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The power of intention

This is a blog post from a voice teacher called Claudia Friedlander, where she talks about intention and commitment in singing. This is something I've been thinking about recently, in the context of 'projecting' the voice - not by singing louder, but by sending your artistic and emotional intention out into the world. In a sense it's about projecting your self into the world as a unique artistic being who has studied the music/song and has something new to contribute to it for the world (or at least whoever is in the room with you at the moment!) to experience and learn about you.

Here she talks about your thoughts and how, without focus and intention, they can disrupt your artistic expression. At the end she gets into another common subject for singers - the Inner Critic - and why we can't let it in when we're performing!

Vocal Technique: The Best of Intentions

The voice never lies.

The voice responds to your intention to communicate, pure and simple. The more vulnerable, passionate and sincere your intentions, the more powerful your voice.

This is why a singer with imperfect technique can still be an intensely compelling performer. If they have a fierce will and something important to say, it often gets through in spite of poor coordination. You may even be aware that there are issues preventing their voice from being as clear and powerful as it ought to be, but you don't mind because their performance is so riveting.

On the other hand, you've probably had the experience of hearing a singer deliver a flawless performance that somehow left you cold. While you can't fault their technique, musicianship or diction, and their delivery may seem quite artful and original, something is missing that you can't quite put your finger on. When this happens it is because the singer is focused on the technique of singing rather than being genuinely motivated by dramatic and emotional intent. The voice still responds to their intention to communicate, but what they are conveying is the mechanics of the process. They may produce spectacular vocal fireworks, but you're just hearing the gears whir. Raw passion trumps impressive and beautiful machinery any day.

The voice is physiologically wired to respond to and communicate your thoughts and feelings in real time. If your intentions are clear, you get to select which thoughts and feelings your voice responds to. If you are not able to direct your mental focus, then everything you are thinking and feeling is likely to influence your singing voice.

An awareness of this relationship between your intentions and your voice is crucial in both the concert hall and the studio.

When performing, strive for a 100% commitment to what you intend to communicate.

If, for example, 50% of your attention is devoted to expressing the music while 25% goes to monitoring your sound and another 25% to concern over how your performance is received, all of this mental and emotional content gets channelled into your voice. What we hear may be an amalgamation of: The tenor is breaking my heart! Place the voice in the mask now!…hurry, now stick it in that other resonance over there!

I wonder whether everyone thought the cadenza was as amazing as I did?

All of it colors and complicates your singing! We don't exactly read your mind for the specifics, but we do perceive a level of distortion and complication – perhaps something a little off in your vibrancy or intonation, an underenergized presentation, or a lack of direction to your phrasing – and it creates distance between what you really want to communicate and what we actually hear.

When practicing, form precise intentions about what you aim to accomplish. For every repetition of each vocal exercise or musical phrase, focus your mind on the specific changes and improvements you intend – and focus away from everything else. You cannot effectively perform an exercise while assessing your own work. The mental energy devoted to assessment leads to:

A tentative approach, resulting in a sort of question mark in the sound; Diminished communicative and/or breath energy; A tendency to forget your original intention in doing the exercise in the first place. Practicing while assessing not only yields a less than fully-committed vocal response – it risks a negative self-critical reaction. This is tragically self-defeating because the distress you are feeling also dramatically impacts your sound.

No matter how committed you are to what you want to say in performance, thoughts will still continue to arise in the background concerning your sound or technique as well as fantasies, good and bad, about how your performance is being received. However, if you remain focused on your intended message and direct your mind away from unhelpful thoughts, they will be powerless to encroach on your voice.

This is why it is so crucial that you have a means of cultivating focus and concentration. Extraneous thoughts are powerfully distracting. You need tools and strategies to help you stay with your true intentions and creative impulses. The voice never lies. Your voice lays bare everything you are thinking and feeling. This is incredibly empowering and utterly terrifying to contemplate.

It is why I love this art form above all others.

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