The Case: A Lost Ear
The Singer: Alex, 18 years old, a musical theatre student.
Case Summary: Alex arrived on the course with exceptionally poor pitch but was accepted because of his dance skills. He was tense and anxious so I decided to take the music outside of his body for a while.
A Lost Set of Cords
Due to Alex’s age, his vocal folds had not yet found ‘home’ and he described a feeling of having no control over the sounds that arrived when he began to sing (onset).
His pitch was poor both in terms of hitting single notes – it was flat and lacked brightness; he also had exceptionally poor relative pitch so phrasing lines in songs was a real struggle.
His confidence was at an all time low and it was easy to detect his loss of will arrive before he had even hit a note.
Pianos Outside and Inside the Body
First and foremost Alex needed to begin enjoying himself and to reduce his ‘fear of failure’.
I sat him at the piano and we simply listened to the ring of single tones initially and described what we could hear – like a game.
After some time we listened to increasingly complex arpeggios and I encouraged Alex to feel his larynx move in sympathy as if in the moment before song.
We had some fun hugging the piano and feeling the vibrations of notes and some fun guessing what notes would be – with no expectations. We simply ‘got to know the piano’ a little.
After three weeks Alex was beginning to guess notes accurately and in the fun of the game was also making quite rich and pleasant sounds.
The Inner Piano Came First
I often remind my students that the first piano was inside the human body – in a manner of speaking!
The vibrations and the various tensions required resemble in some ways the concept of the human voice – at least this analogy seems to help them!
Alex’s own progress spurred him on and he began to attempt simple ballads – folk and country melody lines. As his voice ‘landed’ we could begin to work on the techniques applicable for better pitch such as placement.
Too much pressure on an area of weakness can sometimes draw attention and create an intense feeling of desperation in a student. Removing the focus from their body can allow a singer space to listen differently and develop their ear from another starting point.