This Is What Reliance Looks Like

This is what reliance looks like. (photo by Bob Yahn)
This is what reliance looks like. (photo by Bob Yahn)

A couple of years ago, in order to research the feasibility of teaching voice by Skype, I decided to sample other teachers’ online offerings. I chose three different teachers who taught by Skype and had a lesson with each of them.

It was a wonderful reminder of the sheer variety of strongly held opinions about the best (the only!) way to sing. There’s a lot of orthodoxy in the world of voice teaching. Take, for example, the hard sectarian divisions between teachers who advocate breathing through the nose versus those who insist one must breathe through an open mouth. Still, I got some good tips and interesting new perspectives on singing and (more importantly) all the insight I needed about the potential pitfalls and endless possibilities of teaching by Skype.

The experience even spawned one radical shift in my singing technique…until last week when I even more radically rejected said shift.

It started when one of the teachers, a classically-trained soprano, asked me what I had been taught in terms of breath support. I explained the technique I had been using for over a decade (and teaching for several years as well): when I breathe in, I then use my abdominal muscles to hold the space that the breath makes and I keep it held this way until I’m ready to take another breath.

When I finished explaining my technique, the teacher frowned (unless Skype just made her face do that) and told me that she knew many teachers taught that way, but they had it all wrong.

What was wrong with my technique?

The teacher mentioned concerns about various operas singers who had lost weight and, along with it, lost their ability to properly support their breath. They had been, she said, “relying on their girth.”

She was deeply concerned that I, too, might in fact be relying on my girth.

And despite my overall friendly relationship with my body, somehow I immediately fell into thinking, “Of course! She’s right! I shouldn’t rely on my girth. I mean, what if my girth changes and then I’m stuck with a technique that doesn’t work in my new girthless state?”

And so I started practicing the technique that she taught me instead, which never quite felt right, but seemed so much more righteous somehow, as if my girth was some sort of shortcut I had been taking all of these many girth-steady years.

And then, just last week out of the blue, I thought, “I wonder what it would feel like to try my old technique for breath support?” And do you know what? It felt good. It felt better than good, it felt like a huge relief, it felt like coming home. My voice felt truly supported. I easily sang to the end of the phrase as if my breath could just go on and on. I felt like I was singing from all the way down in my feet.

So, there you have it. I have decided that my girth, thank God, is quite reliable. I have a technique that suits my voice and my body exactly as it is. This coming home to my original reliable technique of breath support inspires me to keep exploring other ways I can rely on my own self just as I am.

What’s already reliable in you, just as you are?

8 thoughts on “This Is What Reliance Looks Like

  1. Absolutely wonderful to hear this. Sets me free in so many ways to explore and see what else is out there without thinking we “have to” change. It’s about opening up to learning and expanding with the ability to return and see where you are now and trusting it. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. Yes, Melissa! One thing I love talking about in the context of voice (that I think applies much more broadly) is that we want to explore a variety of options for how to use our voice so that our choices can then be freer choices.

  2. I have NO idea…and that’s crazy!
    So I will be asking myself. (And surprising myself, I’m sure!)

    Your blog is so refreshing ~ Thanks for your simple, direct insight.

  3. I’m not a singer, but you mentioned that you use your abdominal muscles to hold the space the breath makes…and that makes sense. What do those muscles have to do with girth Presumably, whatever one’s dimensions, those muscles would be there….or have I missed something?

    1. Hi Ilona! There are a number of different (equally unsupported) theories about the connection (or lack thereof) between size and singing. I don’t subscribe to any of them, but if you like you can find them by Googling “weight loss singing voice.”

  4. Thanks Minna! My favorite comment about my breath support is that my chest shouldn’t move. But my chest always moves — because it is sitting on top of my belly which moves with my diaphragm. A counselor wanted me to practice a belly breath — and I did. But he said my chest moved. I said, yes it did, but my shoulders were relaxed and I knew it was a good breath. I could have sung him down on that breath. So fooey on that. I know what reliance is too.

  5. Hello Minna, I sing everyday but am too self conscious to sing to another soul so can’t take lessons, but your words on holding the abdominal space was a lightbulb moment! I have been practising all afternoon and it is making a difference. It seems the saying “stick with your gut” has truth in it! Many thanks.

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