August 2012 

After an unprecedentedly busy July, running two consecutive Complete 5 Day Courses, the Advanced Course in London and another in Helsinki immediately afterwards, I stopped to draw breath only to have it taken away by the extraordinary feats of the athletes at the Olympics.

To me, the parallels between elite athletes and the training demands of elite performers are both obvious and comparable.

I always begin a Level 1 course by asking the question, “what are we training when we train ‘the voice’ “? A simple enough question but one that seems to really get people thinking.

Houston, we have contact

The basis of good voice use, for the actor and singer, is a responsive, balanced musculature. I have trained my RAM students in Pavlovian fashion, to respond to the question ‘What is the First Principle of Voice?’ with the simple but important answer ‘Contact!’. Efficient True Vocal Fold contact is the non-negotiable starting point in voice training. This is the building block of the voice and without it, there is nothing. Everything that you subsequently play with in terms of resonance is produced at vocal fold level, meaning both pitch and harmonics.

Good contact provides efficient resistance to breath and from there you can build range and volume. It also has a huge impact on breathing.

Chin up!

Posture & symmetry is of course, the next great non-negotiable in voice training and indeed in all efficient muscular activity. How many lop sided athletes did you at the Games? You simply cannot make high intensity demands on muscle function and for those demands to be repeatable and sustainable starting from a position of wonkiness.

So before we can even begin to think about artistry and making it look easy, there has to be some seriously intense practise going on.

However, there is a very important of principle of practise that is often overlooked.

If you can’t feel it, you can’t train it

Such a simple premise but of especial importance to actors & singers precisely because it rarely registers in voice training. All muscular training requires feedback of some sort and the problem with voice training is that the main feedback is aural. 

You listen to yourself and try to gauge progress technically and aesthetically from what you hear, But the big problem with this which is pretty difficult to ignore is that you do not hear what others hear. This means that your internal feedback is not objective and never can be. Ear training is very important but in terms of providing a sensory connection between what you hear and what you can feel, what you are able to register is happening in the body, particularly at vocal fold level.

And you can’t change behaviour you’re unaware of…

The Estill Model provides specific physical points of focus for the performer where you can direct your attention and learn to register the low muscle messages that allow you to train and therefore to develop your voice. Without this, all you have is imagination and your ear, meaning what you think you hear.

The significance of effective, measurable practise is unarguable; voice is primarily physical. Yes, we use it to communicate and most importantly, to trigger emotions in the audience but the kind of highly sophisticated motor control that is the hallmark of the expert actor & singer is the result of years of careful, assiduous practise.

How you practise is just as important as what you practise and length of practise time and I ask all my students at RAM and also those beginning certification as Estill Teachers, to read Bounce’ by Matthew Syed

© Anne-Marie Speed August 2012