January 2012
It has been a great start to the new year for me, coming back to my normal range of teaching commitments after the ʻservice interruptionsʼ caused by X Factor (Royal Academy of Music, Sunday workshops, Estill courses, private teaching).
I was in Berlin last week teaching the Complete 5 Day Course in the Estill Model to people who were mainly complete novices to the work (there were a couple repeat offenders there...) and it once again reinforced just how much I owe to the marvellous work of Jo Estill and the wonderful clarity it brings to the highly complex subject of voice training.
I am always struck at how the precision of the Estill Model comes as such a revelation to those who have been searching for better and more accurate explanations of commonly used terms such as ʻsupportʼ and have been struggling with received information such as the perceived necessity for deep and ʻbigʼ breathing. I am reminded again of the very real need for accurate physiological information and how rare this is in far too much published work on singing teaching and voice work for actors.
The Estill Model brings several distinct advantages to vocal development. It offers unambiguous physiological explanations of vocal function that make guesswork and fanciful imagery redundant. With its emphasis on physiology and the sensation of singing, the performer is able to connect to what is actually happening while they are singing thereby reducing reliance on their own ear. Some people are surprised that this is not only desirable but actively encouraged. This is for the very simple reason that we do not hear our own voices in the same way that others do. Our internal hearing is not at all objective for that reason. The closest that we can get to hearing what others hear when we are singing is to record ourselves and play it back. Remember your shock the first time you heard a recording of your own voice, either speaking or singing. For some this is a pleasant shock but for others, not so much.
What we can feel however is reliable. We can learn the sensations that are associated with using the voice in different ways; for example, singing high and softly or high and loudly feel very different. These differences can be connected directly into specific bio- feedback, which then allows the performer to target their practise, making it more efficient which in turn allows for more accurate monitoring which then feeds into better practise and enhanced vocal development. This cycle of bio-feedback leading to increased awareness of sensation, leading to more sophisticated control feeding back into greater awareness and so on, is an essential part of all motor skill development. And one that is not possible if the primary feedback encouraged is the ear. All this leads to less guess work and finger- crossing and much greater predictability. If you know what to do because you know what it ought to feel like, then you also know that once it ʻfeels rightʼ, then the voice will be there. This is wonderfully liberating.
The cornerstone of good voice use, speaking or singing, is good technique which I would define as efficient function connected to sound physiological understanding that allows the performer to produce the desired voice ʻon demandʼ.
And thatʼs not a bad place to start with any voice training.