As singers, we have chosen an infinitely dynamic musical instrument: our human body.
The state of our instrument changes from moment to moment. The attentive mind and nervous system that govern our body are constantly responding to the world around us. We are influenced by our own memories, our desires, our fears. Our body adjusts to the sights, sounds, and other beings in our environment. These shifts happen constantly above and below the level of consciousness. Added to our own variability are the ever changing requests of our composers: low and high tones sung strongly and softly, vibrant, sustained, staccato. Even within one style, our music requests a broad spectrum of sounds.
With such a dynamic set of circumstances, it stands to reason that our vocal technique should be similarly dynamic. Our breathing and resonance strategies can be flexible, easily adapted to our responsive bodies and varied musical intention.
The fundamental question for a singer is: “how do I want to communicate?” (also often asked as “what do I want to sound like?”) We ask this question of artistic intention over and over. No matter how many times we sing a phrase, the answer is slightly different, colored by our ever changing selves; the self that is communicating. This intention leads our singing. Some singers are able to make the sounds they desire solely guided by their imagination, without awareness of how the sound was produced. In the moments when our voice doesn’t readily serve our intent, we can look to our body for information and opportunity and draw from our well of vocal technique.
Our body systems, including our singing voice, seek equilibrium. To find holistic balance, the first place to bring awareness to is the alignment of our full body. Once we’ve sensed our whole instrument, we can notice the finer points: engagement, space, and any areas of energetic congestion or tension.
Let your musical intention lead your technique: if you seek a strong sound, experiment with deepening or intensifying the strength of your body. If there is vocal strain, there is likely physical strain that can be rebalanced into productive energy. Bring awareness to the unexpected places, the places that don’t immediately strike you as singing parts. You may be surprised by their influence. Exploration will either illuminate new options or affirm your present techniques.
You can take great comfort in the adaptive and responsive nature of your body. Your body is ready to answer the questions you ask. When you make sounds you enjoy, pause and reflect on the physical sensations you felt. Appreciate that the felt sensations and perceptions may vary within you, from musical moment to moment. This information, revealed to you through your own singing, forms your own dynamic and embodied technique.
We want to trust our voice. It’s natural to desire consistency and predictable vocal outcome, especially if one performs publicly. While a fixed vocal technique might suggest a fixed or predictable outcome, it can also be limiting. As soon as we believe we have found the “right” way to do something, we potentially close to other fruitful possibilities. Empowered experiential learning leads to deep understanding and trust of one’s own technique. It is on that foundation of trust that singers are free to express themselves.
There are many ways to move breath. There are many ways to resonate your sound. There are many ways to communicate. There are many ways to connect to others with your unique voice.
Singing is the sound of your being. Whether you are performing your own composition or playing a character with a life unrecognizable to your own, you are the singer. Your whole self is the singer. When you are fully inhabiting your own body and mind, you have every resource to sing with your authentic voice.