January 14, 2014

long distance learning

The student walks into the studio as though visiting the doctor; wanting the pill that will make things right and bring them back to vocal health, even make them famous overnight. You think I jest? I do not. I see that look in their eyes from time to time, and it always gives me pause. What this kind of student doesn't know, and doesn't want to hear, is that learning to sing takes time—more time than they are willing to give to the art form.

If you can get them to stay, to work on their voice (which amounts to working on the Self—which you are smart never to articulate out loud), they experience the change they desire, but it comes when they aren't looking, over the span of weeks and months, which is exactly how language is learned. The Old School maintained that it took at least 3 years to learn to sing, a ball-park figure which experience has confirmed. Of course, no one wants to hear this in our "I must have it now" world. Click and drag, and the world is ours, at least on the computer screen. The world of singing operates differently.

I've been working with a young man for about two and a half years now, and hadn't seen him over the holidays, and during his lesson today, he mentioned that he'd been practicing as I had taught him, in ten minute intervals 4-5 times a day, a stratagem that has served him well with sustained and steady progress—progress that is evidenced in observable gains that haven't melted in the face of challenges. That's the thing, really. The brain doesn't care what you know, or think you know. The stacks of facts you've acquired along the way can't do you much good if they aren't of practical use. Neither are the gadgets that are becoming popular in the voice studio. (Do we need mechanical aids in order to speak? Then why is it that we think we need them in order to sing?) The brain only responds to what you do, over and over again, ad nauseam. It's really that simple, though this is hard for many to accept. The trick is to know what to practice, and how to practice it. For that, one needs specific, tailor-made instruction. 

Singers who seem to have had the goods from the get-go don't appear out of nowhere. Their development has only been out of sight, gestating from a young age. Some call it talent. I call it great listening, which bides its time until it meets a catalyst, often in the form of another artist or an aesthetic event.  Then the training begins, and involves more long distance learning, spanning umpteen musical environments and disciplines. 

Want to be a singer? Learn an instrument. Lean to read music. Learn foreign languages. Inculcate everything your eyes see and your ears hear. It's only then that you can sing your Self.  

4 comments:

  1. Very true. I have recently taken to telling my students that learning to sing is a little bit like learning yoga — you can't compete to "out-sing" someone else, just as you can't force yourself stretch further than your neighbor in class — it's about finding that place were it works for you, and learning to be aware of what your body is doing. In my lessons there is a bit of that "working on the Self", and you are right that it can't be called that out loud — at the same time, I came up through the system hearing perhaps too much from singer colleagues who were trying this and that self-awareness thing/class/guru. Maybe searching for the thing that would transform them.
    I don't hear about these things in Austria, it may be an American thing. My European colleagues learned in the Hochschule to sing, learned languages, repertoire (song literature, opera and oratorio arias) and then began the rest of their training (acting, dance, complete opera roles) near the end of their studies, or even with their first theater job. Maybe the general philosophy or sense of competition is different.
    -— Marcellina

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  2. Thank you for your wonderful comment, Marcellina. Your yoga analogy is perfect. It really is like that: you can't do-out your neighbor in the slightest in class.

    This working on the "Self" is a curious matter. It happens as a matter of course as one's training proceeds, even if little understood, taking place alongside one's musical studies, as your note. However, I don't think it is a substitute for one's studies. That doesn't make the process of becoming a singer go faster either!

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  3. I find it amazing how your posts seem echoing what I was thinking (or saying, like in this instance) about a day or 2 two before. Always resonating at the same time. ...Anyway, very true!

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Yuri, which reminds me of the phrase: "Birds of a feather."

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