There Are No New Thoughts

How liberating to know there are no new thoughts!  Everything we ponder has been pondered before.  Think about it.

Barring great pioneers such as Albert Einstein, the rest of us should not expect to bring brand new knowledge into the world.  New collections of ideas maybe, but not new ideas themselves. We all borrow or steal ideas from each other as a matter of course.  This is the way of it – across time and across the human condition.

Both Byron Katie and Elizabeth Gilbert discuss this topic in their work.  “There are no new stressful thoughts,” Katie says.  Gilbert agrees: creative work consists of recycled and re-purposed thoughts uniquely brought together.  We are not working with new materials here, people.

So, why would the idea of “no new thoughts” be liberating and not depressing?

Because it takes the pressure off.  If we are trying to be *totally original,* then we miss the opportunity to enjoy creativity itself.  Who planted the idea in our collective psyche that in order to have worth we need to make new discoveries?

Have you ever wanted to write a piece of music or sing a song, but stopped yourself before you ever put down a note?  Because you knew it wasn’t going to be “original?”  (yeah, me too.  we all do it.)

But, that thinking doesn’t make sense.  What’s the purpose of being creative?  It’s to experience being creative!  By embracing that there is nothing new under the sun, you are suddenly free to . . . create, or teach, or even . . . love.

We can also take a great deal of comfort knowing we are not alone.

Let’s use voice teaching as an example.  Justin Petersen writes a blog on historical pedagogy that angles to show how, on some level, nothing much has changed.  He loves hunting down historical texts on voice pedagogy, and observing them through a modern lens.  Guess what?  They were saying the same things about voice and voice teaching we say today.  Again, no new ideas.

For all the voice teachers in the house who feel alone, confused, and adrift in their teaching practices, I guarantee you are experiencing the same things voice teachers have experienced across time.  The voice is complex and mysterious.  We could all stand to read up on what the ancient Greeks had to say about voice, as well as leaf through modern science journals and method texts.

Justin offered me a great piece of advice the other day – for every modern book, read 3 old ones.  And if you don’t have time for that, at least one old book for each new.

Anne Karpf’s research on The Human Voice reveals that Greek vocalists utilized three different kinds of teachers.  One each for resonance, intonation, and inflection.  Again, all concepts of voice training we drool over today.  And again, nothing new.

May this post allow you to enjoy thinking the same thoughts that have pervaded human consciousness across time.
May you feel relief knowing you are not alone.
May you let go of trying to “be original” and just enjoy being!

 

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3 Common Straw Phonation Mistakes

To supplement the plethora of free straw phonation resources online, here is more to think about.  Aren’t you excited?

Did you know there are mistakes you can make while using a straw for your singing or speaking voice?

If no, then read on dear voice friends . . .

#1 Air and sound leakage

Whether you prefer to use a cup of water with your straw or not, it’s important to keep the lips sealed around the straw while phonating.  This keeps all the sound and airwaves contained in the tube of the straw, which has essentially become an extension of the vocal tract.

Looking to the physics of a moving column of air through a tube, the length (L) of the tube is very important for calculating how that air behaves.  The length used in these calculations assumes a sealed tube with no leaks.  By letting air (and sound) leak out at the level of the lips, you won’t the same effect as keeping your lips sealed.  With leaks the equations are upended, and the system is compromised.

(There are other good reasons for keeping your lips sealed, but that’s another post for another time.)

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Voice Science and Voice Pedagogy, Better Together

“Nothing is beyond question.”
-Ken Bozeman, Interviews on Voice Matters, 12/19/17

In the most recent episode of  Interviews on Voice Matters, Ken Bozeman made the point that voice teachers and voice scientists need each other.  He was saying that voice scientists are not the ones in the trenches hearing voices all day, and likewise, singing teachers do not typically have science backgrounds.

If we are going to learn more about the voice, each type of voice professional has to come to the table.  There are no discoveries about voice that DO NOT require a village to raise, apparently.  And I wholeheartedly agree.

