The following is written by our wonderful voice teacher, Anne.
Our bodies are our instruments. This feels so painfully obvious to say. I have a lot of students who ask me questions about what they should and shouldn’t eat, how much water they should be drinking, if this or that activity is bad for them. But while we know that our bodies are our instruments, it is easy to forget to pay attention to them while we are singing.
Here is another obvious statement for you: musicians should use their ears. This is, of course, true. Music is about sound. For singers, the ears play a critical role. The sound vibrations hit our ear drums, and those vibrations go to our brains, which signal to our vocal folds to shorten or lengthen in order to create the correct pitch. But as singers, we use our ears differently than pianists and violinists. We need to use our kinesthetic sense.
“Wait,” you say. “We have five senses. That isn’t one of them.” However, while the kinesthetic sense isn’t as famous as its cousin, the sense of touch, you definitely have it and use it every day. You know how to brush your teeth, walk, button a shirt, tie your shoes, and drive a car. When we learn how to sing, we are taking old, ineffective habits and replacing them with new, more effective habits. And in order do to that well, we need to pay attention to what our body is feeling.
Many of my voice students have heard me tell them that it is my job to listen to them. None of us truly know what we sound like. While we do want to listen to make sure we aren’t totally off base from the pianist, or completely drowning out the person who is singing next to us, trying to listen to see if we are loud enough or if our voice sounds good may lead to bad habits. “Well,” you are probably thinking, “that is not very helpful!” But that is where your kinesthetic sense comes in! As singers, we feel our technique. We want to pay attention to what we are feeling and what changes we feel when our teachers ask us to make corrections. Does it suddenly feel a lot easier to sing a longer line, or did you notice that your high note was a lot easier to hit? Awesome! That is using your kinesthetic memory.
Eventually, the things our teachers remind us of become habits, and we don’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about releasing our jaw when we go for a higher note. But the thing is, if we never begin to realize that we are tightening up in the first place, we don’t have a very good chance of getting to the point where our body remembers to release the jaw. As singers, we have so much more at our disposal than just our ears. Do you feel tightness or pressure? Then we need to make some adjustments. Do you feel like it is easy to sing? Then you’re probably on the right track.
Of course, hearing is important for all musicians, but we don’t have an external instrument that we are listening to. Due to physics, we can’t ever really hear ourselves, so we can’t make the corrections we need on our technique based entirely upon our ears. Learn to pay attention to what you feel when you sing, and what it feels like when you make corrections, and you’ll find your technique improving by leaps and bounds.