Read an Excerpt
The Voice Book
Caring For, Protecting, and Improving Your Voice
By Kate DeVore, Starr Cookman, Linda Tenukas
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2009 Kate DeVore and Starr Cookman
All rights reserved.
It is helpful to approach this work with playfulness. You can start to create a playful attitude by releasing judgment. This is an opportunity for you to let go of any expectations about your voice and see what it can do above and beyond what it has shown in the past. We tend to have strong feelings about what we are and are not capable of, particularly when it comes to voice. ("I'm tone deaf," "I hate the sound of my voice," and "My voice is shrill" are common declarations of incompetence.) Consider putting those beliefs on hold. You might even replace them with new beliefs that are more positive and accurate. We hope that you will be playful during this exploration and enjoy yourself as you journey through this book.
The most important variable in performing the exercises in this book is focus. Most of the exercises are deceptively simple. It is not the action of simply speaking the exercises that is beneficial but rather the way in which you do them and the attention you give them. For most people, achieving the intended behavior initially involves an attention and focus level that we don't necessarily bring to our everyday tasks. This is perhaps the biggest challenge people encounter with voice work and other work involving physical skill. When we first attempt to focus on a singular thought, we find we have several thoughts running through our minds at once. We usually don't concentrate in such a way that we are thinking about only one thing at a time. In fact, our society promotes the opposite: multitasking. When first doing these exercises, however, eliminating distractions and focusing solely on voice are more effective. For example, the car is not the best place to practice this material at first, as your attention will be divided. Specificity of thought aids your ability to attend and focus in this way. As you go through the exercises, keep a single thought, a single focus, a single intention, in the front of your mind at all times.
Unless you have already had voice training or rehabilitation, speaking automatically with little attention paid to how you produce sound is normal. The purpose of voice training or exploration is to lift these automatic behaviors out of the subconscious to "tinker" with them and then allow them to return to the subconscious. The long-term goal is not for you to be excessively aware of your voice to the point of distraction. Rather, let's explore your voice, get to know its nooks and crannies, and develop it so that you have a broader range of colors with which to "paint" when you vocally express yourself.
We are each born with a unique voice. The term voiceprint is used to describe the unique, individual character of your voice and how people hear it. Within your voice, however, you have a huge range of dynamic possibilities that, for many speakers, are never explored or integrated into everyday use. The goal of this book isn't to change your voice into somebody else's voice, but rather to optimize and extend your voice. With optimal use, you are able to freely express your own natural sound in any way you wish.
When you work through the book, be patient and kind to yourself. It can be frustrating for some people (especially those of us with perfectionist tendencies) to understand something intellectually but still be unable to "do it right." This is the other major challenge with voice work. Because you may have spent your entire life using your speaking voice in a particular manner, the vocal benefit from this program will develop over time rather than overnight. This is because, as we mentioned before and will mention again, most of our voice and speech characteristics are maintained through habit. Habit kills choice and variety. Fortunately, although habits are powerful and ingrained, all it really takes to change a vocal habit is knowledge, attention, and repetition. We believe that the difficulty of breaking an interfering vocal habit isn't necessarily the habit itself but rather the amount of attention it takes to bring that habitual behavior into awareness and then make a different choice. Releasing the perception that "habits die hard" will make it easier to let them go.
Many of us have habits that interfere with a free, natural voice by promoting tension and constriction in the vocal mechanism. If you are like a lot of us, you might unwittingly hold chronic tension in your jaw, throat, and neck because of experiences throughout your lifetime. We usually develop physical and vocal habits that reflect what we think is appropriate in a given environment. For example, if your mother or father said children should be seen but not heard, it is possible that you might have some tension in your jaw and throat born out of your childhood attempt to "hold back" your speech to please your caregivers. This "holding back" of your voice and speech can remain present in your adult voice if it goes unchecked. In other words, perceived judgment about our voice contributes to the way it develops. Some adults remember being asked in choir to just "move their lips" rather than sing. This seemingly small criticism can contribute to poor vocal self-esteem and may introduce a hesitation to the voice that carries over into other aspects of life.
