Speaking Up About Voice Problems

“Whether you are in the midst of a big upheaval or riding the smaller rapids of everyday life, I want you to know you are not alone, not now, or at any stage of the journey.”
-Elizabeth Lesser, Broken Open, p. xxiv

My client leaned in a little closer like she was going to tell me a secret.  “Do you know how many people have had voice surgery??”  Her tone was hushed and her eyes were wide.

In all actuality, she was sharing a secret.  She works in the music industry and knows more than a few singers who aren’t able to talk about their “voice issues” because they might get labeled, judged, or out-right attacked. Having voice problems makes people “bad” in the public eye, and you hear echoes of judgement from every corner of the universe.  It can be subtle, but it’s there.

People have suffered in secret for far too long because of the stigma(s) attached to having “voice problems.”

This mentality of being “wrong” or “stupid” or “bad” because you have a voice challenge needs to stop.  Now.

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Muscle Specificity, Exercise Science, and Jazz

“Specificity refers to the concept that strength training must be designed
to appropriately target the specific muscle or muscle group with the intended skill or task.”
(pg. 246, The Vocal Athlete, 2014)

On the heels of presenting at the Jazz Educators Network conference in New Orleans two weeks ago, I’d like to share some ideas about using jazz to train voices.

My presentation was called “Functional Voice Training Through Jazz Literature and Style,” and it outlined the benefits of using jazz rep and style as a training modality for commercial (or contemporary) singers.

Think: jazz lit and style as tools in the pedagogy toolbox.

In the 11+ plus years I taught university level jazz voice lessons, it (eventually) became obvious that jazz was good for voices.  I could use it to get a barely functioning voice to work like a charm, and even if a student wasn’t swimming in musical talent, a semester or two of jazz voice lessons could help him/her get control of pitch, range, harmonic awareness, rhythm, and basic levels of phrasing.  Jazz helped vocal function based issues.

Jazz is replete with opportunities for teaching, at least in my opinion.  And I don’t think we’ve even begun to plumb its depths as a vocal training tool.

So, let’s begin, shall we?

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How To Find The Best Voice Teacher

The best.  For you.  Right now.

Let’s be real, shall we?  Not every voice teacher is right for every student or client.  And there are as many reasons to seek voice training as there are people, so this article is about helping you decide on a teacher that fits your needs.

Since the field of vocology is still in it’s relative infancy, there’s a lot to learn about how the voice functions.  This also means there are quite a few voice teachers who either do not have access to current research, or do not know how to integrate it into their practice.  And none of us have all the answers.  Not everyone needs a vocal coach with technical knowledge either, but it is helpful to know there’s a difference.  

Considering that, here are a few guidelines that will help in your search in finding someone who can help you meet your voice goals.

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The Silent Breath

Thursday night I gave a class at the Nashville Jazz Workshop called “Vocal Health.”  This is a 3-week masterclass designed to introduce vocology to a wider audience, and hopefully get more people interested in learning more about their bodies and practical voice science application.
 The 3-week format was chosen because we wanted to offer a half-session length interactive lecture.  (Most classes at the Workshop are 6 weeks.)  But, because things are generally working out for all of us, it turns out 3 weeks is a perfect way to divide the mechanics of the voice into equal parts.  Magic scheduling.
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Visualizing the Voice

Today’s post is my way of sharing a few free resources, as well as introducing you to voice acoustics.  In 2008, Diana Spradling at the University of Western Michigan had me sing into a computer program that analyzed the frequencies of my sound.  I know now this is called a Spectrum Analyzer.  The ability to see my voice on the screen had such a profound impact, that I felt paralyzed with awe for a hot minute.

Yesterday at one of my “Meet and Geek” classes, we used a Spectrum Analyzer to demonstrate how the voice produces a fundamental frequency as well as a series of overtones for each pitch.  The brain synthesizes all of these pitches into one tone, creating the perception of someone singing a single note.  By manipulating the overtones, strengthening and weakening them, the voice takes on different timbrel qualities.  To see this in real time, the folks at Sygyt Software offer a free version of their Analyzer that you can download here:

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