Golden Rules

Do you ever wonder if people really understand what you are saying?  Do they seem to misinterpret your words, or accuse you of being unclear? Often our friends will try to be helpful and tell us we are sending out the “wrong” signals. But are they right?  Or does that say more about their own insecurities? After all, we are inclined to criticise others on the basis of faults we perceive in ourselves – because that is what we know something about. Indeed, we are experts in our own imperfections.

Here in Australia, I think we have an overly judgemental culture. It’s easy to comment on the mistakes others make, and to criticise failings in each other.  This then requires us to get in first, and criticise ourselves, apologising and offering up excuses and reasons for why we aren’t perfect. Some of us do an awful lot of apologising, don’t you think? Or do you think we don’t apologize enough?

Voice is a physical, material substance created deep within the human body, and then released to the outside world. Any comments or observations made about the way we sound has a profound effect upon us, and we tend to take them negatively, whether intended that way or not. But we have no control over what other people think or say, and we certainly have no way of getting inside their heads to know exactly what they are thinking, any more than they can get inside ours.

So I have come up with some Golden Rules for people undertaking voice training. These are rules to help us find, and take control of our own actions and behaviours, providing us with a safe environment to be adventurous within:

Timeout - Wynnum, Qld. 21 Jan 2013

Timeout – Wynnum, Qld. 21 Jan 2013

  1. Convert the judge in your head into a very clear, accurate observer.
  2. Be self aware, rather than self conscious. Notice when you are self conscious, and convert it into self awareness. In other words, when you catch yourself thinking about how you look or sound, from the outside, turn your thoughts to noticing and observing what your body is doing, and how it feels from the inside (physical sensations).
  3. In class, in training situations, try to avoid making jokey remarks about yourself or your colleagues. Observations which are factual are fine.  This doesn’t mean we can’t laugh, o
    r enjoy ourselves. On the contrary, we can relax and enjoy ourselves more if we are not expecting, or handing out judgemental comments, even in jest.
  4. In the class, never apologise, explain, rationalise, excuse. Instead, observe. Whatever you observe, “that’s interesting!”
  5. Whenever you catch your thoughts wandering, or realise you have the impulse to make a joke or a comment, congratulate yourself on the observation and notice that it is a
    n interesting observation and move on.  That is being present.

This might seem like a complicated approach to voice training, but I find that a little bit of practice in following these rules goes a very long way towards helping people to be more relaxed and comfortable about exploring their sound, and adjusting their vocal behaviours. They still feel vulnerable, but they have the tools and techniques to deal with that feeling and work with it creatively.

Do you have rules, or guidelines that you have found helpful for your training?

Is Your Voice Fun?

Some people take their medicine with honey, others just knock it back and never mind the taste. When it comes to your vocal health and skill, do you enjoy doing your exercises? Do you do them on your feet, bouncing around the room, or sitting in the car in between cursing other drivers? Would you take advantage of a mobile app that made it fun to do your warmup? Here’s a short survey I’ve devised to gauge interest in such an app.

Click here to take survey


image courtesy

We all know by now that the whole body is involved in the way we sound. The shape of the instrument determines the quality of the sound that comes out of it, and this is true whether the instrument is made of brass, wood, or flesh and bone.

So there’ll be a different result depending on whether you do your voice exercises standing, sitting, or hanging upside down from a trapeze.  All three positions are perfectly acceptable, as long as you do them at least some of the time while balanced upright with your feet in reasonable contact with the ground.

However, this doesn’t address the problem that the thought of doing exercises of any kind, even something as simple as The Hum can fill most of us with unease, reluctance, and a sudden urge to bake. I’ve been working on this problem for most of my life, trying to find ways of making the doing of the exercises more time-efficient and enjoyable.  From the moment I  developed a warmup that could be completed in under 3 minutes. I found that my students would not only DO the exercises, regularly, but also they quickly discovered how much fun it is to do them, and of course, if you’re having fun, you’re going to do them willingly, and often.

That is how the Mini Vocal Warmup came into being.  You’ll find it here; it takes a few minutes to learn the sequence, but once you know it, you can do it any time of the day or night, as a warmup to get you going, a warm down to relax your voice last thing at night, or it can be extended (with coaching support) into a full voice training program to build your power, flexibility and range.