Also, some people who undergo emotional, sexual, or physical trauma may acquire tension in their speech system resulting in vocal changes. If you have a history of trauma that you feel is affecting your ability to access your voice, you may consider addressing this issue with a professional psychologist or psychiatrist to facilitate better release of your muscles. Some people find that when they release their abdominal muscles with breathing exercises, or release muscles in the throat or jaw by doing voice work, they feel an emotional rush. Usually an emotional rush is interpreted as "I am about to cry right now" or "I am about to laugh" or "I am about to yell." If you notice such a sensation, we encourage you to experience that rush without judgment.
Using the Audio CD
The audio CD that accompanies this book is designed to improve your understanding of the concepts and exercises. Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, a sound, in the case of voice training, is priceless. Much of the material in this book will come to life with the CD. The material can be uploaded to your computer and transferred to an MP3 player to optimize portability.
We encourage you to listen to tracks 1 and 2 before reading the book, as they provide a brief introduction as well as a fun ear training exercise. You will know when to listen to tracks 3 through 11 by looking for the CD icon pictured above when it appears throughout the book. When you see the icon, we recommend that you read or skim through the material first, then listen to the appropriate track, as indicated by the number inside the icon.
Within each set of exercises in the text, you'll find additional exercises and extra practice material not included on the CD. Please keep this in mind if you choose to use the book and CD simultaneously.
One Last Note
Even though the exercises in this book are safe for individuals with vocal injury, they are by no means designed to replace vocal rehabilitation and care that you would get from an ear, nose, and throat physician and speech pathologist. While both authors of this book are licensed speech pathologists and much of the information contained within is from a medical perspective, the authors assume that you are approaching the work with injury-free vocal cords. If you have concerns about the health of your voice as you work through this book, please consult an appropriate medical professional as described in chapters 10 and 12.CHAPTER 2
Opening the Channel: Alignment
The Alexander Technique, a beautiful movement system for training alignment, was created by an actor who repeatedly lost his voice and realized one day that he had significant alignment problems. Alignment, for our purposes, refers to the relationship of the head to the rest of the body. When he allowed his body to return to proper alignment, his voice problems vanished. While the solution is not so simple for every voice problem, alignment does play a significant role in many voice issues.
A theater major was referred for voice therapy because she repeatedly "lost her voice" during rehearsals and performance. On evaluation it was apparent that when she performed, she significantly misaligned her head, jutting her chin forward and raising it a little. This was pointed out to her during the evaluation, and some exercises were offered to adjust her alignment. Several months after her single session, her referring teacher reported that the student had no further voice issues.
In another scenario, an at-home mom came for voice therapy because she had pain in her throat when she talked. Her vocal mechanism was evaluated by an ear, nose, and throat physician and determined to be normal. Her posture, however, was characterized by slumped shoulders (possibly impeding good breath access for speech) as well as a habitual misalignment of her head and neck. It appeared that the way she connected with her kids involved jutting her chin forward to "reach" them. During treatment sessions, she learned to play on the floor, read books, do "funny voices," and interact without compromising her alignment. While therapy also addressed issues of breath and resonance, the adjustments in alignment were the primary aids to the elimination of her pain.
Free Your Neck and the Rest Will Follow
Voice quality and ease, or the lack thereof, is closely linked to posture and muscle tension. Slouching posture or tension in the throat, jaw, shoulders, and neck can negatively affect the voice. Therefore, we will start our journey to vocal efficiency by first addressing body alignment.
Heads are heavy (15 pounds or so), and the human body is designed such that the bones of the skeleton support the weight of the head. However, many of us don't have a sufficiently straight carriage, or posture, to allow the head to be fully supported by the bones of the skeleton. Therefore, we have to overuse neck muscles to support the weight of the head. This state is called misalignment and can create several negative repercussions for voice quality and comfort.
One vocal consequence of misalignment is extraneous tension in the muscles of the neck, which then creates tension in the vocal system. Another issue is the contraction of muscles at the back of the neck and the base of the skull. Keep in mind that muscles shorten when they contract. Most people unknowingly contract and shorten muscles at the back of the neck and base of the skull, thereby causing misalignment. Tension in these muscles not only creates discomfort (this is an area of tightness for many people), but can also create tension in the jaw, because tension in the back of the body tends to lead to corresponding tension in the front. Therefore, misalignment of the head can easily lead to jaw tension (figure 2-1), which negatively affects voice by constricting the channel through which the voice flows.
