Different learning angles
Everyone learns differently. Some singers have to understand the theoretical explanation of a problem in order to solve it, some physically feel their way through, while others work by means of sound, for example by hearing, recognising, and copying the sound. Some learn by looking at graphic illustrations, and others find the solution to their problems through inner images and sensations.
To cater for all these learning methods each chapter of the CVT book contains:
- Anatomical and physiological explanations
- Physical instructions
- Sound examples
- Examples of inner images and sensations
No one method is more important or preferable to another. The anatomical and physiological explanations are included because some singers will find them valuable. Others, however, may find it of little use and potentially distracting. The techniques in the CVT book do not necessarily require that you have to understand and sense your anatomy or physiology. It is important not to be overwhelmed by these explanations. The different methods are presented as a range of possibilities. It is up to each individual to choose the method they find most accessible and from which they can achieve the best results. It might, however, be practical to read all the different types of explanations, partly because it may help to see things from a different perspective, and partly because one explanation often complements another.
Know the anatomy of the body
At CVI we recommend that singers should be as aware as possible of what is happening in the body during singing. Therefore we try to use the correct anatomical terminology throughout the CVT book. Once you know the anatomy and physiology of the voice and are aware of how to use it the technique is easier to understand and consequently it is easier to do something about your vocal problems. For instance, it will help you to distinguish between good and bad advice, and myths about ‘correct’ technique. We urge everybody to study the anatomy and physiology of the voice and with common sense find the technique that feels the best.
Locate the main problem
When you are learning it is often difficult to decide what is the most important thing to concentrate on and what is less important. To assist you in this I have outlined the techniques presented in the CVT book in the chapter “Complete Vocal Technique in four pages” (on page 15). This provides you with an overview before you go into detail.
Even though each topic is thoroughly described in the CVT book, this does not mean that every subject is equally important for all singers. Singers are different so certain passages will be relevant to some but not to others.
As in all teaching the most important thing is to focus on the main problem instead of being distracted by all the minor details you meet on the way. If you can identify and solve the main problem many other problems will be resolved at the same time. It is easier, and more efficient, to concentrate on one problem at a time instead of many. We suggest that once you have an overview of the techniques in the CVT book, you should work your way through the relevant sections, paragraph by paragraph, in the search of your main problem.
Take responsibility for yourself
It is important that singers themselves take responsibility for their own development instead of being dependent on a teacher. Even the best teacher in the world cannot teach you anything unless you yourself pick up the teaching and work with it. In the end it is you who has to decide which parts of the teaching you can use, which parts you cannot make work and what you do not care about.
It is not difficult to work out if you are on the right track when you practise. A correct technique should result in continuous improvements in your singing. There is no reason to take lessons for years if you do not think the instructions are making singing any easier or are bringing you closer to your goals.
Trust your taste, powers of judgment and senses. Experimenting brings renewal; individuality is also important. Feel, listen, and choose. Test the technique and practise until you have learned what you want to be able to do. Determine whether you are getting the sound you want. If not, what is missing? Try to find it through your own intuition and taste. Why should you use a sound you do not like? Nobody but you can create YOUR career, and maybe your career is based on being different and sounding like no one else. Always be your own judge and decide whether you are getting closer to your goals.
In our opinion the taste of the teacher is unimportant. To us the teacher’s task is purely to help singers achieve her/his desired way of singing in a healthy manner, for example by hearing possible constriction and making suggestions about how the singer can remove it. The teacher could also make suggestions about alternative sound possibilities, but it is the singer who should make the artistic choices.
How to practise
A healthy voice
The first thing a singer must learn is not to lose the voice. Once you lose your voice you have to stop working until it returns. Furthermore, it is difficult to experiment if you are hoarse as the voice does not respond as it normally would. It takes a skilled singer to avoid compensating once the voice is strained. As long as the voice is in good condition, you can practise and experiment your way until you achieve your goals.
If you sing something over and over again your brain will remember the action. This is called building up your ‘muscle memory’. This means that the muscles get used to responding in a certain way and will learn to function automatically in the future. It is important, therefore, to establish healthy routines as this will really help your ‘muscle memory’.
When you practise, it is important to concentrate and avoid making too many errors. It is generally better to do easy exercises without mistakes than difficult exercises with mistakes. If you fail with the same exercise three times in a row, it is too difficult and you are in danger of creating constriction if you continue. Constriction happens when some of the muscles in the throat work too hard or tighten up at the wrong time. It stops the voice from working well, freely and easily. You must make the exercise easier in order to accomplish the vocal task. Become familiar with the correct ‘feeling’ and work healthy routines into your ‘muscle memory’. Eventually the voice will know only these healthy routines and you will not have to spend much time on technical difficulties.
