Spilling the Tea About Vocal Training–
When learning to play a musical instrument, a student must work with a teacher in systematic, methodical and progressive manner, over time, in order to achieve proficiency on their chosen instrument. Unfortunately, in singing, there is a pernicious and erroneous idea that vocal training is not actually necessary. All too often these days, we hear famous singers exclaiming “I’ve never had any lessons in my life,” as if that were something to be proud of.
Would it be wise for a ballet dancer to exclaim, “I’ve never been to a single class!” or for a painter to brag, “I’ve never taken a single art class, I just make it all up as I go along?” Of course not. In every art form, the amount of study and training an artist has done is worn as a badge of honor and pride. This used to be the case in the world of singing too, until the past few decades.
Often, I get frantic calls from singers who have important auditions coming up in a matter of weeks (or sometimes days). They usually have never studied singing, and decide they should get some training at the last minute. When a person who finds themselves in this sort of predicament asks me how many lessons they should take to prepare for their upcoming event, my response is usually along the lines of, “you should probably take a lesson every week starting about 3 years ago.”
Often, students come in for lessons expecting to find some sort of special trick that will eliminate the need to take any lessons again. Sometimes these singers have gotten into trouble after they have watched some sort of YouTube video where a self-professed expert gives poor advice that is potentially dangerous. Had they just gotten training from an actual teacher from the beginning they would have saved themselves a lot of heartache.
Some students will only book lessons when they have auditions or important gigs coming up. When there are no performances on the horizon, I never see them. This is not a wise way of working with a voice teacher at all. In these cases, there is no time to actually build a solid technique. These singers are trying to cram in years of training into small spurts sporadically. While this is better than no training at all, it is a very ineffective way of working. Solid singing technique is built over time, by taking weekly lessons and vocalizing daily in a systematic manner.
Students will sometimes, at their first lessons, ask questions like, “So how many of these lessons will it take before I am done?” Can you imagine someone asking a violin teacher that kind of a question? My answer to that question is “It will take a LOT of lessons. This is a long term commitment. If you want to be a serious singer, then you are in the right place. If you want a quick fix you are in the wrong place.” Sometimes they stay, sometimes they leave. Either way, I’ve been honest with them.
It is so important that the information gets out there about what it actually takes to sing well. Good singing requires hard work. It takes a great deal of study, patience, dedication, practice and time to develop one’s voice properly. There are NO short cuts to healthy singing technique.
Would you expect to build a beautiful physique in the gym in a single session? Would you expect to learn to play the harp, piano, cello or violin in a few easy lessons? Would you expect to learn to become a fashion designer in a single weekend seminar? Does it make sense that you could learn to swim competitively in just four sessions? Of course not! Yet, many people demand that singing should come easily and quickly. It makes no logical sense, does it?
Over the past several decades, a great many successful and famous singers have not bothered to train their voices. This untrained and unhealthy vocalized sound has become popular and other singers want follow in the footsteps of these untrained, unhealthy singers that came before them. We now find ourselves in vocal crisis in the music industry. There are a great deal of untrained and unhealthy singers who are inspiring young would-be performers to emulate their sound. When these singers do become successful with these poor singing habits, they are expected to embark on large tours, and give concerts all over the world. Yet they are physiologically unprepared for the demands required for these kinds of touring schedules.
Have you noticed how many young singers are beset with vocal damage these days? It’s an epidemic! They have to cancel their tours and undergo surgery on their vocal folds, all due to their unwillingness to put in the necessary years of training prior to building their careers.
Some singers who do recover from surgery with their voices still in tact, thus realize the error of their ways and do indeed put in the time and training necessary to build solid singing technique, thus giving their voices longevity.
Unfortunately, too many performers simply rely on the surgeries and can’t seem to be bothered to actually train in the art form that made them famous in the first place; thus, they end up destroying their voices utterly. These poor souls become performers that audiences no longer want to hear, and either are the singers “who can’t sing anymore,” or simply become insignificant footnotes in music history.
Does the following sequence make logical sense to you? 1. build a career; 2. become famous; 3. ruin your voice; 4. learn how to sing. This is how far too many singers are approaching their careers these days. It’s an extremely alarming trend that MUST be reversed.
It’s up to you, the student of singing, to research your instructor. Find someone who knows what they are doing, and who has both training and experience to back up their claims. Don’t try to train your voice by yourself based on information you find here and there. Find a good teacher and and stick with them for a significant amount of time.
Make sure you take at LEAST one lesson per week with your teacher. Don’t skip lessons. Practice 5 or 6 days per week using the exact scales and exercises your teacher gives you. Take your time, stay the course and do it right. If you do this, you will have a glorious voice that will last you a life time.
Guy Babusek is a vocal coach in Orange County, CA