Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid as Voice Teacher

"Repetition is the mother of all skills," my Kung Fu sifu often says to us.

My voice teacher has recently assigned me some vocal exercises to practice.  This morning, it dawned on me that the vocal exercises like these were accomplishing a purpose for me in singing similar to muscular tasks assigned to the young karate student in the movie The Karate Kid.

By practicing a trio of exercises using the [ni] and [ia] positions back and forth, I am training the articulatory muscles to adeptly move in a certain pattern.  This motion and pattern of the tongue and other articulators will become more automatic as I practice the exercises and then will be available to me when I sing a song.

This is something like what happened in the the Karate Kid movie.  Mr. Miyagi, the mysterious teacher, assigns the kid, Daniel, these chores that cause him to move his muscles a certain way.

For those who have not seen the movie, here are some of the chores:

"Wax On - Wax Off"

"Sand the Floor"

"Paint the Fence"

These exercises develop the muscles that Daniel will need to use when he learns karate.

I feel that the exercises (chores) my teacher assigns me work in the same way.  They are not vowels and consonants, but muscular actions that are being trained and strengthened.  And it is not just the muscles of articulation being trained, but also the vocal muscles that are changing the pitches as well, and the breathing muscles that are controlling the airflow.

In the movie, the boy Daniel, after becoming a bit impatient with all these "chores," wants to know when he's going to be able to do karate.  This is like the singer who is anxious to sing the arias.

In the famous scene from the movie, Mr. Miyagi reveals what has been happening while the boy has been performing the chores.  He shows how the muscles have learned something, become strong, and can automatically respond to the tasks of karate based on what they have "learned" during the tedious repetition of the exercises:

The other day, I was listening to Met Radio in my car and heard a song that I responded to.  For some reason, I felt like I could sing the song.  I believe that my body responded to the song because it recognized some of the same actions it had been practicing in the trio of exercises from my teacher.  I have explained this a little more in Frescamari's Practice Room where I have posted the trio of exercises and shown how I was able to apply them to the song.  Like Mr. Miyagi applying the muscular "knowledge" learned from repeating the chores to the karate form, I was able to apply the muscular "knowledge" learned from practicing the exercises from my lesson to the form of the song, "Deh vieni."

One last thing I want to add.  I am the type of student who did not question my teachers years ago.  In the present I have become an advocate of questioning and understanding why exercises are being assigned.  Years ago, I was a student like Daniel, doing what was asked of me, but never really knowing why I was being asked to do things, nor understanding where I might be headed.  I trusted that the teacher had the knowledge and that I was headed somewhere fantastic.

If the teacher had been like the fictional Mr. Miyagi, maybe there is a point in blindly obeying without questioning.  It seemed to work out well for Daniel in the movie.

So, I have mixed feelings about the trust issue with teachers.  I believe in questioning in order to understand better, but sometimes the questions have to stop and the student has to just "do" and "repeat" because they are gaining something that will be understood by experience, and the questions are getting in the way of proceeding and having that experience. In the ideal situation, where the teacher really really knows what he/she is doing, the non-questioning style could work.

There is not a simple answer.  Judgment and discernment are required, and sometimes young people (or many people of any age) are lacking in experience with this ability to discern when to ask and when to shut up and "do."
To listen to the set of three exercises and hear them applied to "Deh vieni" click here:
"Set of 3 [ni]-[ia] Exercises Applied to "Deh Vieni"
Link to film mentioned in this blog post: The Karate Kid (Special Edition)


  1. This last question is a very very difficult one, isn't it. How do you know what you don't know? I would *never* choose to be 18 again (35 would be fine with me, though).

  2. Hello, I love reading through your blog, I wanted to leave a little comment to support you and wish you a good continuation. Wish you best of luck for all your best efforts..
    Vocal Lessons Franklin TN