Eurovox 2015 (Riga, June 18th – 20th)

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Eurovox is a congress organized by the European Voice Teachers Association (EVTA) every third year and focuses on various aspects of human singing. Therefore it gathers IMG_8473 (1)professional and amateur singers, their teachers, scientists, physicians and other enthusiasts of the voice all together. I represented Belgium,being the vice president of Evta-Be and thus member of the council of EVTA.

THURSDAY JUNE 18TH

Kristin Linklater – Training the speaking voice for this century: Old traditions and new communication

11695724_916992598347734_405892599808189682_nAfter the EVTA council meeting and a beautiful opening concert, the keynote speaker of Thursday was Kristin Linklater. As I have done some workshops with voice teachers who have been trained by this grand lady of voice herself, I was very curious. During her inspirational speech, she spoke about the importance of human emotions and the heart in a time of avatars and robotics. Her philosophy about working on the voice is that it is a commitment to hold a mirror up to human nature. It is looking for freedom. Freeing the natural voice is looking for nature before the nurture into fears.
This lecture made me look forward to the workshop of Friday.

Dr. Joseph Quoidbach – How a posturoacoustic laboratory can help singers

IMG_8479As dr. Quoidbach has been keynote speaker during the conference of our own Evta-Be in 2012, I already knew what was coming. Joseph does very interesting work with his posturoacoustic laboratory at IMEP Namur in Belgium. He works with the voice students of this conservatory on the relation of body posture and the formants of the voice. His aim is for the singer to “be straight, but free”. The student receives manual therapy and learns in the laboratory which posture is ideal for the best sound to be created. This posture is recorded with the kinect (a camera that you might know from the Wii) and a mat that measures the position of the feet. Simultaneously, the singer can see visual feedback of the sound with a spectrogram and a power spectrum.

IMG_8481Now the singer can practice to imitate that ideal posture with mirrors, the kinect and footmat. The results are quite striking. Jodie Devos, one of the singers dr. Quoidbach is working with, together with her voice teachers, has won the 2nd price at the Queen Elisabeth contest of 2014! I have had the honor to have a taste of the laboratory myself in 2012 and was immediately convinced of the valuable possibilities this way of working offers.

Pedro de Alcantara – Six exercises for the integration of body and mind

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Besides being fun, the exercises of Pedro De Alcantara made us aware of the fact that we are responsible for the way we enter a situation. We can choose how to play the game. Whether it be a simple conversation or a singing contest.

Gillyanne Kayes & Jeremy Fisher – Style and comfort in multi-genre teaching, part 1

Gillyanne and Jeremy gave us an introduction to their method Vocal Process. IMG_8499What I really like about their philosophy is their basic question: What does THIS singer need to sing THIS song in THISstyle? They don’t judge whether what the singers wants to do is “good” or “bad”. It suits my own personal belief that the artistic preference of a voice teacher doesn’t matter. We are at service of what the singers want and need. Our only job is to help them reach their goal in a healthy way.

The singer = Voice type & weight, energy, range, comfort zone, ‘defaults’,…
The song = Style, energy, sound, note articulation, phrasing, purpose,…

Gillyanne and Jeremy deconstruct the vocal IMG_8497setting of the singer by trying to speak or sing in the voice of the singer and question how it feels, sounds and looks. They focus on use of the voice, articulation, vocal idioms (onsets & offsets) and the use of breath.

They combine this knowledge with the specific requirements for the genre of the song (range, register mechanism, style elements,…).

Dr. Ilter Denizoglu – Multidimensional aspects of human voice production: Anatomy and physiology from the standpoint of arts, mathematics and sound physics

9aad1-master-yoda-opt_-2I would like to start with the conclusion of this lecture: ‘It is necessary to know something of every discipline in order to understand the whole picture.’ I could not agree more! A holistic approach to the voice (in fact to everything in life) is something I personally try to promote wholeheartedly.

