| Set Your Voice Free |
By Roger Love and Donna Frazier
Genre: Inspirational & Self-Help
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Your voice is an intimate part of you. A breath of air travels through your body, taking on the colors of your thoughts and emotions, and when it re-emerges it's filled with your essence. Something that intimate should be as strong, sweet, pure, seductive, funny, and commanding as you are. But words like strong, warm, sexy, and powerful may not be the ones that pop into mind when you listen to the voice you've recorded on your phone answering machine, or the one you've tried to prod through a chorus of "Happy Birthday."
In fact, when I ask most people to describe their own speaking voices, the typical list is full of brutal assessments: thin, harsh, gravelly, hoarse, weak, nasal, tinny. And when it comes to singing, they couldn't be tougher on themselves: "I'm no Pavarotti, that's for sure." "Can't carry a tune in a bucket." "Tone deaf." "Fingernails on a blackboard." "I don't sing. Can't sing. Don't ask."
I believe that many of us are trapped in voices that don't begin to convey who we really are. We think we're shy, but actually we feel beaten down by the way other people have reacted or failed to react when they've listened to us. In our minds, James Earl Jones or Lauren Bacall is speaking our thoughts, but too often what comes out of our mouths is anything but. Maybe your voice is hoarse or strained; maybe it's more like Pee Wee Herman's. Maybe you're soft-spoken, like a librarian, but you're ready to unleash the vocal exotic dancer. You'd be surprised at how often the voice just doesn't convey our passions, our convictions, our affection, or our intentions. And you'll be amazed to see what happens when you learn how to let it.
A Powerful New Tool
I'd like to show you how to find your true voice, the voice that is as rich and full and beautiful and exciting as you are. I've spent the last twenty years developing specific techniques for enriching every voice and helping speakers and singers solve the problems, both common and rare, that stand between them and the voices they were born to have. The tools I'll share with you in this book and the accompanying CD are the same ones I've used with clients such as the Beach Boys, Def Leppard, Chicago, Matchbox 20, the Jacksons, Earth Wind and Fire, the 5th Dimension, Wilson Phillips, Phish, and Hanson; as well as speakers and actors like radio's Dr. Laura Schlessinger, John Gray (Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus), Anthony Robbins (Personal Power); and actors like John Stamos, Victoria Principal, Christopher Lambert, and Martin Landau.
These are people who depend on their voices and will do anything they can to protect and develop them. Often, when they call, they need help fast. So, as you'll see, the lessons in this book are designed to show dramatic results in minutes, days, and weeks not years. Many of my clients can afford to go anywhere they want and to study any technique ever devised, but they come to me because I have developed the most specific, effective exercises that exist for opening up the voice to all its possibilities. They know that in one lesson I can give them access to parts of their voices they've never been able to reach and that they might not have known existed.
Let me give you a few examples of just how powerful this technique is:
· The record-company executive who called me needed a miracle. Six months earlier, a talented new trio had begun recording what was to be its first single, and now, as they were in the midst of laying down the finishing tracks, the thirteen-year-old lead singer's voice had changed. Everyone loved his boy-soprano sound, and the record label thought it might just be a major key to the group's success. But no one had been able to find a way for him to hit the same stratospheric high notes now that his voice had dropped an octave overnight. Generally, because of improper vocal technique, most young men never regain easy access to the upper reaches of their prepuberty voice. This one, though, was desperate to try.
That night I met Taylor Hanson, listened to his attempts to sing, and gave him specific exercises to put him back in control of his vocal cords and reestablish his connection to the high notes he thought he'd never sing again. Thirty minutes later, with his family and the record company executives nervously looking on, we successfully managed to get on tape nearly all the high parts of the song that had been so impossible for him before we met. The song, "MMMBop," went on to be one of the biggest singles of 1998, and the Hansons' first album has sold more than nineteen million copies, reaching number one in more than thirty countries.
