Breaking Your Rules, Freeing Your Voice

Sometimes It is shocking to hear new abilities in our voice.

The voice is a peculiar thing -  our sense of identity is tied up in it.  It is interwoven into rules we've built through childhood and adolescent experiences, and the decisions we make about those experiences. Limiting rules and "I sound like this" ideas sometimes interfere with our ability to even hear the actual capacity in our voice.

Let's think about this: as a child, you could flatten a restaurant with one big howl.  It took very little effort. As an adult, it takes BIG effort to project your voice so freely, and yet your muscles are technically stronger. What gets in the way of the voice you naturally had?  

TENSION.  If an baby took a breath like an adult does, we'd run screaming to a hospital with that baby and demand to get emergency medical attention. Adults are a mess of FAMILIAR, but sadly inefficient tension patterns. 

Tension is a longer conversation, and some tensions are really helpful, but suffice it to say, releasing INAPPROPRIATE tension creates efficiencies and expands the voice. Releasing tension is a process of vocal training, often, but integration is a function of working with your mind.

To hear a new quality in your voice can be startling: the reaction to the sound is literally a tiny shock.  The sound can be beautiful, open, free, or big, interesting, and rich, it really doesn't matter, but if it's new, there's a certain element of confusion that occurs mentally.  It's important to recognize this reaction to make your practice effective. 

It's ok to be startled. A set of unspoken rules and permissions have guided you through life to this date, and kept you safe. These rules govern the I-Thou Relationship. I = Me, Thou = Others. The very function of speech or singing is to "commune" or "communicate" ideas, feelings, experiences to others. The shape of your sound dictates a great deal of your interactions with your surroundings, and the reactions you're accustomed to receiving from others.

When the voice extends into new abilities, it changes aspects of our self-identity. Phrases around"I can do this" or "I can't do that" get challenged. Definitions we create hold our voice within a certain spectrum of reliable stress.  We may not be able to create all the sounds we'd like to create, but at least we know the boundaries of our turf and have named it. 

If you want to open your range, which entails expanding past what you've defined as your current identity, it can be both strange and feel decidedly odd.

Feeling safe is important.

You have a set of rules that govern the I-Thou relationship in your interactions with others. These rules impact your expression, and the permissions you have to allow change to occur.

Managing your rules, and conscious integration of change is time well spent, and can decidedly speed up the development of new abilities.

7 Tips for integrating effective vocal change:

1.Have a chat with your inner child and explain the situation to them. Reassure your inner child, or inner grouch, or inner guardian, or inner whatever it is for you... It may sound hokey, but it actually helps if your inner guardian is reassured that you're safe.

2. Some small events informed your voice restrictions. Don't assume tensions are caused by life altering events. Some tensions are caused by trauma, but sometimes it was just that a teacher called on you to speak when you felt shy, and maybe that cute girl or boy you liked was looking at you when you were 4 years old. You dropped an ice cream and were upset, and carried the upset tension into your throat. It's not always life altering tension. Sometimes it's 'jelly-bean' level tension.  

3. We pattern after our environment. If you grow up in Japan, you'll be hard pressed to magically break out into Latvian. Language is a broad, cultural phenomena. To expand parts of your speech or singing abilities, you may be working against family or cultural tension patterning, if your family tends to be very soft spoken, shy, pitch-deprived, or unmusical. The good news is that tensions are just muscles and nerves that can be re-patterned. Try singing along to music sung in another language or watch TV shows in foreign languages, and listen to a variety of radio hosts or speakers. Try to identify different pacing, phrasing, and emphasis, and even new words in other languages, or imitate different speech patterns in your own language. 

4. The attachment to effort often limits voices.  This is such a huge issue in the freedom of the voice, that it will have a dedicated post, but suffice it to say, we're often more attached to struggle, and vocal strain, than we are to openness and ease.  It's comfy, familiar, and as my friend, and producer of Forever Plaid, and founder of the Panasonic Theatre, Laurence Follows, said once with great mock drama, "It's pain, but IT'S MY PAIN". Practice letting go of yours.  It might be uncomfortable. The familiar pain sometimes wins over the unfamiliar freedom. 

5. Joy. Let yourself guide your practice in increments of joy, rather than increments of time.  Search for the joy, find it in curiosity, and allow that inner pull to bring you forward, even when you're facing fear. Sweat equity has value, as does time, but joy digs deeper, and sustains your practice over time much more efficiently. Sometimes pushing is detrimental to results, and sometimes it's absolutely necessary. Be curious. Let the joy wiggle through!

6. Labels: I am a mezzo I am a baritone I am a this I am a that. Understanding the quality of your voice is one thing, but locking the doors on what it's capable of is something completely different, because it may be locking your head into only looking for a limited set of options in your creative expression as a speaker, actor, or singer. Look for new options.

7. "I'm not practicing enough": Harsh Judgement & "Shoulds"aren't effective motivators. Create playtime when you practice!  Allow yourself to be playful with exercises and laugh a little. Experienced performers often judge themselves harshly, but this impacts motivation, and sounds like, "Practice must be serious, it must be 3 hours long, or it really is useless."  Finnish schools find their students learn faster when they are motivated by a lot of play. Use affirmative language around even small gains you've made, without losing sight of your goals.  The voice responds more powerfully to positive encouragement. You're more likely to practice more,  if you give yourself positive feedback on practicing in any form.

So......thinking about how your mind's permissions will have a distinct impact on the vocal range you permit yourself to experience. It can take time to accept change. One of my clients used to break out in massive giggles every time he heard the depth of his male voice emerge. It took a while, but now he really enjoys using the deep end of his voice. Sometimes it takes time to adjust.

Give yourself permission to explore.

The Oatmeal did a very funny, and apt cartoon on how our minds react to new ideas. Enjoy!