"I know I can sing, but I need to learn HOW to sing."
This is what someone wrote to me when she was first inquiring about lessons. Her statement is a reflection of the attitude that I appreciate most in my students because it means that they are on the right track in their thinking and in their approach to learning.
It's the "how" of singing - how the voice works, how to make it work and how to keep it working - that is the most important factor in successfully developing the voice and in keeping it healthy. Singers who understand the anatomical process of breathing are able to strengthen the musculature involved and develop superior breath management. Students who are aware of how the voice is produced have a deeper appreciation for the wondrously complex and delicate instrument with which they have been entrusted and treat it with greater care. Singers who know how to increase pharyngeal space, relax the throat (i.e., the larynx) and correctly shape the vocal tract to comply with the natural laws of acoustics and with the phonetic aspects of language produce a tone that is more balanced, vibrant and healthy. Knowing the "how" of singing enables a vocalist to manipulate and control his or her body in helpful, natural and healthy ways to produce the best overall sound possible.
Knowing how to use the voice correctly takes both the guesswork and the risk out of developing and using the singing voice. It's never wise to put the voice through the demands of singing without first knowing the science of how it functions and then understanding how to apply that information to the art of singing. Being equipped with the knowledge of how to sing properly means that a voice student's progress will be faster, healthier and more enriching.
The "how" is the basis of good vocal technique.
Sadly, though, most aspiring singers just want to sound "good" (according to their own perception of what sounds "good") in the moment, often imitating the sounds, styles and (unhealthy and inefficient) vocal habits of their singing idols, even if that leads to permanent vocal damage down the road, and thus a shortened career. Most untrained singers don't care to know about the physiology of the voice or to understand how it works, and they don't take caring for their voices seriously if it involves any kind of effort or change in habits.
Singers who want to sound great really quickly without having to do much work remind me of Vanessa Huxtable (The Cosby Show) and her friends who, in one episode of the sitcom, wanted to record a video of themselves singing and dancing to "The Locomotion" in order to enter a contest. The girls realized that they danced well enough but were not great singers, so they decided to take some vocal lessons first to improve. They signed up for lessons with a jazz singer, Mrs. Woods, but became bored and impatient (during the very first lesson) when the teacher put them through a series of tedious exercises instead of letting them dive right into singing the song. (Essentially, they were looking for vocal coaching, not vocal technique, and they weren't ready for the former. I explain the difference between the two approaches to lessons in my article on this site entitled Vocal Coaching or Vocal Technique Instruction?)
Discouraged by their lack of immediate progress and annoyed by the slow pace at which the teacher had wanted them to learn, Vanessa and her friends then decided that they would attempt to win the contest on their choreographed dance moves and sexy costuming alone, then just have their mediocre voices fixed in the studio by the professional recording engineers.
What all the Vanessa Huxtables of this world must understand is that solid vocal technique is the foundation of good singing. The fundamentals of breathing, support, tone, resonance and vocal care are essential to being able to sing well, and they are the focus of a good instructor's teaching. Any lessons worth your time and money will provide you with methodical and increasingly challenging vocal workouts, as well as regular, honest feedback and expert direction from a knowledgeable teacher. It takes time, as well as a lot of patience and commitment, to effectively and properly develop a singing voice. (Sorry, Vanessa, but there are no short cuts!!!)