· A highly successful prime-time TV star (to protect his privacy, I'll call him Larry) developed a throat infection. He lost his voice and went to an ear, nose, and throat specialist, who advised complete vocal rest for several weeks. Larry took that news like a death sentence the entire show would have to come to a halt while he recovered, and the network was pressuring him to meet deadlines for new shows that were scheduled to be taped. But because he was a pro and a perfectionist, he followed doctor's orders and spent his weeks in silence, communicating only with a pencil and a pad of paper.
At the end of this time, Larry was almost afraid to talk. He was terrified to find out what he'd sound like when he opened his mouth again. And he was also afraid that the voice that had let him down once would do it again. Larry didn't even recognize the sounds he was making when he began to speak. His voice didn't have the thickness and power he remembered. It sounded almost wispy and it didn't sound like him. He was agitated, and extremely nervous, when he arrived at my studio.
After less than an hour of vocal exercises, Larry's voice had regained its resonance, and we'd actually built on the strengths of his old voice to give it more power. Larry was back on the air two days later receiving rave reviews for the greater amount of character and personality that came through when he spoke. His newfound vocal prowess gave him so much confidence, it translated effortlessly into a positive change that radiated through both his personal and his professional life.
I've found that by using singing exercises to help people improve the way they speak, I can make bigger leaps much more quickly than even a speech pathologist might. That's because singing helps you bypass the logical, skeptical left side of the brain. Instead, when you take a chance and sing sounds for me, you tap into the creative, playful right side of the brainthe side that's ready to believe you can fly.
· Finally, I'd like to tell you the story of someone you've never heard of. He's never won a Grammy or appeared on TV, but I consider my work with him to be among my proudest achievements. Owen, a young college student, wanted to sing. He had an exuberant personality, and you couldn't help but be happy to be around him, but when he tried to sing along with the radio, people would cringe. All his life, people had told him he was tone deaf, and to hear him, you might have said so too.
Owen's was one of the most difficult cases I've ever encountered. When he tried to sing anything higher than his regular speaking voice, he could hardly make a sound. His face would turn bright red, and only a tiny wisp of sound would come out. His larynx, the housing for the vocal cords, was so high that it was blocking his throat, and he was holding his stomach muscles so tightly that it was as if he were holding his breath the whole time he was trying to sing. I showed him a very simple set of low-larynx exercises the same ones I'll show you and in thirty seconds his larynx moved to a normal position, the back part of his throat opened up, and the pressure in his head and throat disappeared.
Next I taught him some simple breathing exercises, and suddenly he wasn't holding his breath while trying to sing. Those two simple techniques allowed him to experience the freedom of letting his voice travel unconstricted out of his body. Now I had to get him on pitch. Here we were starting from ground zero. When I hit a note on the piano and asked him to repeat it, he'd blast out a pitch that was way off in left field. People waiting for their lessons would hear his attempts through the door and comment on them after he left. "Why does that guy want to take singing lessons?" they'd ask. "You're stealing his money."
But Owen persisted. It took him a while to realize that when he was hitting a wrong note he could steer his way back to the right one while he was singing. Like a lot of people, he had the tendency to stop, or worse, plow on in the wrong direction, when his sound went sour. We worked on simple pitch-correcting exercises for several weeks, and a month later people were standing with their ears pressed to the door to hear the fabulous singer who was practicing with me. It was Owen. Once his throat was open and he'd learned to correct his pitches, he could open his voice to all the life that was in his heart and let his true personality come through. The result was incredibly moving.
Great speaking and singing is not about being the best. It's about being unique. It's about expressing who you are and what's particularly special about you. If you learn to use your own instrument with confidence, people will open their ears to you and recognize what sets you apart from everyone else. Whether you're singing a lullaby to your baby, saying a prayer, making a toast, spontaneously bursting into song, or giving the presentation that can make or break your career, your voice will reveal what you most genuinely want to convey. That's the best kind of success there is. It's my pleasure, and my mission, to help you find it.
Voice Lessons? They're Not about Talent
People tend to be afraid of the term voice lessons because it makes them think of being locked up in a room with a stuffy old guy who has a metronome ticking in the background, a perfectionist who will crack the whip over something as natural as the sound that comes out of their mouths. "Who needs voice lessons?" we ask ourselves, certain that the answer doesn't include us. "I know how to talk, and I can't sing, so what's the point? Lessons are for people with talent!"
