Ask the Right Questions

As a vocal coach, my entire day’s work is discovering and solving problems. Seven times a day I sit down with different singers at all skill levels. My single goal is to help them discover solutions to their own problems. Sometimes I help them discover what their problem is in the first place. You might be asking how a student can take a voice lesson and not even know what his main problem is. Every student has wants and desires as a singer. Every student also has needs. Many times, the student is unaware of the necessities involved in using his instrument the way he wants.

When I get a new student for the first time, I spend an allotted amount of time trying to discover exactly what the student wants. Inevitably, the student also has many questions that come during this introduction process. Almost always, the student is asking the wrong questions in order to really get what he wants. These questions are a direct result of a misunderstanding of the unique needs of his voice. For example, one question I always get in a first lesson is “How do I make my high notes stronger?”

I could easily fill the pages of a text book on singing psychology with the reasons why you don’t want to ask this question. A much better question to ask is,”How does my voice work?”

Perfectly in harmony with “teach a man to fish” philosophy, this question displays a certain maturity and humility as a singer which will inexorably lead him to his desired destination more reliably than the mindset of one who asked the first question. If a singer understands how the instrument works, he will not only have the ability to sing higher with more power than ever, he will also bring ultimate balance to the instrument as he improves every other aspect of vocal mastery.

People can’t sing high with power because they don’t understand how the voice works. It’s not that there is some enchanted exercise that they’ve never heard that will show them a hidden part of their voice previously undiscovered. People really think they can keep everything they’ve been doing in the past but add a few tidbits of information from a voice lesson so their high notes get stronger. I tell my students, “The reason your voice doesn’t make strong sound easily above middle C is because you are singing everything incorrectly below middle C.

There is a process for making sound at a neutral human speech level that begins at the middle range (optimal pitch range) and extends extremely low and high equally. If a singer can remain consistent to this neutral tone production and access each higher and lower pitch using this physiologically sound process without tension, the entire voice will be controllable, predictable and (yes) powerful. As I said in a recent lesson, “You can’t ask me to give you stronger high notes if you don’t let me shake the very foundation of your middle range tone production.”

A student that asks for more power on the high notes assumes that the rest of the voice fine and that a simple quick fix is all he needs. Almost all of the time there is a more gravely threatening obstacle in the singer’s path toward great singing. As a coach I attempt to make these obstacles known to the singer so I can stimulate the right questions. “Am I making this sound the easiest most natural way I possibly can?”

“Am I performing this exercise exactly the way I should in order to achieve vocal balance?”

“Is my entire voice in balance?”

“What are the real components to great singing? It’s not just high notes is it?”
As a student starts coming around to this way of thinking, I can open up an entire world of incredible singing that they never knew existed. Of course the student will eventually be able to sing powerful high notes; but only in addition to the other less popular components of masterful singing. After all, what good is a powerful high note sung by a singer with robotic phrasing, mouth-centered resonance and a Mack truck vibrato? No good. No good at all.

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