Dr. Denizoglu started out with explaining the source-filter theory and used the technique of ‘chiaroscuro’ from the Italian art of Bel Canto (beautiful singing) to illustrate this. The ‘squillo’ – nowadays referred to as twang – is a 11541910_916993591680968_2327327855262248209_nnarrowing of the aryepiglottic funnel that produces a brilliant sound. This creates the so called ‘singers formant’, where the frequency of 3000 HZ is being amplified. We can pick up this frequency very well, as it is the natural frequency of the human outer ear canal. It is not a coincidence that babies use a lot of twang / squillo! This is a little tidbit of my part: This frequency is not used by symphonic orchestral instruments, so that is why a classical singer can be heard above an orchestra… Because of the singers formant ;o) In chiaroscuro, the squillo is combined with ‘scuro’, the dark, warm sound that is attained by lowering the larynx, which increases the resonating volume.

Leonardo Da Vinci said ‘The artist who knows the nature of the muscles and cords, knows how they give motion to the organs and extremities’. Inspired by this quote, dr. Denizogly states that it is important for a singer to understand the muscle mechanisms of sound color, in order to be able to avoid a break between the registers (passagio).

FRIDAY JUNE 19TH


Pedro de Alcantara – Warm Up
11745966_916984981681829_6403848562844491442_nEven though I am familiar with and a fan of Alexander technique, and liked the exercises Pedro did with us on Friday, this warm-up didn’t do much for me.

Dr. Ilter Denizoglu – Scientific secrets of breathing for singing

IMG_8534Inhalation and breath support… For centuries, it has been the subject of discussion. Luckily, nowadays, we are able to understand our instrument much better, thanks to the newest scanners and suchlike.

Dr. Denizoglu explained to us the physical interactions between the voice and the breath. The transglottic airflow sets the vocal fold mucosa in motion (Voice = subglottic pressure + glottic resistance). In fact, we can explain the voice by the production of energy (inhalation) and the transformation of it (kinetic energy – vocal fold vibration). These physioanatomic insight are translated into vocal pedagogy.

IMG_8543Obviously, the posture has an important effect on these mechanisms. The sternothyroid muscle is the active link between breathing in (sternum) and voice production (larynx – thyroid). Keeping the sternum high separates the extrinsic laryngeal muscles from the breathing process and prevents a breath that is too high. A good posture also helps to achieve the important passive intake of breath by avoiding the use of secondary breathing muscles. As they are also the laryngeal suspension muscles, it’s important to separate the respiration from phonation.

1922137_906065496107111_4578535910162786901_nBreath support is slowing down the elevation of the diaphragm, and thus controlling the subglottal pressure, by balancing the contradiction by certain posture muscles (e.g. psoas muscle) & controlling the diaphragm by itself. I personally use the term ‘inhalare la voce’ – sing as if you breathe in – a lot in my coaching practice.

Dr. Denizoglu ended the presentation with the question how much air we must breathe in. The airflow during phonation is related to the phonation style, volume, pitch, shape of the vocal tract, consonant, singing style & training. In short, it’s important not to over-breathe. We need to be able to control the ‘wild air’.

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I personally liked both lectures by dr. Denizoglu and am very happy that he will be giving a workshop and lecture during the symposium of Evta-Be, this fall. I regret however, that the way he gave the lectures, made me (and some of my colleagues) feel that he believes that the principles of Bel Canto are the only existing healthy singing techniques.

Kristin Linklater – Freeing the natural voice

11426254_10206888642763486_7957170587721776810_n‘Yes, the voice is a musical instrument, but it is above all a human instrument. It comes from your thoughts, your feelings, your emotions. We sing, because speaking is no longer enough.’ Inspirational workshop! Just what I needed. Now I was no longer sorry that I had missed my weekly Friday morning yoga class ;o)

Penelope Price-Jones – Pathways: A new teacher training course in the UK
&
Eleanor Forbes & Bettina Kerth – Continuing education opportunities for singing teachers in Germany

IMG_8601AOTOS, the Association of Teachers of Singing, organizes a professional development course for practising singing teachers and people who are starting to teach. Click here and here to read more on the content.

A lot of people start teaching after a long career as a professional singer, where they have achieved a lot of valuable experience. Unfortunately, they often lack some necessary knowledge and skills, such as anatomy, vocal development, pedagogy, didactics, music theory, keyboard skills, repertoire,… AOTOS offers them a mixture of practical and theoretical training in order to ‘fill the gaps’.