But using your voice well isn't always about having special gifts, or performing or being the star of your church or family or community production. At the deepest level, the reason we need to develop the voice is to allow it to be as expressive and flexible as possible, because when you do that, you're setting your voice, and yourself, free.
What Your Voice Says about You
The sounds coming out of your mouth set up a whole range of expectations about how you'll behave, how accessible you are, what your sense of humor is like, and how high your energy level is to name just a few of the qualities we encode in our voices. Think of the times you've "met" someone over the phone and created a whole visual picture of him or her, just from the vocal personality that slides through the fiber optic cable. (Ever set up a meeting by phone with someone you were sure was "tall, dark, and distinguished," only to find yourself shocked to be shaking hands a couple days later with the nerdy-looking little guy who owns the great voice? That mental image-making, based solely on sound, is the power of speech and the literal vibrations, positive or negative, that precede us.)
We absorb the information packed into a voice almost intuitively. I have spent many years detailing exactly how we telegraph information through sound, independent of the words we use. Whether you realize it or not, your voice hits a lot of pitches as you speak. A friend and student of mine, who happens to be a former rocket scientist, took an interest in the relationship between voice and occupation. For several months, as he traveled the world on business, he carried a small musical keyboard. He'd pull it out during conversations, and he'd use it to figure out what the other person's voice was doing, musically, as he or she spoke. (As we'll see throughout this book, there's a short, easy leap between speaking and singing.) Our voices, themselves to a monotone, and with a little practice, you can hear the various pitches you hit while you're speaking. (You can try this by sitting down at the keyboard and saying the word hello with a lot of enthusiasm, as though you're greeting someone you're surprised and very happy to meet. If you hold the o as though you're chanting it, you might be able to pick out the note that you're speaking/ singing by touching the keys on the keyboard until you find the note that matches the one you're making.)
My friend became adept at listening to the pitches (the familiar "do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do" that we've all learned to sing) that people were hitting as they spoke, and he became interested in the intervals between those pitches. Were they making tiny steps with their voices, or were they striding (or flying) up and down? My friend collected information about hundreds of voices, noting the exact intervals the speaker used and the speaker's occupation.
Among his findings: Musicians and singers, not surprisingly, used the widest range of notes. In the course of a conversation, they'd use many thirds (moving from do to mi), fourths (do up to fa), and fifths (from do to sol). Engineers used mostly thirds and tended to stay within that small range. And bankers used only seconds (do-re), which are very limiting and almost monotonous. After a while my friend had no trouble guessing what a person did for a living, based simply on the intervals used in speech. He also identified the odd, dissonant intervals (minor seconds and flatted fifths) that cause us instantly to back off from someone we think might be emotionally off the wackos and crazies we sometimes come across.
Does your way of speaking mirror the patterns of other people in your profession? Probably. The colors of your voice might be different, but you might still be using the same intervals that everyone around you does. And actually, you don't have to walk around with a keyboard to figure that out. Our voices so clearly reflect our personalities, our souls, our mind-sets, and our characters that our vocal habits hand our dossier to everyone we meet. That may be wonderful, but it may also be as confining as a pair of pants that's two sizes too small.
The factor that's most important here is that you have some choice in the way you use your voice. If you have access to a whole palette of color and hue when you speak and choose to toe the narrow banker's line and limit yourself to just a couple of musical tones, that's great. If it fits you, wear it with gusto. Or, choose a voice that gets you where you want to go. If you're an expansive, arm-waving salesperson whose voice covers a lot of territory, you might make a conscious decision to talk in an engineer's more limited cadence because you're selling widgets to engineers and you want them to trust you as one of their own. The more awareness you bring to your voice and the more you know about its true capacities, the more choices you have about how you come across and the more you can use your voice to your advantage, rather than letting it (or misconceptions about it) limit you.
I've often noticed that singers, who you'd think would be continuously aware of their voices, put aside all their vocal prowess and insight when they step away from the microphone and into their "civilian" lives. One striking and familiar example of this phenomenon is Michael Jackson.
