The Vocal Instrumentalist

By Robyn Yamada Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Robyn Yamada, Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Robyn Yamada

It really chaps my hide when someone suggests that a vocalist is not an instrumentalist.  I call myself and my students “vocal instrumentalists.”  We don’t “just sing”, we play our instrument from the inside out.  I am constantly fascinated by the human voice.  Think about it – a piano or horn will not become a better instrument than it was on the day of purchase.  The vocal instrument, however, can go from a cardboard and rubber band instrument to a stravari in a pretty short amount of time.  Through strength and toning, the instrument actually changes.  How cool is that?  Pretty schtinkin’ cool, I say.

Okay, let’s take it one step further.  Think of your body as an acoustic guitar.  The diaphragm is the “point of contact”.  The vocal folds vibrate – a la strings.  The tricky part lies in creating the body of the guitar.  The goal is to get as much space behind the teeth as humanly possible – creating a place for the sound to spin – then opening the mouth to let the sound out.  On a guitar or piano, tone is controlled by how we use our fingers on the outside of the instrument.  Vocal tone is controlled by how we adjust the space on the inside of the instrument.  Hence, the vocal instrumentalist.

In the first paragraph, I mentioned strength and toning.  These words are not commonly associated with music.  As a matter of fact, I hear people often say something like, “sports aren’t my thing – I’m all about the music.”  To that I say, “Ha!” because it takes loads and loads of physical strength to play an instrument proficiently.  The pros make it look so easy – in truth, especially for vocalists, it takes a lot of inner core and muscle building to adapt the instrument so that it will perform at its maximum.  Vocalise can be thought of as “vocal curls”.  Ear training can be thought of as “interval squats”.  Enter the vocal athlete.

In summation, vocal instrumentalists / vocal athletes are often sold short.  In many cases they sell themselves short.  Never, ever, ever call yourself “just the singer.”


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