These audio files can easily be integrated into your iTunes folder, and played on your smart phone or mp3 player.

sample app screen

The next step, (obviously!) is to turn the program into a mobile app, which is what I’m working on now.

There are thousands of apps for warming up the singing voice, but very few indeed for warming up the speaking voice.  Even the singing apps aren’t really warmups, they are scales to work on  AFTER you’ve warmed up.

I’d love to know if you would find such an app useful, and especially whether you’d be interested in an app with just the exercises, or something more fun, like a game that would stimulate you to play with your own vocal sound.  So I’ve created a survey, 10 questions, which takes about 5 minutes max to complete.  Please click on the link below, and don’t forget to let me know if you’d like to be a beta tester when it’s almost ready for public release.  That way, you get it for free!

Click here to take survey

Please share this with your friends and colleagues. The more feedback I get, the better the product will be.

Do you have any ideas for mobile apps that would be helpful for performance skills training? Or do you have your own way to keep the exercises fresh and fun to do?  Leave a comment below…

Voice IS Movement

A week or so ago I ran into a young woman who had taken part in some short classes I once ran for a group of performance studies students. There were five hour long classes, not compulsory. Some students came to all five, some would arrive late, others would leave early to finish assignments or attend rehearsals. As far as I am aware, this was their only opportunity for voice training. The young woman apologised that she hadn’t followed up on the voice work because she had spent the past six years “working on my body instead”.

I was so shocked in that moment that I had absolutely nothing to say. Thoughts like “I’ve failed!” “I must be a dreadfully bad teacher” floated through my head like rats in a flood.

Then I came across this video. It’s a gorgeous short film, created by master film maker Jon M. Chu (Never Say Never, Step Up 2: The Streets and Step Up 3D, illustrating the power of the body to communicate and move us.  It’s inspiring, and I love it.

Here is a reminder of how it is introduced:

“This is what we believe…There are things in this world more powerful than words… movement is the most basic form of communication for every single human being on the planet, expresses what a whole bunch of words never can… It’s not about how many flips, or turns, or how straight. It’s about how far you can stretch the soul.”

Wonderful, isn’t it? Who would disagree with this? I certainly don’t. The problem I have with it is not the way it promotes all forms of dance movement, it’s that its makers forget, or ignore, or are totally ignorant of the fact that voice is part of human movement.

When we make vocal sound, our bodies are also in movement and our voices, just like our hands, or hips, or any other visible part of our beings, express our human ways of being, our culture, and our souls. The only difference is that the voice is not visible.

Voice is not just the words it speaks. Words are concepts, ideas, thoughts made audible so that they can be communicated. Voice is more than the words it speaks.

Words require a mind in order to be spoken.
What is a mind?
What is speaking?

Speaking is the act of giving voice to words.
What are words?
What is a voice?

Voice is the body within the words
Voice is the soul reaching out to touch your body.

We don’t see voices with our eyes, but we don’t just hear them with our ears either. Sound waves do not flow directly out of our mouths and only land in the listener’s inner ear, thence to be translated into signals that the brain interprets. Of course that is part of the process, but there is also the part where sound waves impact upon the listener’s body. The listener is, literally, moved, in subtle but profound ways by the sound of the voice they are also hearing.

So when we train our bodies to be more expressive and communicative, please don’t forget to keep training our voices as part of that process. Give your voice a good stretch each morning, take it for a jog along its length and breadth, challenge it to leap higher, flow longer, dive deeper, twist and flip, bend and straighten. Move your voice to stretch your soul.

Do you agree?  Do you have a regular physical training regime that includes vocal stretches or resistance work? Voice trainers, do you encourage your students to move around the room as they do their vocal exercises? Share your thoughts below in the comments box.

Put Your Best Pitch Forward

When you only have 5 minutes to make your presentation, to persuade busy, influential people that your idea is the best, the only entrepreneurial idea worth supporting, you’d better sound as good as you believe your idea is.

Five Minute Pitch Competitions are a great opportunity for would be entrepreneurs to be heard by a venture capitalist who might be willing to fund their startup. So let’s think about what needs to be heard, and why.

1) Your passion.  You need to be heard as a professional entrepreneur who cares about your potential company, and your product.

2) Your conviction. You need to persuade the audience that you are convinced your idea, or product is excellent because you have done the homework, and your research is thoroughly tested.

