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Fundamentals of Vocal Technique, Part 1

Did you ever see the movie, “The Karate Kid?”

When Daniel-San first began his Karate lessons with Mr. Miyagi, he was a little confused and ended up rather frustrated. Mr. Miyagi wasn’t teaching him any Karate! All he was doing was making Daniel-San do a lot of hard chores, and for free! Waxing the deck. Wax on, wax off. Painting the fence. Up, down. Breathe in, breathe out. Waxing a bunch of old cars. Some other stuff I can’t remember.

When Daniel got to the point where he was really over it, he cursed Mr. Miyagi and was on his way out of the old man’s yard when Mr. Miyagi asked him to come and demonstrate how he had waxed the deck. “Show me ‘Wax on, wax off,'” he requested.

Daniel thought, “You have got to be kidding me. Why on earth do you want me to show you how I waxed your stupid deck?? What could possibly be the point of THAT?” Mr. Miyagi was a real stickler about how his deck was waxed, too. Daniel had to be precise; he had to do it the exact way Mr. Miyagi had shown him. This made the whole thing all the more annoying. The little dude must have been off his rocker.

Daniel-San finally understood the point when the little old man went to punch him in the face, and on instinct, his arm flew up in defense, in the same motion he used to “wax on, wax off.”

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the flick. He probably wasn’t waxing the deck. Maybe he was scrubbing the deck, and waxing the kitchen floor. Or maybe he wasn’t waxing anything except the old cars. They were huge. And there were a lot of them. Maybe he wasn’t even waxing them. He may have been washing them. Though one does usually wax a car after washing it…

I digress. I know the burning question on your mind is, “What’s YOUR point?”

My point is this: Sometimes being methodical, concentrating on one detail at a time, and doing each detailed task correctly and often is the quickest and most effective way to become proficient and build a solid technique at a greater task.  

In our case, the greater task is singing well, and this is how I train my students.

In our vocal classes, I have explained that singing is a skill that anyone can develop, but in order to develop it properly, one’s technique must be solid. The foundation to a sound vocal technique is support. Singing in a manner that produces discomfort, a flushed face, veins popping out of one’s neck, or tense muscles is a sure sign that there is a lack of support. How does one support the tone when singing?

First of all, you must be sure to have proper posture. I would say think of a military soldier, but I don’t want you to think of having a rigid stance. A better mental picture would be that of a ballet dancer. Ballet dancers stand up straight, with their shoulders relaxed, chest up high, looking straight ahead, even upward a bit. At the same time, their bodies are fluid, flexible. They can move freely and easily, and their movements are not stiff. That is how you should stand when singing. That is proper posture. (My voice teacher also liked to use the image of the Winged Victory of Samothrace sculpture; see image here.)

Once you have proper posture, you are ready to focus your attention on getting what’s inside (the “support” machine, we’ll call it) well-oiled and functioning. In Part 2 I will explain what the support machine is and how to oil it.

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