The classic image of Freudian analysis is a patient lying down on a couch with a therapist seated behind. The benefit of this approach is to assist in “free association.” Free association is the procedure by which the patient says everything that comes to mind—without censoring, without filtering, and without judgment.
The couch eliminates the habit we have of relying on visual feedback of face-to-face interaction when creating our dialogues with others. The removal of this visual feedback gives a patient a sense of temporary discombobulation, of being set adrift into themselves. Deprived of facial response, the patient is liberated to explore the innermost corners of the psyche. The therapist remains in the room, guiding thoughts and encouraging exploration of ideas or concepts discovered in the session.
What does this have to do with voice training?
Removing the visual stimulus of a teacher’s facial/physical responses could provide a more liberating and exciting way of training the voice. How many students respond to the completion of a vocal exercise with “Was that right?” – immediately looking for approval! Students can become addicted to the visual feedback in the same way that a little puppy becomes fixated on receiving its next treat after it has performed a ‘trick.’
Here’s a suggestion for this week: turn your students away from you visually so that they cannot see you in their sight lines. They can look at a wall, a painting, out the window – wherever – they just cannot look at you or rely on any visual input from you. They should be encouraged to do the exercises and sing while noticing what the experience is like without visual input.
Deprived of visual stimulus from the teacher, the student might:
- Turn inward, becoming more present to their experience
- Evaluate and notice things happening more astutely or imaginatively
- Develop analytical listening skills and improve the ear and kinesthesia
- Take more ownership of what’s happening as they do the exercises or repertoire
- Rely less on the teacher and more on their own intuitions and experiences
- Replicate an experience that mirrors independent practice and performance
This “turning away from teacher” could be liberating for singers who have become dependent on visual feedback of the teacher (smiling, frowning, nodding, furrowed brow, cocked head, closed eyes, gestures, body language). Students will unconsciously interpret every single one of these stimuli, even if the teacher is not aware of it. These (mis)interpretations could affect the student’s complete experience of voice training! Think how often we rely on another’s face to tell us ‘how we’re doing.’
The teacher can guide verbally from the piano without being seen – giving cues with the voice or the piano – (for instance, gradually repeating a pitch at louder or softer volumes and having the student trace the contrast). Exercises can be constructed in the same way as before and the student can play with those concepts on their own, much like a child at creative play. If the teacher has a grand piano, the student can stand in the crook and look into the room or space and only turn to the teacher in moments of conversation between exercises or phrases. This has the added benefit of replicating the independence of performance as well.
Being ‘alone’ with the teacher’s voice and piano might yield interesting pedagogical discoveries for students who have come to rely on visual feedback as part of their singing education. It’s worth considering as an alternative to the ‘face me’ teaching style that has become so prevalent in modern studios!
Try it out and see what you discover when you can be ‘on your own.’