One of the first things I tell my students when they begin studying with me is, "Your voice is an instrument." It is imperative that the singer be able to visualize the voice as an object rather than an intimate part of their persona. Singers are often characterized as being overly dramatic, particularly if we've had a bad performance or a disappointing lesson. But really, what do you expect? My husband, Jason Shadrick, is a guitarist. We have often discussed this view of singers being overly sensitive if they have a bad vocal experience. What I have tried to explain is that if Jason had a bad lesson or performance, he can put his guitar away in its case and look at it tomorrow. Or, change strings, or buy a new one.... As singers, this is the only voice we have, and it's a part of us. If I have a bad performance I don't get to put my voice away and think about it in a couple of days!
Because of this, it is vitally important to train the voice as an instrument. The tricky part is not having a physical instrument they can touch. When a student decides to learn the saxophone, the teacher will hand the student the instrument, take it apart so the student may see how it's put together, and then show the student how the instrument works and how you make sound. As singers, we don't get to do that. I can't hand you your very own instrument, take it apart to show you how it works, and then have you sing for the very first time. You've already come into the first lesson with a lifetime of making sound and vocal habits (good or bad). What I can do is show you a model, or a picture, and describe what is happening.
Perception is key and I teach these vocal concepts in three different ways: seeing, hearing, and feeling. The first step is being able to visualize your tone, visualize the production of sound, and to see your thoughts and emotions. Second is hearing. I encourage my students to record each of their lessons. This is an important practice for several reasons. 1) It is physically impossible, due to the construction of the body, to hear your "real" voice. I'm sure you've heard yourself on an answering machine or video and thought, "this cannot be my voice!" It's very important to develop your ear to hear your actual voice. 2) You get to hear immediate feedback. This means you get to hear the changes in your voice as you are working on exercises. This is a very positive way of letting yourself know that what you are doing is working. 3) You get to take me home and work with me all week! Feeling is the other step. It is important to develop a physical awareness to what is happening in your body as you sing. Body movement, vibration, muscle tightness, and fullness of breath are all examples of physical things that we are able to give awareness to as we sing.
With these thoughts in mind, the student should be able to hand over their instrument to the teacher, with confidence that the teacher will hand back an instrument that is bright, shiny, new, and improved!