In the last post, we looked at different examples of singing, in order to gain a clear idea of Ease in singing. Here I will continue to outline how I work on singing, using the work of both FM Alexander and Manual Garcia, bringing the idea of Ease into the practice of Ease.
First off, what I do not do: I do not teach by imitation. Telling a student to copy the teacher, or an accomplished performer is classic End-Gaining, and not a process of discovery whereby the student finds his true voice and ultimately becomes independent of the teacher. This approach also presumes that the student is able to copy the teacher with freedom and ease. Now if this were so, why is the pupil there taking a lesson in the first place? The pupil could just get a record of say, Ivogun, listen and copy it. Also, this approach does not ask the pupil to stop and think. It treats the pupil like a trained seal and is insulting to even a limited intelligence. What is learning if it tries to bypass thinking?
When I work with a singer, I must give him an actual, visceral feeling and the experience of Ease in singing by bombarding him with sensation until insight appears. I see to it that the breath is not hurried, noisy or shallow, or that the face, hands, throat, entire spine, shoulders do
not betray any strain or tension whatsoever. There is to be no forcing allowed into the process. We go very slowly in all of this. The rush and hurry in the study of everything is a big part of why we fail.
I use 4 mirrors and sometimes a DAT recorder and headphones so the pupil hears himself as we work. Yes, it is very confrontational.
At this point I will ask the singer simply to intone of a series of legato vowels on one note (AH AE EE OH OO). The note is one that the singer first chooses to hum, somewhere in the low to medium range; something he thinks is easy. If I hear strain because the pitch is too low or a bit too high, then I will suggest another pitch.
The new coordination will feel very strange and unreliable to the pupil. It will feel quite unusual and odd because it will feel like there is too small an effort for “singing as he knew it.” It will be lighter and easier. He may hear it and feel this sound is not “important” or “rich” enough. I help him STOP this thinking. Meanwhile with my hands on, I constantly reinforce the directions for the new and more logical (FM says “reasoned out”) means whereby the breath, voice and thinking of the pupil can come together in a new and more efficient manner of use. We may hear damage due to past “lessons” he has in his voice, for example, a wobble. The student may have to accept this for awhile as the repair work is being done on his coordination. Remember, the muscles have to learn a new way to interact as they stretch and contract. It takes time.
Using a metronome to keep a nice, slow and steady tempo, I give very simple scales, ones that the pupil has not likely sung before. I take great care to help the pupil set up positions of mechanical advantage from which to vocalize. I will frequently bring him into “monkey” or have him put “hands on back of the chair.” All of this helps direct the intention towards setting up the conditions for a new and improved way of singing.
We work in this slow, methodical way without singing any music more complicated than these simple, very slow short scales on easy vowels, until the pupil is able to stop any undue vocal efforts and of egoism, of wanting to be right and impressive. This is where all of our strained efforts in life actually come from: ego and fear of failure.
Keep in mind, we get what we practice. If we are not well directed in our thinking we will probably get a mess. If we are lucid and clear headed as we work toward a goal, we have a great chance of success.
As a teacher, I am being paid to direct my pupil’s thinking and his studies towards efficiency, ease, and pleasure in achievement. This leads him to experience greater satisfaction, self worth, and happiness. It is amazing how quickly the progress is made, even though we are going slowly. One will hear the notes improve within minutes as the vocal faults melt away. One might think scales are boring. They are not. They help us make great progress almost immediately. That is very, very exciting.