It's hard to believe. But it's true. I have gone online, searching to see what people are teaching singers. I was shocked. In this new century and in this new millennium, there are vocal coaches and singing teachers saying things that are over a century old and it's not that they are just outdated. They are saying things which are completely false or misleading.
Some things have to do with breathing, where there is a huge lack of understanding.
Some things have to do with sound, but to the exclusion of the science of acoustics.
Other things are said which show either complete ignorance of physical anatomy or the “anatomy” of physics. Modern medicine, stretching back to the 1700s includes the understanding of the function of the diaphragm, but has been ignored my many teachers which they reveal when they try to explain the un-explainable. Things which are false cannot be explained and to then become true. There has been a disconnection between the art and science of singing for far too long.
$500 an hour, $450 an hour, and $300 an hour vocal coaches do not and cannot say anything to professional singers that could jeopardize their careers, so most of the high end vocal coaches pretty well know the differences between fact and myth.
Here is a free voice lesson, using two common myths, which do not stand up to science at all:
“Sing from your diaphragm.” “Place the sound in the mask.” If you think you know how to do either thing, you are participating in or believing the same lie or deception.
Since as early as the 1700s, physicians have known that the diaphragm:
- Is a muscle.
- Is slightly dome shaped with a slight dip in the middle.
- Descends, causing a partial vacuum in the lungs, causing air to be drawn in.
- Cannot be felt because, it has no propreoceptive nerves in it.
- Separates the chest (where your lungs are) from the abdomen.
- Cannot be seen from outside your body.
- Does NOT push out your air (does not force expiration).
- Is relaxed, not flexed or contracted, when you exhale.
- Contracts spasmodically when you hiccup and air gets sucked in.
This begs the question, how do you sing from your diaphragm? How can you fill up your abdomen with air, when in fact, your lungs do not extend into your diaphragm? How can you sing from your abdomen or your diaphragm?
If I told you to sing from your diaphragm and patted myself on the abdomen, what might you think? How would you know how or if you were doing it? When exposed to the actuality of medical science, the myths are exposed and fall apart. Do your own research with one who knows, a licensed physician. That which is said and what may be meant also are out of alignment.
What muscles push out air?
- The rectus abdominis
- The transverse abdominal muscles
- The oblique abdominal muscles
- The triangularis sterni
- The internal intercostals (between the ribs)
The muscles used to cough or sneeze are listed above and the diaphragm is not on that list.
Maybe you do not have the occasion to ask a doctor the questions about such things as breathing, the diaphragm or other bodily functions associated with singing. You should have access to anatomy information, either in a book at a library or online. Look for the authorities on the body (physicians), rather than asking some poor misinformed and mis-trained singing teacher who was victim to the ignorance of his or her own teacher of singing. Some teachers have escaped the grips of the myths but the physicians must know what they are doing or lives can be lost for lack of a proper education.
My sources have included seven licensed physicians who either studied singing with me or had a family member who did. Two were ENTs. Two were GPs. One was a pediatrician. One was an orthopedic surgeon. One was a fertility physician who also now performs singing professionally.
Perhaps the ultimate “guru” of all pedagogues, the late Richard Miller, cited several examples of articles from the medical field and of other scientific sources in a marvelous book titled The Structure of Singing. Seth Riggs, wrote that Richard Miller was “the most inspirational pedagogue I ever met.” Richard Miller's research and writings led me to confirm or do my own research because I was shocked to find out that I had been lied to (perhaps inadvertently) about singing from the diaphragm. How many times has that catch phrase been said to a poor unsuspecting singing student? No one knows how much that has hurt singers or at least distracted them from focusing on the task at hand: to create art in a song.
What does “place the sound” mean?