At the height of his career, when Thriller was on the charts and the moonwalking wonder was touring the world, Michael worked with my partner at our vocal studio, and frequently we'd have a chance to sit and talk. One afternoon I was looking out my office window and spotted Michael doing a triple twirl in the parking lot as he left his car. I was amazed at his energy the man was a comet. But when he sat down in a chair across from me and began to speak, none of that energy seemed to be available. He whispered, as though he were afraid to let a sound come out. I had to strain to hear him, and he seemed tentative and shy though I knew he had the power to fill a stadium with his presence.
A lot of singers, and many of the stars, seem to have two distinct energy levels, conveyed by their voices, that don't seem to intersect: onstage, where they give it a thousand percent, and offstage, when they switch into conservation mode. To many of them, "conservation" seems to mean whispering, or speaking with an airy voice. Are there other vocal choices for people who don't want to operate at a zillion watts in everyday life? Sure. But every day I hear them falling into the same traps the rest of us do, thinking that if they turn the vibrations and power in their voices all the way down in their off hours, they'll "fit in" better. In fact, though, they just seem to disappear.
So might their singing voices if they're not careful. Whispering and soft, airy speech happen to be murderous for the vocal cords. That alone is reason enough for me to encourage you to broaden your repertoire of "approachable" voices to include something a little easier on the pipes. A full 80 percent of all singers who develop physical problems with their vocal cords do so because of the way they speak, not the way they sing. If you're a singer, I urge you to pay attention to the way you talk and to all the information about speaking that you'll find in this book. Even if you're not interested in using your speaking voice more expressively, do it to safeguard against inadvertently damaging your ability to sing.
Whether you're interested in speaking or singing, I'd like to help you replace your unconscious habits with choices. Once you can set your singing voice soaring or speak with nuance, strength, and color, you may decide that you want to walk through a new sonic door now and then. Maybe you'll try on a new persona, or branch out from pensive melodies to show tunes or opera. Once you see the possibilities, it becomes tempting to sample a few.
The Truth about Your Voice
It's time someone leveled with you about what your voice can really do and what's reasonable to expect from your basic set of vocal equipment. I know old beliefs die hard, and what I'm about to tell you may sound counterintuitive (that is, impossible, silly, or fictitious), but the statements below are absolutely true.
· The human voice is set up to speak or sing twenty-four
hours a day without getting hoarse or strained or creating any
If yours can't, it's because you're doing something wrong.
· The average (not the exceptional) person should be able to
sing smoothly through two and a half octaves with no breaks,
squawks, or squeals in his or her voice.
It's a myth to think that high and low notes are for someone else, or that you're doomed to sound like a wet alley cat when you sing the national anthem. Training, perseverance, and the techniques I'll teach you can make every note of those octaves come to life.
· Less than 2 percent of the population is tone deaf.
Contrast that with the 40 or 50 percent of the people I meet who are sure that they "can't sing" because of some inherent defect. Actually, tone deafness is a relatively rare condition that results from damage to the ear, for instance from a high childhood fever. If you're truly tone deaf, you can't sing on pitch because you can't hear the pitch accurately to begin with. If you're one of those people who cringe at their own, or others', missed notes in talent shows or at karaoke bars, you're not tone deaf, you're just tone shy. I'm happy to report that your hearing is just fine, and even if you sing like an untrained Owen, the young man I spoke about earlier, we can fix the pitch problems. Allow me to introduce you to the voice you've been dreaming of.
Some basic equipment
You're probably wondering just what it'll take to start shifting your voice toward the part of the spectrum that you, and other people, might label beautiful or even just strain-free. Actually, there are just three main requirements:
In your heart of hearts, what is it that makes you want to improve your voice? Maybe you have a fantasy that you're singing in a community theater, or telling stories to kids at the library, or inspiring the troops at your workplace like Patton. As we start out, I hope you'll make a note to yourself that completes two fill-in-the-blank statements:
· I want to improve my voice because ____________________
· If my voice were as strong as I want it to be, I would __________________________________________________.
