Here we are again. Another episode, another guest. Today we are very lucky to have Elissa Weinzimmer from ‘Voice Body Connection’ in talking about connecting to your material and a little breathing tip to train your transverse abdominus… we promise it’s important.
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Before we get into that, let us just tell about an amazing event going on in San Francisco, just for you teachers. It’s a teacher forum run by international teacher network Vocology In Practice and it’ll be a fun packed weekend of education centred around artistry and artist development. There’ll also be a few speakers on voice science and pedagogy, including past guests Dr. Ingo Titze and his daughter Karin. You don’t want to miss this, so get yourselves across to the registration page and put your name down.
That’s German for ‘wine cellar’ which already starts us off well! Elissa is the head honcho at ‘Voice Body Connection’, a core member of the revolutionary approach to voice work ‘Vibrant Voice Technique’, a graduate from the University of Alberta in ‘Theatre Voice Pedagogy’, but now residing as a voice teacher in New York. Essentially Elissa helps singers bust through the difficulties that can arise between the body and voice, which has led her to create an amazing online course for singers, actors and speakers called ‘How Your Voice Works’. We have a great discount for you on that course in case you’re interested in enrolling, but for now let’s chat to Elissa.
As with a lot of singers and teachers Elissa had suffered some vocal issues in her earlier career in the form of a haemorrhaged vocal fold. That was the motivating factor that led Elissa to figure out her own problem with singing, but also learn a lot about how the voice works holistically and how muscle tension patterns can really mess with singers instruments.
Amongst Elissa’s passions for the voice, connecting to the impulse and expression in the voice is one of them. We all need a desire or impulse to sing, and if we don’t we just stay quiet. Sometimes our only impulse to sing is because the backing track is playing and we’re required to perform it, but Elissa’s is all about finding the connection to the song so that when we sing it really feels like we are singing it because we want to. This key to this lies in the message of the song and how that reaches our emotions, and hence our voices. Technical training can often miss this important aspect because it’s too focussed on the function of the voice itself.
Where do these impulses come from?
Elissa’s revelation on this subject is simple: it’s from our cells. We often say we can ‘feel it in the soles of our feet’ or ‘in our hearts’ because impulses start at a cellular level anywhere in the body, and that’s why we often describe our feelings as coming from organs or different bodily systems. It’s then down to the nervous system and the brain to receive that information and permeate it into the performance.
Here’s an exercise from Elissa to help you tap into your impulses. It’s called the Truth-o-meter, and is based on the Fitzmorris technique; a theatre based teaching. We recommend you skip to 18:55 on the podcast to get the proper demonstration, but it’s essentially a short, relieved sigh with a focus on the truth of the sound. It’s easy to screw it up, but really effective when you get it right! Remember to watch the show for the truth.
Breath Of Fire! Activate your transverse abdominus.
There’s a lot of misinformation when it comes to breathing, and the diaphragm is often at the centre of it. Saying “breath with your diaphragm” is a bit like saying “walk with your feet”; it doesn’t mean much! However, we can do exercises to single out the diaphragm, and in Elissa’s case it’s about the diaphragms ability to move freely in its range of motion. After all, it’s a muscle that contracts and releases in every breath we take.
To set us up for good singing, Elissa’s goals is to give the diaphragm enough room to move down for a fuller inhalation and lung capacity. Then there’s the exhalation on which we sing, and in singing that’s where the effort is.
There’s a lot of opinions out there on ‘support’, and Elissa’s is on the abdominal muscles and their role in moving the internal organs up and underneath the diaphragm to support its movement up during our exhalation, which supports our singing voice. Elissa uses a technique from Yoga called ‘Breath Of Fire’, or ‘Capalabhati’ in Sanskrit, and it focusses on the direction of airflow out of our system. It starts with a short, sharp breath out through the nose. You should feel your lower belly activate here, and may you’ll find your chest slightly lift as you do it. We recommend you skip to 37:35 to see the proper demonstration. Repeat this in quick succession for 18 repetitions, and finish off with one long nasal exhalation and one long nasal inhalation.
This technique is designed to activate the transverse abdominus; a deep abdominal muscle that wraps around the body. Thinking of this muscle leading the way when it comes to support helps to keep the directional flow of air as ‘bottom up’, and the transverse abdominus is also better placed to activate exhalation without squeezing on the rib cage. If there squeezing on the ribs there can be a whole manner of vocal issues arise!
Just as a tip, this sensation is not like tensing your abs as if someone is going to punch you in the stomach. That will activate too much of the abs themselves (rectus abdominus). To get the transverse abdominus working you have to think more like you’re drawing your belly in, as if you were trying to appear very skinny in a swimsuit.
Find out more about Elissa, and her course ‘How Your Voice Works’ below. The course is an all-encompassing approach to voice, with input from some incredible voice experts such as Jenny Morton, Tom Burke and ourselves *blush*. We can also offer a 20% discount for listeners of the podcast. Just click the banner below and enter the promo code ‘THENAKEDVOCALIST’ at the checkout. Any problems? Get in touch with us. You can find Elissa on social media too. She’s on Facebook and is answering questions regularly there. Feel free to fire one over!
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