Voice lessons and physical therapy

This morning I was reading a blogpost by Seth Godin about The Physical Therapy Metaphor and I was thinking about how much studying voice and physical therapy have in common.

I’m not talking about voice therapy in the event someone is dealing with a vocal injury; I’m talking about the process and goal of voice lessons and how similar it is to physical therapy. (Full disclosure: I have done both, many, many times.)

Godin outlines the following characteristics of physical therapy (and I’m adding my own comments below each in bold italics):

  • It’s self-produced. Even though we work with a professional, it’s done BY us, not TO us.
    YOU are your instrument. The sound comes from you.
  • It’s gradual. No one gets better after one session
    It takes weeks, months, sometimes years to fully develop the vocal instrument. Sometimes something can click right away and all of a sudden it’s easier, but usually, that’s not the case (although I have seen it happen, usually by suggesting a simple tweak in alignment or approach to breath management)
  • It puts our own resources to work to create the change we seek
    You have to practice and implement the things in your lesson on your own; just like in PT, there’s homework
  • It’s simple. There’s no magic involved, just directed, persistent effort based on science and testing
    So much this. Knowing your body and how it works and figuring out how to achieve a consistent result by doing the right things for you.
  • It takes effort. If you want something easy, you’re in the wrong place.
    Did I mention practice? Singing is easy, in that you have the instrument with you 24/7, but singing is hard because you have to coordinate everything so that you can produce sound consistently. You have to be aware of what’s happening in your body so that you can reproduce it when you want to.

This is NOT Seth Godin’s observation, but mine: Both voice lessons and PT involve getting out of your comfort zone in order to see growth – but gradually so that you can avoid injury (aka the danger zone)

One thing that’s different, as you can see from this graphic – voice lessons are much less hands-on (even when they’re not virtual, as they were when I did this photoshoot with Sasha, shown above).

This wasn’t always the case. There used to be a lot more touching – teachers would put their hands on their students’ ribs or bellies to see if there was expansion, adjust their alignment – and that just doesn’t happen any more. I actually was never that comfortable with touching other people – I was more comfortable letting them put their hands on my ribs (from the back) to feel what I was doing, but I haven’t done that in years and I don’t intend to do so. We do some stretching and aligning at the beginning of lessons, but don’t worry, I’m not going to come over and manually stretch your hip flexors for you. Not even if you ask.

I know several teachers who are very vocal about the idea that you need to be able to touch your students in order to know what they were doing, but do you? Do you really?

I think not.

Physical therapy, on the other hand, often involves direct physical touch, whether through massage, joint or muscle manipulation.

And you can do this yourself, through self-massage!

In this video, Ian Harvey (aka “Massage Sloth” – no, I don’t know why he calls himself that), demonstrates self-massage techniques for singers, specifically for those who are having issues with tightness.. He even does a little singing while he’s doing it. Check it out!

I’ll be announcing summer lesson availability and some group programs in a few weeks, so follow the blog to stay tuned!

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

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