Is vs. Isn’t

Take a look around, and find an object near you. Look at it. What is it? Say the answer out loud. How long did that take? A second?


Now look at the same object and list what it isn’t. List everything that object is not. It’s OK, I’ll wait…


How far did you get before you gave up? How many things did you list that the object isn’t? 10? 50? 100? The fact is that there is an almost infinite list of things the object is not.


So many times, singers fail to identify what they’re singing exactly. Consider every variable at play when singing: target vowel (formant), pitch, rhythm, diction, dynamics, syllable stress, tuning, blend, balance, position in chord and more all come into play. Each aspect of desired outcome must be taken into consideration while singing.


Therefore, for your singing to be successful, you must decide what it is. When you know what it is, it’s much easier to avoid what it isn’t. Singing towards what is allows you the freedom of saying no to everything it isn’t. 


There is only one answer, and being close doesn’t count. 2+2=4, so 3, 5, 6, and even 4.1 will be considered incorrect. You see what I mean? There are only two ways to do things: one right, and an infinity that are wrong. If you’re singing a solo, you can likely pass off something close to the audience, but when you’re singing in any type of group, you’ll need to have very specific targets in mind. 8, 16, or 40 people each doing their own version of close can get messy in a hurry.


Consider you are going to make a sculpture. You wouldn’t just start mashing clay together and hope for the best. You would visualize the completed sculpture in your mind, and then begin the process of creating it. This is not to say that you will succeed, but it’s important that you get as close as you can. If you visualize the sculpture of a horse, and lack the technical skill to create what you saw in your mind’s eye, you’ll still end up with a horse (or at least something resembling a horse). You’ll also clearly see where you fell short and be much more equipped to get closer on your next attempt. If there’s an aspect of your sculpting you can’t improve on your own, you’ll know what it is so you can seek help from someone more proficient.


And so it goes with our singing. When we identify what it is, we are by default identifying what it isn’t and therefore accelerate the process of improvement.


This article is an awareness builder. It isn’t a cure-all, quick-fix, guarantee, or magic potion.  Singing better isn’t the responsibility of your section leader, director, coach, mentor, fellow tenors, Oprah, Deke Sharon, or the late Robert Shaw. It is up to you.




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4 comments to Is vs. Isn’t

  • John Gentry  says:

    Maybe it’s because you once taught me, but I often find myself exclaiming “yes” while reading your articles. However, I have exposed myself to many other musical influences both vocally and otherwise. Your point of view and approach to learning always resonates more true than any other. You have a balanced perspective that doesn’t suggest that you are writing just to get people worked up, therefore creating a buzz for your blog. It’s a fresh, honest read in today’s social media “shock” culture of communicating. Keep writing my friend, you certainly are making a difference.

    • brodymcd  says:


      Well… I have learned a lot from teaching great students like you and countless others. Now you are a great teacher of many, including me! Yes… I have to learn lots more about sound…

      Thanks for the kind words. If this stuff helps anyone, that’s awesome. I receive tons of help all the time; we keep the circle going and pay it forward 🙂


  • Cassidy  says:

    I like this article because I never really thought about how even if you make a list I things that something is not, it still doesn’t explain what it is. This makes me think of really understanding what I am doing and not just going around what it is. This is Cassidy Aughe from vega.

  • Sean Stewart  says:

    I really like this article because it shows how singing a note perfectly is a lot different than singing a note that is pretty close. If you sing the right note it also helps your performance all together because it will help you improve. This helps me realize that singing a note correctly instead of a close note could make all the difference in the world.
    – Sean Stewart from Vega

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