Marty Heresniak, B.M., M.M
79 Hudson Heights
|The Studio||A Philosophy of Voice Pedagogy|
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A PHILOSOPHY OF VOICE PEDAGOGY
Entrusting the voice to a teacher is a major
undertaking and should not be attempted without first
understanding how that teacher goes about culturing
a voice. The voice is fragile and utmost care must be
exercised to avoid making demands of it that it is not
ready to handle. Those considering lessons need to
know what the learning process will involve. The
parents of prospective students need to know what the
learning process will and will not involve, allowing for
realistic expectations. Other educators should know
what I do and do not teach, thus clarifying where our
individual responsibilities lie. Any referring medical
professionals should understand how I approach voice
culture and how my teaching conforms to voice
science as currently comprehended.
Learning is a stepwise endeavor, with each step building on the previous step and taking the process to the next level of accomplishment. The teacher's responsibility is to help each individual student along the appropriate path and lay the steps out in proper order for mastery.
To achieve well-grounded competence the student of singing must undertake vocal, musical, and artistic studies.
VOCAL STUDY breaks the voice art down into its component parts, analyzing each carefully, and resynthesizing the whole with a new understanding. Areas of technical study include posture, expansion of the torso, sustaining breath, word formation, vowel sound, articulation, and vocal agility.
MUSICAL STUDY should make the singer musically fluent. An ability to sing at sight, a working knowledge of common music theory, and both an ear and a proven ability for harmonization are minimum skill objectives.
ARTISTIC PREPARATION should include a familiarity with a variety of musical styles and a singer's standard repertory. Language study can provide experience with word formation and vowel purity. Stage presence and performance etiquette add polish to the technical aspects. Artistic interpretation is aided by study of poetry, history, and social milieu of repertory.
I believe the study of singing should bring out the student's individual voice. It should not overlay a teacher's preconception of sound. It should not copy what a student would like to sound like. Voice lessons realize potential. I do not create voices. I do not build voices. I let voices out.
Learning to sing is a process. Unlike too much of today's world, singing does not involve instant gratification. A few lessons do not make an accomplished singer. A few lessons will not get you parts in shows. If that is what you are seeking, do not look to me. The student whose goal is to learn a new song for a concert or an audition or a church performance is coming to me for the wrong reasons. That student will neither be focused on the vocal progress in the same way I am nor achieve the long term goals.
Put simply, I am not concerned with what my students sound like, nor do I measure accomplishments in singing by what repertory is learned or by what notes are added to the range. Radical statements? I think not. Consider exactly what I have said. I do not concern myself with their sound. In fact, I get upset with those who become focused on their sound. I care about their singing. If I were to guide them toward a particular preconceived sound, or to learn specific repertory, they might achieve a certain sound and learn a few songs, but might never learn how to sing.
I focus on the way my students sing. I guide them in the hows of singing which they can later apply to the whats they choose. In the end their sound is just fine -- and it is their own sound, not a construct that imitates someone else. When how you sing is right, the what follows.
Good singing is healthy singing. As voicing is a natural function of the human body, the goal of technique is to allow the function to take place freely at any intensity. Singers are aware of the conscious actions taken in producing voice, but should not allow these actions to interfere with the unconscious reactions occurring automatically.
I teach an efficient, bio-mechanically valid technique. I teach to allow the body to produce voice freely, achieving beauty of tone. I focus on achieving the little habits which will allow free voice production. The release of habitual inhibiting tensions, both mental and muscular, is essential.
Technique is not a series of little landmarks to be reached and, once passed, relegated to "been there -- done that," and left behind. Technique is a constantly renewing, continually adapting, incremental journey.
I believe in a naturally conservative approach to voice, staying within the limitations of the instrument at whatever level of development it may be. I do not encourage beginning students to strive for volume or range. I focus on getting the middle of the voice free and easily produced. Work for volume and range and you may push to some high, loud notes, but the fullness of easy, efficient production may elude you throughout your life. Get the middle right and the rest will follow.
A sound vocal technique is also conservative in the sense of conservation -- a well-produced voice will not play out from overuse and will age gracefully.
Just as a beginning driver does not immediately take to the freeways, so too, a beginning singer does not attempt difficult vocal music. Any piece requiring an extended range, whether opera or popular music, is not suitable until the voice has learned to handle the extremes.
It is also wise to avoid music which one has learned from recordings. Recorded songs are learned by rote, thus by-passing the learning of necessary musical skills, and quite likely resulting in the student learning an imitation of the recording artist rather than developing a personal interpretation of the work.
I do not, generally, use singing exercises. Putting the voice through standard patterns may cause the student to sing unmindfully. The mind should be trained as well as the physical voice. For specific vocal problems I will at times devise an exercise for a student's particular needs.
I do use Studio Songs, simple tunes taken from the standards of the jazz repertory. They can serve all the purposes that an exercise does with the added benefit of keeping the mind involved in the words and the artistic meaning of the piece. It is my responsibility to match the song to the technical problem under study. Over the years I have developed a list of jazz tunes with can teach basic concepts. These 26 American Songs -- No Arias are standard repertory in my studio and are being prepared for publication.
During the course of study, each student develops a personal repertory of song. While the Studio Songs are suitable for all voices, each individual voice has its own style, as each individual has a unique personality. Together the teacher and student choose a repertory. I suggest songs that would be suited to the voice as an instrument, while the student chooses from them those which are suited to the personality.
After a time every student's repertory should include ballads, up-tempo songs, an audition piece or two, a song suitable for weddings, perhaps something in a foreign language, and something that can be sung a cappella when you hear "So you're taking voice lessons, sing something for your grandmother."
Over the years I have attempted to include sight-singing as part of lessons. I have found that students do not progress well with the five-to-ten minutes that can be devoted to it, and often become so tense in that portion of the lesson that the remainder of our time suffers. Therefore, I have begun teaching a sight singing class for seven weeks during the summer, with daily one-hour classes. The time commitment is no minor thing, but the students inevitably learn to read. The day-after-day repetition and group setting seem to teach the concepts faster and more efficiently than other methods. By the close of the course, most are able to sight-read an average American show tune.
A good artistic performance is equally as important as singing with good vocal technique. Study includes the mundane points of aesthetic preparation -- how to walk onto a stage, how to stand before an audience, how to bow, -- and the finer points of aesthetics -- analyzing the poetry of lyrics and performing in an appropriate style.
The study of singing requires a commitment of time and effort. The habits necessary to build a strong vocal technique form only with constant repetition. The student who does not plan to practice should not plan to study. Practice entails repeating specific devices to obtain specific objectives and working with specific causes to achieve the related desired effects. Students follow practice guidelines for each week, which list the objective for the next lesson and the various devices that can be used to achieve that goal.
Guidelines do not simply steer student progress. By transcribing the teacher's comments from the practice guidelines to individual practice cards, the student intellectualizes the concepts. The accumulating deck of practice cards and the original guidelines build a permanent record of vocal technique that serves as a reference when problems crop up between lessons or long after lessons have ended.