To Add, Subtract

Manny Vallarino
Apr 30, 2018 · 2 min read

When I was 18 years old, I decided I wanted to learn how to sing. I had been playing the guitar and writing lyrics for years, so singing was the natural musical next step.

I set up my first vocal lesson and was ecstatic. I was finally going to learn how to breathe properly; I was finally going to learn how to project properly; I was finally going to learn proper posture; I was finally going to learn all these new things until, one day, I was finally going to be able to sing like my favorite singers!

Not quite.

My desire to add knowledge was quenched as soon as I expressed it to my new vocal instructor at the beginning of our first lesson. After I let her know all I wanted to learn and do and accomplish, she said something along these lines:

Every human being is born singing. You can already sing. You don’t have to learn how to do something you can already do. All you have to do is unlearn the improper vocal habits you’ve accumulated since you were born. Then, your voice will be free.

Brilliant. The point, I realized, was not to learn how to breathe properly, but to unlearn improper breathing. It wasn’t to learn how to project properly, but to unlearn improper projection. And it wasn’t to learn proper posture, but to unlearn improper posture.

Suddenly, there was no pressure. I didn’t have to do anything. I didn’t have to add. All I had to do was to not do. I had to subtract. And subtraction is easier, cleaner, and clearer than addition.

So if you’re looking to learn something, start by unlearning. If you’re looking to do something, start by not doing.

If you want to add, subtract.

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