Tag Archives: voice

World Voice Day Melbourne, 2015, with the Australian Voice Association

World Voice Day 2015

On Thursday 16th of April I had the pleasure of being a part of World Voice Day 2015, at the Australian Voice Association’s Melbourne event. In the beautiful setting of Library on the Dock, about 40 attendees, mostly choral singers, came to learn about vocal anatomy & health.

My fellow presenters included ENT surgeon Dr. Amanda Richards, and speech pathologist Meaghan Sullivan, both of whom gave informative & entertaining presentations on vocal anatomy & health.

I particularly enjoyed Meaghan’s idea of the “vocal bucket”. Even if you have good vocal technique, your vocal folds are muscles like any other in the body, and they can be fatigued from overuse. You have a “bucket” of vocal use on any given day, and when you use your voice you are filling it up, and it can overflow.

Singing is more taxing on the voice than speaking, because it usually involves taking your voice higher than your usual speech pitch; the higher the pitch produces by the vocal folds, the faster they are vibrating – they collide with each other hundreds of times a second, so going higher fills up your vocal bucket faster!

Before the event I wasn’t quite sure what the other presenters would be including in their presentations, so I decided to keep my speech, at the start of the event, away from vocal anatomy, leaving that to the medical professionals. I focused more on something which I see commonly in so many singers – the shying away from identifying oneself as “a singer”, despite doing a lot of singing!

Do you sing or play music and not consider yourself a singer or a musician? Do you feel there is a requirement of some kind you have to have – qualifications, earning money, amount of time spent doing it – to call yourself a singer/musician? Did this “requirement” come from something someone else told you, or just from your own head? Is it completely arbitrary? I am putting together a video presentation about this topic, so stay tuned for that!

At the end of the evening, after Meaghan and Amanda had given their presentations, I finished the event with a couple of quick interactive exercises, talking about the useful concept of Effort Numbering which I learned through the Estill model, and how it can apply to things such as “mouth effort” and “breath effort vs vocal effort”. This part of my presentation was not planned and as such felt a little rushed and underprepared, but the audience seemed to enjoy it nonetheless!

In retrospect, I would have liked to teach the assembled singers about the false vocal folds and how to retract them; but I also didn’t want to keep everyone sitting & listening too long at that time of the evening when they’d already absorbed a lot of information. Ah well, save it for next time!

It was a lovely evening, thankyou so much to the Australian Voice Association for asking me to be a part of it, thankyou to Amanda & Meaghan for your fantastic presentations, and thankyou to everyone who came along and participated and asked questions!

Click here for a review of the event written by Jason from the Melbourne Contemporary Choir.

Testimonial

I received a lovely email from one of my students back in Tasmania, and with his permission I wanted to share it here.

I just wanted to say thank you for all your efforts to improve my singing and vocal performance. You were an amazing mentor and teacher, who got the best out of myself.

You were so thorough and meticulous in your approach and your lessons were always worthwhile.

I always looked forward to Wednesdays as I knew that I would learn a new technique that would allow me to be a more efficient and relaxed singer. Your ability to teach these techniques in such a short period of time was outstanding.

Your care for your students was so evident during the showcases, where you demonstrated great pride and empathy.

I feel very privileged to have worked with you, even if for a short period of time.

– Sam Morey

Thankyou so much Sam – you made my day. I hope everyone back in Tassie is well, I miss you all, and I will be coming back for a visit soon!

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.

vocal method
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!

Top 10 Tips For A Healthy Voice (Australian Voice Association)

Further to my last post about the Australian Voice Association’s national seminar – here is one of their resources, a poster which is now on my wall – their top ten tips for a healthy voice.  These apply equally to speech as they do to singing… if you’d like to download your own PDF copy of the poster, click here.

australian voice assocation top 10 tips for a healthy voice

Your Melbourne Singing Teacher!

Okay folks, here’s the official announcement – I have said farewell to beautiful Tasmania and am now living in big city Melbourne.

I am currently based in Brunswick West, and now taking bookings for students wishing to learn about vocal anatomy & simple techniques to improve their vocal strength, agility, versatility, range, and health!

So if you are looking for a Melbourne singing teacher / voice coach / vocal tutor, give me a call, come in for an intro session – your first lesson is half price, so you can make sure you feel my approach will be a good match for you.

My approach, through anatomy-based technique, works just as well for a complete beginner to singing, as it does for experienced singers who have been gigging all their life.

