Some Questions Frequently Asked

Did you know, if you register with Being in Voice, you get to ask me a question, any question at all relating to the voice and I will respond by email within 24 hours. You also receive a free copy of the eBook “Four Great Vocal Warmups”.

In the past few weeks, I’ve had enquiries from people in China, India, Nigeria, Canada, Ghana, Austria and Australia, from Boston, Dublin, Hooglanderveen, The Netherlands, and more.  Here are a few, with my answers:

Question: What are the top 3 problems you encounter with your voice?FAQ

First, is waking it up, so that it runs smoothly throughout the day.  As I age, I need to do this more, and fortunately it’s something I enjoy doing. So I sigh gently, hum and ‘ah’ as I’m getting washed and dressed, and by the time I start speaking I don’t sound croaky.

Second is the ‘crack’ or ‘wobble’ that occurs in my singing voice as I slide around between my chest and middle to head range.  I have always struggled with this, and I have to work at it to smooth it out on a regular basis, or it just goes back to square one.  I can sing happily in the bathroom, and never encounter a break in the sound, but if I’m performing I have to keep it under control with every bit of technique I can muster.  This is because my innate defence mechanism kicks in and tightens up muscles in my breath support and vocal tract in inappropriate ways. I think it’s because I am a bit of a wimp, always ready to assume that I’m not as good as I would like to be, so I have to work hard to overcome this and just give my all.

Thirdly, I tend to get loud when I’m excited, or grumpy, so I have to watch my volume control. The secret is to keep that fine balance between being emotionally available and expressing myself freely – whether it’s my own thoughts, or those provided by a poet or a playwright – and being sensitive to the needs of the listeners and the requirements of the space.

How about you?  What are your top three?

Question: How do I use my voice to the maximum but without strain?

First you need to be clear about what you mean by “to the maximum”. Do you  mean to your maximum potential, to the best of your ability?

Maximum implies the most that is possible, given the state of your vocal instrument at the time. If there is any strain at all you are putting in more effort than is necessary or appropriate. Straining to get more volume or range is not healthy. You can always build your vocal power and range by exercising the appropriate muscles. It takes time to build up muscle tone, and your vocal muscles are no different in this regard to any other muscles in your body.

Warming up your voice on a regular basis is one way to keep your voice healthy, and to build muscle tone gently.  The more you do, the more benefit you get from it. As your voice grows in power and flexibility you can undertake more demanding exercises, and keep building it up in a sustainable manner.

Question: How to train my voice as an actor?

The first thing you need is to learn all about your voice, how it represent you at all times, and how it functions in your body. Then you will understand what you need to do to develop it to be as full, rich, varied, powerful and flexible as it can be, and how to ensure that you speak clearly, audibly, intelligibly and interestingly at all times.

The iPhone app “Being in Voice” contains all the information you need to get started, as well as some basic introductory exercises for developing your voice.  These are foundational exercises that will keep your voice in good condition if you do them regularly for the rest of your life.  However, to use your voice professionally, as an actor, you need to do more than these.

Using your voice as an actor require special skills to bring life and colour to texts, and you really need a good teacher to help you with this.  Are you anywhere near Ibadan?  There is an excellent voice coach at the University of Ibadan who could possibly help you.  Let me know if you would like an introduction.

Question: I would like to know about the course, time, hours and fees etc

I don’t run a specific group course at the moment. I offer private (one-on-one) coaching sessions, and I am happy to devise a course for you specifically designed for your training needs.  Which aspects of voice, or acting, or performance skills, or presentation skills are you interested in developing?
As for the time, that is something we would work out together, to find a time that suits us both. I am presently travelling in the US, returning to Brisbane mid-September.
My fee schedule is as follows:

Scale of Fees 2013 (including GST) paid in advance

Private Coaching

$88 per 1 hour session

$330 for 4 sessions = $82.50 ea

$480 for 6 sessions = $80 ea

$610 for 8 sessions = $76.25 ea

Question:  How to relax a tight throat?

