You Already Know How to Sing

You already know how to sing. Whether you or anyone else thinks you are good at singing is another matter entirely.

For the self professed “singers” in the house, I want to address your fears around voice training. If there are any.

When I started my singing career, I had no clue how my voice worked and had even less desire to learn about it.  I just wanted to sing, which is the case with most working singers.

Why analyze something you’ve always been able to do?  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – right?

Then, like so many other unsuspecting singers, I discovered a love for teaching that dovetailed beautifully with a love for helping people.  (Working with voices is the perfect job for someone interested in music, psychology, and science btw.)

Soon after I began teaching, I discovered the world of voice science. That discovery sparked an insatiable desire to learn about vocal function.

This step, learning the mechanics and acoustics of the body, necessarily requires teachers.  Voice teachers. Ugh. Who wants to take a “voice lesson?”  And where could I go to learn how the voice works without getting accosted with an aria?

Like so many other singers who do just fine on their own musically, I was suddenly frozen between wanting to know more about how the voice works and not wanting anyone to tell me “how to sing.”  In this case, sing jazz.

Fast forward a few years, and finally . . . meet Tom Blaylock.

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Life Experiment – Weight Lifting

Today marks 4 months into a weight training program I never imagined I’d do.  But, in order to change the body, you have to change your habits.  This is what I tell my voice clients everyday.

But you can’t preach what you don’t know.  Well, you can, but then you just sound hollow and boring after awhile.  There’s no #truthjuice behind words without experience to back them.

I’ve witness several clients go through a fundamental shift in vocal function after approximately one year of doing organized voice exercises.  Something in their bodies aligns in a new way, and they seem to have a new ground zero set point.  In order to truly know what that feels like, I have to go through that process myself – at least that’s what seems logical.

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Don’t Go To Music School

“But I worry that what students of the arts are often seeking in higher education is nothing more than proof of their own legitimacy – proof they are for real as creative people, because their degree says so.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic (103)

So, don’t go to music school.  Unless you have to.  Unless you feel so excited about it, your heart bursts.  Unless you know it’s the perfect path for you.  Unless it’s paid for, or you can easily afford it.

Of course, not all of these criteria will apply to you, and many people are blessed by music school in ways that nothing else can bless them.  All I want to point out is that creating art does not require a degree from college, nor does it require the kind of money colleges are asking for these days.

“But if you’re considering some sort of advanced schooling in the arts and you’re not rolling in cash, I’m telling you – you can live without it.  You can certainly live without the debt, because debt will always be the abattoir of creative dreams.” (104)

I feel like I have some ground to stand on when talking about this subject.  1) I was a University professor for 12 years.  2) I do not have an undergraduate degree in music.  3) I do have a master’s degree in music.

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Expressed By You

“Most things have already been done – but they have not yet been done by you.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic (p. 97)

Someone recently called me the Liz Gilbert of the voice world.  That’s high praise, ’cause Elizabeth Gilbert has changed my life. Twice. And even though I may never be as influential or well spoken as she is, I get her.  She speaks to me, just as I hope to speak to you.

The first time was with Eat, Pray, Love.  I know, I know, totally 2007, but I read that book in one sitting because I was deeply desperate for hope and authenticity.  Those were things I couldn’t muster for myself at the time, and that book was a guidepost toward my healing.

In that dark time, Eat, Pray, Love was a ray of bright, loving light shining straight into my heart.  One sitting, one book, life bettered.

The second time Liz’s words changed me was with her new book Big Magic.  A friend asked me if I wanted to borrow el libro recently, and with a title like that, who could refuse?  Several ideas from Big Magic have allowed me to do the unthinkable, including start this blog.  Hence, the next few posts will be about insights from this gem.

On discussing originality vs. authenticity, Gilbert says, “Everything reminds us of something.  But once you put your own expression and passion behind an idea, that idea becomes yours.” (97)Big Magic and Esther

Boom.  This concept is a game changer, and I’ll tell you why.

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The Three Mechanical Parts of the Voice

Many moons ago, in an auditorium not so far away, I caught a lecture that changed my life.  Dr. Tom Cleveland (an unbelievably compelling human being and voice pioneer) of the Vanderbilt Voice Center gave a talk during one of the music school’s special lunchtime learning programs at the Blair School of Music.  My student, who’s lesson was scheduled at that hour, didn’t have a choice about going.  We were going.  Something inside my soul knew it was important.  How important, exactly, hit me about midway through the talk.  Not days or months later, but exactly during that monumental, way-too-short hour.

He talked about a lot of things, showed video clips of the vocal folds in action, imitated the sound of the vocal folds without the vocal tract, told funny stories, talked about the voice center, referenced his research, and MADE A MECHANICAL VOICE OUT OF A BELLOWS, A DUCK CALL, AND A PIECE OF TUBING.

Wait.  What??  Stop, please.  Dr. Cleveland!  Did you just create a voice out of supplies from your shed??  Did that thing just sing vowels to us??  What is happening, and how do I make my whole life about this duck call/bellows/vowel-tube trick?

In that moment everything changed.  Ba-bam.

Do you remember back in the day when the internet wasn’t fast OR filled with information?  Well, this happened during those days.  Finding out more required asking a lot of questions of a lot of people, and trying to find someone to teach me about voice science that could also handle the fact that I sing jazz.  Back in those days, it felt like the classical singing camp had some kind of lock-down on information regarding the voice, which was a strange realization.  Fortunately, there was a woman at Western Michigan University named Diana Spradling who was a huge (huge) voice nerd and jazz voice teacher.  She graciously gave me lessons and showed me a spectrogram.  (Clouds parted, sun rays from heaven entered.)  It was like finding the holy grail.  A jazz teacher who loved voice science!

But – I digress.  Back to the mechanical voice situation.

Dr. Cleveland showed us that the voice can be understood in three parts: the power source, the vibrator, and the resonator.  The lungs and respiratory system provide the airflow and pressure, or fuel for the voice, the vocal folds cut up the column of air by vibrating and thus create a sound source, and the head acts like a container that resonates the sound.  This very simple model gives us a place to start addressing interactions between the three systems, and how they work in concert.  To this day, I tell every single student this 3-system story if they allow me even 1 minute to do it because if they know about it, they can begin asking empowered questions about it.

The Voice in 3 mechanical parts:

  1. Power Source – Lungs
  2. Sound source (or vibrator) – Vocal Folds
  3. Resonator – Vocal Tract

Got it.

Next: a video to show YOU how to make a voice using a duck call and a piece of tubing.  Stay tuned.

Here is a link to the American Academy of Otolaryngology’s description of the 3 mechanical parts of the voice: Click here and enjoy!

 

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