Singing and Speaking: A Holistic Approach

‘Sing as you speak’ is regarded as highly desired in voice teaching. After all, wouldn’t it be nice to open your mouth and have that mellifluous tone of your singing voice when you speak? The body produces sound in the same way with the same apparatus whether you’re singing or speaking so why do we sing in one way and speak in another?

Communication is a social thing
The way we speak is crucial to making connections. The ability to connect with primary caregivers is crucial to an infant’s continued existence. How do social creatures connect? By similarity. Birds of a feather flock together. Babies mimic the behaviour of their primary caregivers to connect with them, and mimic the behaviour of humans around them to connect with them for their survival and social needs. Speech is part of this connection. The accent, timbre, vocabulary, pitch, pace, tone and rhythm of human speech are modelled after that of the immediate family, friends, community and country.

Consumption of foreign media such as watching of films and participation in social media may allow for influences in the form of slang and accents to seep unconsciously into the way one speaks. But by-and-large, the way one speaks primarily serves as a form of connection to one’s immediate social circle.

This is why crisp diction in a community that doesn’t value it, is mocked. A foreign accent labels you as an ‘outsider’ or a higher-pitched voice may indicate a lack of intellectual resilience.

Communication is also an inside thing
The way we feel also affects the way that we speak. Take for example, the laboured tones and shallow breaths of the chronically ill. Or the barely-there, creaky voices of the depressed. Or the plain refusal to speak of those who have been traumatised into silence.

It is the person’s emotional world- faulty cognitions and beliefs, traumas, perceptions of self and the world, and all forms of emotional wounds, that close the heart and stop the mouth.

Singing Training as an aesthetic preference
Singing training attempts to take apart the voice into its components- the source of the sound (breath), the sound-maker (larynx) and the filter (resonating and articulatory system), in order to train them into working together. To quote William Wordsworth, ‘we murder to dissect’. We ignore the whole for the sum of its parts. In the process of obtaining the perfect placement, the perfect tone, the perfect pitch, we have forgotten that the voice is a human instrument, and humans are ultimately, imperfect. It is authenticity that arises from that understanding that we are uniquely flawed, that makes listening to the human voice such a dynamic experience.

The Breath: Joining the inner and outer world; the head and the heart
Deep breathing is an important component of all voice training. The functional voice is premised on a deep breath, and rightly so. Deep breathing naturally occurs when a person is relaxed and happy. Conversely, shallow breathing occurs when a person is stressed and not in the best of emotional states.

Towards organic deep breathing
Self-awareness is the key to a functional voice. Self-awareness of when one is stressed or relaxed; self-awareness of how one is feeling at any particular time; self-awareness of one’s body and surroundings, all contribute to a mindful state of being that prioritises deep breathing.

Jin Shin Energy Healing, a wellness modality that we use in the voice studio, uses the holding of fingers as ways of harmonising negative emotions that affect the calm, alert but relaxed state of body-voice. We hold the thumb to harmonise Worry; the index finger to harmonise Fear; the middle finger to harmonise Anger; the ring finger to harmonise Sadness and the pinky finger to harmonise Trying-to/ Pretense.

Self- awareness involves being present in the moment, being conscious of one’s thoughts, words and behaviours, but also being understanding and compassionate towards the behaviour of others .

Whither voice training?
There is no doubt that training of control of the body and breath, the vocal and articulatory mechanism is still required no matter how self-aware one may be or how deep one may breathe. However a holistic voice that captures a person’s authentic state of being no matter whether in speech or in song, can only arise from a vulnerable and open heart that is willing to love and be loved in return.

As the founder of Jin Shin Jyutsu Physio-Philosophy Inc. Mary Burmeister once said ‘a deep breath is a the sign of a warm and generous personality.’ May we all live our art.

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