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.

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.


Adventures in Voice

11 September 2013