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“Vocal Advantage: Diagnosing Vocal Issues (part 3)” by Dina Else

Before we move on to your plan of action in regard to diagnosing the vocal technique issues of your singers, I want to delve into an aspect of last week’s column.  I’ll never forget the first time I read McKinney’s book and read the sentence [teachers of voice will need] “some of the skills of a master psychologist”.  I might have evened laughed out loud as I read it!  Wow! How true!!!  There are times in my private studio when I feel like the majority of my mental energy is spent trying to figure out what makes this kid tick so I can figure out which approach will work as we are unpacking their potential. 
Singing is a very personal experience.  Singing isn’t like pulling your sax out of it’s case and beginning to play.  Our voice is a part of who we are as individuals.  No one else has the same model # or brand name.  Our voice is one of a kind and a part of our body!   As educators, it’s essential that we respect this fact and remain highly aware of it as we train our singers.
For example, last night I spent 15 minutes in a 30 minute lesson talking to a young lady about the dangers of comparing herself to others and how that mindset will bring her ‘process’ to a quick halt.  The struggle of this particular student is a lack vibrancy in the tone.  We were singing a vocalise from Building Beautiful Voices (if you don’t have that book, you should!) and our focus was making sure that the breathing process was fully engaged and the space was nice and open.  She sang several very beautiful modulations of the vocalise.  I was thrilled!  It was open and free, although not yet filled with the beautiful vibrato that this child desperately wants.  She looked thoroughly discouraged when we finished the vocalise.  When I asked what’s wrong, she teared up and said “I don’t know, it’s just not the sound I wish it was.”  After admonishing her for ‘listening’ and not ‘feeling’ I asked her to elaborate.  She said, “I just sat here listening to the end of Morgan’s lesson and I wish I sounded more like her.  My sister is in 8th grade and has a prettier vibrato than me.  How sad is that? I’d rather sound like an 8th grader than me!” 
We spent the next 15 minutes talking about comparing yourself to others and how detrimental that choice is.  We talked about a healthier choice being to compare herself to older versions of herself.  That way she is aware of her progress.  We talked about the dangers of comparing your ‘behind the scenes’ work to other people’s ‘high-light reels’. 
What the young lady was struggling with last night is the very issue that is tightening up her throat and not allowing her air to flow correctly.  She is her own worst enemy and is most definitely getting in her own way.  Her mental state is absolutely shutting down her potential.
How does this relate to the bigger choral setting?  You have a whole room full of kids struggling with their confidence and their own personal issues.  As educators, I would encourage you to strive everyday to meet your singers where they are versus where you want them to be.
(original posting: November 25, 2013)