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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Basic Vocal Tone

by Justin Petersen

Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes once wrote,

“We are all of us three persons: the one we think ourselves to be, the one others think us to be and the one we truly are.”

This plight is never so acute as when applied to the student singer and how they perceive themselves through their voice. In my work, I have found that one of the most important things to do is to help singers find their ‘basic vocal tone.’

In his book Voice: Psyche and Soma, Cornelius Reid makes an exceptionally important point often skimmed when examining his substantial pedagogy: the topic of aesthetic listening and its inherent dangers.

Aesthetic listening is hearing a voice in a way that overlays aesthetic and stylistic preferences onto the mechanism (‘the one we think ourselves to be’). For example, a classical voice teacher might prefer darker, rounder tones and would train students to emit sounds in that way. A musical theater voice teacher might go the opposite way and entrain a voice into a very bright, brassy, forward sound.  Both are ‘specializations,’ a term borrowed from Peter T. Harrison in his book The Human Nature of the Singing Voice.

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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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Vocology Blogs

I just did a Google search which produced only 39,500 results for “vocology blog.”  Yesterday it was 41,500, so I have no clue what happened to 2,000 references in 24 hours, but the internet is a fluid reality.  Right?

In comparison, the Google search for Michael Jackson results in 348 million results.  I realize this comparison is apples to oranges, but a girl can hope.

The majority of the first few pages were links to references about vocology in people’s blogs.  I’m okay with that.  It’s a fabulous start.

This post is a plea to the greater voice community to get writing.  Get going, y’all!  It’s time to write about vocology, and make more of this information popular with the kids.  You may say that I’m a dreamer . . . but . . . la, la, la, la, la, la, la.

If you love voice science (and who doesn’t?  don’t answer that…….), I wonder what the greater world would look like if you start sharing your enthusiasm for larygeal muscles, phonatory threshold pressure, and resonance.

Of course, these are not topics for everyone, but to me they represent a growing body of knowledge that singers want to know about.

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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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