I’m looking for more of a balance between (right now) what I would say are three legs: voice science, historic pedagogy that has a proven track record, and then innate human response.

I point out that the conclusions and observations that I made back in ’89 – and first observed where my vowels wanted to turn over – required that I had seen a voice science chart of first formant locations. The scientists didn’t tell me that.  It took someone in a voice studio dealing with voices all the time to observe that.  So, it’s really a very important dialog we need to have.

And to this day, for example the things I’m doing in my application of [Ian Howell’s] work, I’m not getting from voice scientists.  It’s coming from pedagogues.  But it’s totally grounded in information that the voice scientists supplied us with.  They’re playing a vital role.

-Ken Bozeman, Interviews on Voice Matters (34:41)

Which lead me to say further along in the interview, “we need each other.”  Just like a happy, functional tribe, we work better together.  We get more accomplished together.  We are better able to help each other – together.

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5 Things To Know About the Soft Palate for Singing

“Raise the soft palate.”
~almost a bazillion voice teachers, across time

There is much to know about the anatomy of vocal tract for singing and voice teaching.  The soft palate is one of those structures that both mystifies and intrigues us, and (at first) isn’t easy to control.

Just this week I went tête-à-tête with a client about whether her soft palate was lifting or lowering during a particular sound.  Turns out the soft palate was lifting, but she was 100% convinced it was lowering. Once she saw what was happening by looking in the mirror, the conversation was settled.

How can that be?  How can we be so convinced that the soft palate is moving in one certain direction, to only find out that it is doing the exact opposite?

(Don’t get bent out of shape one way or the other, y’all – we have ALL experienced soft palate confusion.  Either that, or we haven’t sung a note in our lives.)

Here are 5 things to know about the soft palate that may help you on your vocal journey.

1. Learn where the soft palate is and what it looks like

The following video is a graphic and bizarre look at the soft palate.  But, before we head off into *strange,* find the soft palate in your own vocal tract.  Take the tip of your tongue and run it along the roof of your mouth, starting at your teeth and moving backwards.  You will reach the edge of the “hard palate,” and run right into the soft palate.

The soft palate dips down and can be seen at the back of the throat when you open your mouth.  The uvula is that little dongle that hangs down from the soft palate, just in case you needed to know that.

Another name for the soft palate is the velum.  In case you needed to know that, too.

Honestly, the following video originally inspired this post.  Be warned: it is not a pretty video.  It’s quite bizarre, but it’s also an unforgettable demo.

I shall put it after the “read more” tab below so you have time to prepare yourself for this little bit of weirdness.

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Listening for What the Voice Has to Say

“Give up defining yourself – to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life. And don’t be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves, so it’s their problem. Whenever you interact with people, don’t be there primarily as a function or a role, but as the field of conscious Presence. You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.”
-Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

One of my favorite experiences in the voice studio is listening for what someone’s voice has to say.  Let me explain –

Many years ago Tom Blaylock, of the Northwest Institute of Voice, taught me how to listen to a voice instead of superimposing preconceived ideas or judgements onto it during a voice assessment.  This requires the judgemental mind (ego) to take a back seat so one can relax and observe.  The observation period of an assessment often requires closed eyes in order to focus entirely on the sound and empathic/emotional feelings associated with the voice, with some quick visual checks to see if what is heard matches what can be seen in the body.

We are talking about 3 levels of helpful information here: auditory, empathic or feeling perception, and visual.  I realize not everyone feels empathically, so that element might not exist for you.

If I am successful in truly observing a voice, it will speak volumes about what it needs and where it enjoys “hanging out.”  Often this manifests as a female voice demonstrating a joyful and free expression much higher in pitch than would be expected based on the client’s description of their vocal experience.  Or, a voice demonstrating resonance in clusters of notes that surprise the singer because they have never been experienced before.  These are just two quick examples.

Here’s the trick to getting into what I call observer mode: you have to let go.

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