I did a singing technique myth series on my social media platforms in 2023. Here it is if you missed it…
Singing Technique Myth #1 – There is only one way to sing.
Oh, how I love teasing out these myths that have part truths in them. Due to the brain set up and physical coordination involved in making sound in the human body, one could say that there is only one way to sing. It involves air flow that passes between the vocal folds inside the larynx, carrying sound waves into our resonating cavities before exiting the body to travel to nearby hearing devices.
However, the myriad of differences from human to human, genre to genre, singing style to singing style, nation to nation….all mean that how we sculpt our innate humanity, and its scientific variables, is unique and subjective.
Will you find similarities between your method of singing and someone else’s? Absolutely. Should you try to copy and emulate their method? Never. Find your voice, your personal healthy coordination, and your style. That way you will tell your story from your heart.
That is the only way to sing.
Singing Technique Myth #2 – It’s harder to sing when you’re older.
Harder than what? Older than what? The vagueness of this statement is quite problematic. And it could be discouraging to people who want to start learning to sing after they retire. They would get so much benefit from the activity, both singing alone and singing with groups. So why create unnecessary obstacles?
Here…have some facts…
I have several students in their 50s, 60s, 70s and even one 80-year-old. Some of them have been singing for decades. Some of them started in the last ten years. They all sing with joy, healthy coordination, and personal satisfaction. Because singing recruits many systems (mental and physical) in the human body, it will be affected by the types of things that change with ageing. This could include a change in muscle strength and flexibility, ease of hearing, susceptibility to infection, increase in medications, changes in physical fitness or cognitive function…and so on.
The good news is that these will not affect every singer equally and there is no expiry date on singing. If some age-related issues change the ease a singer feels, then some goals or expectations may be modified.
So, if you want to sing, please don’t be put off by a generalisation like this. Singing is your birthright and the musical instrument you are walking around with inside you is ready to be played today. Right now, in fact!
Singing Technique Myth #3 – I don’t need to practice regularly if I know how to sing a song.
This is akin to saying, “I never have to tune my guitar because I know how to play a bar chord”. Or “I don’t have to train for running because I already completed a half marathon once.”
Regular practice builds and maintains your vocal instrument. You play a musical instrument that is built of bone, muscle, and soft tissue. It is susceptible to the environment. You can improve its fitness. And its fitness can be diminished through lack of use.
I think many people practice more than they think – they just call it another name. Like “singing along” or “listening” or “echoing” or “jamming” with friends.
Besides – how will you learn to sing another song unless you practice?
Singing Technique Myth #4 – You should open your mouth wide when singing.
This one is so understandable, as the internet is flooded with people singing big notes with a spacious mouth shape. And it is true that some vocal sounds will be produced with a lot of space.
Therefore, if you change the word “should” to “could” – it is more accurate.
Because not all sounds are produced like that. The mouth can be positioned in a variety of ways. You could use even spacing between the teeth all round. Or more space between the front teeth and less between the back teeth. Or the opposite – space between the back teeth but less between the front teeth.
Then you can start experimenting with your tongue position. And your lip position. And your cheek muscles…..
This is the gift we have as singers – changing the shape of the mouth is one of our superpowers and it makes it possible to vary the tone colour and texture we make. Which creates contrast and makes story telling come alive. This is the vocal technique we call “resonance”.
There are a lot of other tips that get turned into truth-myths that could have been included here, such as “smile when you sing” or “keep your tongue flat when you sing”. My response would have been nearly identical.
Singing Technique Myth #5 – High notes come from the head voice.
I believe that high notes (pitches) do not “come from the head voice”. But rather, the sensation we refer to as “head voice” comes from the fast vibration and resonance of higher pitches.
High notes are perceived by our ears when the speed of the sound waves travelling through the air are FASTER.
For example – middle C vibrates approximately 261 times per second – no matter what instrument plays it. That means our vocal folds vibrate 261 times per second, whether we are male or female. These vibrations are measured in Hertz (Hz). A “higher” note, such as C5 (one octave above middle C) vibrates at about 523Hz. The faster the vibration, the higher the pitch sounds.
For voices to rise in pitch, the vocal folds need to lengthen and thin, under the influence of the cricothyroid muscle.
The expression “head voice” is still commonly used by singers and practitioners, although it is less favoured in voice science and pedagogy literature. It refers to the sense of vibrations we feel sympathetically, through bone and the resonating cavities in our head. It is common to feel this vibration when we sing higher pitches.
Singing Technique Myth #6 – If you cannot sing, singing lessons will not help you.
Ooh…this one tempts me to jump on my soapbox with a megaphone. EVERYONE can sing!
Alright, yes, I should add a caveat that if someone has some compromise to their airflow, hearing or vocal folds, then the scope of music making they can produce might be altered.
But it all depends on your definition of “singing” and “music”. I have never met someone who wanted to improve their singing that I couldn’t help in lessons.
I think it comes down to the fact that a good singing teacher knows how to break down singing tasks into small sequential steps, build them gradually over time, adapt to the learning style and personality of each individual person, and boost encouragement and confidence. When this is married with realistic expectations then singing lessons will absolutely help you.
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