What we are up against! (Some little gems of instruction - none of them mine!)
Sing your top notes through your chest (in other words, roar: or in another, more complicated, version of the direction, pretend that you are blowing your nose hard in which case a sense of upper chest involvement will be stimulated...) I suffered this direction - more, see below!
When you approach a top note, imagine you are shouting for the bus. (Better than the last instruction...?? But hardly science!)
Sing with your tongue flat at all times, whatever the vowel - practise with a spoon to hold that tongue down while you sing. (Strange how this one keeps cropping up - I had hoped for its disappearance after its principal propagator died!)
Sing with your tongue high at the back - this is to keep the throat open. (I once had enquiries from a Russian baritone who had been away from his teacher for so long that he was finding it difficult to achieve this process - in other words, his vocal system was threatening to return to normal!)
All consonants should be sung 'off' the diaphragm. (I heard a 'distinguished' adjudicator at a Festival lecturing all singing classes on this 'technique' - the contestants had great fun in the pub afterwards trying to put it into practice...)
Ditto - all vowels.
All singing should be through the nose - the nose is the singer's mouth. (A disease that afflicts the whole world of 'pop' singing - and British weather forecasters... and those classical singers - notably sopranos - who sound as if they have a perpetual cold.)
Never open your mouth more than will admit the insertion of your middle finger between your lips.
When you sing, it should feel like vomiting. (Authoritative - and it comes from the land of song itself...)
Singing is yelling to music. (Very authoritative - and ditto... think like that and don't be surprised if it sounds like that...)
Breathe from a point six inches below your navel. (N.B. not even a qualifying 'as if' to render the instruction moderately sensible or acceptable)
When you sing, you are creating a column of air from your diaphragm up and into your nose... be aware of your diaphragm and your nose and nothing in between... (Well, I wonder what is supposed to make the noise then? Now that's a very reasonable question!)
Take no notice of your larynx - there should be no sensation at all in that region. (In which case, you cannot be singing...)
The real muscles that matter in singing are the sphincter muscles: so when you sing, pretend that you are clenching a two pence piece between your buttocks. (I remember a certain tenor who had been very promising in his early appearances in this country singing in Puccini, but who had developed this technique to comic effect: every time he approached his high notes, he clicked his heels together, clenched his tightly-clad buttocks very firmly indeed, and raised his right arm in a quasi Nazi salute... this time, as it happened, he was singing Wagner!)
When you sing, you should be using your sphincter and abdominal muscles as if you are evacuating your bowels... (Which, of course, accounts for quite a lot...)
Sing from your pubes... (Which, of course, might account for quite a lot more...!)
And so on...finally..to my own hideous experience - which lasted for three years, and involved the injunction to add 'chest' voice, 'middle' voice, and then 'head' voice to my easy, natural one. This required hours of humming low to create a chest rumble (the metaphorical 'chest' had to be taken literally), an effect only possible with slack cords: that effect had to be retained as the 'middle' was added. Then the 'head' (?) was engaged by 'aiming the breath at the nose'... everything was explained in terms of pointing to chest, throat and forehead in sequence. The result was inevitable... What amazed me was that the voice could be abused for so long.
All of the above are rubbish as they stand: I know perfectly well where they all come from, but like a game of Chinese whispers, I doubt very much whether the last recipient - or even the teacher who uses them - really has a clue as to their origins, correct or not. Teaching by metaphor and/or imagery alone causes confusion unless used to illustrate physical fact: all too often, as we have seen, it becomes indistinguishable from physical direction which if acted upon literally often confuses the teacher who may not find it easy to retract the direction even if he realises that it has produced the wrong effect. And teaching by reference to particular physical EFFECTS and directing attention to them rather than to the causes of those effects produces distortion. Many of these much-emphasised physical effects are, in fact, side effects, and little to do with singing at all except in the sense that singing is a 'whole-body' experience: identifying these as primarily causal confuses the issue even further. In the end, it probably doesn't matter what the imagery is that helps a singer once the voice is right, provided that he doesn't insist that pupils subscribe to it as well: a very great tenor, whose voice remained a marvel throughout his career as a result of effective, natural production and the intelligent refusal to contemplate unsuitable roles or to stand in for other singers and so never had to cancel a single performance throughout a very long career, imagined, so I have been told, that he sang through two holes in his forehead - we all know that there are no such holes, and so did he... but the image probably reminded him not to interfere with the reflex responses of tongue, palate, jaw and breathing necessary for proper production. Another even more famous tenor who was trained to interfere with his tongue ended up with a tendency to sing sharp - I always felt this to be true, disliked it, but never mentioned it, and it was with some relief that I read a posthumous review of his work by a well-established critic who confessed to the same observation... And Caesari always said that he sounded as if he had a boot-lace around his neck…
Singing is a natural activity. You might be forgiven for doubting it on hearing the contradictory results of the many divergent 'methods' of production employed even within our generalised 'Western' tradition. There are cultural influences which dignify and characterise each tradition, but in the Western there developed what eventually was called 'Bel Canto', realised by natural production not interfered with nor imposed upon by fad or fancy but by the voice developed within its natural parameters, within which both instinct and spontaneity reserved a dominant place.
Most of the variants utilised in the endeavour to make the voice do what it is not designed to do - or to make as 'big' a sound as possible (which does not necessarily carry any better) - are at the expense of the quality of its sound, and almost certainly at the expense of the music. But then - even music itself has become more 'various' than ever before and people's ears have in many cases become so immune to good sound that they react unfavourably to a healthy voice properly produced - their standards are now shaped from infancy by the caterwauling of pop to the extent that many regard the proper singing voice as 'affected', 'sissy', at least strange, and even unnatural, while the microphone and amplification have undermined the very art of listening, and have done so right from the beginning when Caruso found that audiences expected the same aural effect from him in the theatre which they could produce for themselves at home from his records.