What You Should Be Asking
As a voice teacher I use three simple questions to help guide me in my quest to improve not only my students, but myself as well.
WHAT? WHY? HOW? These three questions, in that order, will help cut to the root of vocal problems and guide your search for better understanding and skill.
Although I will be referring to voice teachers in this post, my remarks apply to singers as well.
This is the first level of awareness when teaching voice. Throughout the lesson you must ask yourself “what do I hear?” Cord closure, breath pressure, pitch, intonation and resonance are just some of the elements your ear must constantly monitor.
When vocal difficulties arise, the “what” question is your first tool. You need to identify the issue accurately before progressing to the next question.
“Why is this occurring?: This second question is far deeper that the first. The “why” cuts to the actual mechanics that drive the voice and requires much more understanding and education from the teacher.
Because we cannot see all the elements of the human voice, sound (and sensation if you are singing) is the main guidepost. You must be able to attach an often hidden physical act to this sound.
In order to do this you need basic knowledge of the vocal cords, breath function and vocal resonance. In other words, vocal science.
Let’s say a singer is too breathy. You have now identified the “what.” The “why” can be a number of issues. Is there too little cord closure, too much air or a combination of both? Is the singer’s vowel too wide so that if they increase cord closer they will begin to strain or pull chest? Is the vowel so narrow it is causing them to bring in too much head voice?
A knowledge of how each of these elements work and interact will help guide your ear as to which of them is out of balance.
A better understanding of function can also help you diagnose vocal issues that need to be treated by a doctor.
Accurately identifying why something is occurring in the voice will be critical in answering the next question.
“How do I fix it?” This is the question that will drive your choice of vocal tools. The more accurately you identify the “why” the better you will answer “how.”
Some voice teachers (and singers) will jump to this question straight from the “what.” They hear an issue and begin to fumble around their vocal tool box in order to find the “how.”
I have seen even experienced voice teachers avoid, or try to answer the “why” question with scientifically invalid premises.
This can lead to wasted time, confusion or even the wrong application of vocal tools.
I believe the key to good teaching and singer is a constantly deeper and better understanding of these three questions, especially the “why.”
The more you study what is actually occurring in the voice, the more quickly and accurately you can fix vocal issues.