Your Technique Hat

Photo by Ezra Jeffrey via Unsplash

Photo by Ezra Jeffrey via Unsplash

I used to think that I could "get some technique." That vocal technique was some fixed, rigid thing, outside of me, that I would build over time and then just preserve through practicing. 

I guess I was thinking of it sort of like a living room that no one is allowed to sit in.  You spend months or years scouring catalogs and stores to find the perfect pieces, paint a perfectly coordinating color, and get custom window treatments. And then, once it is set, perfectly, it exists as a shrine and will never be touched again.

But this isn't how singing works.

A few months ago, I heard Lynn Helding speak. She's on the faculty at the USC School of Music, and she writes the Mindful Voice column for the NATS Journal of Singing. She said that, based on what we know about the ways that brains work, the goal of practicing is creating reliable, retrievable structures. This suggests that there's no magical point of development where you never have to think about your voice again, but rather, a state of awareness and a comfort with adapting and adjusting in the moment. Even in live performance!

This was one of those big boom moments for me. I had been applying this mindset to the use of my body in performance, based on my (admittedly limited) exposure to the Alexander Technique. For example, if I notice that I have shifted my weight forward to the balls of my feet, I recognize that this isn't what I'd like to do and I make a different choice. But I hadn't applied this same thinking to the specific use of my instrument. Even until recently, I thought I was supposed to memorize the technical adjustments I learned in voice lessons, and then try to replicate them on stage. 

Obviously, that didn't work out real well. I always felt like I was singing in front of people and scanning my mental database at the same time, therefore essentially keeping a barrier between us at all times. 

It's been tremendously freeing to trust myself a little more as I sing - yes! Even live! (especially live, it's really the best) - and to listen to the music and to notice how I am feeling in the moment and to actively make choices about how to use my voice - not try to replicate something that had worked at some other time. 

So, stop trying to find your perfect technique hat. 

In this way, you can wear any hat and make it look good. 

The point of the hat is to show how beautiful you already are. 

Emily Jaworski