Thursday, June 24, 2010

What Every Singer Should Ask

In this BLOG, I will often address technical vocal concepts and sometimes I will speak to psychological, emotional and spiritual concepts, but today I want to begin with an important question, which many of us are afraid to ask: “Am I studying with the right teacher?”

I have had to ask myself this question several times and want to tell you that it’s okay to ask it. Teachers give us technical information, but they can also help us to gain confidence, sometimes even providing performance opportunities for us and making introductions and opening doors we might not have been able to do otherwise. They become our security blankets, which is not always the best thing. I have had numerous students come to me physically (vocally) battered and emotionally damaged due to abuses from being with the wrong teacher.

We become so attached to what they have done for us in the past, perhaps even playing a role of mother or father or mentor that our relationship becomes co-dependant and is really no longer about the teaching element. When we sing, we bare out souls. I have experienced, as have many singers I know, a feeling of baring our souls to the point we feel naked when we sing, especially when evolving into a newer, deeper more subtle level of trust, but we need to step back every once in awhile and re-evaluate what our teacher is CURRENTLY doing for us – both the good and the bad.

So I encourage you to sit quietly and think of your current voice teacher (or coach, etc,) and WRITE DOWN all of the positive things and negative things. If there are negative things, decide upon the level of their impact, see if you can address them with your teacher and, if appropriate, move on.

I have never met a voice teacher or coach who confessed that they were on a mission to ruin voices, careers or lives. No! We all want to help! However, knowing that each person and each instrument is one-of-a-kind and that many of the concepts we discuss are difficult to put into words or demonstrate, it may be that their style of teaching and method is not the right one for you – that doesn’t make them bad teachers...

I will leave you with a series of questions and ideas to use as tools for your evaluation – Good Luck!

Physical: After your lessons, does your voice feel hoarse or fatigued? Do experience any dysphonia? (Meaning it takes 10-60 minutes after a lesson to produce a natural, easy clear sound either speaking or singing) Do you have any other recurring physical symptoms either before or after your lesson (Headaches, Vomiting, or Diarrhea?) If you can answer yes to any of these questions you might be studying with the wrong teacher.

Discuss these symptoms with your teacher. As we know, there can be underlying psychological or emotional issues manifesting as physical symptoms or you might be misunderstanding a vocal concept, which can be cleared up with an open discussion with your teacher. I am here to tell you that any of these symptoms, if they are ongoing, are NOT normal and NOT the result of your “body getting used to the new technique. I would advise you to consider another teacher.

Technical: Is your vocal range, low to high, increasing and stabilizing or is it shrinking? (Are you losing your high notes and or low notes?) Healthy vocal technique should not decrease your range. Does singing feel more and more natural and easy as you study, or does singing become more difficult? Are register shifts more noticeable and difficult? Do you feel like you can trust your own voice less and less? When you ask your teacher “Why” is my voice doing “THIS,” do they answer that it will just take time and not to worry?

Have you ever taken a “Break” from lessons with your current teacher (Due to work being busy, Illness, financial or other reasons) for 3 months to a year and discover that your voice feels better and singing is easier after that break? If you can answer YES to any of these questions, you might not be with the right teacher.

Psychological/Emotional: Do you look forward to your voice lessons, or do you dread them? (See Physical questions above as well) We all have bad vocal days and bad lessons from time to time, but do you leave every voice lesson frustrated, dejected, shamed or depressed?

Do you spend most of your lesson talking about your life and problems, rather than singing? Do you consider your voice teacher MORE of a friend/mother/father figure, than a teacher? Have you ever commented to yourself or others “Well, I don’t know that he/she’s helping me much with my singing nowadays, but I wouldn’t have survived my “crisis” (Being laid off from work, my divorce, my mother’s death – you fill in the blank) without him/her!”

Do you feel a need to stay because of possible future professional contacts your teacher might be able to give you?

Have you ever said “Gee, I’d really like to take a master class or coach or study with this other teacher, but I know that if my current teacher found out he/she would kick me out of their studio!”

If you can answer yes to one or more of these questions, you might have more success with a different teacher.

Yours in song ~ Karen

An Illuminated Voice: (A weekly beacon to shine the light on solving your vocal mysteries)

An Illuminated Voice by Karen Tucker Patterson
(A weekly beacon to shine the light on solving your vocal mysteries)

Dear Singers,

After 30 years of the ongoing study of voice and 18 years of teaching, I have been inspired to speak up and so I thought a BLOG was a good place to start.

Perhaps, like Renee Flemming and others, you were born with a “Golden Throat” and so your experience of singing has been more about gaining confidence and your teachers and coaches have spoken to you more about the music and its interpretation than about vocal technique. If so, then bless you for being one of the lucky one’s - go sing! This BLOG will most likely not be of interest to you.

However, if you, like me, have struggled through many challenges, in singing and in life, that have impacted your vocal journey for better or for worse, then this might be the ticket to help your own inquiries and inspiration. I will value your comments, suggestions and questions and will respond, where appropriate, either directly or in the body of a message. Wishing you all things brilliant and beautiful in your journey of song...