Welcome to todays episode with Vocal Process’s Gillyane Kayes and Jeremy Fisher.
They are long-standing coaches in the worldwide community, authors of This Is A Voice, and the brains behind the App Stores successful vocal app, The 1 minute Warm Up. Listen to the fun and informative podcast on the player above, but here’s a summary of what we covered that day.
Gillyanne comes from the professional classical singer background and has trained, and had a career, in that field. Jeremy’s experience is around the accompanist, performance and ensemble coach, so as a team they cover all bases!
During their early experiences in singing coaching they began to realise that, to work with groups of actors, they had to tailor their approach. As an early music singer, Gillyanne had presumed that everyone could sing an F5. The actors were quick to say “we can’t do that!”. So, Gillyanne went on to review the way she communicated concepts of technique to groups of non-singers.
Jeremy also pointed out that actors are obviously very skilled with spoken voice. In contrast, they can feel desperately unskilled with singing voice. This also requires a little adjustment to how you handle training for them.
Unlike the speaking voice, the timbre and tone is so much more important in singing. And then there’s style! When you’re in classical, beauty of tone and smooth legato is everything. Flick to musical theatre and story telling is king, and you’re speaking on pitch. On the flip side, R&B needs a riff or two. You just don’t get any of that in speaking voice training, hence why the actors can feel a bit out of their depth.
Gillyanne had first started to structure her teaching after getting involved in the Estill Voice Training program. Specifically, to know more about how to teach belting. That sparked off a passion for vocal function and mechanics, which eventually led to her doctorate. Despite the passion for muscle and cartilage, she didn’t discount the effectiveness of imagery in singing. However, imagery can be easily misunderstood by singers, or it might not relate to their experience of their singing.
For example, “Put your voice forward” is a very common instruction in the teaching industry. Gillyanne has come across many singers who follow this instruction to the death, but when she sees the result it isn’t always helpful. The larynx is commonly dragged up and forward in an effort to feel that “forward placement”.
There’s also the tendency to gesture forwards in a effort to make the sound feel forward, involving poking the nose, face, chin or body forward. None of which provide a reliable solution to this mystical feeling.
The problem with asking for a “forward” sound is that it’s based on the output, but the output is a result. It’s the sound you get, and most of time a singer can’t get what they want by focussing on the output. Instead, you get the output result of “forward placement” by doing something else during the input. A teachers job is to figure out what they can do with the singers approach. That’s where the end result becomes “forward”.
Forward vs Backward
At this point, Jeremy provides us with an example of working on forward and backward placement. The first place he would go if someone feels like the sound feels backed up is the tongue. If your sound feels that way, the back of the tongue is likely to be low. Therefore, the biggest space you’re creating is at the back of your mouth. If you raise that tongue up slightly, the sound moves forward. That’s focussing on what you do with the input to get the result and is so much more useful.
As far as their favourite instructions for bringing the tongue up, messing around with forward vowels initially. You can also consciously bring tongue positions forward with a little help from a coach, but sometimes the backed tongue issue can take a bit of unpicking.
It’s not always technical
A backed-up tongue and back placement can also be a result of what belief or image a singer is holding in their head. They may have been told to do something like ‘yawn’ during singing. They may have also read it on the internet!
But if there’s a yawn going on during the line, it’s likely that they can’t move their tongue into a favourable position. It essentially overrides any instruction that they try and give their voice. As a singer, it’s important to be prepared to question the beliefs you have about singing. Especially if your progress seems slow or at a standstill.
Oh no… we’re talking about registers
Gillyanne had started her PhD journey purely because of the times where singers, mostly females, would come in and describe this “different” feeling in the middle range.
“It feels like mix voice” they would say.
So then Gillyanne dug into everything she could about vocal register theory. Inevitably, keeping up with research leads to current beliefs and teaching strategies to be adjusted, reviewed, or just chucked away. That’s exactly what has happened in the last 20 years of Gillyanne and Jeremy teaching together.
One of the main differences for Gillyanne initially studying in Estill was the notion of vocal registers. Specifically how they are different patterns of vibration in the vocal folds. Jeremy goes on to say that:
“As far as I’m aware, you can’t mix a modal and a falsetto vibration. They are entirely different modes of vibration where the vocal folds and behaving in two entirely different ways… any mixes that you do could be a mix on modal and a mix on falsetto. Can’t have both, but you can have either.”
Which mix are you?
If you mix on a modal register, known as chest for most of us, you have muscle to play with. In chest, the deep muscle layer in the vocal folds (the thyroarytenoid, or TA) is active and can contribute to the sound. In falsetto the TA is not active and therefore you don’t have that to play with. Instead, you have other resonance strategies above the larynx to provide body to the sound.
The trouble here is when classical females, who have been taught to sing with a falsetto vibration (which is perfectly ok for their job!), move to contemporary singing. As a classical singer, they will employ all of the strategies above the larynx to add body to that falsetto. That includes a backed tongue, more twang, vowels, a raised soft palette, airflow and resonance (or ‘inertance’ for the nerds) to help the vocal folds. This enables them to stay more closed and create a bigger sound. Much bigger than singing in falsetto without all that help. These extra helpers are ultimately needed because the closure and contact of the vocal folds isn’t contributed to by the vocal fold muscle layers (TA) themselves.
