‘Imagery is an experience that mimics real experience. We can be aware of ‘seeing’ an image, feeling movements as an image, or experiencing an image of smell, taste or sounds without experiencing the real thing… It differs from dreams in that we are awake and conscious when we form an image.’ - White & Hardy, 1998*
IMAGERY FOR SINGERS
Images can help singers create a movement or feel a sensation in their body that scientific, anatomical or mechanical instructions alone cannot. It is imperative, however, that those instructions are fully based in anatomical reality.
By anatomical reality, we mean understanding the action of those muscles through observing them in action.
SIMPLE DEFINITION OF TERMS
The use of imagery has been contentious in vocal pedagogy and ideas of imagery often discarded on the basis that it is not scientific. In the past, however, the concept of imagery has been poorly defined, inappropriately applied – and often passed down unquestioned. The terms 'imagery' 'metaphor' and 'simile' have been used interchangeably which has only added to the confusion.
At its simplest, an image is a picture. We can ‘see’ it in our mind’s eye when the original picture is no longer there. We can create mental representations of it. We can picture it as still or moving–and we can ‘feel’ it internally. In fact, we can smell, taste and hear imagery, too!
Apart from in some forms of modern art, an image is clear, it denotes an object that is recognisable and there is a name for what it is. In athletics, dance and music training, it can become a ‘motor’ image (active/movement) or a kinaesthetic image (felt) or a combination of these, or others. This is used to train muscle and is relevant in singing, too.
'‘The formation of mental images, figures, or likenesses of things, or of such images collectively.’
‘Powerful forms of imagery engage all the senses.’
‘Imagery is the use of figurative language to represent objects, actions and ideas in such a way that it appeals to our physical senses.'
In vocal training, it can be misleading to use the word metaphor even though it is partially correct, because it confuses the issue. A metaphor, as a poetic figure of speech, is a kind of parallel, concealed comparison that describes an object, feeling or event in a different and often oblique way.
‘A thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else.’
‘A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes an object or action in a way that isn’t literally true.’
This, by contrast, is an extremely useful tool in vocal pedagogy and one we use a great deal. Another figure of speech, it denotes something that is ‘like’ or ‘as’ something else. Thus, in singing, it can be used to clarify the appearance, function, or action of something that is unseen so that we can make sense of it.
The thyroid cartilage is shaped like a shield. This protects the larynx.
The arytenoids are the same shape as little pointed hats.
A simile helps us visualise the unseen by comparison with a recognisable object, idea or movement. It can be recognised by the fact that it always contains the words ‘like’ or ‘as’.
‘A simile is a figure of speech that compares two different things in an interesting way.'
IMAGERY IN VOCAL PEDAGOGY
It is vital to be clear about the imagery we choose in teaching singing to ensure that it corresponds exactly to the object or action described. This can only be truly ascertained through the understanding of muscles in action, how they coordinate together and the neuroscience involved in making this happen.
Whatever image is used, its relevance should be purposeful and physiologically accurate.
Kinaesthetic Motor Imagery (KMI)
This is the most effective form of image training for singers. The movement of the muscles is felt through a gesture and then embodied in the muscles (EMBODIMA TM gestures). The gesture may represent the movement or shape of an entirely different object, but is able to activate the correct muscle coordination required for the singing task.
Defining and Clarifying the Terminology: The Use of Imagery in Singing © Nicola Harrison 2019
*White, A & Hardy, L (1998) An in-depth analysis of the uses of imagery by high-level slalom canoeists and artistic gymnasts, Sport Psychologist 12,4 pp 387-403
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