I like analogies.
I don’t teach solely by analogy, though, because they’re so personal and sometimes they don’t mean anything to people. I use them to illustrate concepts that I’ve explained technically. And I use them judiciously.
For example, when we sing, we are singing on the exhalation. It’s important for that exhalation to be even and sufficient for you to get through the phrase, whether you’ve decided that it’s going to be a long phrase or a shorter one (and there is no shame in breathing when appropriate and when needed for expressive or life purposes – my teacher always said, “People don’t really notice if you breathe too often, but they sure notice when you run out!”). This is done by maintaining resistance between the intercostal (rib muscles) and oblique abdominals. This is referred as “appoggio,” which comes from the Italian verb, “appoggiare,” which means “to lean upon.”
The lower abdominals do play a part, but for myself, I find that if you focus on them, you wind up pushing too much. Other teachers focus on that more than I do, and that’s fine. I used to do it myself, but when I focused on the resistance between the ribs and obliques, it completely changed my own breath management. So I don’t do that.
When you produce sounds from your larynx, those sounds ride upon that column of air. It’s a sense of flow. So sometimes I say, “Your voice is a squirrel, and your breath is the powerline (or clothesline) it’s running across.” (This came from a lesson I was giving where I saw a squirrel running across a powerline reflected in the mirror in front of me. I said to my student, “Your voice …. is a squirrel…” and she folded her arms and said, “Let’s see where this one is going.”)
If the line is consistent, the squirrel makes it across. If there’s a sudden sag in it, the squirrel could fall off. If it’s too tight, it could snap. Either way, the squirrel could fall off.
DON’T KILL THE SQUIRREL!
Another analogy I just came up with regarding onset (initiating the tone) was volleyball (coincidentally, the only sport I was ever good at).
The ball comes toward you and you come into contact with it. You don’t stick your hands up in the air and wait for it. You make the necessary movements just before the point of impact. You are physically prepared for it but there is movement and energy in that preparation. Again, it’s a question of flow. Your goal is to keep the ball in the air for as long as you choose to. If you smash it, you might hit it into the net. If you don’t have enough energy, you might miss it or bob at it ineffectually.
Your voice is the volleyball. Your breath is your body. Find the balance to keep the “ball” in the air for as long as it needs to be.
DON’T SPIKE THE VOLLEYBALL (UNLESS THAT’S YOUR
CHOICE FOR WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THE MOMENT, EITHER ON THE COURT OR IN THE SONG – DRAMA HAPPENS)
If these analogies don’t work for you, don’t use them. I don’t use them with everyone.
What images or analogies work for you? What don’t?
If you would like to find your voice, whether that’s through technical explanations/explorations, visual images, or analogies, feel free to contact me for a consultation or to Ask Me Anything. Or go ahead and set up a Vocal Discovery Session!