“Sometimes the hardest to love are the ones that need it the most”.
It is now just over 16 months since we moved to our new studio in Leixlip and in this time we have grown steadily and thankfully continue to do so. Hopefully this trend will continue on the steady upward in the coming years.
As with any business there are times when you have to take stock of where you are. You will ask yourself questions like “what is working” and “what is not”. We continually look at how can we improve things at the studio so that Singers and Teachers alike get more from the experience.
One of the areas we looked at recently is our retention rate at the studio. It’s a funny kind of statistic because our goal is not to hold onto singers for the sake of it and in a perverse kind of way it could easily be read as wanting to move our singers on as quickly as we can.
The big addendum to this is that we want to do the best by our students and sometimes it means that you need to work together for a period of time so that the singer can improve sufficiently. If they move on too quickly then you need to ask why. (Of course we would be advocates of a regime of continuous vocal training for anybody who is serious about performing or somebody who is regularly performing, the same way a long distance runner doesn’t just train a few weeks before a big meet but continuously trains throughout the year so that they are in peak condition when there are races to be run).
Aside from this, looking at retention figures is also an interesting exercise because it can be difficult to bracket every singer that comes into our studio without having a lot of different categories and this of course could be counter productive. So using a generous dollop of generalization we put our students into the following 4 categories:
- School Singers
- Amateur Singers (Choral, Musical Society)
- Professional/Semi Professional Singers
- Bucket Lister’s
One of the most interesting pieces of information that this exercise threw up was that our poorest retention rate was with the Professional/Semi Professional Singers. In other words, the largest single group of people that you could argue need to look after their voices most stuck far shorter with Vocal Technique classes than those groups who don’t rely on their voices nearly as much. Put another way, the ones who need their voices to earn their living spent less time working on their technique than the other categories that do not rely on their voice to pay their bills!
Why? Well understanding why is a greyer exercise and the results we look for cannot be gleaned from a statistical chart based on the information we have at hand. Most times when you ask the singers themselves (as we have respectfully done) they are just too nice to say to you that they were completely unable to understand what the heck we were doing with their voice during their sessions – or as we would prefer to phrase it – “to correlate the exercising-out of a vocal glitch/tendency in ones voice with singing an Ed Sheeran song on a Saturday night at a gig”. The unfortunate result being that the perception of the Professional/Semi Professional Singers in some of these cases appears to be that the time and investment was not worth it.
To put it in other words, based on our experience we think that although singers will tell us that they have no expectation of what to expect in a Vocal Technique Class but when you introduce them to exercising and not singing they suddenly find that they did have expectations.
For us this is definitely key because if this is the case, then both the approach of the teaching AND the approach of the student needs to be shifted slightly. We can control our own approach and we constantly monitor it but we cannot directly influence the thoughts of another human being.
We see that a major part of our role in the community is to educate the singers approach to getting lessons. We need to get Singers to ask themselves questions like “What do I want?” but understand that with singing technique the rule of thumb is that there is no silver bullet. To illustrate this here is an example:
At The Vocal Academy we sometimes see singers who come to us straight from the ENT (Ear Nose Throat) Specialist. Their complaints might be of pain or fatigue born out of singing and/or straining when they sing. First the ENT Doctor will look at the state of the singer’s larynx and determine a diagnosis and this is followed by an action. For some unfortunate singers the action might be a surgical procedure, for others it might be rest.
By the time the singer gets to The Vocal Academy it is fair to say that they have already jumped through a certain amount of hoops and are hopefully ‘coming out the other side’, as it were.
This is where it can get a bit muddy because the result of the problem has been fixed but the route cause of the problem has not been addressed and in a lot of cases, the route cause of the problem can be the technique of the singer. *So unless the technique is changed then the problems are likely to return.
In a lot of the cases referred to us, following a Vocal Assessment on the Singer’s voice we will determine for example why a singer might be straining. In this case it may be because of incomplete Cord Closure because of an over reliance on air (air, not breathing!) so your job is to help them not strain by getting them to repetitively make certain sounds that promote using less air – in effect, ‘Muscle Training’. And there you have it! In a sense, it’s not really just simply ‘music’ any more. This is where I believe the big issue lies with some singers.
The culture historically for the contemporary singer has been not to get ‘Trained’ because ‘I don’t want to sing with a Classical Voice’ and other such aesthetic reasons because this is the way that it has been sold in the past and in some cases these perceptions still exist.
So by changing the reasons and making a clear distinction between Technique and Aesthetic, a singer can gain hugely especially if they suffer from vocal fatigue and strain. The more helpful view for the singer is to look at changing the technique the same way an athlete would alter parts of their technique in order to save seconds or improve a golf swing for instance.
Take note Vocal Technique training and Vocal Style training are two different things. However without the healthy and sustainable singing technique (foundation), the beautiful style you have (the house) can easily come crumbling down in bad weather.
By the way, it is even more beneficial for the Singer to take this on board BEFORE strain starts sitting in. Exercises like the lip bubble are great exercises in stretching without pressing, much like an athlete or sportsperson will stretch before taking on the run or game. These types of Unfinished Sounds do not however resemble singing in the classical sense any more than a lunge represents a sprint, though their benefits for the vocalist are great – the lip bubble, not the lunge!
So our message to those of you who are out there who are singing professionally or semi professionally and those among you who have ambitions to sing to earn money is important (to be fair actually, it applies to anybody who sings): the same way a sports team trains several times a week or an athlete trains leading up to a sprint, 800m, 5k, 10k or marathon or a tennis player works out a singer must take care of your voice and the muscles that produce your voice in the same way – ESPECIALLY if this is how you earn your income! The additional benefits from this training will include better tone, better control, durability, longevity, vocal health and better (natural) vibrato among many other things.
For a small little ‘Self Evaluation’ have a look at this video by Spencer Welch of SWVS in Vancouver who succinctly and superbly shows you how to see if your technique might need some work.
If you’re worried about your technique or think that you could do with a professional opinion on your voice you should contact us here at The Vocal Academy.
* We are not saying that the route cause of Vocal Nodules or Polyps are exclusively technique related. There are numerous causes that can result in these types of Vocal problems. Also worth noting at this point that we have NO medical training nor do we pretend that we do. Our training only qualifies us to assist singers to improve their technique.