I taught a lesson yesterday to an accomplished classical soprano with over six decades of singing experience. Despite her high level of expertise and her longtime familiarity with the subject (much longer than mine), this student is open to exploring new ideas and trusts me to guide her through unfamiliar territory, even when the going gets rough.
Yesterday, the going got very rough.
My student has throughout her singing life come to over-rely on her head voice, not really tapping into the throat-opening and strengthening properties of her chest voice. Since she had come to me with the express desire to increase her vocal stamina, I knew we had to wake up her largely dormant chest register. I proposed some exercises to elicit a strong chest register response, and soon had the student singing clear. strong, almost tenor-sounding low notes.
Since her laryngeal muscles are not used to being used in this dynamic new way, they responded with a strong tickling sensation, making the student cough and reach for her water glass. It got so uncomfortable that her eyes were watering and I could sense frustration building. (She’d come a long way to study with me, and now here she was, barely able to continue.)
Because we have a long history of working together, the student trusted me to know what was likely to help and continued through the discomfort. (And indeed, I knew that she could trust me in this case: the sounds I heard, despite the tickling, were free. Also, I had experienced such tickling myself when first working on strengthening my chest register, and have encountered it in many of my students. I take risks in my teaching, but only when they are firmly grounded in conscious reasoning and the principles of bel canto.)
Eventually, in a matter of minutes, the student was singing comfortably with a new coordination that happily combined her already-strong head voice with the newly awoken chest register. She was delighted to find that she could sing easily and with an even sound from low G (below middle C) up to soprano high B. (We’ll go even higher once the new coordination solidifies a bit more.)
If you come to me for lessons, you might not have the length of association that this student and I enjoy—she is, after all, my mother, and we’ve been learning from each other for many years—but you can be assured that, whatever strange or possibly uncomfortable sensations you might experience in the lessons, they will ultimately give way to a freer, stronger vocal coordination. Like any committed voice teacher, I rely on my experience, my ear, and the principles by which I teach to guide me in guiding my students to vocal freedom.
Trust me on this one.