Imitation VS Mechanics

It goes without saying that there are nearly countless methodologies of the voice floating around in the world. Some we have almost canonized as if it were the Bible. Others we give a

polite nod as if to say, “That’s cute, but really…” So how do we know what’s true and what’s false?

Good question. I fumed with this very thought for years as I tried out one vocal coach or textbook after another, usually looking for someone who could fix my primary problems. And in many ways, that’s what we all do and where we base our vocal truths—the age old question, “Who can fix me?” As long as our diagnosis is correct (and that’s a whole other blog topic!) this can be a very legitimate means of discovering what’s true.

I wasn’t really finding what I was looking for through years of more classical training. Nothing against that, but it wasn’t clicking for me. I found it very intangible. I needed something that I could really feel, not just give mental ascent to. It wasn’t until I worked with Brett Manning that I really did “get it” (I know you’re surprised right??). His instruction to me was both through imitation as well as very practical mechanics. I’ve heard several doctrines of voice that draw hard
fast lines in the sand over these two sometimes opposing philosophies. Condemning mechanical pedagogy or condemning imitation.

But as Brett says, this my way or the highway attitude is “Right in what you assert and wrong in what you deny.” I know. He’s brilliant, right? I have a list of Brett quotes. Maybe I should write a blog on just those…

Anyway, what he means is that saying for instance, that imitation instruction is correct is all fine and good, but what about a student who has a seriously hard time conceptualizing sound? When we instruct by saying, “say ‘mum mum mum’ like me (insert mum scale of your choosing) and imitate my tone”…sometimes this really works. It usually works for people who are adept at imitating. Think Jim Carey or some super human standup comic who can sound JUST LIKE a gorilla or Fran Drescher. But you know what? There is a reason Jim Carey is famous and we aren’t. We all have a different learning style. I’m rather pragmatic myself, so I geek out on musculature and coordinations I can really feel in my voice. There is a side of me that also
conceptualizes sound well (see my last blog on ear training).

So when Brett said, “say ‘nay nay nay’ with an ugly tone like mine…” I imitated his TONE before his PITCH (imitation technique). People this is crucial!!! Then when he had me feel and through specific instruction, release my digastric muscle, that worked too (mechanical technique). This is also where the two philosophies of imitation vs. mechanics are not opposing; rather, they are major BFF’s!

The reason “Imitation Only” can’t work alone always is because there could be mechanical problems hindering your voice from imitating mine. So then I may try to fix the mechanical problem, like a muscular coordination in order to free up the voice to imitate freely. The other problem is that some people, like I said before, learn differently. A huge part of my job as a coach is honing in on your learning language. This is a good thing! If everyone thought or learned like me, there would be no one advancing technology or solving financial problems (guess what subject I had to fight to not fail in school…)!

The solution? Do both! Figure out what makes more sense to you and communicate that to
your teacher! But allow them to experiment with different modes of learning to increase your capacity! Make it your goal to understand everything you can about your voice to be the best singer you can be! Learn the benefits of both modes of instruction and let yourself analytically draw conclusions and connect the dots.

Have fun geeking out!

To book a lesson with professional Brett Manning Associate Vocal Coach Shelby Rollins, please email Keith at or call (888)269-7758

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