I am currently working with several clients who are in the process of making peace with a new voice. Some have sustained vocal injury and are habilitating (yes, that’s a word) their vocal function, some are discovering their physiological range and timbre for the first time, and some are simply allowing themselves to sing new styles of music or give a public speech for the first time.
They all share one thing in common, though. The brain doesn’t recognize the new sounds they are making as familiar, and they are all a bit mystified as to how they “should” sound. I have experienced this psychological quagmire through learning to sing classical Italian art songs. (The sound these songs require was completely foreign to me at first, and it has taken awhile to interpret and produce a convincing sound in this style.)
I don’t have all the answers when it comes to learning to make new, healthy vocal sounds. Each person has the option to remain open to healing (or not), and my job is to provide evidence-based practices and unwavering encouragement along the way. Very often, that’s all we have to work with in the beginning, and the rest is an uncharted journey.
What I do know for sure is that this a journey of acceptance and trust.
Accepting where you are is not always fun. It does not always feel good, and it does not always look pretty. But if we can’t start where we are, we are sure to make zero real progress.
I can’t shield anyone from the pain of where they are in the moment. But, like my husband says, “pain is not the problem.” Pain is an indicator that something is amiss, and without it we wouldn’t have a clue what we need or want. Your most basic state is health and well being (please quote me on this), and when you don’t feel good this is simply a gauge of how far you are from your fundamental nature.
So, when the voice doesn’t feel good, isn’t acting right, sounds different, it’s wise to start with acceptance of what is.
And by “acceptance of what is” I do not mean falling into a state of apathy and despair. Not even close. I am talking about taking a few moments to breathe deeply and listen to your own voice without judgement. This might allow you to take action toward your goal (ie. “good feeling” voice), unfettered by self condemnation and self hatred.
Acceptance might also mean sitting with your pain for a little while. (Not forever!!) Just a little while so you can admit that you feel scared, vulnerable, angry, or whatever, about what is happening with your voice.
We identify so closely with the sound of our own voices, that when they change suddenly we can have a flood of unexpected emotions.
Letting these emotions “pass through” gives us the ability to let them go.
I don’t believe we are meant to stay in a state of unbalance or disrepair forever. I believe physical challenges, such as learning new vocal techniques or healing from injury, are to be moved through. They are temporary experiences. They are gifts of opportunity, and they are specifically designed to make us stronger, not weaker.
This is where trust comes in. Trust is like being in a dark room, with only a rope to hang onto. There is a person on the other end of the rope who has been through said murky room, and you (accept) trust they are in the light. They are, but you don’t know that for sure yet. You trust.
Trust is easier when you surround yourself with people who’ve experienced and healed from what you are going through. If your unconscious mind has decided you are never going to recover, then you need to program in a new decision. Finding stories of victory and triumph can be cornerstones in the healing process. Thank goodness for the internet and bloggers and endless amounts of free information. If someone can’t find an uplifting story or a few quality resources in this day and age, maybe it’s because they don’t want to. That’s okay too. I’m just saying – the internet is a big place. Start somewhere.
Practical Tools for Hearing Your New Voice
- Record yourself. Use your smarty pants phone and record your speaking or singing voice into the voice memo app. Choose and record a passage out of a book or from a piece of music you know well. Before listening back, imagine that you are a bird up the in air looking down on yourself. Your gaze is easy and soft, and you send yourself some love. On the playback, close your eyes and see yourself from high in the sky. Just notice the sound without judgement. Does it sound dark or light or free or strained or breathy or pressed ….. just notice. It’s just a voice, and a there is no commentary from the peanut gallery – get it? From there, jot down a few words about what you heard.
- Do a Google search. Often we need more information in order to become comfortable with why and how something is happening. I believe that confusion and mental torment are mostly due to not understanding. Start reaching out and learning more about your voice. You’ll be amazed at what you find.
- Hummmmmm. I’m serious about this one. Part of the vocal journey is learning what it feels like for the body to produce sound waves via the vocal cords. If you don’t know what it feels like to make a sound without tension or pain, start with humming or using the straw and water. Take it easy and get in touch with how sound waves feel in your body. Some people say that the act of “toning” can heal the body. You’ll have to research that yourself. (again, see 2.)
- Get a voice expert to hear you. Pay for it, barter for it, whatever, just get a trained set of ears in your corner. It will save you years of work and potential frustration.
I hope this post gives you a few ideas to kick around, and some practical help for learning how to accept a new vocal sound. I believe that the body has a tremendous ability to heal, and we have the mental/emotional capacity to reprogram our unhelpful beliefs into helpful ones.
For many of us, the voice is a gateway for learning to love and accept ourselves right where we are. Once again, thank you, voice!