Sing Sensationally

 My teacher during my masters and doctoral study doggedly guided me toward singing by feel rather than sound. Her reasoning was that vibrations from the vocal folds travel through the bones of the head and muddle the ears’ ability to hear the true voice as it exists in the outside world. The solution is to pay attention to the sensations in the body and listen to feedback from a teacher or trusted advisor about what is ‘right,’ memorizing the connection between good feedback and the feeling of the actions that produced it. While initially difficult, this process is much more effective than listening.

Humans are visual creatures. As the article linked describes, we often hear what we see, overwhelmed by the strong pull of our visual inclination. This illustrates the power one sense has to confuse or override another (as with singing by sound as opposed to feeling). We can turn this difficulty into a tool by using the pull of the visual sense to guide breath energy, phrasing, and vowel placement. I tell my students that every note or phrase must head forward and and above the horizon. This visual image, especially when enhanced by a paper or image placed in the correct spot on the wall in front of the singer, can help recruit the muscles of support, the correct tongue position, and the imagination required to sustain a phrase vibrantly in tune throughout its duration.

Here are some excercises I use to practice singing by feel:

Dirga Pranayama (Three-Part Breath)

Breath Translation

OM for Singing Resonance

Use the bija mantras—syllables associated with the 7 major chakras—to build subtle awareness of the various parts of the body.

Alternatively, you can focus on low-medium-high areas of vibration/resonance. I use /a/, /u/, and /m/ as they (along with silence) are the sounds that make up the universal OM. When chanted, they should produce vibrations in the chest, mouth, and head/brow, respectively. I find it helps students to know how to ‘feel’ those three areas of resonance, and then I can begin to link them with pitch. This is especially useful for students who have trouble matching pitch or accessing all parts of their range.