When singers get frustrated because they’re not making the big breakthroughs they’re looking for, it’s important to have enough skills to keep reaching the different ways everyone learns. The Art of Body Singing is a system that understands that singing is “connecting the dots.” There are so many instances, when just knowing how to put “the horse in front of the cart” will immediately produce a huge breakthrough for a singer. But it’s not always as simple as 1,2,3. Every singer is coming at it from their own vantage point, and this requires a flexible system and highly skilled practitioner to know the right adjustment, at the right time.
This is only possible from a teacher with a vast amount of real vocal mechanics training, a huge and varied background in teaching this subject for several years, and the ability to genuinely demonstrate the desired result.
And it’s so much easier for both the student and the teacher if there’s a method to the madness. That method is constantly reinforcing a building block “connect the dots” approach to learning and exploring the voice. As I’m teaching these building blocks, I keep incorporating them into the warm-up I’m teaching a singer. If you keep advancing the warm-up, you keep advancing the skill set, and ultimately the singer. It doesn’t just mean adding more and more warm-ups. It means constantly adding another “layer to the onion” and therefore constantly raising the value of the same amount of time spent for the singer.
Revelations are what singers experience when practicing the Art of Body Singing.
One of the first questions I ask students when I see them each week is “what revelations did you have this week.” You see, the work we do each week in our sessions opens up a wonderful world of exploration and possibilities for the singer. Singing becomes so much more fun and productive when you approach it as an exploration, both of the physical properties, the mental aspects, and the more lofty (out of body experience) type of feelings that emerge. In between these revelations are questions. I like to say that “you have to be working hard enough to have questions.” Because so much in the voice world is “abstract or subtle until it’s not,” the only way past this is to dive in, stir it up, work with a proven system and competent teacher, and let these teaching settle into your mind, body and spirit. The results will be fantastic!
From Whence Does it Come?
The García & Lamperti Schools of Singing
The 19th century was dominated by two great schools of singing. Manuel García and his sister Pauline Viardot-García represented what was considered the scientific perspective of vocal pedagogy, and Francesco Lamperti and later his son, Giovanni Battista Lamperti represented a more empirical but highly charged school of thought. To understand their teaching is to know the root of traditional vocal instruction and truly the roots from which any responsible technical study of the voice still exist.
I love exploring and comparing these two schools of thought (Garcia Vs Lamperti). I feel that anyone who wants to truly grasp “Bel Canto” all the way to “Belt,” would be well served by understanding some of the primary principals touted by Lamperti. Two of those principal theories are to “sing over the throat” and “tone dictates breath.” Both very important principles in truly understanding what that mysterious thing called “placement” really means. And conversely, anyone trying to master “Speech Level Singing,” would be well served to study a bit of Garcia. In so much that one of the primary theories in the Garcia camp was that all vocal production begins from a glottal closure. The myriads of teachers teaching “Glottal Fry” would be well served to understand the origins and true nature of this technique.
Nope, we don’t all want to sound like classical singers. But to understand how to tap into the kind of tone and energy that great singers of all styles tap into, we’d benefit greatly by the wisdom of both yesterday and today.
And because most singers really don’t want to have to dig that deep, as teachers of this very unique and complex instrument, it is our duty to do so, and be able to translate that info in plain English on an “as needed” basis, to our students.
And Where Thou Art We Now?
For years vocal training was dictated by the classical world. It was so prevalent that even a Pseudo Classical sound can be heard in early movies where non singing actors where taught a quick vocal method for their singing parts. It could easily be assessed that this also was the true beginning of “speech level ” singing, as these actor/singers rarely ever really “sang out,” but instead almost spoke their parts. They were however taught a weird affectation that simulated a proximity of classical singing, because that is what the world considered to be authentic singing at the time. And that is why for years and even up to the present it is often difficult to find legitimate vocal training without having to learn through a style. That is also why so many contemporary singers have avoided training, as they did not want their personal and unique styles compromised after having received vocal study.
