Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Learning to Sing

There are hundreds if not thousands of ideas about the 'best' approach to learning to sing. I've just written my own thoughts on the subject, and anticipate a bit of a backlash when the book comes out in a couple of months; I highly doubt that many in the voice teaching establishment will enjoy my insistence that 'proper' singing begins only when you 'stop thinking, forget technique, and just sing!'

I nonetheless hold tenaciously to this notion, and am thrilled that an increasing number of researchers and thinkers do so as well. I reference many of these men and women in my book, and continue to stumble upon the inspiring writings of those sharing this 'first, follow your instincts' approach to learning. According to D.T. Suzuki, creator of the method by the same name:

"We do not eat as we did in our infancy; eating is mixed with intellection. And as we all realize this invasion by the intellect or the mixing with the intellect, simple biological deeds are contaminated by ego-centric interest. This means that there is now an intruder into the unconscious, which can no longer directly or immediately move into the field of consciousness."

Indeed, the process of thinking about an activity often screws up the activity itself- particularly when the skills necessary to achieve that activity are by design organic, intuitive and unconscious. If you'd like some proof on this issue, try explaining to someone how to stand, talk or walk, and you'll have a good sense of the confusion and frustration that many beginning and professional singers alike encounter when trying to 'learn' to sing.

Psychologist C. Peter Bankart calls this the "sense domain being invaded by intellect". Author Eloise Ristad suggests that we remedy this unhealthy and counterproductive "technical addiction" by "going beyond the rigid set of rules that previously formed our boundaries". Neuroscientists concur, and are racking up research proving that intuitive learning (involving the emotional centers of the amygdala and brain stem) as opposed to technical learning (involving the inhibitory processes of the pre-frontal cortesis), allow people to more fully 'own' information in not only the short-, but the long-term.

In non-science speak, this means that true knowing is inherent, and precedes doing, which in turn precedes conscious reflection, naming, categorization and processing. Just as you can't be technically taught how to speak, walk or stand up, you can't really be taught how to sing. The process is one of trial and error, with practice becoming an ego-free act of familiarization and witnessing of the natural experience. Growth and expansion of the voice beyond this witnessing are playful acts best approached with wonder and curiosity.

When the Technical attempts to precede and supplant the Intuitive, the natural, interconnected flow of activity ceases (as does the fun), and problems begin. One needs to first witness, observe and allow the natural experience of singing to emerge before attempting to technically comprehend, logically explore and consciously manipulate the voice. It's imperative that the process occur in this order... 'training' (in the traditional, classical sense) before a natural understanding is recognized and fostered can cause not only a one- or two-dimensional understanding of a very three-dimensional experience, but physical- and mental- tensions that are increasingly difficult to extricate as time goes by.

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