Kashu-do (歌手道): Conversations With My Brain, Part 1: Vowels

So I started the “Flower Song” from Carmen, thinking I would modify the vowel of the world [la] to a darker rounded [a],  more like “aw” in the word  boy.  Then I heard suddenly:

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“Who is that?” I said a little scared. “Where are you?”

“I’m inside your head.  I’m your brain! Control Center.  You can call me Control for short!”

“How are you talking to me?”

“Like I said, I am Control Center!  I control stuff, including talking to you if it helps!”

“Well you’ve never done that before,” I stammered.

“Don’t get all panicky!  I’m talking to you because I have had enough of you trying to ‘control’ stuff!  That’s my job!  What if I decided to go on a vacation?  Do you really think you can do this stuff better than I can?”

“What is wrong with choosing a darker vowel?  The rounded lips lower the first formant and gives rise to the second.  And since that note is soft, it makes sense that I would want the note to ‘turn’ to second formant dominance.”  I  argued proudly.

“What about the fact that lip rounding lowers all the formants?” I heard my brain calmly respond.  “So you got your acoustic rotation to second formant dominance, but in the process you shifted all the formants including the upper ones, and now you’ve lost the ring of the voice that is so crucial to voice carrying and I know (since I am your brain) that you want the voice to ring!”

“What is the solution then?” I tried to defer.

“What do you care?” My brain snapped back.  “You still don’t get it.  Your job is to give me interesting problems.  My job is to solve them.  You don’t get to solve!”

“Alright smart guy!” My brain seems to have an accent between Bugs Bunny and Fred Flintstone or the typical Italian mobster voice, maybe James Cagney.  I wonder why…”Hey! you’re wandering.  Wake up! Stay with the program!”

“Now, as I was saying,” it continued “You don’t get to solve anything.  Give me a small problem!”


“Pick up the cup in front of you and take a sip!” I picked up the cup and took a sip of my green tea.

“First of all, you need to stop drinking that sh…stuff!  It gives me a headache.  Try some espresso!” My brain is definitely an Italian mobster.

“Now was that so hard?”

“I don’t get it,”  I rebelled.

“Of course you do, idiot!  You say this to your students all the time.  You think it, your brain does it!  And you must admit, I’m pretty good.  How fast did it take for me to fulfill your wish?  A split second, right?  I am that good.”  He ended with the oversized confidence of a dramatic tenor… “That’s me though?” I thought.

“Of course, it’s you!  I’m you! Your active part!” It scolded.

“If it were as easy as me thinking it, don’t you think I would happily let you do it?” I complained.

“First of all, stop whinnin’!  You ain’t the whinnin’ type!” The mobster voice came back, more Bugs Bunny than Fred Flintstone this time. “It is that easy! But think!” It ordered and paused for a second.

“When you were a baby…and boy you weren’t pretty…”

“Must you?”  I retaliated.

“Just a joke! Calm down, will ya?”

“As I was saying…now don’t interrupt!  When you were a baby, you could not lift that cup.  You kept dropping it until one day you did it.  Even though I was developing, I was already able to do my part.  I sent the right signals to your arm and hand to lift that cup as baby-you desired.  However, your muscles were not yet developed enough to complete the task.  So just because you want it and I fulfill it, does not mean we get the result we want.  Now lifting a cup to your mouth seems so simple because you’ve been practicing it all your life.  You have not been practicing singing that difficult first note of the Flower Song that long.”

“Ok.  So going back to that F.  What should I be thinking?” I asked, really wanting to know.

“You need to imagine that F in its absolute perfection.  You want to sing the word ‘la’ then that is what you must desire!”

“But if I desire a pure ‘la’ my larynx rises!”

“Then desire to sing a pure ‘la’ with a relaxed throat!”

“What if it the throat still tighten despite my desiring it to be relaxed?”

“Then, just like you could not lift the cup as a baby, you need to give your muscles time to learn and strengthen until they can do it!”

“How do we best do that?

“There are two choices that seem best judging from my databank of your life experiences:

1) Like your Kung Fu teacher always says, ‘Repetition is the mother of all skills.’  Repeat it until it is correct.  This trains the muscles slowly but correctly.  By desiring it and not interfering, you are letting ME train your muscles by sending them the signals to respond correctly. Eventually they will be strengthened and balanced to fulfill the task you desire and  that I order them to do.

2) Develop training exercises that balance and strengthen your muscles such that they can fulfill the task without interference from other unnecessary muscles.  I am a fan of your lip trills and fry voice exercises.  They are clear, simple and do not require interference from you.  By fulfilling them, your muscles get more and more balanced and consequently, you start to trust them to do the work.   Thus our relationship works better.  You desire, I program, the muscles do!

“How do I interfere?” I queried.

“You interfere when you desire other muscles to come into play to get you a result that the correct muscles cannot presently do on their own.  When you desire it, I must comply.  So I do it, even though I know it is wrong and training your muscles the wrong way. The right muscles never develop if you keep calling on other muscles to help them.”

“What happens when I don’t interfere?”

“Initially, your muscles are awkward and weak.  They do not perform well.  You might crack a note.  So what?  You fell on your ass as a child trying to walk.  You were not conscious enough to interfere then.  You were great.  Dumb like a tenor…”

“Really!!!”  I protested.

“Sorry” My brained laughed. “I couldn’t resist that little quip….Anyway, just let things be awkward!  Eventually they become strong and graceful.  The less you interfere the faster I can train those little muscles.”

“I think I get it!” I sighed.

“I know you get it.  I’m your brain!  Like your coach, Steve Crawford says:  You are very clear about what you want musically and vocally.  Just desire it and let me take care of the rest. Commit 100% to your desire.  This gives me stronger impulses and then I send clearer signals to your muscles and they respond more efficiently.  Whatever comes out will be correct.  If something does not happen the way you want it, do not change your strategy.  You only have one.  Be clear about what want and commit to it.  Trust me to handle the rest.”

“We are a kind of trinity you know:  Your genius (call it your psyche, your spirit, whatever) imagines and desires, I, your brain calculate and program, the muscles do!  Since I am the middleman,  so to speak, I have a clearer idea of the relationship.  We need to keep the relationship like that.  You can never know my job better than me, so don’t desire corrections on the fly and don’t guess.  I have real problems when you do that.  It forces me to call upon unnecessary muscle units on the one hand, and then the impulses are weak because you seem unsure of what you want.  Just imagine the music the way you want it.  Create a scenario, and I will get the muscles to do it.  But all three of us must be healthy.  So eat well, train hard so you are strong muscularly but above all, rest!  You need to sing less and sing only when you are fresh.  We will train better that way and your stamina will increase and recovery time will decrease.” My brain seemed to have completed his argument.

“I just realized!  You don’t sound like a mobster anymore!”

“I only call on that voice when I need to get your attention.  Bugs Bunny is the best teacher after all.  I only bring in James Cagney and Fred Flintstone when I need a little more authority.  Bugs is great, but that whinny voice makes us laugh too much.”

“You just said US!”

“Yes, when we are in agreement about our tasks, we are no longer three but a single multidimensional ONE!”

“Thanks, Brain!”

“Stop talking to yourself.  People will think you’re crazy!”

© 03/15/2013

3 thoughts on “Kashu-do (歌手道): Conversations With My Brain, Part 1: Vowels

Add yours

  1. Oh, dearest Ron, this made me laugh so hard at the same time as nodding in complete empathy. The curse of the over-thinker – we are sooo loath to trust. Along the same lines as imagining the perfect note bringing it forth. Much to ponder. Thank you.

    (And I really loved the disdain for green tea your brain displayed!!!)

    K x


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