1. Approach to Singing
This section is for those who just want a brief overview of this teaching approach. More in-depth detail can be found in the continuing sections.
Singing is actually quite simple. We choose to make a sound of a certain pitch, colour and intensity. The nervous system provides the resistance between a sub-glottal breath pressure and a tautening of the closed vocal folds. The breath wins out and as it breaks through, it causes the folds to vibrate and creates a fundamental sound which is borne on the breath, creating soundwaves. These are enhanced in the resonators in terms of beauty, power and amplitude. And that's pretty much it. Any complications are of our own making.
All this is tied up with an instinctive sense of what is comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. When we sing well, the result is a beautiful and powerful sound which comes easily, is under control and creates a sense of exuberance. Moreover, it automatically connects to the breath. If the tone feels constricted, rigid, pressurised and/or out of control, then we can be sure something is wrong. And not only that, but these faults will manifest themselves in the vocal timbre, resulting in a thwarting of beauty and expression.
So, by trial and error, perseverance and guided by an aesthetic sensibility, we find the 'natural' sound. This is developed by exercise. A series of vocalises, most of which were written by the 19th century bel canto maestro Gaetano Nava (more of him later), will strengthen the voice and encourage it to become more flexible and will extend its compass and develop its power, whilst retaining a sense of ease and of feeling in control. This is the best process for building the instrument and preparing it for the hurly-burly of words, music and expression. Without it, the fundamentals of sound vocal technique will be bypassed in an impatient eagerness to get to songs and arias. If this course is pursued, our sins of omission will at some point come back to haunt us. Best to get this dealt with in the early days, then we can navigate these sound vocal principles into music.
Gaetano Nava, 1802 – 1875
In conclusion then, it is our job as singing teachers to help the singer find their own voice and not to 'produce' a sound that seems to replicate the conventional classically trained singer. Singing should be free of tension, effort and discomfort and should be joyous and exhilarating.