Vocal Health: The Nuts and Bolts.
This weekend I will be presenting my first lecture in Vocal Pedagogy at the very first Voiceology Conference. Having been a teacher for a few decades now, I've realised one can become a little disconnected from physiology and embedded in one's student's issues and needs.
Preparing the notes for this lecture was a breath of fresh air, even though I know these principles well. Refreshing my own knowledge has meant my pupils have had a very thorough pedagogical workout for the past few weeks, and I have discovered some new pathways to the old truths of vocal production.
What does it mean to be a Voiceology Teacher? Ours are principles steeped in good vocal health and that is an excellent and essential start for any singer.
Singing is not like playing an instrument...an instrument can be taken out of a case, and then put back. Maintaining it can be as simple as replacing strings, but you cannot replace body parts and singing relies on some of the smallest of these! To sing is to be human at your very core. We made sound on pitch before we had language and so singing is a visceral body action.....we absorb vibration from so many things, we respond to it and we create vibration when we sing.
Our voice is the conduit of this and is subject to everything the body feels. This can makes things extremely difficult for singers if they allow their emotions to overtake their vocal responses. Vocal Pedagogy is a study which can deflect emotions from affecting singers as well as arming them with a sound knowledge of vocal production which can help them recognise and resolve vocal issues as they arise.
To get there, you need the right Voiceology Teacher and, for me, vocal health is the very first study we make as pupil and teacher together.
The common things you will hear about vocal health are things like drink plenty of water, avoid dairy if you have mucus issues, avoid spicy foods, don't smoke and don't shout OR whisper - good advice!
With Vocal Pedagogy, we focus first on the onset of sound and bringing the right breath pressure to inspire our cords to 'approximate' cleanly and efficiently. We start by teaching the cords to come together properly on just the right amount of air pressure - no more and no less. So many singers make the mistake of believing hurling pressure at the cords and practically shouting is the way to get cords to work but this only teaches them to respond to high amounts of pressure, eventually showing the wear and tear anything exposed to high pressure will show - br breaking down and being unable to sing softly - it is a little like the supermodel refusing to get out of bed for less than $10,000!
The truth is, vocal cords respond to all kinds of air pressure, from that which is required to speak, to that which is required to scream. The trick is to find how much you truly need to sing softly on a continuous open vowel and then how much more (or less) be able to move flexibly between requirements. We test this with exercises, on vowel sounds and then adding in consonants while observing the differences between them all. We pair all our physical efforts with the governance of neurological commands and responses. There is an undeniable link between the brain's decision, the action of the larynx, the conduction of bone vibration and the inner ear which helps regulate our vocal actions. When we can clearly hear what we are doing, our inner workings can usually direct any adjustments needed to achieve our aims - our teachers are our ears until we have adjusted things confidently enough to be able to produce the right sounds easily and without strain.
There is just so much good and satisfying information for singers nowadays, the world of vocal health is looking good and in the hands of organisation such as Voiceology Australia, and founder Marion Rouvas, even better! The Voiceology Voice Rescue Conference will start at 10am, November 12 at the JMC Academy in Sydney with keynote speaker Marion Rouvas. Tickets available on www.trybooking.com.