My mother and father used to show American Saddlebred horses on our farm in Missouri. Before my mother would work with each horse, she would let it out of the stall. Climbing up onto the security of the bales of hay, my brother and I would laugh at the antics of the horse after the stall door opened. Snorting, kicking, and running, the horse would ‘burn off’ its energy first, so that mom could train the horse in different gaits: canter, trot, gallop.
If the horse wasn’t able to have this freedom of play first, the sessions devolved quickly and the animal wasn’t able to focus on the training at hand. This shaking off of energy allowed the horse to be more focused and alert in the work.
The human voice is similar to a horse: you have to let it out of the barn first.
At the beginning of every lesson, I try to let the student ‘out of the barn’; to begin singing without judgement or any corrective suggestions right off the bat. I let the student get a feel for singing in a free easy manner. This allows them to settle in and start to work without any fear of being perfect. Getting out of the barn also aids in the diminishing of pre-conceptualization as well, because the singer isn’t starting off a lesson with attempts at ‘making’ a vocal sound. It’s simple, free, and easy singing. I’ll often say “be comfortable”, so that they know that they can relax and feel that we’re going to go easy at the beginning and start from there.
The best exercises to begin a lesson are usually single tones, arpeggios, and 5-tone scales on vowels that each student finds congenial. As the voice begins to warm and calibrate, other exercises can delve more into technical development as the muscles of the voice become more fluid.
Start your lessons and practice sessions by ‘letting yourself out of the barn’. Enjoy making free, easy sound. Celebrate the physical act of starting to sing without judgement. Once you’ve spent some time there, then you can move into more technical work. But starting from a playful easy place is so much healthier emotionally and vocally.