Third lesson with Reid-student and I got an earful. I was able to observe (and record bits) lessons his other students had: tenor, mezzo, soprano, all working singers in one way or another. It was incredibly instructive to watch other singers and compare/contrast their singing with mine -- and more importantly to watch how he handled the lesson as contrasted with the phantom voices in my head saying "now lift your palate" or whatever it natters on about sometimes, drawing from all of that mechanistic stuff I've been taught.
Instead it was all about concept, expectation, and reflex: think the pitch, the vowel, and how it's going to sound, expect the stupid thing to show up, and then go.
And the way he goes about taking you through the voice is based on what he hears come out of your mouth. It isn't a "let's do this exercise until you get it right" they're also useful as diagnostic tools. I haven't sung any exercise pattern for him consecutively more than like 6 or 7 times. It's always switch to something else -- and then we'll come back. The closest thing I can think of is a mechanic fiddling with an engine that just won't start. You mess with something, then try and start it. Observe what it does, and then go back to fiddling. By the way, here is a fantastic piece describing why the manual trades are not short on intellectual demands. It's also a little bit like self-adjusting systems where scientists hook up a bunch of circuits and then tell them whether their output is good or not and over time and repetition they just adjust to being more able to perform a task.
Some very good things gleaned:
- Reflex vs. duplication. What normal teachers call "letting go" or "being relaxed" this teacher instead describes as seeking reflexive response. Like the hammer to the knee reflex exam at your physical -- you can only duplicate that by seeking a reflexive response, because that's exactly what it is. If you try and just move your knee like you observe it while it's moving reflexively, you're not going to get it; it uses different muscle groups. The idea is that singing correctly is also a reflexive action -- the only thing you can do is expect it to show up. Futzing with the palate and the support and the resonance or whatever is just like trying to recreate that reflexive action based on what you see -- they don't get to the original cause of the action so it seems reasonable that they won't be able to produce the action either.
- The other way he tried to explain this was by asking how you pick up a pencil on a desk and move it to another place on the desk. The thought process isn't "ok and now I open my hand and move my forearm to this location and then lower my shoulder and close my forefinger and... etc." It's "pick up the pencil; move the pencil; put down the pencil."
- The last explanation sort of crystallized in my head as I was driving home -- it's not unlike learning how to pronounce sounds that one isn't used to hearing. Like teaching an east-asian to properly pronounce american r's and l's or learning, as an english speaker, all of the weird french and german vowels or to recognize the tones in tonal languages -- you can make some progress just by having someone tell you physically how to make them, e.g., pucker your lips and then say "eeee". But that only gets you so far. Whenever you see that, you'll have to think "ok now pucker my lips and say eeeee" but ultimately, you're just going to have to figure out how that locks into your head. So when you see ü or what have you, you have a concept of what that sounds like, rather than a process.
Yeah, I guess that's the biggest difference. This kind of learning is goal-based rather than process-based. My teacher goes searching for the free sounds lurking in my singing and we make more of that. Other teachers just want to futz with my palate with the assumption that it'll result in free sounds. I'm beginning to think more and more that that's kind of a load of poppycock. There are plenty of other sounds I could make with a lifted palate.
Edit: Another nugget. Teach sez: if you feel a "resonance sensation", this means that the sound is stopping there. And if you don't feel something, e.g., in the throat, that doesn't mean it isn't active.