Tag Archives: estill

Which vocal method do I choose?

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.

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Me with my voice nerd family at the Estill Voice Training Symposium, Jan 2015

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 info@bectilley.com!

Vocal pain gone = Definitely a good thing!

I took this screenshot of an email I got a while back from a new student after her first lesson.  This kind of message makes me really happy!  If I can save just one person from vocal pain or potential damage, that makes it all worth it… (Luckily I get to help many more than one!)

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Adventures with a voice student and an ENT!

Last Thursday was my 25th birthday, and I had a very exciting experience – I went with one of my singing students to her appointment with an ENT (Ear, Nose, & Throat specialist).  

This student has been taking lessons with me since February, and is similar to me in that she is an energetic, outgoing, and outspoken young lady (she is about 14 years old).  Previously she had never done any singing training, but enjoys singing and has a lovely strong voice, particularly in her lower range (thick folds).

However, I did note that she found it quite difficult to go up into her higher range (thin folds/stiff folds); she has improved somewhat with exercises designed to help tilt the thyroid cartilage and go into “thin folds”, however still often had a breathy or croaky/crackly sound in her higher range and definitely found it challenging.

She also had the kind of speaking voice and vocal habits in speech that reminded me of other people I have known who have regularly lost their voice or had voice issues; outgoing people who talk loudly around their friends or when they get excited, tend to shout a lot or have to talk in loud environments; I could hear from her speaking voice that she could easily lose her voice if she pushed it too much.  While I have worked with her on retracting the false vocal folds to avoid vocal trauma, I felt there was potentially something going on which I didn’t have a solution for.

I am not a speech pathologist, so I do not have sufficient knowledge/qualification to diagnose a student with any kind of vocal pathology; but if I hear something in a student’s voice that seems to be something other than just lack of control, I will always recommend that the student see a speech pathologist or ENT to check that there is nothing potentially dangerous going on (like vocal nodes or nodules) or any other kind of vocal pathology or speech habit that needs special training.

My student has had some sinus issues as well, so when she went to her GP to get a referral, they recommended that she see an ENT.

There are only two ENT’s in Hobart, so there was quite a long wait, but finally we went in to see Dr. Nusa Naiman.

I was like a kid in a candy store – nerding out about voice stuff gets me very excited, and while my student and her mum were happy to have me there to help describe the issue to Dr. Naiman, I was also extremely happy to have the chance to learn what was going on with my student’s voice (for future reference) and potentially see her vocal folds!

Luckily for me, after asking some questions, Dr. Naiman went straight to getting an endoscope in to see what was going on.  It’s a painless but apparently slightly uncomfortable procedure; my student first had a couple sprays up her nose from a bottle of local anaesthetic spray, waited a few minutes, and then Dr. Naiman inserted a very thin tube with a tiny camera on the end.  The camera tube goes up the nose and down the back of the throat, into the airway just above the larynx (voice box) so we could see her vocal folds.

What we saw, and Dr. Naiman pointed out, was some irritation/reddening around the arytenoids (cartilages at the posterior end of the vocal folds) and the end of the vocal folds themselves (probably, I am guessing, due to some pushing/constriction of the false vocal folds when shouting/singing/speaking too loud).  And when the student attempted to demonstrate what I had noticed – the breathiness/crackling/difficulty in the higher register – Dr. Naiman pointed out that the vocal folds did not close completely in this higher register – the technical term for this is “incomplete adduction of the vocal folds” which creates a breathy sound as air escapes through the gap or “chink” where the vocal folds are not closing completely.

I was pleased to know that there were no vocal nodes/nodules or anything that serious going on with my student’s voice.  Dr. Naiman recommended 2 weeks of vocal rest (no shouting, whispering, or singing; just minimal speaking) to allow the redness to subside, followed by some sessions on some exercises to help with the incomplete adduction, from a speech pathologist who specialises in voice.  Luckily, I had just recently met one:  Helen Sjardin, who has moved back to Tasmania in the last couple of years and knows Dr. Naiman.  There aren’t a lot of speech pathologists in Tasmania (or, apparently, elsewhere either) who specialise in voice, so this is lucky for us!

I’m looking forward to attending some sessions with Helen and my student, and learning some more about incomplete adduction and exercises that can help with fixing it.  I had a very enjoyable lunch conversation with Helen the week before, and hope to maintain regular contact with her and work together to best serve our various clients and expand my knowledge about the voice!

My next post will be about the relationship between the different kinds of voice specialists – from voice coaches, to speech pathologists, to ENTs – so stay tuned!