I hope you'll consider speaking those answers onto a tape, because I think you'll find it to be a valuable record of where you are and, eventually, of how far you've come. As you complete the statement, and later begin practicing with all the exercises, you'll need to silence the harsh critic who lives inside you, the voice that makes wet-blanket statements like "It sucks"; "It's embarrassing"; "It makes me sound stupid." It's fine to keep a critical ear, but don't be too hard on yourself at the beginning. Just gather information and use it.
The second statement is important because it's essential, as you begin, to put some of your desire into words. That's a way of keeping your eye on the prize. No one wants to take voice lessons for abstract reasons. It's always something personal. There may be a specific song you want to sing or a feeling of confidence and satisfaction you want to walk away with at the end of a meeting where you and your voice have done your best. Or you may have a feeling that's more like an intuition that improving your voice will change your life in some way you haven't yet imagined.
This work may feel scary to you. It may even feel silly and out of character. But your desire is real, and powerful. And once you've spoken that desire, like a birthday wish or a mission statement, it can work for you. It'll help keep you motivated when you feel stuck and inspire you to keep exploring your vocal possibilities when you've realized that your voice has hundreds of colors, instead of just a couple.
How to Use This Book
Throughout the book, I'll direct you to specific tracks on the CD. You'll hear clear demonstrations of the sounds I'm referring to, and you may also be asked to make the sounds yourself. Don't skip that part! Imagining what you'd sound like doesn't count you need to try copying what you hear. That's where the lights go on and the learning begins to happen in your body and mind.
What we'll be doing is as simple as follow the leader. I'll make sounds and you'll copy them. There's not a lot of complicated theory, just a wide variety of playful experiments. As you follow my voice through the exercises on the CD, you will be automatically placing your mouth, jaws, stomach, breath, and vocal cords in positions that make it nearly impossible, over time, to produce weak, strained, or "bad" sounds. This is not an intellectual exercise. All you have to do is be willing to let go of a little fear and self-doubt, and duplicate the sounds you hear. To work with me, you'll need to listen carefully, copy what you hear me doing, let yourself have a little fun, and give up the misconceptions and bad habits that have kept you stuck in an ill-fitting voice. You may not feel that you're doing everything right, so just fake it and have a little faith. Make the funny sounds. Giggle if you need to. There's no need to worry about looking digni- fied, because that's going to be impossible anyway. Just listen and repeat after me and you'll be fine.
The easiest way to ensure that you're getting the same benefit from this material as the students who come into my offices is to do what they do: set up a regular weekly voice lesson. When you're through reading this chapter, I'd like you to get out your calendar and block out some time for your private sessions with me. Plan one session of at least half an hour or forty-five minutes during the week for reading and listening to each chapter. Consider that to be lesson time, during which you'll learn about and experience different parts of your voice. I suggest that you take the lessons a week at a time to give yourself a chance to assimilate the material and let it "soak in."
I may ask you to practice simple exercises between the weekly sessions. Practice sets in motion a physical training process that reshapes the way you make sound. You're learning to control the voice-production muscles, and even a little regular practice will go a long way toward building the physical strength that will make your voice more powerful.
Please remember that you're doing this for yourself. You have a lot of demands on your time, and chances are you spend most of your time thinking about what you need to do for other people. You've got a to-do list that's full of pragmatic questions: How can I earn more money? How can I take care of my family? How can I squeeze in sleep and exercise and the job and the kids and the parents and romance and everyone who wants something from me? Maybe there doesn't seem to be a lot of room left for more dreamy items like: I want to be a singer. I want to speak better.
So, you'll have to be bold and just take the time to learn and to practice. My most successful students are the ones who can tell themselves: "I'm finally going to do this for myself, even though the choir director laughed when I mentioned wanting to be a soloist. Even though my friends think I'm nuts. Even though I've sung in a joke voice for years and pretended I didn't care that I sounded like a cartoon character. Making this change is my gift to me."
You're taking a risk, making this investment in yourself. You may well have to give up a lot of comfortable ideas about your limitations and what a person like you can dream of doing. But if the experience of my students over the years is any indication, it's a risk you'll be glad you took.
