Psychology of Performance - Pavlovian Conditioning
Obviously, the signals were mixed up. With vocal coaching, I meet the similar situation every hour of every day. Many singers have mixed signals and "run" when they should "lie". To recondition the mind and the response of the body is not an easy task, but it can be done; however, in a lot of cases with a great degree of difficulty. Therefore, I am use a structured set of speech and singing exercises to condition the mind and body to work in synchronicity and synergy. In many ways, what I am doing is similar to another scientific methodology - neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), which is basically a methodology that has been designed to help people change and reprogram people's behaviours by "installing" a certain set of instructions into their brains. Similarly, I have found that while all people are given a voice, nobody per se has given instructions on how to use it, at least not in a scientific way. The "manual" and "programs" that I give singers consist of special speech and singing exercises that train people in a way that is really not all that different from the way that Pavlov trained his dogs. After I have supervised the repetition of these exercises over a consistent but relatively short period of time, the way that singers use their voices are the result of a programmed instinct that will give them optimum results with a minimum amount of effort.
In many instances, the hardest part of improving an individual's performance is not "programming" the new behaviours, it is actually getting the singer to truly admit and, more importantly, understand that they have a voice problem. I call this the "Vocaholics Anonymous" syndrome because in many ways it is similar to the behaviour of an alcoholic with respect to alcohol. Alcoholics abuse their bodies through the excessive consumption of alcohol in a manner similar to the way that many singers abuse their vocal chords (and ultimately the ears of their audiences). In both cases, they usually feel pretty sore the next day. Similarly, both are often told by friends and family that they have a problem but they usually do not listen and cannot admit to themselves that they have a problem. The first step for any recovering alcoholic is for them to admit to themself that they have a problem. For a "vocaholic' the steps are pretty much the same. The singer first has to admit to himself that his current vocal technique (or lack thereof) is a problem and can lead to a voice problem or voice disorder. The 2nd step is to commit to doing something about it. The 3rd step is to get expert help and the 4th is to be able to establish the proper habit so that they won't fall back into their bad habits. As with alcoholism, the goal of any vocal coach should be to cure their students of their bad habits to the point that there is no chance they will ever fall back into their old habits.
In conclusion, singing, like almost any other discipline, is based on conditioning. If your voice is conditioned the right way, you will sound better than you ever imagined possible. Like a dog, you need a competent master and a great obedience school. For more insights into how you can correctly condition your voice and mind, look for my future CM columns, visit my website at www.vocalscience.com , and look out for my upcoming 2nd book, Vocal Science II - Flight from the Virtual Music to Reality.