This is a tricky subject, as you’ve probably gathered from your own experience.  Here is a tip that I have found helpful.  Learn to place your attention anywhere but the throat.  This is because “Tension goes where ATTENTION goes”.  In other words, if you are thinking about the throat area, muscles in and around that area will fire up and want to Do Stuff, and that is the last thing you want.  The muscles that are involved in speaking and singing operate best when they are functioning autonomously, i.e. without your conscious control. They are coordinated by their need to respond to your thought process. Any time you notice tension in the throat area, send your thoughts down to your centre.

I know there are training systems that focus conscious attention specifically on the throat (Estill training being one). I have found that this can lead to great tension in and around the throat unless taught very, very well.

I teach students to imagine that their voice box/larynx is located somewhere in the centre of the body, just above the pelvis and below the diaphragm.  Of course this is not real, it is just a visualisation exercise to get attention down to that part of the body where the really powerful muscular support for the voice lies.  We also give attention to the larynx itself, to understand the physiology, but as a separate process, at a different time.

Use any relaxation and meditation exercises you know to gain a clear understanding of how your different muscles feel in the body when they are tensed and relaxed. Isolation exercises that allow you to identify precisely where the tension around your throat begins and ends will help you to be able to control those muscles, and to release them on demand. It is particularly essential to learn to relax the jaw, and the tongue.

There are teachers who will massage their students throats.  I have never learned this technique, so I don’t attempt it.  There is also a new procedure being trialled in the US, of using a vibrator that is specifically timed to a certain frequency of vibrations, and this is being hailed as something pretty exciting for singers etc.  http://www.edmontonjournal.com/Vibrators+strike+chord+with+singers/8203532/story.html

I have found humming to be the next best thing.  I’ve been humming for years, since I did some training in Harmonic Singing, and also Roy Hart training.  Humming on an easy, central note, while visualising the vibrations/sound waves as emanating from my centre and flowing through my body, leaves me with a “fuller, deeper, rounder” sound as described in the article above. I’ve been working with a group of first year acting students recently, and the sounds they produce after 20 minutes of humming on the floor is quite astonishing, and could not happen if their throats were at all tense.  I have placed a Humming warmup in the next scheduled upgrade for my iPhone App “Being in Voice”, available in the iTunes App Store.

Question: How do I get to sing in my head voice without straining?

One way to avoid straining is to think of your voice as floating up and out of your body, on a stream of air that comes from a well deep in your centre. You need to have a lovely relaxed jaw and tongue, and you only get that by standing (or sitting or dancing) well, with good posture.
Of course, you never, ever want to actually strain your voice. Powerful support for the breath that motors your sound must always be assisted by the lower part of your body, your deep core muscles.
Extend your range by humming gently up and down, higher and lower each time until you feel the stretch (not straining). Do lip and tongue trills likewise (brbrbr or rrrrr). You will find these exercises on the Being in Voice iPhone app, and also you can download them from the website (Products page), as well as Posture and breathing exercises (Stand Easy and Breathe Easy)
It is also good to remember that your head voice notes always sound thinner inside your head than they do outside. Good support, involving your whole body, gives you a richer sound.

Looking through these questions, I can see a pattern.  I guess the next step is for me to set up a section for FAQ!

Do you have a question that isn’t addressed here?  Try me! Use the comments section below, and perhaps other readers will have more answers to share.

 

Knight-Thompson Speechworks Rocks My World

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Flloyd with Mary McDonald-Lewis and Mendy McMasters at “Speaking with Skill” workshop

Two weeks training in Knight-Thompson Speech and Accents was intense, challenging and unbelievably satisfying. I feel like a newly repotted plant, a bit wobbly above ground, checking out how much room my roots now have to spread out into, and seeing the world from a whole new perspective – albeit one with a familiar quality and a recognisable contour.

