You may have heard me say that as a voice coach I specialise in “vocal anatomy based technique“. But what does that mean? And do I use a particular vocal “method”?
As a performer, I have a strong preference for being a versatile vocalist; being able to create and control many different kinds of sounds, textures, and tones. If a singer only uses a few similar vocal sounds, they may be limited in the different kind of styles and genres they can find work in. (This also applies to actors, including those in musical theatre – more vocal sounds in your toolbox means more kinds of characters you are able to be cast as.) Vocal versatility means you can sing in many different styles, which makes you valuable (aka employable) to more people with more different kinds of projects… it also means as a musician you have more fun & variety in your working life!
As a voice teacher, I have a similar approach; I have learnt from many different vocal teachers over the years, and I thoroughly enjoy studying and researching about the voice and vocal technique from many different sources, as well as investigating different kinds of vocal “methods”. However, when learning voice I was often frustrated by the nature of the majority of instruction that seemed to be given by most voice teachers; esoteric, imagery-based instructions such as “place the sound forward” which sometimes made sense, and sometimes sounded like a foreign language.
I wanted to know what it all actually meant inside my larynx – what is your voice actually doing when you’re in “chest voice” or “head voice” and going between them? What actually physically happens when you “place the sound in the mask”?
I also had certain aspects of singing that seemed to constantly elude me; getting more strength and power out of my voice, for example. Sometimes I would be practicing and something would happen and for one song it would all be working… but then I would spend the next few weeks trying and failing to make it happen again, not really knowing what I was aiming for other than a vague “feeling”.
How do I get a stronger voice?
What does chest voice and head voice mean?
Why does my voice get tired?
These questions were all answered for me when I had my first lesson with an Estill Voice Training teacher. In an hour and a half, I learnt more about how my voice worked than i had in my entire Bachelor of Music. My teacher showed me a simple exercise which took the feeling of an “invisible ceiling” away from my voice – what I had been trying to push through to get a better & stronger sound was explained to me, and remedied, in one lesson.
I was hooked. Knowing how my voice actually worked and the explanations behind the sounds & feelings involved with singing was (and is) incredibly empowering. I am consistently baffled by singers who are not interested in this approach; it’s like a guitarist not wanting to know how to change their strings. I don’t understand how you could not want to know how your instrument works – especially when that knowledge can help you use it so much better.
When people ask what Estill is, I try to explain that it’s not really a vocal “method”. You see so many claims, especially online, of one or another vocal method claiming to be the best. “Learn to sing fast!” “How to sing better than anyone!” “Best vocal method taught exclusively at our studio!” Vocal coaches tout their amazing vocal method that they claim only they can teach you. Some vocal coaches are surrounded by an air of mystery and exclusivity; they have taught [insert famous person here] and we assume they must have some magical secret to the voice.
It’s no secret; the larynx is a physical mechanism like any other physical mechanism in the body. We can research and study and examine it, we can experiment, we can practice, and it doesn’t require a particular “method”; just knowledge, understanding, and practice.
Rather than a “method”, I would describe Estill as more of a system for categorising the different parts involved in singing (and speaking), separating them and showing you how to control them independently, and then combining them for any desired vocal sound. And of course, Estill is just one way of looking at vocal anatomy; I love to learn and study the voice from many different sources, so that not only do I have a deeper understanding, but so that I have many different ways of describing it to my students, because of course everyone has a different learning style and different levels of experience.
I am not yet a qualified Estill teacher, but this approach has informed my own vocal technique as well as what I teach my students, more than anything else I have learnt in my life of vocal training, and I am always learning more things as I work towards my qualification.
And of course, going back to performing… my own practice and performance as a vocalist has benefitted immeasurably from my new understanding & control of my voice. The anatomy-based approach, rooted in Estill, enables you as a performer to be as versatile as possible. Having isolated control over the different mechanisms involved in vocalisation allows you to mix and match the mechanisms on their various settings, to create a wide range of vocal sounds & timbres… which can then be applied to many different styles of singing & genres of music. It’s also much more fun to have so many colours in your palette to play with!
So, that’s a bit of a description and explanation of my journey to the current day, and why I find the anatomy-based approach, and the Estill structure, so valuable. I hope I didn’t bore you silly, and if you’d like to find out more about all this, give me a call anytime or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org!