The other world of music that has clearly left it’s mark on vocal pedagogy and left it’s sound on countless singers was of course Musical Theatre. What’s funny is that early musical theatre was considered “bawdy” and “course” by the classical community and written off as “Dance Hall” singing for years. But with the injection of classical and classically tinged singing into early movies, Musical theatre made a shift of it’s own. Musical theatre began to veer towards a very classical sound of singing. And even the musical pieces that clearly weren’t classical, had such a classical singing style connected to them that the term “legit pop” arose. It’s a term still used to day for much of traditional musical theatre singing. Despite the heavy classical influence, you can still hear a lot of the early Broadway sound in some productions. Like classical, this early sound owes much of it sound to the purely acoustic necessity of the early days. Singers had to project without microphones. Because the faster learning curve needed for early “dance hall music” that sound had a very bright nasal quality best exemplified by singers like Ethel Merman and Al Jolson.
Obviously we’ve come along way in modern singing techniques. Many of these improvements have grown out of a need in contemporary singing for more natural sounding singing. The very bread and butter for many great pop and rock singers over the years has been the uniqueness and originality of their voices. That originality is fragile and needs to be developed in a way that resects the true mechanics of voice, allowing the singer to develop into the greatest singer that can be, and still maintain their personal style.
Possibly the most popular term in modern vocal training would be Speech Level Singing. This label was popularized by the very famous Seth Riggs and has been Franchised and plagiarized by thousands of voice teachers since it’s inception. The important thing to remember is that the concept that the singing voice begins with the speaking voice has been around for a very long time. In fact it’s cited as one of the “seven principles of voice” outlined by P. Mario Marafioti in 1922 in his book “Caruso’s Method of Voice Production.” Both Garcia and Lamperti recognized this principle as well. But…….the great thing about Seth’s system is that he recognized a need for neutrality and didn’t impose the Operatic or Classical sound upon his singers. He also brought some wonderful modern techniques to the table that have a great deal of value and merit. I do feel personally that the Speech Level approach is just part of the puzzle though, and with a few exceptions needs to be enhanced and supplemented with approaches that have more of a focus on musicality and tone.
Another modern “buzz word” in singing that comes up a lot is “Alexander Technique.” The first thing to understand about The Alexander Technique,” is that it is not a singing methodology. It is instead a great study and system of body alignment and actual physical functionality in relation to various physical activities. A study of the Alexander theory on “Supported Diaphragmatic Breathing” should indeed be a requirement for all Vocal Instructors. Again, much of this wisdom has been known by those that actually studied how the body works in relation to singing, but a great deal of mis-direction in breathing support has been deeply instilled and taught for several years in the vocal community. I’ve lectured in colleges where antiquated mis-information is still on the curriculum, simply because it’s been passed down from one generation of teachers to the next. And much of this mis-information is not limited to breath support.
Another fascinating and great system of physical alignment is the Feldenkrais Method. I love feeling three inches taller after a Feldenkrais session, and strongly suggest it to any student of voice, movement or just anyone that comes across a good class and has the time.
But as in all things, everything comes full circle. It’s interesting that many of the contemporary vocal training methodologies have been overemphasized, generalized and commercialized to the point of becoming a style in and of themselves. The result is that more and more singers are learning less about actual singing, and sufficing with a few techniques to get by and more or less expecting their charm and good looks to do the rest. Some, that do take measures further are simply learning the acrobatic necessities to sing either the highest notes possible, or emulate whatever the current trend in singing is at the particular time. Hey, whatever works, but originality in singing has certainly taken a back seat to this “fame first” frame of mind. There was a time in almost all genres of music that you could recognize a popular singer from a mile away. That is in deed becoming rarer and rarer. It is however, not completely lost. Think of some of the top singers of today and how recognizable their voices are. For example Adele, Amy Winehouse, Lorde, Pharrell Williams and Lucinda Williams for that matter all have very distinct voices. And there are certainly more thankfully. Despite the fact that we might have just too much information coming at us at all times, it can still be done. So If you’d like to bring originality back in style, I applaud you.
The Art of Body Singing helps the singer of all styles, and all levels find a balance in these worlds. It recognizes the need for fast results, but also recognizes the beauty in teaching methods with lasting, expansive, technically ambitious and expressive priorities.
The Bar is High…….Reach For It
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