The Wordless Voice Lesson

It is my belief that the development of the singing voice is a physical/aural activity, not necessarily an intellectual one. Many people sing well with no knowledge of the processes involved, and some with vast knowledge of these processes sing very poorly.

To that physical/aural end, as an experiment,  I’ve started to teach “Wordless Voice Lessons.” In these lessons, I give NO verbal corrections whatsoever, and everything is taught with indications of gesture, pitch, vowel, and volume. Of course the student must be game for this type of work, and the process can become very playful and endlessly fascinating. Taking words out of the teaching equation creates an interesting way of learning about the sound, and learning how to sing.

At no point do I say, “No, not like this, like that,””Good,””A little more XYZ.” If I want something I have to be able to use gesture, pitch, vowel, and volume indicators, and THAT IS IT. Words don’t get in the way of what I want, and occasionally I get very different responses because of this. The student and I ONLY HAVE THE SOUND as our tool. We are both responding ONLY to that. Not verbalizing about what SHOULD be, or how it WENT, or how we FEEL about it.  I also love that the student must figure out the sound making process without theories, and DIRECT controls, just LISTENING, HEARING, and FEELING the sound.

We don’t talk about breath.

We don’t talk about resonance.

We don’t talk about ANYTHING.

We DO.


We are not mentally blocked by theories of how things SHOULD be.

The lesson becomes an amazing laboratory of sound and observational LISTENING. Of course, I must understand the functional principles of how the voice works!

At no point do I stop to talk to ‘intellectualize’ or ‘theorize’ in vocal function or other fancy concepts and theories. The entire lesson becomes a dance between teacher and student. The student cannot worry about what the teacher wants – what “is” is the result and is in the room not necessarily in their brains.

If I want something different I need to change the approach, either through MY gesture, facial expression, or the pitch, vowel, or volume. Volume and vowel are indicated largely through gesture and facial posture. I allow the student to explore types of vowel shaping as I use facial gestures and hand positions to invoke creative ways of vowel-shaping.

I’ve found it a LIBERATING way of working. We are both able to be with the sound, unfettered by intellectualism and overly cerebral approaches. It is as close to an indirect approach as I’ve been able to find on my own.

Anyone who teaches functionally (and by functional, I mean a way of working that has been codified by Cornelius L. Reid, not the pedagogical mish-mash of poorly understood Functional Voice Training that often goes by that name with teachers injecting their own pet theories and ‘breath control’ systems) it can be a revelatory tool to induce greater wisdom in the singer as they begin to “Gnothi Seauton” – KNOW THYSELF.

As example, conductor Alan Gumm demonstrates a similar concept with a chorus here.

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