Past traditions of vocal instruction encourage instructors to describe a sensation to the singer and ask them to feel it. Yet, if we ask a singer to feel their cheeks buzz, for example, they might interpret that in several different ways. Their physical response may garner a number of acoustic, laryngeal, and bodily adjustments that we didn’t intend, and lead to negative habituation.
Input: The singer has a muffled, dark tone.
Diagnosis: The singer's tongue is far back in the throat.
Exercise: Ask the singer to sing a 5-note scale on [z], and notice where they feel a sensation in their mouth.
Response: Once the instructor hears the sound that they are interested in hearing, the singer is asked to describe the sensation they are feeling. If they have none, have them do it again, even gently guide them if needed, but their awareness is what is important.
Explanation: The instructor offers a brief explanation of why that sensation will make a difference in the sound, talking about how a forward tongue position increases stability in the Formant/Vowel 1 Area, and increases certain high harmonics that are helpful for creating a clear tone.
New target: the instructor asks the singer to maintain that sensation while singing other exercises, like a 5-note scale on [i].
The key to all instruction rests on the learner understanding and habituating their experience. They accomplish these goals much more quickly when they are able to articulate their personal sensations. Further, if they chase after the instructor’s sensations, they are likely to find themselves more confused, and can create a series of negative physical responses in an attempt to recreate those sensations. The most interesting experience that comes from this process is how many people describe sensations similarly to one another, even without prompting.