Where it gets fascinating is when you get these classically trained female singers going into pop, rock, RnB and musical theatre. Most of these styles are based on a modal/chest setting of some kind. When they change to this genre, they are often still trying all of the strategies they were using in classical to bulk the sound up. Now, however, it’s with the muscle layer involved. The combo of muscle and classical strategies leads them to overdo it and run into a lot of trouble!
Disclaimer from Gillyanne: this is our thinking at this time! There seems to be a lot more discussion to be had about registers because we don’t actually know everything anatomically.
The 1 minute warm up… why is it focussed around speaking voice?
Gillyanne and Jeremy have recently developed an app for vocal warm ups called The 1 Minute Warm Up App. The app, released around June 2017, currently sits at No.27 at the music app charts and No.3 in the paid music app charts! But why is it so focussed on speech?
The app was a collaboration with an app developer and a speech therapist, who are also a husband and wife team. After years of avoiding creating a warm up product, they realised that it could work for singing voice through the speaking voice. Most of us spend our whole day speaking, so any issues or benefits in speaking will impact on singing.
So how did they arrive on the universally useful set of exercises for the app?
What makes the app interesting is that you can create sequences and combinations from the many single technique exercises within the app. That equals an incredible 500,000 unique possible combinations that you could build for your warm up! That means that the singer can build a warm up that is best for them on that day. The generic exercise choices include getting in touch with your physicality, breath use, breath flow, throat tension, tongue tension and articulation. There’s also a section on pitching, volume and ways of using your voice that are more than just making sound.
What are you favourite exercises on the app?
Gillyannes favourite is the pitching exercise and using glides for exciting the speaking voices. It uses speech like infections to get more variety in pitching because many of us tend to become monotone in speech. We can also lower the pitch of our speaking voice and push it down, especially if we’re trying to protect it in some way.
Jeremy enjoys the articulation exercises, mainly because they encourage us to kick the consonants less. Instead, to extend the consonants slightly. One of the exercises including in the app for this purpose is “fetch the chilli cheese to show Sister Jean”, which contains a lot of fricative consonants. For clear diction you could either say the fricatives louder, which is what many singers and speakers would choose to do. But a less jarring way would be to extend them slightly instead, which has to same result without the extra tension.
Please listen to the podcast for all of the examples of these exercises. The app itself also has visual aids and cartoons that help you to learn each element in under a minute. Download the full app here.
Listener question – “What is tilt and how can I access it properly?”
‘Tilt’ is a piece of terminology that is common in the UK voice training world. It’s originally borne from the work of Jo Estill and the Estill Voice Training program. It’s also a little ambiguous and easily confused by singers and teachers. If you also hold that question, Jeremy would ask you “what does it mean to you, and why do you need more if it?”. If we can get down to that belief, then we could talk about what use it could be to you.
Know your cartilages
Gillyanne talks about the cricothyroid muscles (CT in the GIF) and how their action ‘tilts’ the upper cartilage of the larynx (the thyroid cartilage) down towards the bottom (the cricoid cartilage). That would stretch and elongate the vocal folds (TA in the GIF). It also creates a certain type of sound and accesses higher pitches more easily. Some also argue that the cricothyroid muscle activity tilts the bottom part of the larynx upwards towards the thyroid cartilage. This generates the same effect as the previous scenario. For a teacher to usefully explain what ‘tilt’ is, it would need to be shown using a model of the larynx so that student can see how that move will change the vocal fold length.
Tilt isn’t a way of life
Gillyanne goes on to say that it would be something that would happen, or be used, in certain situations. Not in a held fashion wholesale, which it often is. What we don’t want is to have the vocal folds in a stretch position the whole time. Rather, just when we need it for pitch range. If you hold a muscle stretched the whole time, you might not reach your low notes very easily. Low notes need the vocal folds to un-stretch and relax to function well. That’s where it can sometimes come unstuck as an instruction.
Some work by Janice Chapman in the UK has possibly discovered that ‘tilt’ may also be an actual throat, or ‘pharyngeal’, shape. More of a preverbal or primal sound setup that involves much more than just the larynx.
Yes, but how do we access it?
In order to get those high pitches easier, Gillyanne demonstrates that a bit of a whinge or cry really helps to activate the pitch raising effect of the cricothyroid muscle. In turn, this can tilt the cartilages towards each other.
As mentioned before, it shouldn’t be a wholesale position or instruction. Especially if you’re looking to move from speech quality to a belt across a song. If you do it’s possible to run into trouble, such as losing your voice.
Jeremy summarises by saying that if you hold any part of your physicality in one position, you have lost your flexibility. It doesn’t matter what style you’re singing. If you do, you’ll have to pile other stuff on to make your singing work because something is being held solid. More discussion probably needs to be done around tilting and how it’s instructed. Instead, it could arguably remain as just a by-product of efficient voice use. The debate continues!
Find out more about Vocal Process
Find out more about Jeremy and Gillyanne at www.vocalprocess.co.uk
They have 18 one hour webinars, available on their website, for everything to do with singing and teaching. They have also kindly offered us a discount code of 40%, just for podcast fans! Enter the code nakedvocalist at the checkout.
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