Understanding Muscular Training: Be Ready Before Entering the Jungle

One of the reasons I advocate Tai Chi and Kung Fu Training for my students, although most do not understand it until they are mature enough to see beyond the satisfaction of the moment, is that we as singers need another physical activity that we are less “obsessed with,” so that we can learn crucial lessons like patience and how to learn.  Having a secondary instrument can also be a great means of learning lessons for the fun of it instead of rushing towards the next audition or opportunity.

Obviously Tai Chi or Kung Fu are not necessarily the only means, but having an physical activity from which relevant lessons can be learn is important in vocal study.  Here is a typical scenario:

Teacher gives an exercise to two students.   Student 1 thrives! Student 2 has difficulties and becomes frustrated or bored or both.  What is the matter with Student 2?

It is possible that Student 2 is not muscularly predisposed to do well with the exercise because certain muscular pairs are out of balance.  Therefore other exercises to strengthen the flexibility between those unbalanced pairs are necessary before the original exercise can be successful.

Another possibility is that Student 2 is a little weaker and the exercise is “appropriately” difficult and needs to be repeated until it becomes easier “over time.”  But who’s got time?  This is a culture of immediate gratification.  The right exercise should yield immediate final results.

Although the italics may appear to be facetious, it is in fact the mindset of many students in these times of immediate gratification and no patience.

In my early years as a singer, I was taught that anything that felt effortful had to be wrong or pushed.  So I avoided anything that felt effortful, until I came to a school full of talented students with powerful voices.  I had to learn.  But part of me is always afraid of committing to that little effort that produces the better tone.  In time I learned to give that effort sparingly and then more and then more until I felt it was ok and then until I felt it was a better coordination.

Granted sometimes it is better to “take it easy” because it is not a good idea to exert too much intensity when we do not have the means to safely do that.  It is another when a fear of pushing paralyzes the singer so they never develop the muscular tonicity to sing a viable operatic tone.

When the voices of Golden Age singers feel totally foreign and unachievable, it probably means you are not muscularly “toned” to sing opera yet and need to find a means of training.  Small or large voice, great singers make intense sounds in flexible ways:

There is such a similarity in the intensity and balance of these two voices at opposite sides of the weight spectrum.  Balanced strength has a particular quality that both of these great singers exhibit.

Likewise, Garanca is a more lyric Carmen than Obratsova but the fullness, brilliance and directness of the voices reveal very similar type of intensity.  Admittedly Obratsova’s tone is more “in your face” in the middle range.

Too much falsetto singing pass for opera in an age of “pretty” digital recordings.  Those voices end up being ruined when they have to face the rigors of a large opera house “sans microphone.”

Training is sometimes effortful and difficult!  Once trained, difficult things sound easy! Unfortunately there is such fear of appropriate effort even in the best situations that singers end up either never achieving muscular balance or hurt themselves from not knowing the difference between full singing and pushing the voice beyond its means before one has the wherewithal to sing strong tones.

These are dark times!  And I am in awe of any singer who manages the uncertain paths in the jungle that is modern Opera Business!  If you have to go in the jungle to hunt, at least be physical strong and ready!  If the wild animals don’t eat you, the jungle will!

© June 17 2016

2 thoughts on “Understanding Muscular Training: Be Ready Before Entering the Jungle

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  1. When you said “pretty digital recordings,” do you mean the “popera” singers or some opera singers who are not quite ready to sing in an opera house with an orchestra? Thanks.


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