I want to build on last week’s Mindfulness in the Voice Studio post where I talked about helping students release shoulds and should-nots to help them experience their authentic voices in their own bodies.
The latest leg on my self-care journey is about what internal “rules” we follow in life. This can be rules around....
...how we’re supposed to eat (COOKIES ARE EVIL, right?? Umm, no, they’re delicious).
...how much space we take up on the sidewalk (ok, now we want to be six feet apart, but before the pandemic….I’M NOT GETTING OUT OF YOUR WAY--womxn friends, amiright?).
...and yes, rules about how we’re ALLOWED to sing.
Where do these rules that we live by come from, and how many of them are ACTUALLY TRUE?? In my limited personal experience, very few. In my extensive experience as a voice teacher, also, very few.
A couple of recent examples:
I was working with a pro student last week on freeing her body and breath for singing. I told her that she could sit back in her chair and sing and she said, “I didn’t know I was allowed to do that.” Shew. That’s a lot, huh?
Another student that grew up singing choral music (which is great, and…) she didn’t know she was “allowed” to sing in her chest voice. (I wish this were unique--not only have I heard this a million times, there was a time in my life that I said it. Sigh.)
Any of these sound familiar, fellow voice teachers?
It got me thinking, what do I remember from my own training, or, dare I say it, my own teaching, that supports this idea of things being allowed and not allowed?
Uh huh. Nope. I don’t want to perpetuate the idea that some things are allowed and not allowed (classical training is soooo guilty of this). I want to help my students CREATE their rules. This means that voice teachers need to instill in our students a sense of curiosity about how their voices and bodies work, and give them the tools needed to figure out the "rules" for their own bodies and their own voices.
Here's where this can get tricky: I am intentional in my teaching to set up a playful and risk-welcoming environment, however, how can I address the rules that my students are following if I don’t even know they’re there? Well, I'm super dorky (this will surprise no one that knows me), but this is one of the fun parts of teaching singing. Voice teachers need to get curious themselves, and stay curious, as they listen and watch their students. We need to ask our students questions. Lots of them. Because the only person that knows what that student is feeling, or what internals rules they're following, is THAT STUDENT. We also need to stay curious about the voice in general. Continuing education events. Pedagogy books. Talk with other voice teachers. STAY CURIOUS.
Here's an example of a rule that I find a LOT of students are following and have no idea--I hear some version of this quite often: “I thought I had to work harder to make that sound happen” or, “that felt too easy so it must be wrong.” So the internal “rule” that these singers are following is that “SINGING SHOULD FEEL HARD.” It’s 100% true that singing takes a lot of energy in our bodies. It’s 100% not true that singing needs to feel hard (except in our brains as we’re concentrating on gaining new skills and building new neural pathways, of course!). This is just one of many examples. Let's break some rules. Like, for real.
Teachers: What are the most common "rules" you come across with your students?
Students: What “rules” do you follow in singing?
I'd love to hear from you!
Ok, y’all. Let’s break some rules. Who’s with me?
I was struck by something I heard in @jameelajamils @i_weigh podcast last week -- Dr. Deepika Chopra was the guest and said something along the lines of: “who we think we should be is not the same as who we are.” As I'm working on self care right now, this really hit home.
This got me to thinking about the shoulds and should nots of voice teaching. What "shoulds" do our students bring to their lessons? And, what "should nots?" The problem with shoulds is that they limit us. They can (and do!) keep us from discovering what's possible.
How can I help my students let go of what they think they should (or should not) sound like and embrace their authentic and unique voices?
Along these same lines, how can we help them release their own expectations of what something should or shouldn’t feel like?
When we have expectations of what we think something is supposed to feel like we close ourselves off from the discovery of what that “thing” actually will feel like. This sounds so simple, AND, until you have the experience for yourself, you can’t understand what it’s going to feel like.
For example, sooo many students believe that because a high belt sounds powerful it should feel like you’re working really hard to make that sound. Now it definitely takes a lot of energy in the body to make and sustain high, powerful belts, however, it’s almost never the type of energy that students use to try to make those sounds. So much pushing and straining--it certainly doesn’t feel good and it’s not sustainable!
What I try to do is set up an atmosphere of safety and discovery. Let’s take some risks, make some ugly sounds, let our voices crack! We’re here to explore what these things feel like in your voice and body, and, to find YOUR voice. What does it feel like in your body? What does YOUR voice feel and sound like? And, let’s play with how to make those sounds feel easier and energized!
Here's my favorite part, when a student discovers they are actually capable of doing these things that seemed sooo difficult in a new way, they may start to ask, "what else can I do that I didn't think I could?" And that, THAT is my favorite part of teaching.