Yet another effect of misalignment is related to the shape of the vocal tract (figure 2-2), which is the tube that runs from the larynx to the lips and includes the throat, mouth, and nose. If the head is misaligned, the vocal tract's shape is distorted in a way that is disadvantageous for voice. The vocal tract is essentially a built-in amplifier that makes your voice louder and more resonant if you don't constrict it. By misaligning the head, we basically unplug the amplifier and cut out many of the acoustic benefits of the vocal tract. Therefore, proper head alignment can not only reduce laryngeal tension, but can also improve vocal projection and reduce vocal effort. More information about the mechanics of alignment can be found in chapter 12.
Alignment as Habit
Much of voice work has the single goal of identifying habit and replacing it with choice. Arthur Lessac, an eminent voice trainer, said, "Habit is an anesthetic." This is particularly relevant for voice as, for most of us, our speaking style has been habituated. Everything we do habitually we tend to do without awareness; that is what makes it a habit. Voice training is intended to create awareness of actions and behaviors that have been habitual up to this point. This is a challenging task because habit is powerful. For example, the way you hold your head and jaw is often difficult to change at first because it involves wrapping your mind around the concepts that (a) these muscles exist in the first place; (b) you may be holding them with quite a bit of tension; (c) there is something you can do about that; and (d) this is desirable and worthwhile! We encourage you to repeatedly check in with yourself for habitual behaviors and replace them with behaviors of your choosing. We will be guiding you to do so as we progress through the program.
We also need to differentiate between natural and habitual. Have you ever carried a really heavy shopping bag that cut into your fingers so much that your fingers felt stuck in that position when you put the bag down? When that happens to us, it actually hurts in the beginning to release the fingers. That doesn't mean that the stuck, bent fingers are in the natural position. It means they have habituated to that position, and one of the reasons it is uncomfortable to move them is because you are releasing tension. This may also be the case with trying new alignment. Keep this in mind as you work through these exercises and begin to change your habits.
Exercises to Explore Alignment
Let's begin with bringing your upper body into alignment. Start either standing or seated comfortably with your back straight, not leaning back against anything. Lift your shoulders up to your ears as far as they will go. Squeeze your shoulder blades together behind you then drop your shoulders down — heavy and hard (figure 2-3).
Make sure your arms and upper chest are relaxed, and relax your shoulders without letting them roll forward. This movement sequence puts your shoulders into a position of alignment, which is necessary in order for the head and neck to be aligned. Next, bring your head into a centered position so that it is balanced evenly over the top of your body. Your ear lobes are over your shoulders, your chin is level, and the crown of your head is the highest point on your body. It may feel like you are pulling your chin in a little bit or that you are looking down a little bit relative to your baseline position. That is OK. As you experience this new alignment, take note of any holding patterns that you might be developing. Your head should feel light and free rather than held in one position. This is a dynamic posture meant to facilitate relaxed, fluid movement of your body, rather than a static posture. If you feel as though you are standing like a statue, release your body further still. Check the rest of your body (feet, legs, buttocks, belly, hands, forehead, etc.) for any tension to be released. As you maintain the aligned position, allow your head to feel light, and imagine that it is actually floating up from your spine.
Try imagining that you have a string running from the crown of your head to the ceiling, and that the string gives a gentle pull upward on the crown of your head like a marionette's string. Some people feel that a pressure in the back of their neck is relieved as they mentally lighten the weight of their head and allow their head to be supported by an imaginary string from above.
Remember that the spine ends higher in the head than most of us think. It actually goes all the way up into the brain stem and ends not at the neck, but rather in the center of the head. One purpose of alignment is to allow energy to move freely up and down the spine, the railroad track of nerves and energy in the body. So we want to hold the head in such a way that the upper spine doesn't kink but rather points straight up at the sky.
Excerpted from The Voice Book by Kate DeVore, Starr Cookman, Linda Tenukas. Copyright © 2009 Kate DeVore and Starr Cookman. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.