.)
Many of us teachers are this way, aren’t we?
And sometimes in our need to teach, the folks we work with don’t get the chance to discover (or truly learn). Because we over-prescribe.
Phrases such as “it will likely feel like …”, and “can you feel that … “, and “when we do this, this other thing will happen” can so easily replace the open-ended questions that are better at allowing students to truly discover and learn.
~ this is the part where things get personal #youvebeenwarned ~
I recently instructed a singer to allow height in the tongue while saying/singing the /i/ vowel and to revel in how fronted and soft the tongue feels … which wasn’t working for her. When we stumbled across a beautifully-formed /i/ in another context, I remembered how to be a good teacher for a minute and asked, “how does the tongue feel for you right now?”
Guess what she said? NOTHING ABOUT HEIGHT. OR FRONTING. OR RELEASED FORWARD. OR ANY OF THE OTHER DIRECTIVES I OFTEN GIVE TO SINGERS.
She said: “my tongue feels flat.”
Buuuuut … the tongue IS NOT FLAT. [I did not say this out loud.]
And then she said, “as compared to the concave-shape my tongue had when I had the swallowed/back /i/ sound”.
HUH. [I need more HUH moments in my studio, friends. Those are the good ones.]
Go on and challenge yourself to prescribe a little less and ask a little more.
I’ve recently started attending Yin Yoga classes on the regular. (Because: I like paying to nap while I stretch. Ahem.) And the instructor of the class I like to attend is at least fifteen centimeters (six inches) shorter than I am and has a totally different body-type than I do.
But also which: when the instructor uses a bolster and a block to set up a pose for her body? I usually need to use at least two blocks and maybe an extra pillow or three (in addition to the bolster). Because: I’ve got a solid half-foot of height in my body that she doesn’t have to account for.
Not gonna’ lie: It took me about three classes (despite her telling the class to use whatever or however many props we need) to figure this out. I wasted a LOT of good napping time trying to contort my body into poses using props that only work for a much smaller person. DANGNABBIT.
Guess what? The person across the piano from you in the studio has a different body type from you. Maybe not to the same extent as the difference between my yoga instructor and I, but different none-the-less.
Which is why ‘one-size-fits-all’ directives can be so problematic and one of the reasons learning to sing by reading about it isn’t really a thing. And one of the primary reasons we continue to ask open-ended questions in the studio and restrain ourselves from telling folks how it feels.