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On Adele and the Myth of Technique

By now, if it matters to you at all, you’ve heard that pop icon Adele has canceled the remainder of her tour dates due to a vocal injury.  If you are interested in more details here is a link to the HuffPo article “I’m Devasted”: Adele Cancels Final Tour Dates.
In and of itself, that would not be cause for me to write about another singer’s injuries.  The reason why I am on my beautiful lakefront vacation writing a blog post is that there is an incredible amount of commentary and judgment being dealt out by other singers and voice teachers about this tragedy.  The caption goes something like this:

Dear Students: Here is a cautionary tale about why you need voice technique.”  

I honestly wish it were that simple.

Excellent training is crucial to any endeavor, and for singing (or speaking) it is a game-changer allowing a range of possibilities in your voice use.  For the avocational voice user, that is someone who is not working professionally, technique alone may prevent injury.  Why do I say, may?  Because even in avocational voice users, genetics may predispose one to injury.
In professional voice users, whether they are well-trained or not, we are dealing with a volume and intensity of voice use that sometimes leads to injury even when you are doing all the “right” things.  Proper technique can decrease the chance, frequency and/or intensity of injury but it cannot prevent it all together when voice use is elevated from standard to athletic endeavor.

So why do we train?

Solid voice training teaches you the parameters of your healthy voice use.  It teaches you how to know when things are right and when they are wrong.  It presents you with choices and options about how to engage your voice when things are suboptimal.  Voice training and technical ability are what give you full command of your vocal instrument.  They make the best avocational voice user AND the professional voice athlete.
But, I’ll say it again, voice training and even exceptional technique cannot prevent all injury.
I like to use a bike analogy to better explain voice technique.  Technique teaches you to ride the bike.  It prepares you to excel on hills and on turns,  to do tricks and ride without holding the handlebars.  In addition to all of this, good technique provides an excellent helmet and amazing brakes.  It might not prevent an unexpected crash (especially in a high-stakes situation like the Tour de France) but it will give you all of the possible tools to mitigate the injury and help you get back on the bike.
We should feel real sympathy when a vocal athlete like Adele takes a fall.  It really could be any of us, and I get that it frightens us.  Could she have a better technique?  Maybe.  Probably.  But, none of us are there in the trenches with her, and we should probably refrain from the armchair voice coaching. It is more important for us to understand that injury is not necessarily a reflection of our teaching or of a student’s dedication.

Injuries sometimes just happen, and the shaming must stop.

The moral of this story is train, train, and train some more.  That alone will protect most voice users.  If voice use is your vocation, then you will need to have a lot more tools available to you.   These tools will try to help you protect yourself.  If, however, situations or genetics let you down and you do become injured there is no shame in that.  We train, we work, we fall, and we get the hell back up.
See you in the Studio.

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