The training is deeply practical and intellectually demanding, and I love that combination.  It’s all about awareness, in that you must give your full attention to what is actually happening inside your body, how it moves and is moved by your breath, your thoughts, your needs or desires. That, as such, is what I’ve been working on for many years. The difference here, the extension, stretching of the process, is the level of detailed attention to what is actually going on inside the vocal tract in the process of speaking, and WHY!IMG_1071

Knight-Thompson Speechworks is a relatively new player on the block.  Dudley Knight, who sadly passed away a few weeks ago, developed this approach over many years, aided by his one time student and long time colleague Phil Thompson. Phil is a remarkable teacher (and actor), deeply insightful and compassionate, with a wealth of experience across disciplines and exceedingly modest. In the world wide community of voice and speech and accent and dialect teachers we have an uncommonly high percentage of warm and generous creative spirits, and Phil exemplifies these qualities in abundance. On this occasion, he shared the teaching with Andrea Caban and Erik Singer, each of whom brought their own unique flavour and experience to the work.

Oral Posture

I aim to deepen and extend my understanding and expertise in this particular approach to speech and accents over the coming months and years. With that in mind, I’m offering a free workshop after I return to Brisbane in late September to anyone who would like to experiment with some joyful gurning, phthonging, speaking in Outlandish, Omnish and perhaps even Somenish for a few hours. There may, or may not be phonetics involved. Don’t be scared, I promise to be gentle with you!gurning

Let me know in the comments section below if you are interested, and I will send you details as the time draws nearer.

ps – I’ve also come away with lots of ideas for more voice training Apps!

To Pic or to Stick, that is the question.

Here is the latest review to pop on iTunes for the Being in Voice warmup app:

Fantastic, well explained, fun to use ★★★★ by superhevs – Version 1.03 – Jul 27, 2013

My partner and I went through the mini vocal warm up together while making breakfast. It certainly relaxed us both, noticeably improved our voices and made us laugh. If there is one thing I would suggest to improve the app, it would be visual references. Having an illustration or photo to check against as you complete the exercises would be helpful especially if the user is new to these sort of exercises.The Capital Yoga apps I feel have achieved this well and maybe a useful reference.

I love it when I get suggestions from people who have used the app.  Version 1 inspired one of its users to suggest I should include a “How to use this app” page, so I did.  I also added an extra, bonus warmup, the Humming Warmup, which is one of my all time favourites.  I learnt it at a workshop in Scotland in 1990, from a Hungarian theatre director whose name escapes me now, but in the best Eastern European tradition, he was deeply committed to the all-in-one approach to actor training and preparation for performance.

Capital Yoga app image

Capital Yoga app image

As for including some visual references, I can see how these would be useful for the Stand Easy and Breathe Easy sections. I looked at the Capital Yoga apps suggested in the review, and their visuals are indeed very clear and helpful.

This is not something I could organise at short notice, but I could very quickly and easily produce  some stick figure images, such as these below, demonstrating the stretches that I include in my Mega Full-On Warmup (not yet in the app!)

stretchesI can see that the Humming Warmup would also benefit from the inclusions of some visuals, even a video demonstration.  The problem with this is that is makes the App a very large file to download, and I’d rather keep it smaller and easier to work with for the moment, until I can afford to get some whizz-bang developer/designer to figure out how to keep the audio and video files small and easily accessible.  So I am thinking of putting a video demo of the warmup on the website, here, and just adding in a link inside the app.

What do you think?  Stick figures? Or photos? Video in the app? – which would definitely cost more, and make the price go up, or link to video on the website? Give me your thoughts here, in the comments. Let’s work together to make this the coolest, most fun, most do-able warmup app ever.

 

My Jaw Loves Me – so Why Not Love It Back?

Last week, I suggested that there are 5 things you need to know before you can learn to relax your jaw.

1 – Your jaw is your best friend; 2 – Your jaw will protect you to the death; 3 – Your jaw is a workaholic; 4 – Your jaw will not voluntarily take a holiday; 5 – Your jaw will love you even more when you manage to convince it that you can manage without it from time to time.

Your jaw is your best friend. It has been looking after you with great care all your life.  It has taken responsibility for protecting you from the outside world, and it is very, very good at it.