3) Your commitment. You need to convince everybody that you are in this for the long haul, and that you have the courage to make it your first priority.

4) Your understanding. You need to share the specifics of your product or idea clearly, succinctly and entertainingly.

Now, you might be forgiven for thinking that if you just write it all down, memorise it, and then speak it out loud, that you will be doing all you need to do.  And you would be wrong, very wrong. Because in the words of the song: “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it”.

Sounding genuinely passionate and dedicated with conviction is not as easy as it… sounds.  It is easy to sound like an infomercial salesperson, because we hear them on the telly and we know how to imitate them.  However, pretending to sell something, over-enthusing about it is a real turnoff, and many a brilliant potential entrepreneur has disappeared over the horizon as a result of a poorly presented pitch. At the other extreme are the “um-mers” and “er-ers”, who may be very passionate and well-prepared, but who simply do not hear themselves accurately, or do not have enough innate confidence in themselves to allow their speech to flow naturally and easily.

For a thoroughly excellent run down of the kind of things you need to include in your presentation, check out this blog posting by Bill Cunningham, “The Pitch Doctor”.

Then think about your voice, the physical means by which you will share those excellent facts and that passionate conviction.

You ARE your voice.  The you that exists in the moment of speaking is the one that is heard. So if you are tense, nervous, aggressive, shy, arrogant, insecure or a combination of some of all of these, that is what your audience hears. Your words may be full of confidence, but if your voice is apprehensive then that is what the audience perceives.

And that is one extremely vital element that stands between you and the fulfilment of your entrepreneurial dream.

Have you ever taken part in a Pitch Competition? Are you comfortable with the sound of your own voice? When you are irritated by a particular speaker, are you aware how much the sound of his or her voice contributes to your response?

Join the conversation, and leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your views on this topic. And please share with your friends and colleagues.

Mumbler Jumbler Talk

Mumbling is just a way of describing unclear speech, or speech that cannot be easily heard or understood. It’s annoying if you are the listener, because it requires extra effort to translate the bits of information you can glean from what you hear into something wholly intelligible.  It’s also annoying for the speaker, who is often asked to repeat what they have just said.

While it may be a mild annoyance in a social situation, it can be quite damaging in a professional situation.  People who speak clearly and audibly are much more likely to get the job than those who don’t get their message across first time.

getting the message across

There are many, complex underlying causes for mumbling.  In physical terms, the muscles involved in articulating, or shaping the speech sounds are simply not activated adequately. This could be because the speaker is tired, or holding back because of shyness, or insecurity about the situation.

Let’s look at the last one: insecurity.  If you are not comfortable that you know what you are talking about, either because you haven’t done your homework, or because you don’t have faith that you have the right to be talking on this topic, it may well be that you are unconsciously restricting the muscular effort in an attempt (misguided!) to protect yourself from criticism.

Whatever the underlying reason, speaking is a physical act, involving muscles, and if the muscles are not positioning themselves accurately or powerfully enough, the speech will be unclear.

Now, let’s be very clear about which speech sounds we are talking about.  The most popular remedy for mumbling is to do lots of tongue twisters.  These are phrases involving complicated sequences of consonants, that require a relaxed jaw, an agile tongue and accurate placement.  For example,

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers

Thirty thick thistle sticks

She sells sea shells by the sea shore.

In my opinion, heading straight to the tongue twisters is putting the cart before the horse.  You Doing them does not address the underlying problem, which is a tense, immobile jaw and a tight, inflexible tongue.  First you have to learn how to relax the jaw, creating more space in the mouth and providing more room for the tongue to be more flexible, and agile.  A relaxed jaw also means relaxed facial , mouth and throat muscles, including the lips and the soft palate, so that they will be in a better position to allow for more accurate placement of the combinations of lips, tongue, teeth, jaw and palates.

So if you have a problem with mumbling, start working on relaxing your jaw. That means actually letting it go, letting it drop down until you can slip 2 fingertips between your teeth without straining. This takes time.

Be kind to your jaw. It’s been working hard all your life to keep you safe behind its guardrail. Give it a break. Send it to the Bahamas for a rest.  It will thank you for it, eventually.

I’ll pop some jaw relaxation exercises online in a day or two, on the Products page.