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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Making Room for Healing

~Kirk Schafer

Making Room in Small Ways

One way I’ve seen people heal from voice trouble is by letting their healing creep in one little bit at a time. They make little pockets of space for better thoughts, better habits, or better intentions.  They make room for healing in small ways that eventually add up to the end goal.

We are creatures of habit, would you agree?  So, sometimes trying to make all the changes all at once fails us.  (Not just sometimes, actually.  Most of the time.)  We benefit from making small adjustments toward healing in our attitudes or perceptions coupled with small actions because [small attitude adjustments + small actions + repetition + time] wins the race.

The people who succeed at “getting better” start by seeing a few things that are already going well, in spite of their current problems.  And to me, that is also a way to make a little room for healing.  We can all start where we are, and calm down enough to see all is NOT lost.  It never, ever is!

Lifting Weights

Maybe this is a good place to mention that I’ve passed the 10 month mark on my weight lifting journey.  May 11th marked 10 months of being in the gym 4-5 times per week.  And guess what? I’ve only lost around 5 pounds, depending on the day.

My old self, the one who loved punishing me for . . . well, anything and everything . . . would be having a field day with this tiny number.  “Only 5 pounds???  Seriously???”  I can hear that voice, that tone, and I can feel the guilt and shame a comin’ on me. Laaaawwwwd.  (My heart hurts just remembering when I used to speak to myself so harshly.  Not a fun experience that was, Jedi!)

But, now that I’m better at being kind to myself, I’m making more room for my healing.  Tiny, little places where I feel good about what’s happening which then allows to keep going with the plan.  In other words, I’m choosing to admit a few things.

  • I look a little different.
  • I’m eating better because of my new routine.
  • My skin is glowier.  (not a word, I know, but hang with me.)
  • I am physically stronger.
  • After 10 months, there are some fundamental changes in my musculature.

And, did I mention – I feel better.  Sweet Jesus and Brother Buddah, I feel better in my body.

Which, if I were only looking at the scale, would not be important.  I would have stopped going to the gym months ago. Fortunately, I’m learning how to make room for healing with these tiny thoughts and simple daily actions.  Which will get me to complete(r) physical healing in the long run.  (completer is also not a word, man, but i thought it was funny so again – hang with me)

What does feeling better have to do with it?

Feeling better is kind of everything.  Especially when it comes to the voice.  We owe it to ourselves to find little places where things are working and feel good, and build from there.  Otherwise it’s easy to just give up or go away.  Rebuilding vocal function is not always easy, and the road not always smooth or straight.  From what I’ve experienced with clients it is usually pretty bumpy and curvy, which is also why I decided to start lifting weights – to see what it feels like to work on a physical goal that feels “impossible” at the outset.

Some of my most successful clients are the ones who cling to their small victories, and avoid going down the rabbit hole when (on the surface) things are not so hot.  We all have times where we feel discouraged or hopeless, but if we can find ways to make room for healing – even with little, tiny, better feeling thoughts – we are on track.  And that might make all the difference.




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Building Trust in the Vocal Studio

“Authentic and positive relationships are not built in a day. Put your best and most honest self forward and then trust the process. A mentor of mine said that experience is just time in disguise. Neither can be truncated or expedited. You just have to keep showing up, keep expanding your reach, keep learning and growing, and individual relationships will fall into place as they should.”
~Grace Stern,
from TomatoSass, a Blog for Women in the Music Industry

Brené Brown continues to give us gifts of magnificent proportions.  I just saw her talk on the “Anatomy of Trust” and wanted to rebroadcast it’s existence in case someone out there happens upon this blog and has space for 20 minutes or so of life-altering goodness.  (video below, btw)

I love technology and our ability to freely broadcast transformative information!  So much it makes me want to cry, but I digress.  On with the show.

Brené’s research reveals how trust functions, and in typical BB fashion she brings it home through real-life stories and her wide, open heart.  This video settles like warm hugs in your chest the same way a deep and intimate talk with your bestie does, at a time when you need it the most.

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