What Yoga Taught Me About Voice

Before we get into it, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: I’m less than just a beginner at yoga. I’m an uber-beginner. Oh yes, I’m exceptional at having to go over very basic positions again and again.

Self-deprecation aside, I am in no way an expert on yoga. I’m not proficient enough at said art to advise or teach someone, so if you’re hoping for advice on positions, you’re out of luck.

However, from years of sports and martial arts, I have relatively good body awareness. From the nature of training voice as well, the “learning experience” is something I spend a lot of time immersed in, and I’m used to trying to find more efficient ways of doing things, especially through repetition.

As such, a few things came to mind during yoga practice over the last year or so that mirror my experience with voice training. Some of these I thought worth sharing:

1. Repetition and refinement

There are many positions in yoga. Some are referred to as their anglicised names like “cat-cow” or “child’s pose”, and others utilise the original sanskrit. There’s one pose I found particularly difficult at first: “downward facing dog”:

I am relatively strong, but very quickly I was shaking in the shoulders. I got a little stronger with repetition over the next few sessions, but I was clearly missing something that simply repeating what I was doing wouldn’t work. As I kept practicing, I made tiny adjustments to my positions to find a less strenuous way of holding it. Then, I made one tiny adjustment that enabled my skeleton to bear more of my weight. Suddenly, an equilibrium was reached, and the muscles stopped shaking.

Repetition and the refinement go hand in hand. You can’t carve away the imperfection without repeatedly facing it. This requires embracing getting it wrong and improving through conscious repetition and refinement.

The same is true with voice (or anything for that matter). People think they can trick their voice to the top notes, or that once they’ve got the top notes, they’ve got them and they don’t need to do any further work. On the contrary, repetition and refinement will always pay dividends to those willing to put in the work. Whether that’s easier access, more power for less work, more stamina, repetition and refinement is critical. But what else follows from this? Continue reading “What Yoga Taught Me About Voice”

Learn an instrument for Self-accompaniment

I’ve recently had a lot of discussions around how to learn an instrument, especially in the context of self-accompaniment for singing.

I play a handful of instruments and self-accompany on a few of them, so I thought it worth putting together some suggestions for those who are perhaps interested in learning an instrument. Or perhaps you have a child/teenager who is looking to take up an instrument.

Learning any instrument

When it comes to the voice and voice training, the voice as an instrument is incomplete. We have to both build the voice itself to be functional, as well as learning to play the instrument as we build it.

In contrast, when you buy a good piano, guitar, ukulele, etc, the instrument is already finished by the instrument maker. The better the instrument, the fewer the flaws, but all are typically playable from the moment of purchase.

Therefore, all the work of learning a physical instrument (other than the voice) goes into learning the ins/outs and idiosyncrasies of the instrument. You simply learn how to play the notes and create music. So let’s consider what our options our, which is easiest (read: lowest hurdles to overcome) and why. Continue reading “Learn an instrument for Self-accompaniment”

My favourite quotes for 2022

Happy New Year to you! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and a lovely start to 2022.

I received a LOT of books for Christmas. This is good news for me, as I love digging into a good book. I’ve recommended a fair few of my favourite books this year, but I thought I might share a few choice thoughts that had been spurred on by my favourite books.

After all, New Year is the time for reflections and good intentions to be posed for the coming year. As such, I thought you might like a sneak peek into the ruminations that have been going on in my mind as 2022 commences. I do hope there’s a few stimulating thoughts in there for you as well.

1. Do the stuff that matters / Routine

What I gradually realised was that the very same activities that had rescued me from failure, would also rescue me from [merely surviving] to success – if [only] I would just keep doing them.

This is from one of my favourite books, ‘The Slight Edge’ by Jeff Olson (on page 9). Olson ran many successful businesses, but before then, constantly found himself oscillating between failure and mere survival… and couldn’t figure out why. He wondered what was the next ‘magic step’ he was missing? What trick or career move did he need to find? Continue reading “My favourite quotes for 2022”

Practise Makes Permanent

Let’s talk about the concept of practise.

I was having a conversation with someone outside of sessions recently about the concept of “practise“. They are not a musician/singer, nor do they have a particular hobby that they have spent years practising, so do bear that in mind as I relay the jist of the conversation.

During the exchange, they made the following seemingly innocuous statement:

Practise Makes Perfect

Now, as someone whose entire career focuses on training people in acquiring a finely controlled skill such as singing, I happen to have a few thoughts on this. Namely, that this statement – if left unqualified – is not true.

Let me explain why, and we’ll look at both aspects of this statement:

1. Practise

When we talk about practising, we usually mean the following that someone is repeatedly doing a particular set of actions in order to ingrain such behaviour and make it permanent.

Often, there is also an implicit assumption, that the actions being repeated are actually improving someone’s skills. But is this always the case? Continue reading “Practise Makes Permanent”

What does voice acting involve? Can I start doing voice over work?

I’m a voice coach and singing teacher. The core of my work is about building, improving and fixing issues people have in their voices.

From that point, the primary and highest demanding application of this is for singers and performers using their voice in song. This involves using their voice over the widest range, at the most extreme intensities, often in sub-optimal situations where their performance needs to be dead-on first time.

Other applications of a well-built voice involve acting on stage, on television, voice-over work, stage speaking, professional speaking/voice use, etc. Many of my clients are even school teachers looking to maintain their voice. This is very much a classic example of a professional voice user – it just so happens voice training overlaps very well with their love of singing.

I’ve been getting a lot of interest lately in voice-over work and voice acting. I have had the odd client who goes down this road, but the majority of my client-base falls into the above camp. It seems that many are considering a career-change or even a side-gig in voice acting, so I wanted to pull together some pointers on what it is and what is involved. I will also briefly clarify the difference between a voice over coach and a voice coach like myself.

What is voice acting?

Voice acting is the art of performing voice-overs to present a character or provide information to an audience.

When you watch “Peppa Pig”, “The Simpsons”, or listen to radio shows like “The Archers”, the people providing the voice track for each of the characters are professional voice actors. Their bodies are not seen on-screen, so they are required to provide all the emotional intensity and meaning for the scene purely through using their voices. Voices need to be intelligible and of an appropriate character for the given project.

Projects can be extremely diverse. Radio shows, podcasts, animated films, cartoons, educational videos, pre-recorded corporate training, explanations within software, TV or radio advertisements, jingles, TV/radio segues, etc, all can involve the use of one/multiple voice actors. Because of the diverse range of possible voice acting avenues, you can understand why there is no “one size fits all” definition for what makes a good voice for voice acting. Continue reading “What does voice acting involve? Can I start doing voice over work?”

Five of my Favourite Books on Singing

I lend out my books fairly regularly, and 90% of the time, they find their way back to me. Of the 10% that don’t, very few are ones that matter to me that I have on my shelf.

But I’ve discovered at least two of my favourite books on voice and singing have gone walk-about, hence I’ve re-ordered them. These are number one and two on this list, and are incredibly easy to read, but contain a wealth of knowledge and story-telling from great singers and musicians.

Books 3-5 are reference books that I refer to reasonably often, but are very definitely not “read cover to cover” books. I’d suggest picking these up if you’re especially interested in either the history or physiology of singing.

1. Pavarotti Up-Close
Leone Magiera

Leone Magiera was Pavarotti’s close friend and accompanist for most of Pavarotti’s life. It’s the perfect story interwining actual events, music, singing, Pavarotti’s personal life, and escapades from his teens all the way through to his later years. I truly wish all books were written with this blend of biography and musical experiences. Continue reading “Five of my Favourite Books on Singing”