An important rule that cannot be stressed enough is that singing must never hurt or feel uncomfortable. If something does not sound right, if something feels wrong, or if it feels uncomfortable, your voice is telling you that you are doing something wrong. Always trust your feelings – they are better and more direct than even the best teacher’s ear.
Singing must always feel comfortable
The technique must have the intended effect immediately otherwise the training is not being done correctly.
If an exercise hurts or feels uncomfortable or wrong, then it IS wrong. You are the only one who knows how it feels, so trust your judgement.
Always practise as close to a real-life situation as possible. For instance, musicians who sit when they sing should also practise while sitting.
Exercises must be simple
Many singers ask for specific exercises to solve specific problems. I do not think that exercises alone are important, but THE WAY you work with them is. All your concentration must be focused on exactly HOW you work with the voice during the exercise. The final result should be that you are able to sing all combinations of notes and intervals without hindrance.
As all your attention must be placed on achieving the correct singing technique, I suggest that the exercises should be as simple as possible. That way you can concentrate on the work of the body. I think it takes too much concentration to manage a complicated exercise while, at the same time, trying to solve technical problems. That is why the exercises in the CVT book are simple, each one of them dealing with one technical problem at a time.
The exercises in the CVT book can be replaced by other exercises as the melodic sequences in themselves are of little importance. The WAY in which you work with the exercises, however, is important. So if you wish to use other exercises, please feel free to do so.
Songs instead of complicated exercises
When you are able to perform simple exercises with the correct technique, you will have a solid foundation with which to approach the problems in songs. At CVI we see no point in working through difficult and complicated rhythmic and melodic sequences in order to train your voice. Instead, you should tackle the problems in a song and its real problems. Every time you come across a technical problem return to a simple exercise and concentrate on solving this technical problem. Once you have figured out HOW to solve the problem transfer the technique to the song.
If you at a later point get tired of practising the major scales and you want inspiration to develop your phrasings or improvisations, you can practise other scales such as the minor scales, pentatonic scales or blues scale.
Changing the key of the exercises
When you have perfected the exercises in one key then practise them in other keys in order for you to perfect the same exercise at all pitches. This is called ‘transposing’ the exercise and will give you a good idea of the factors you should take into account when singing in different keys.
Personalized training programme
Put together your own training programme to practise those techniques that you think you need to work on. You can continuously vary your training programme according to your technical problems, what you need, and how much time you have.
How long should I practise
There are many myths about how long a singer should practise. As with all things in singing it depends on the individual. A singer must judge how long s/he can concentrate and on how long s/he has the energy and the strength to practise. It is important to be familiar with your own limits and not practise more than you can manage. Training without concentration or strength can do more harm than good. In such cases you may train using the wrong techniques which could then take a long time to undo. In other words it is better not to practise than continue with a poorly performed exercise.
Practise with other singers
Practise with other singers for mutual support and encouragement. It is more fun and several ears often hear better than yours alone. It is usually easier to hear the mistakes of other singers than your own. So practise together, help each other and have fun. Again, always trust yourself and do not confuse taste with technique. Only you can make your artistic choices and decide what sound you wish to create.
Use exact vowels
It is very important to make sure that the pronunciation of the vowels is done 100% correctly. Being able to recognise the exact vowel sound is equally important in order for the technique to work in the right way. If you make the wrong vowel sound you might risk not being able to perform certain modes, pitches and sound colours. Therefore, it is very important that you take time to understand exactly which vowel is called for. To do this correctly, spend time learning the vowel sounds from the CVT Sound Library (CVT is an abbreviation for Complete Vocal Technique) and compare them with the vowels used in English. Different languages and dialects can trick you into thinking that you are using the correct vowel. This is why, in the beginning, you must spend time familiarising yourself with the exact vowel sounds.
As the English version of the CVT book also is used by non-English singers, I would recommend them to carefully study the sound examples ind the CVT Sound Library and compare the sounds to the English vowels in order to avoid confusion in the difference between a foreign accent and the actual vowel sound. If you confuse the various vowel sounds you might get problems in achieving the modes Curbing, Overdrive and Edge (formerly ‘Belting’), therefore be absolutely sure of the exact vowel sound before you start the exercise.
A lot of words have incredible variation between various accents and also some vowel sounds might not exist in some languages, but even so it is important to get to know the exact vowel sound as heard in the sound examples from the CVT Sound Library as these exact vowel sounds are often a necessary condition in obtaining certain vocal modes. Due to different accents these words may be pronounced in different ways, so I will encourage everyone to listen to the sound examples to get the exact pronunciation we use in the CVT book.