Click on any of the tabs above for more information, or give me a call/text on 0408 504 599 or email info@bectilley.com to enquire!

See you soon!

melbourne singing teacher studio IMG_0655

Australian Voice Association’s National Seminar; and a strange use for an iPhone…

To the right is a photo of my vocal folds (aka vocal cords).  They are in the act of phonating (vibrating together, creating sound).  How this photo was taken may surprise you – read on to find out more!
vocal folds iPhone endoscopy larynx
 
I consider myself a huge “voice nerd”; basically I can’t get enough of learning about the voice.  While reading good voice books is a great way to do this (I’m currently enjoying studying “Is Your Voice Telling On You?” by Daniel R. Boone). 

 

They say you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with; I’m sure this is true professionally, too.  One of my favourite quotes is:
“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
So in early November, I took myself into a room full of medically qualified voice experts.

 

The Australian Voice Association is a great organisation which brings together vocal professionals from all areas & disciplines; primarily speech pathologists (aka speech therapists), and otolaryngologists (aka Ear, Nose & Throat surgeons or ENTs), as well as singers, vocal coaches & singing teachers like myself.  On Thursday 6th November they held their national satellite seminar at the lovely Baha’i Centre in Hobart.

 

We enjoyed presentations of research, an interactive workshop introduction to Alexander Technique by local practitioner & physiotherapist Elke Rudolph (fascinating stuff which I hope to study further, as I believe it can be of great assistance to any singers), and I sat on a discussion panel with an ENT and speech pathologist to discuss voice disorders in children after fascinating presentations on the subject by Dr Daniel Novakovic (ENT) and Dr Estella Ma, Associate Professor at Hong Kong University.

 

There were several presentations from different voice experts to the whole group, as well as smaller group discussions on specific topics.  Later in the evening we enjoyed a reception at Government House including some lovely performances.

 

At dinner afterwards some mischief occurred – pictured is Dr. Daniel Novakovic “scoping” my vocal folds using the highly scientific tool of my iPhone 5S, over the dinner table, much to the amusement of the assembled company (and the folks at the tables around us).  Don’t try this at home, kids – remember that Dr. Novakovic is a qualified medical professional!

 

iphone endoscopy australian voice association

 

The footage he took was remarkably clear – you can see it below:

 

 

In December, I was in Sydney while on tour with Damon Albarn, so I went in to see Dr. Novakovic in his office, and we did a proper endoscopy examination, both oral and nasal.  We did take some footage as I demonstrated various vocal techniques and sounds, and this may be released online at some point.

 

It was wonderful to attend the AVA seminar and connect with many great voice experts, both ENTs and speech pathologists (many of whom are also singers), and learn more about this fascinating instrument of ours and how to take care of it.  I look forward to the next one!

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!)

IMG_3558

The “Certificate of Legit-ness” and What It Means To Be A “Real” Musician

I have a quick story to tell you today about one of my students, who I shall call “Mary” for the purposes of this post.

As with many of my students who have never had lessons before, Mary came to her first lesson pretty nervous and pretty certain she wasn’t very good.  Some of the warnings I get from new students regularly include:   “I’m probably the worst you’ve ever heard”  “I don’t know if I can even sing in tune”  “I sound really bad” etcetera.

I am sometimes a little nervous when a student tells me they can’t sing in tune, as that would be a challenge; however thus far, having had many students over the years I’ve been teaching, I have not yet come across a single individual who was tone deaf.  It seems to me that the vast majority of humans have a good sense of aural pitch.  If anyone has trouble singing in tune, it is usually not due to an aural problem, but simple lack of control of the voice.  

The first thing I do when a student very bravely but nervously sings me a song for the first time, is usually reassure them that they are not terrible, definitely not the worst I have ever heard, and that they can sing in tune.  It takes a little while for them to believe me, but as I teach them how to control the simple physical mechanisms of the voice, I see their self-confidence improve as they realise singing is not some esoteric talent you either have or don’t have; but a physical skill which just takes understanding, practice, and good teaching to control.  

Mary came to me having already started doing a few solo gigs with her guitar at a local pub, so she already had an inkling that maybe she had something decent to work with, but she was definitely nervous.  We developed a good rapport, and after a few lessons, I noticed something in the way she referred to herself regarding singing that I hear often.  She would say things implying that she was not “a real singer” or “a real musician”.

So I sat her down and told her firmly:  You use your voice.  You sing.  You play songs on your guitar and you sing them.  You even do live performances in front of an audience.

