Every so often, I get a voice student that will unconsciously trace circles with his dominant hand, or lean to one side, or roll forward on his toes as he sings. Whether he’s aware of it or not, he can’t help himself. It’s like a nervous tic.
One student of mine has a constant habit of raising both hands up to waist level as she sings higher and longer. When I made note of it, she said that yes, it’s a habit, and teachers have tried for years to get her to stop. But to no avail.
I figured it was probably because no one bothered to ask WHY she felt the need to do it.
So I offered the challenge myself: Over the next week, when you’re practicing, notice when you do this behavior and why. Don’t stifle it, just notice it. Do you do it to try to hit the high note, or support with the breath, or some other thing?
Often, these unconscious behaviors creep into our performance because we’re trying to do something – sing higher, better, longer, with more expression, or whatever else.
When you distinguish the reason for the behavior, fix THAT – not the behavior.
If your concern is breath, work on breath. If your concern is intonation, work on intonation. Work on the cause and not the effect.
The student agreed to take on the challenge. And as we went forward in the lesson, she discovered that she was raising her arms at points when she was worried about running out of breath.
Aha! Now you get to deal with breathing, I said. You found your trigger.
She lit up. Finally, someone who wasn’t going to pin her arms to her sides! Breathing was something she could control and work with, so that eventually her arms would be freed up to do more intentional things while she sang, whether deliberately resting or in expressive motion.
And intent carries great weight in vocal performance – even the most unsophisticated listeners can detect an automaton, a fake, a newspaper-in-the-wind kind of performer. No one wants that. So if you have an unconscious habit while singing, first find out why. When you find the cause, deal with that, and not the behavior.