Do It for the Joy
Having a voice you can count on to reflect who you are and express the ideas, emotions, and soulfulness you have inside is a gift. And it's one of the wonderful secrets of my business that those who seek the voice they deserve find benefits they never expected. I'm not talking just about money or fame or even confidence I'm talking about joy. Students who sing with me, whether their ultimate goal is to improve the way they speak or to ensure that their voices hold up on a year-long album tour, find that singing makes them feel better.
"When I'm done with a lesson," my client Bill told me, "I feel happy. It must be something about making those sounds. It makes me feel a lot better than going to therapy and it's a lot less expensive."
I hear comments like this all the time, so I wasn't surprised to see that science is beginning to pay attention to the effects of sounds on the body. It's long been known that sound is incredibly powerful (think of all the savage beasts that have been soothed by music), and that it lifts the soul (spend time singing or chanting in any house of worship and you'll see what I mean). And it doesn't feel like that much of a stretch to expect that it can work some kind of healing physical magic on the body. The results are still coming in, and I'll share some of them with you later. Meanwhile, try making some of the sounds I'll teach you I'm almost certain that, like Bill, you'll feel the joy.
Working with the voice isn't just a job for me it's a lifelong, life-changing passion. And the power of the voice isn't something I think of as an abstract concept. It's a vital force I've seen again and again in my life.
I've always loved to sing. Some of my earliest memories are of interrupting my parents' dinner parties just as the food was being served and singing my heart out until someone would pick me up, put me under his or her arm still singing away and place me in another room. From the time I was seven or eight, I begged for singing lessons, and though my mother believed I didn't need lessons until I was thirteen, nothing kept me from belting out songs at any opportunity.
I was a healthy, happy, active kid, but at the age of ten I developed osteomyelitis, a bone condition that required major surgery. I was in a wheelchair and attending a school for handicapped students for a year, then in a walking cast for six months. I couldn't exercise, couldn't walk, couldn't play as I used to it was the biggest hardship of my life to that point. But I could sing, and I clung to my voice like a lifeline. I began giving concerts at lunchtime, and I realized that I could fill a gym when I sang a song. At twelve and a half I was a fat, lame kid trying to fit back into a regular school, and I used singing to rebuild my ego and my life. It was my first genuine lesson in balancing the good and the bad in life, and my journey to wholeness was made possible by the love I had for singing. To this day, in working with my clients, I believe that finding and developing the voice is an amazing tool for rebuilding selfworth.
At thirteen I finally got the singing lessons I'd longed for, and in a short time I was winning vocal competitions and performing as a baritone in operatic productions around Los Angeles. A couple of years later I also began teaching professionally. My voice teacher was offered a temporary out-of-town position, and he asked me to take over his studio and work with his clients, a roster that included the Beach Boys, Earth Wind and Fire, the 5th Dimension, the Jacksons, and many more of the biggest recording stars in the world.
I continued my training and established myself through competitions as the number one voice in the state. But at twenty, two years into my college career, my voice went through another change, and it was an enormous shock to me. Suddenly I was a tenor, and I couldn't perform the baritone repertoire I'd been working so long to perfect. I was dropped from the competitions I was used to dominating my voice had betrayed me. I felt like a huge, in-transition loser.
That bend in the road led me to a world of vocal adventures I wouldn't trade for anything, and to the most rewarding work of my life, both teaching and performing. I've traveled the world and the country, performed with and shaped the vocal sounds of thousands of top artists, and written and recorded my own music. My voice has given me some of my greatest joys, but I'm also acutely sensitive to how it feels when, even temporarily, we can't count on this part of ourself that's so closely tied to the breath of life.
Please believe me when I tell you that I know how you feel if you are frustrated, discouraged, hopeful, or filled with secret dreams for your voice. And I know the heights to which your voice can take you if you let it. Let's begin the journey now. I'd like to take you there.
Excerpted from Set Your Voice Free , by Roger Love and Donna Frazier . Copyright (c) 1999 by Roger Love. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top