Watch any newborn baby expressing itself. It doesn’t hold anything back. If it’s hungry, tired, lonely or in pain, its whole body is involved in the story. The belly and the chest expand hugely, its arms and legs flail around, and especially its jaw is wide WIDE open. The baby needs something, it is very vulnerable and has to get help any way it can, so it can survive. This is normal, and necessary.

However…  We are a social species. We have evolved to live in communities, and we simply can’t go around all our lives as individuals letting our emotions out in a full-bodied, full-voiced way. We have to learn how to contain some of our feelings, to express ourselves in more considerate, less violent ways.

01 Iain aged 2 weeks with Grandma Mabel

Iain aged 2 weeks. Notice how easily and naturally his mouth falls open in a relaxed position.

So look at the baby again. From birth, it expresses its needs in a totally uninhibited, unrestrained way, with no tension in the body. One of the skills it has been born with is to be sensitive to sights and sounds, and these include the ability to sense when its primary caregiver is upset.  So after a few months, the baby will start to attempt to control its outbursts, and the jaw is one of the primary agents for holding back.  This is not a conscious behaviour modification, it is yet another survival tactic.  The baby begins to learn how to stop itself from crying.

By the way, I don’t have photographs of my children crying…

Iain aged 6 months

At six months, the mouth still drops open easily, the jaw relaxed, even in the rather tense situation of a formal photography session.

It might not seem like that to the parents/caregivers, but then it takes a long time, years in fact, to learn how to control our desires and our needs, to socialise ourselves.  By the time we’ve become good at it, our jaws have become accustomed to holding tight, along with our bellies and our buttocks.

But tension kills vibration.  As communicators, whether we speak or sing, we need all the vibrations we can get. We need to have a flexible, relaxed body and attitude. We need to be vulnerable, to be uninhibited in a grown up, structured way. We need to be able to choose when and where to express ourselves openly, freely and fully, with the ability to close down again whenever we want to. Learning to relax the jaw fully is one of the first steps to having that level of control.

Let’s think about that word Control.  It resonates with Tension, with Tightness, with Held, Captured, Imprisoned, Restricted.  Being Uncontrolled or uncontrollable is not thought of as being a desirable state to be in – or to be around.  So let’s be very, very clear.  I am not talking about Control in that sense.

I mean control in the sense that you have a choice. When you have muscles that are tense, or held in a fairly rigid situation from habit, and you can’t voluntarily relax them at will, you have no choice. When you have learnt how to relax them at will, you have a choice: to tense, or not to tense. You can choose to ENGAGE the appropriate muscles, or you can choose to TENSE them. There is a difference.  Learning how to relax these muscles fully means learning how to KNOW what you are doing with them, learning how to recognise when they are contracting from habit, and when they are doing so because you need them to.

Knowledge means you are in control.  Having a choice means you are in control.  But knowledge, in the sense that you understand this intellectually, is not enough.  You have to train your brain, your intellect, your conscious awareness, to be able to acknowledge what your body is doing. Paying attention to your body, being honest with yourself about what is physically happening within your body is the kind of knowledge I am talking about.

So why not begin with your jaw?

Try this, just to get a sense of what your jaw is actually doing.

Sit, or stand, comfortably, with your back supported in its natural curves flowing between your pelvis and your skull.

Float, gently, your whole head back as far as it will go. Do not force or strain.  Open your mouth, and relax in the open position. Open your eyes, and check what you can see on the ceiling.

Place your two thumbs under your chin, and your fingers on top of your chin. Hold it firmly, and bring it down towards your chest as far as it will go, leaving the rest of your head hanging backwards. Do not hurt yourself!

Rest your arms against your chest, drop your shoulders and hold that chin very firmly, do not allow it to move!  Having said that, it WILL move, so notice how it wants to, and see if you can gently and courteously encourage it to rest, each time you notice it wanting to move.

Now, with your chin/jaw relatively immobilised, slowly lift your head from behind the back of your skull, up and over, tilting it back to its facing forward position.

