In the winter of 333 B.C., the Macedonian general Alexander and his army arrived in the Asian city of Gordian to take up winter quarters. While there, Alexander heard about the legend surrounding the town’s famous knot, the “Gordian Knot.” A prophecy states that whoever is able to untie this strangely complicated knot will become the king of Asia.
The story intrigued Alexander, and he asked to be taken to the knot so that he could attempt to untie it. He studied it for a bit, but after some fruitless attempts to find the rope ends, he was stymied. “How can I unfasten this knot?” he asked himself. Then he got an idea: “I will make up my own knot-untying rules.” He pulled out his sword and sliced the knot in half. Asia was fated to him.
You as a singer are responsible for the creative rules with which you learn you craft. It requires figuring out how a particular system or idea given by others might fit into you own existing patterns of thinking about singing. Do you spend minutes, days, and even years trying to undo the “Gordian Knot” of vocal technique or trying to imitate what other successful singers are doing artistically? It is said that if constructive patterns were all that were necessary for creative new ideas, we’d all be creative geniuses. Creative thinking is not only constructive, it’s also destructive. Creative thinking involves breaking out of one pattern in order to create a new one.
All too often, we become ensnared by the familiar phenomenon:
- We make rules based on the reasons that they make a lot of sense.
- We follow these rules.
- Time passes and things change.
- The original reasons for the rules may no longer exist, but because the rules are still in place, we continue to follow them.
“A real decision is measured by the fact that you’ve taken a new action. If there’s no action, you haven’t truly decided.” – Anthony Robbins
So, how creative are you when it comes to learning a new vocal technique or when you work with different coaches who offer different ideas and opinions? What old rules and habits are you willing to leave behind or break in order to get your money’s worth from the time you plan to spend with this new coach or voice teacher? What is your objective or agenda when you go to your lesson, practice or coach? Do you have an objective or agenda, or do you just push the “habit” button, drop into mindlessness and go into your rote production mode? What do you feel your part is when it comes to taking a voice lesson, go for a coaching or practice? Do you think that it is possible to acquire a great vocal technique through osmosis from the other person? Are you waiting for a voice teacher or coach to transfer their years of knowledge and understanding magically into your psyche and body by your just showing up and working on the same old, same old in a boring manner each time. What is your creative contribution to your own learning capability when you practice?
Often I hear of singers who complain that they aren’t learning anything from their teachers or coaches. Sure, that can happen sometimes and yes, sure sometimes what you learn might not work for you, but remember that it is always the teacher and the student that creating the learning. If you don’t participate, and become very active by creating an agenda or objective for each session which means asking specific questions about some very particular aspect of what you are working on, gaining a vocal technique or making a role your own will take a long time to accomplish. Here are some examples of how to ask for what you might want some help with.
- I need clarification and perhaps different examples of how you are explaining the breathing part of this technique. I can’t seem to get it when I am by myself.
- On measure 147 of my piece where my vocal line jumps an octave with a descending scale, goes up a third then does it immediately again, I am having trouble making that work. Can you show me a better way to work on it so that is just becomes another couple of measures I sing well?
- I’ve been listening to several cadenzas for this part of my piece and would love your opinions and suggestions of what would show off my voice the best.
- Can you check my diction and give suggestions as to how I might make it better?
This kind of approach to being in charge of and owning your own knowledge and comprehension of how vocal technique or your understanding of and embodiment of a character works just for you is of paramount importance. It shows your teachers and coaches that you have a vested interest in learning from their years of experience. And don’t forget that it’s your money you are spending to gain this kind of insight and learning.
“If you only do what you know you can do- you never do very much.” – Tom Krause
Here is another scenario that I have seen often when it comes to starting with a new voice teacher or coach or even when you practice by yourself. Instead of completely leaving the old ideas, ways and habits behind when becoming conscious of a new way of proceeding vocally, often, singers unconsciously try to put the new ideas and thoughts on top of or inside the old habits and ideas to stretch them into some new shape. This never works! You have to leave all of the old ways, habits and thoughts behind, create a clean slate and start from scratch, good ole square number one and build from there. When you do this it might be frustrating and difficult for several weeks or months, but if you are vigilance especially when practicing without another set of trusted ears to listen to you, insisting on only the new technique even if it means practicing in 5 minute increments, it’s time, energy and money well spent. If you can’t focus on the new way, what is important within it, it is a waste of your time, energy and money. It’s like trying to put a brand new pair of pants or dress that you intend to use for auditioning, into an old, dirty, filled with holes, back pack that already has a pair or two of old pants that not only don’t fit any more, but are dirty and torn. There is no way your outfit will look fresh, pressed and make you feel well dressed able to embrace your Personal Brand when you need them for an audition.
So learn to undo the “Gordian Knot” of vocal technique, by consciously practicing it, and working it into whatever you plan to perform. This allows you to unlock your very own creative geniuses. That means you’re being in control of the outcome every step of the way. It means you are getting your money’s worth.
Ciao until next time.