How Too Much Technique Gets in the Way of the Art

First, train your voice.
Second, forget the training.
Then, repeat the cycle… again and again.
Because if all you do is focus on technique, you won’t ever connect with the art!  
If you’re thinking about how to place and shape your vowels, how to breathe, your intonation, or correct diction, you’re most certainly not feeling the song.  You may give the impression you’re singing the song “from the outside” – rather than the song emerging naturally and emotionally from you.
Here are a few of the problems that can result from focusing too much on technique, and neglecting the art:
  • Diction that’s too clear and proper, making you sound “over-trained” for your genre
  • Vowels that are too wide open, again making you sound “over-trained”
  • “Too-correct” pitch where you sound like you’re tiptoeing through the notes, afraid to make a mistake
  • Fear of any tension at all in the voice, making it impossible to belt, growl, or scream
  • And overall, just lack of emotion in your voice, boring singing, and lack of authentic feeling
Don’t worry.  When you stop focusing on technique for a while, you’re not going to forget everything you learned.  Instead, your brain will assimilate and integrate.  Some of your technique will stick with you, some of it may slide away for a while.  But what you lose in perfection, you’ll gain many times over in expression.
I’m finishing an album of original music with the band STAR (spontaneous thin air radio).  The hardest song to complete has been “One.”  It has some technical challenges which have been occupying the forefront of my mind when I sing it.  These technical challenges prevent me from connecting with the song.  I sound like I’m trying to sing the song… rather than just singing the song.
But this is a song that does not need perfection.  This song needs emotion.  It’s the most emotional song on the album!  It needs to come from the heart.
So, a friend of mine suggested that I consider the song done.  Finished.  Ready to mix.  We had plenty of existing takes that were good enough.  
Then, just for the love of the song, he said I should sing it again.  Not to keep.  Just to experience the joy of singing it.  Just to connect with it.  No worries about technical issues – we already had everything we needed.
So I did.  I sang it again, not concerned with keeping my mouth open, keeping consistent airflow, hitting that high C with just the right tone.  And it was so emotional that I wanted to sing it again.  So I did.  And I loved it so much that I sang it a third time.
All three of these takes, done start to finish without a break, were better than any of my previous efforts.  They were less perfect, but more expressive.  The song went from sounding like someone trying to express emotion, to someone expressing emotion.
So.. How long has it been since you stopped working on your singing, and just SANG?  For the love of singing?
Check out these popular artists and bands with less-than-classically-perfect vocal technique:
Erik Schrody (a.k.a. Everlast)
Layne Staley of Alice in Chains
Louis Armstrong
Kurt Cobain of Nirvana
Tori Amos
Regina Spektor
Ani di Franco

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(c) 2010 Adrienne Osborn

Adrienne Osborn is a vocalist and performance coach based in Colorado.   For more free articles and tips, visit