Place means to put something somewhere. You can use your hand to place a book on a table, providing you have a table, book, and a functioning hand properly attached to your body. This we can understand, hopefully. How do you “place” sound? What is sound? It is a compression wave emanating from something vibrating and it can travel through a medium, such as air, water, steel, concrete, wood, or some other physical substance. I didn't read that anywhere but I am not only a singer but also a trombonist. Singers and brass players use air to cause living tissue to vibrate and make musical sounds. I cannot place the sound at some given point in my trombone. I can place my embouchure against a mouthpiece and blow air but it is impossible to make the sound go anywhere but out through the bell of the horn. If you look at an anatomy chart of the larynx and pharynx, you'll see that there are not “sound placing baffles or valves” anywhere to be found that would result in your being able to place the sound in one location of your head or face. You do have a movable soft palate, however. With it you can lower it and make a nasal sound or you can open it (like when the doctor nearly gags you with his happy stick known as a tongue depressor) the result of which is elongating the resonating area of the pharynx which causes the sound to be more resonant or sound “bigger”, such as what you may hear in opera or on Broadway, perhaps. Not all Broadway singers have the “legitimate” sound of opera singers. You may have not heard that classical or opera are legitimate, which means all other styles are illegitimate, by default. This may be an elitist or egotistical point, rather than actual, depending upon which side of the fence you choose to stand.
Why would I know something about sound? I didn't study it in music school. I did draw the plans of the mixing booth at NBC Burbank, where the Tonight Show is filmed. Chips Davis provided me with the details used for sound control and sound separation. I also had 35 years in architectural and engineering design and on becoming licensed by the Nevada State Board of Architecture, included was acoustics and acoustical control, which does include the control of sound transmission and the way in which sound “acts”: reflection, reverberation, dispersion, absorption, decay, etc. I have designed a few recording studios and a radio station studio, auditoriums and churches, all of which do have acoustical conditions to be taken into consideration.
Mechanical and structural design are not normally taken into consideration by most singing teachers, if any. The experience with those fields has been greatly advantageous in my understanding the structure and functions of the singing voice and the amazing apparatus of muscles, ligaments and cartilages which make up that marvelous instrument. From memory I can now draw freehand the parts involved and therefor can understand which specific muscles are used for singing. I know what can cause hyper-adduction or hypo-adduction of the vocal folds. Both can potentially cause strain, swelling, pain, or worse.
I have video recordings which were provided to me by the manufacturer of a scope, used for examination by ENTs. During consultations with ENTs, watching their videos, I was able to confirm the cause of hyperadduction as it happened. When I pointed it out to the ENT, he said he had never known that before and afterwards referred his patients to me because he felt confident that I would be able to help them. Some licensed voice therapists also studied singing with me and discovered that the exercises I taught them produced better and faster positive results in their patients than what they had been taught in school.
Pay attention to what is said if and when you study singing. If the myths appear, you are probably in the wrong place.
What else? Music. What does music have to do with singing? Pretty much everything. You need to know how to listen, where to listen, where things fit in, the causes of singing out of tune or out of time and how to rectify problems. If you hear a note, a chord, or a melodic line and you do not know what you heard, you will not be as good a singer as one who “gets it”. You don't necessarily have to know the name or label, but you have to hear it, recognize it an to make some sort of evaluation and/or duplication of it at a cognitive level and instantaneously.
I've written approximately 1500 songs and in 25 different styles. I produced radio jingles and other commercials which sold for more than one might imagine. Having transcribed music for bands, I developed acute musical hearing beyond what would be needed by a performer but would be useful, nevertheless.
At age 17, I discovered that when I heard a tone (a note) that I knew what it was by name. My music theory teacher, a famous composer, said this was very rare. I have no idea how to teach that but I do know how to teach melodic and harmonic intervals, chords, chord progressions, voicings, and devices forms and functions used in arranging, composition and songwriting.
I have written some books and some booklets which are available on Amazon. I also have screenplays, novels and other writings on various subjects. Why? Why all this? I bring to bear all my professional experience from several fields which may result in a broader and deeper understanding of the world and of people. I even was a licensed building contractor in Nevada. Now I am building music, singers, books, and finally am sharing it for anyone who wants to listen.
Two sites which have some of my music are: www.chuckstewartpresents.com and www.soundcloud.com/chuck-stewart-music
www.vocaleasy.de has some information for singers.