Jeremy’s thoughts on why singers need both their vocal technique AND performance skills to be successful
Gillyanne and I were talking today about how singers learn. We’ve seen the difference between a singer or actor following a technical instruction, and actually knowing how to apply it to improve singing.
This struck a chord with me because one of my favourite instructions having taught a technique is “that’s good, now make it work“. Meaning, even if you can do the technique or make the sound, you need to make it your own.
It seems that there are at least two aspects to a singer – the singer’s ‘intellect’ and the singer’s ‘performer’, or the separation of vocal technique and performance skills.
Working with the singer’s intellect
When we teach a technique, we’re working with the singer’s intellect. The intellect builds a catalogue of possible personal vocal options to be used. The catalogue can be added to, altered and expanded with new sounds, vocal techniques and concepts. In a singing lesson you’re adding a new item to your vocal catalogue, and you do it using both repetition and understanding. This is what a singing lesson is really about, the technique of creating sounds.
It’s essential to feed your catalogue with new sounds and techniques to keep yourself current. But that isn’t using your creative being.
Working with the singer’s ‘performer’
This is where the performer then takes over. The performer takes the thoughts, the character, the music, the lyrics and the rhythm that are in the catalogue and makes them come alive.
The performer in us will use anything in the catalogue to embody and express its ideas. Whenever you add something new to the catalogue, the performer can grab that and use it, often without you thinking about it – this is not intellectual but instinctive.
And I believe the two are distinguishable. we all know of ‘talented’ people who have not yet matured in their performing. Usually there is something ‘magic’ that is recognisable – it could be that the performer part is ready to fly, but the technical catalogue is not yet broad enough to encompass everything the performer wishes to do.
Likewise we can recognise the technically accomplished singer who just doesn’t touch us in any way emotionally. The catalogue is well-honed but the performer does not fly.
I have a background as an accompanist, collaborative pianist and musical director. So I’m used to assessing the whole performance, finding what the ‘performer’ wants to do and helping it happen. The real skill of the coach is to recognise what already works for the performer, and which areas can be stimulated to work better FOR THAT PARTICULAR PERFORMER.
In effect, this is what a coaching session is really about, encouraging the performer to experiment with different uses of their inbuilt catalogue
This whole conversation came about because of one of our clients – she is very capable of adding to her catalogue of sounds and will copy, repeat and understand.
The interesting part is when she starts to perform – we see her going into a completely different part of her brain. And it’s so far away from her ‘intellect’ part that the two don’t really connect. So the technique that she has just mastered intellectually doesn’t appear in her performing.
We’ve been working on connecting her ‘intellect’ with her ‘performer’ and it’s really beginning to pay dividends. That’s really where the consistent performance magic lies.
But that’s a whole other blog!