[Imagine the lower back curve of your head being gently supported from behind, and lifted out and upwards to its normal, “looking straight ahead” position]  

As you do this, your chin/jaw will want to take over the closing action.  This is normal. It has been responsible for the closing-of-the-mouth action since you were born. It feels weird and unnatural for it to allow you to close your mouth in this crazy way. This is also normal. It is normal to respond to any unusual action by finding it weird.  If it feels weird, you know you are getting somewhere!

Having completely closed your mouth, check how your chin/jaw/head/neck feels. Check this from inside your body. In other words, don’t think about what it looks like, don’t wiggle it about, just stay still, relaxed, and notice what it feels like, physically, inside your face, head and neck.

Joanna Amy and Flloyd.jpg

Joanna Cazden (Voice of Your Life), Amy Stoller (Stoller System) and Flloyd Kennedy (Being in Voice)

My good friend and colleague, Joanna Cazden, of Voice of Your Life, is a highly qualified and experienced Speech and Language Pathologist, as well as being a fine vocal coach and singing teacher (and singer!).  Here are some of her thoughts on the topic of jaw tension, from an SLP perspective (recently posted in a discussion on LinkedIn):

Joanna Cazden •
If jaw tension is a long-standing problem…I ask a different question: WHY are jaw muscles overworking? And I mean why Mechanically, NOT psychologically.

A thorough oral-motor exam usually shows some no-blame possibilities. I repeat: No Blame! (side sermon excised, re. not considering “muscle tension” to be a personal flaw… muscle WORK is what the body Does). Most commonly, when I work with people with this complaint: jaw has been compensating for some inability of the tongue to do its articulatory job.
Tongue may be small-ish compared to mouth size; may be mildly tethered down (shortened frenulum under the tongue); or its intrinsic musclesmay be subtly weak. If any of these anatomical-physiological things exist, and tongue can’t easily perform high-tongue consonants (t, d, n, l), jaw will be moving up, repeatedly, to support it.
But jaw muscles are organized for strength rather than speed, so being required to do all that little artic stuff for normal speech keeps them in chronic mode of over-use. By adulthood this begins to take a toll. TMJ, grinding, and neck tensions (plus afore-mentioned self-blame) just build & increase. Singing teachers, dentists, and friends saying “You need to relax!!” will increase frustration (which, of course, tightens the jaw even more).
Simple relaxation exercises and massage can temporarily help, but careful work with a speech therapist (and possible frenulum clip, if that appears to be a component and ENT agrees) might help more. Feel free to email me off-list for a skype session or a referral near you.

Joanna has published the definitive book on everyday care for the voice, aimed at all speakers and singers.  Everything you need to know about how the voice works, and how to look after it can be found here. “Everyday Voice Care: The Lifestyle Guide for Talkers and Singers”.

How do you care for your jaw?  Do you have a favourite jaw release exercise? Please share in the Comments section below.

Next time, variations on the jaw release exercise.

Tip: Download the Being in Voice Warmup App, for some basic exercises and programs for caring for your voice. More exercises and tips will be added as time goes by.

 

5 Things You Need to Know About Your Jaw

– before you can learn to relax it.

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me, with my jaw relaxed.

Whether you are working on your voice because you are an actor, a singer, a startup entrepreneur preparing for a 5 minute pitch, or a CEO wanting to improve your presentation skills, you need to be able to relax your jaw. As anyone who has ever tried it, it’s not as easy as it sounds. There are good reasons why we hold tension in our jaw muscles, and there are equally good reasons why it is well worth the effort to let that tension go.  So before you begin, here are 5 important things you need to know about your jaw:

1 – Your jaw is your best friend

2 – Your jaw will protect you to the death

3 – Your jaw is a workaholic

4 – Your jaw will not voluntarily take a holiday

5 – Your jaw will love you even more when you manage to convince it that you can manage without it from time to time.

Next time, I will go into details about why these 5 points are so important to understand, and why they are relevant to your voice. In the meantime, click HERE (thanks to Eric Armstrong and York University, CA) to see just how complex, and how many muscle sets are involved. Do Not Fear, you can do this – and so can your jaw.