state of the art n. The highest level of development, as of a device, technique, or scientific field, achieved at a particular time.
To master the art of singing, you must develop your instrument while simultaneously learning how to play it.
The voice is in some ways far more challenging to build and maintain than other instruments. For one thing, you can't just tuck it away in a velvet case when you're done practicing for the day. You can't drop it off at the shop for an overhaul when it doesn't seem to be working properly. Nor can you turn it in for a fancier model.
However, your ability to optimize its quality and capabilities is virtually limitless.
It is within your power to completely transform everything about your own physiology that has an impact on your voice.
- Your alignment
- Your ability to consume oxygen
- The mobility and efficiency of your entire breathing apparatus
- The mobility of your larynx and articulators
- The suppleness of the tissues comprising your resonance cavities
- Your ability to focus your mind.
Advances in fields such as exercise science, psychology, and bodywork offer tools and technologies to advance what State of the Art means for the voice.
Imagine that you walk into your teacher's studio with the vocal equivalent of a Stradivarius violin.
Make no mistake, you'll still have your work cut out for you. But technique is much more easily and joyfully acquired when you're equipped with a responsive, resonant, well-constructed instrument.
Now imagine that you walk into your teacher's studio with the equivalent of some violin that's been in your family for years, of unknown origin and maintenance history. It could be anything - perhaps a lost Stradivarius or a cursed masterpiece by Bussotti. Perhaps it's a just an average journeyman instrument, elevated to grandeur by your exceptional musicianship.
Even so, there's nothing average about your instrument. You're a Voice. Your instrument is wonderfully unique and infinitely malleable.
However, until the moment that you took up singing, you had been using it for many other things over a period of many years. It now bears the influence of movement, breathing, speech and body language habits that were not acquired with singing in mind. These habits have molded your alignment, designed breathing strategies for you, and established range of motion and movement patterns for your larynx and articulators, none of which are likely to be optimal for singing.
This is the instrument you bring into your voice teacher's studio and to which you assiduously apply their technique. But no matter how talented and dedicated you may be, everyone picks up habits and chronic tensions that limit movement. Left unaddressed, they will create obstacles for your progress because your vocal technique will necessarily include a series of compensations for those habits and tensions. In a best-case scenario, you're singing with a great deal more effort than would be ideal. In a worst-case scenario, your progress inexplicably stalls because even the best technique can't function in the face of certain tensions and imbalances.
Even in the studios of most of the world's celebrated vocal pedagogues, you will see some singers swiftly advance while others flounder. All of them start off with great passion and potential. But unless they have consciously optimized their instruments, what they bring to the studio is a family heirloom of mysterious origin, with unpredictable responsiveness and resonance.
That's why tools for optimizing your instrument should be integrated into voice performance curricula.
Alignment offers an excellent case in point. While it is universally agreed that alignment massively impacts vocal technical development, additional tools are clearly needed for developing it.
All important books on vocal pedagogy, old and new, emphasize good alignment as foundational for the development of vocal technique. They describe what it looks like with great physiological specificity and beautiful illustrations, backed up by scientific studies. But while these tomes describe with minute precision such things as to how to articulate an [i] vowel in different parts of the range for different voice types, they offer no instruction whatesoever for how to cultivate this crucial aspect of singing.
When they do provide advice, they suggest seeking lessons in Alexander Technique. I've been fortunate to experience two extended courses of Alexander Technique lessons, and I enthusiastically affirm that it greatly enhances freedom of movement, promotes kinesthetic awareness, and restores balanced function to the body.
However, I received these benefits through a series of private lessons with exceptional teachers that I paid for myself. Unfortunately, very few conservatories offer Alexander lessons or classes to voice majors. So while all agree that good alignment is essential for vocal technique, vocal training programs are generally unable to provide the means for its development.
It may actually no longer be all that difficult or expensive to change that.
Poor alignment is essentially a pattern of muscular tensions and imbalances that can be addressed with a targeted exercise program. In recent years, exercise physiologists have designed simple assessments that quickly reveal the specific nature of these muscular imbalances in an individual. These assessments identify the specific areas of weakness and tightness that are creating the pattern. Based on that information, a simple regimen of stretches and strength-training movements is designed to resolve them. The training needed to perform assessments and design these programs is relatively simple and easy to come by, so if it isn't feasible to add Alexander lessons to the curriculum there are other options.
We have the technology. We can make you better.
My earlier Stradivarius analogy is shamelessly lifted from The Naked Voice. One of my favorite passages in Steve's book is his explanation of why technique always trumps natural talent:
Here is the plug for technique: give me a Stradivarius with the finest bow and strings available to play, and it will sound scratchy and terrible because I have no violin technique. But put a cheap rental violin in the hands of a top-flight violinist, and it will sound fabulous. The crucial difference is much more in how one uses the instrument than in the quality of the instrument itself.
Yes: Do devote yourself first and foremost to mastering technique.
While you're at it, cultivate a state-of-the-art instrument for yourself.
Many believe that the State of the Art for violin building still rests with 17th-century masters like Stradivarius and Guarnari and that we have yet to improve on their work.
I believe that the State of the Art for singers is about to enter a new golden era.
You're not a violin. You're Voice, comprising body, mind, heart and spirit. There have been amazing advances in the cultivation of all these aspects of your being. Many are already commonly applied in fields that may seem only distantly related to singing, but they offer an as-yet untapped wealth of tools and resources for the refinement of our instruments.
Get ready to explore the limitless potential of yours.