YOU ARE A MUSICIAN.  YOU ARE A SINGER.  

I must note here that although Mary does, you do not have to perform live to be a musician or a singer.  There is no official qualification you can get; you do not need a Bachelor of Music to be a musician.  If you sing, if you love singing, if you enjoy singing, whether it’s alone in your bedroom or just for your family or  in front of an audience, YOU ARE A SINGER!

And it is my firm belief that almost every human is, or has the ability to be, a singer and a musician.  It is part of our genetic makeup, it is part of what it is to be human.  Rhythm is in our heartbeats.  Music is in the sound of our voice regardless of whether we are singing or speaking.  Every human culture on the planet has music.  In our society, music has become something of which you are either performer or audience; you are either the person who makes music or the person who listens to it.  Many areas of music become elitist and snobbish.  People who don’t study music institutionally or don’t have lessons all their life and perform on stage hold this belief that they aren’t, and could never possibly be, a musician.  That could not be further from the truth.

Send your mind back not too many years in the past, when music was a communal happening; a family activity; a community experience.  We sing to our babies.  We gather around the piano in the parlour.  We play drums around a fire.  We strum 3 simple chords on a broken guitar.  We sing in church.  We hoot and holler at the moon.  Nowadays we gather in the thousands to listen and dance to our favourite musicians, we feel the unity in the room, brought together with thousands of strangers by a love for music; but you must know that you have just as much of a right to create music as the person on that stage does.  Music matters, whether it’s for one person or millions; and it belongs to everyone.

You do not need a certificate to qualify you as a singer.  That being said; I recognise that sometimes external validation is a helpful step in us believing something about ourselves.

So I made Mary this “Certificate of Legit-ness”
 (again, not her real name):

certificate of legitness

(click to enlarge)

Mary was pretty stoked with this and apparently got it framed.

Whatever it takes to help my students and fellow humans believe that they have a right to music; I will fight this battle gladly!

Til next time!

Bec x

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!  

The voice affects the mind: Two little spiels about me and my business, now and into the future

Below is a recording of my 3min spiel from the Festival of Voices and UTAS’ Entrepreneurship and Leadership In Practice unit,  about the way I plan to change the world through vocal coaching!  Click here to go straight to my part or skip to 24:37 below –  or read my spiel typed up just beneath it.

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“Like many people, I want to make a difference to the world.
I’m concerned about the state of the world, particularly issues such as sustainability, the environment, and human rights.
And like many people, I often feel powerless to make a difference in these areas.
I have friends who are passionate and active eco-warriors, but I get exhausted just looking at them – I know that is not my fight.  I listen to and support them, but I am not a protestor, a signature-gatherer, or a tree-sitter.

But I heard a quote recently that really opened my eyes –
“We don’t have an environmental problem; we have a consciousness problem.”
I think this is a profound and significant statement.  Change the life of the individual – open their eyes, increase their consciousness – and you can change the world.

My fight, my passion, is with people; on an individual level.  I love people, and I LOVE seeing my work make a difference to others’ lives, whether that’s through my music, writing, and art, or whether it’s through teaching them how to sing, how to move past the frustrations they have with their voice, or how to improve their ability to communicate and express themselves effectively in their speech.

I am branching my business into serving clients from big business, politics, law, and similar industries, with which I am not familiar; it is populated with people who are different from myself in their experiences and lifestyle.  At first I felt insecure about this; unsure as to whether I could connect with these people, unsure as to whether they would be open to what I had to offer.
But having now worked with some clients from these sectors, I have quickly realised that of course, there is a common thread that runs through us all:  Humanity. We all have the same fears and the same desires.  We want to belong; we want to be loved; we want to feel comfortable in ourselves and our lives.    And we want to connect with others.

I have seen my work change people’s lives, improve their physical and mental health.  This can help them become more conscious of their body, their habits, their physical and their mental tensions, themselves and the world around them.
When I teach people to use their voices to communicate better but also use their ears to listen…  on an individual level, change their consciousness, and the rest will be taken care of.  When the change in the individual occurs, they will make the change in the world.
For the first time, recently, I have hope for our world… and I don’t feel powerless anymore.

Finally, I am passionate about Tasmania, festivals and events, and I love the Festival of Voices.  I have been involved with it in numerous ways over the years, and while I do not have – yet – a clear idea of how exactly my work and my expertise is going to fit in and serve the festival, but I am certain that together we can create some innovation, some joy in people’s lives, and some change in the world.  Thankyou.”