We talk about vocal health a lot, but what does that mean, exactly?
Since the vocal instrument is the body, vocal health in large part addresses physical health.
Is a singer getting proper amounts of . . .
Peace of mind?
Think basics of decent physical health, and you can deduce much of what you need for “vocal” health as well. For example, fatigue or lack of sleep is a huge factor in vocal function.
Didn’t sleep last night? The voice may fatigue more quickly than usual, and tonight’s gig might not feel as easy to sing.
To me, vocal health also encompasses how the voice is engaged or exercised, and special considerations for singers based on how the voice functions. This “vocal health” topic is endless, so please use the following ideas as a jumping off place to do more research for yourself.
1. The Vocal Folds and Anything You Inhale
The vocal folds, or vocal cords, sit on top of the trachea acting as a cap to the airway down below.
There are arguments for and against listening to the sound of one’s own voice. The biggest argument against listening to how we sound is the innate tendency to dislike our own voices.
Do you remember the first time you heard your voice on a recording?
If you are like most people, it was a strange experience and not altogether believable or pleasant.
For now, let’s assume a healthy, balanced perspective on listening to the voice, and discuss how learning to hear your own voice “in the room” can make a difference in your training goals.
Why listen in the first place?
Since the voice sounds very, very different inside our skulls than “in the room,” it is important to both become comfortable with the sounds we are producing and to realize what sounds we are actually making.
Audio feedback mechanisms are like mirrors for the voice. Sometimes it helps to look at what we are doing so we can make adjustments faster and with more precision.
3 Voice Feedback Tools
1. The Smartphone
Most smartphones have a voice memo app. These built-in apps capture great sound and don’t require much memory. Use your app to sample a few seconds of singing or speaking and then listen back with an open mind. You will most likely hear all kinds of interesting things, and you can also re-investigate to your heart’s content.
“Nothing is beyond question.”
-Ken Bozeman, Interviews on Voice Matters, 12/19/17
In the most recent episode of Interviews on Voice Matters, Ken Bozeman made the point that voice teachers and voice scientists need each other. He was saying that voice scientists are not the ones in the trenches hearing voices all day, and likewise, singing teachers do not typically have science backgrounds.
If we are going to learn more about the voice, each type of voice professional has to come to the table. There are no discoveries about voice that DO NOT require a village to raise, apparently. And I wholeheartedly agree.
I’m looking for more of a balance between (right now) what I would say are three legs: voice science, historic pedagogy that has a proven track record, and then innate human response.
I point out that the conclusions and observations that I made back in ’89 – and first observed where my vowels wanted to turn over – required that I had seen a voice science chart of first formant locations. The scientists didn’t tell me that. It took someone in a voice studio dealing with voices all the time to observe that. So, it’s really a very important dialog we need to have.
And to this day, for example the things I’m doing in my application of [Ian Howell’s] work, I’m not getting from voice scientists. It’s coming from pedagogues. But it’s totally grounded in information that the voice scientists supplied us with. They’re playing a vital role.
Which lead me to say further along in the interview, “we need each other.” Just like a happy, functional tribe, we work better together. We get more accomplished together. We are better able to help each other – together.
“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.
“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)
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 seme
ster 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.