Fear, Control, and “Technique”

We’ve already said that vocal function is an athletic event, in essence a physical act of coordination than an intellectually attained and cerebrally oriented achievement – the voice emerges by itself when interferences and inhibitions are removed – then we begin to see the simplicity of the vocal event in all its glory.

Once we realize that the mind, intending communication, sets the body into motion, the vocal event loses its mystery, and with the mystery, its power to terrorize and paralyze.

If there’s nothing to be achieved through arduous intellectualization and retained through technical practice, then there’s nothing to be lost, and our basic fears around the voice can be put to rest.

What is it we fear most in performance? That the voice will desert us, prove unfaithful or unpredictable, that we’ll not know what is going to come out, or if anything is going to come out at all. This is of greater importance for the singer than for the speaker, since music demands that the singer be there when he is supposed to be; the speaker can always hide behind the “dramatic pause”; but the singer who misses the downbeat through vocal failure, can’t hope to regain his equilibrium, no matter how well he may finish.

Unpredictability is our greatest fear about the voice, whether we’re aware of it or not, and all other fears flow from it and pale in significance in comparison. If I fear for the very existence of my voice, nothing else can be as important.

One of the reasons vocal technique is so popular is that it’s designed to avoid this problem by putting the voice into a strait jacket from which it won’t escape. An all-too-common response to fear is control, and if I can learn through control to eliminate any possibility of spontaneous action by the voice, I can eliminate fear. What I don’t see is that this limits my options with the voice to those which I can predict – and so control – and rules out any chance of growth beyond the limits of my technique. 

The natural approach to the voice addresses this fear directly: If there is nothing to be lost, then fear goes. If there is no technique, it can’t fail us.

The voice which doesn’t exist as a voice separated from the expression of the Self can’t cease to exist, can’t fail to function when needed. Since nothing happens to make it function except intention, there’s nothing to fail. The voice just is, barring illness and organic problems, and that’s that.

What could be simpler?

Since the vocal function is nothing more than a physical function impelled by intention, then we’ve only to keep the physical function available to use at all times, be actively involved with intention, and the outcome is assured.

It’s truly that simple, when we come to see it.

It’s the acceptance of the simplicity which is the bar to understanding and using it.

Who trusts simplicity?


Foreman, Edward. Transformative voice. Vol. 8. Pro Musica Press, 1998.

Spontaneous Action in a Voice Lesson

The buzzword of the past couple weeks in my studio has been spontaneous.

This can be difficult for some singers who are married to a certain way of making vocal sound. They often have a tough time “letting go” of a way of doing something because they are (often erroneously) attached to an incorrect aesthetic conceptualization of their own voice.

What does spontaneous mean?

Here are some WONDERFUL definitions I grabbed from the dictionary:

  1. coming or resulting from a natural impulse or tendency; without effort or premeditation; natural and unconstrained; unplanned.
  2. arising from internal forces or causes; independent of external agencies; self-acting.
  3. growing naturally or without cultivation, as plants and fruits; indigenous.
  4. produced by a natural process.

I absolutely LOVE every single one of those definitions, because they also describe a way of working on the voice that accords with its Nature. This is that wonderful hallmark of the Old Italian School!

A singer that is self-conscious will usually prevent spontaneity in their vocal approach. They are often overly rigid, and psychologically and pedagogically dogmatic. They have dug in their heels with the way that they sing, and have ‘armored’ themselves into ‘their’ sound.

A self-aware singer is open to all possibilities, understands that the act of singing is a process, and are not constrained by intense judgement of their work in the studio.

When a student is faced with a stimulus in lessons (an exercise that combines some combination of vowel, volume, and pitch) they can react in a habitual way (which can be useful for unlocking further muscular entanglements), OR they might surprise themselves by letting go to see what ‘shows up’.

Often in lessons I will say, “Let’s just see what shows up – no need to judge anything.” BOY – does that relieve a singer from a need to ‘make’ a sound in a certain way, or work to impress me!! One student said to me, “I just want to make you happy.” My response to her was, “There isn’t anything you could do that WOULDN’T make me happy! Everything that you are doing is teaching me, too!”

So let’s get down to singing:

We start to do an exercise.

Let’s say it’s a nasty nay, or a hooty oo above middle C.

And you don’t like it.


Until you actually try something, you really can’t have an opinion of it. Much like a book you haven’t read, or a meal you haven’t tasted, or a movie you haven’t seen, judging something beforehand will lock down your spontaneity and freedom of movement in singing.

You can’t claim to have freedom of musical communication unless your options of interpretation open up into a MYRIAD of directions, NOT ONE. If there is only the ONE and ONLY way of doing something, how is that artistic? The goal of becoming a creative artist is to get all the crayons in the box, not just 64. More paint, more options, more color, more choice. This is bad because…???

Many students who come from a classical vocal tradition resist exercises based in function because they tend not to be ‘beautiful’ right away. They throw them off their axis, as Seth Rudetsky so comically says. As I say many times, and will continue to reiterate – Beauty is a by-product of a correctly functioning vocal mechanism. It is an EFFECT of a functional CAUSE. Peter T. Harrison in his book on singing has a whole chapter on this very idea, which is worth a read. Cornelius L. Reid as well remarked that,

the benefit to be derived from a healthy coordinative response is that it provides absolute spontaneity of expression…The singer then becomes able to express what he has to say the way he wants to say it, not the way he has to.

My job as a teacher is to unlock, liberate, and free the voice in front of me for the widest abilities possible. This IS the bel canto school. Can you sing fast/slow, loud/soft, high/low? If not, you have a limited palate of options as an artist.

Aesthetics and tonal judgement can be a slave master to the singer, and freedom is the enemy of a slave master. Break the chains! Follow the freedom train and drop your judgement. Try a new exercise and see what shows up.