BDG, the Bundesverband Deutcher Gesangspädagogen offers GPZ, a similar initiative in Germany. A lot of student-teachers feel that they are not being well prepared for teaching. They especially need more contact hours during their years at the university / conservatory. The changed structures into bachelor & master degrees resulted in the loss of a lot of courses in the training of performers. Amongst them pedagogy. GPZ offers those people a thorough training and certificate, which is very much in demand in Germany.

The profession of ‘voice teacher’ & ‘vocal coach’ is not protected. My colleague vocal coaches must recognize my own personal frustration about that. A lot of teachers need and actively look for ongoing education and mentoring. As it should be! I like to compare ourselves to doctors, who also should know the latest developments in medicine and health care. Consequently, I applaud initiatives like those from AOTOS and BDG. I find them a truly inspiring example for voice teachers associations all over the world.

ESPEJO DE GARCIAA bit of interesting history to end the report on this lecture… In earlier days, teachers were trained in a vertical way (master – pupil). There was also a big division between ‘Stimmbilder’ (science) and singing teachers (art).  Science looked down on art, as ‘they didn’t know enough about vocal physiology’. Manuel Patricio Rodríguez García, a former professional singer & teacher at the Royal Academy of Music of London,  invented the laryngoscope in 1854. He passed his findings on to other voice teachers. Franziska Martienssen-Lohmann & Paul Lohmann combined anatomical knowledge and singing tradition in Die geistige Klangvorstellung, Der Wissende Sänger, lectures, courses and masterclasses for both performers and voice teachers. This resulted in constructive discussions and a more horizontal relationship between teachers and singers.

The first international Congress of Voice Teachers (1987, Strasbourg) gathered voice teachers, ENT specialists and other voice specialists. The key words were ‘international’, ‘interdisciplinary’ and ‘influential’. The European Voice Teachers Association is a direct result of this conference, which may be called a milestone!

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Pilar Lirio – Scientific methodology for singing teachers: Parameters, software, statistics, etc.

11872721_10206556710067885_525831165_nAs more and more singing teachers (like myself) are performing scientific research, an introduction to the ‘how to’s’ and possible pitfalls can be very useful. Pilar Lirio is a voice researcher herself and presented a lecture on it on Saturday, which I didn’t attend, as lectures were happening simultaneously.

This lecture on Friday was quite chaotic and confusing, something I attribute to the fact that maybe the presentation was designed for a much longer lecture. I was happy to receive the pdf of the presentation afterwards (thank you, Pilar!), because it turned out to be an interesting document.

Gillyanne Kayes & Jeremy Fisher – Style and comfort in multi-genre teaching (Masterclass)

IMG_8604During this masterclass, Gillyanne and Jeremy coached three singers from the YPP Program (classical, jazz & rhythmical), in order to illustrate their concept they had already presented on Thursday. They focused on technique, performance, story telling and posture.

I especially liked the exercise that combined posture & story.
The singer stands with one foot a bit more to the front.
– Weight divided over both feet = neutral, uninvolved, solid,…
– Weight more on the front foot = engaging, aggressive,…
– Weight more on the back foot = secretive, relaxed, thoughtful,…
– Contrapost pose = ‘Don’t mess with me’
First, the singer decides which pose to take. Afterwards, the teacher ‘pushes’ and the singer has to follow. Interesting results!

Ineke Vandoorn – From the inside out: Teaching pop & jazz singing

11212159_1046771092007419_343970573457122093_oI had been looking forward to this lecture, as I personally believe we need more presentations like this on pop and jazz singing! Ineke Van Doorn is the first singer that graduated from a Dutch conservatory with a degree in Jazz singing. Being a singing teacher since 1985, she has gained a lot of valuable knowledge and skills, which she has brought together in her book Professioneel zingen voor iedereen (Singing professionally for everybody). She presented her concept and some of her ideas, which I enjoyed a lot.

We were presented an overview of singing methods and voice methods. Until the nineties, singing technique was only focused on bel canto singing, as we have seen in the lectures of dr. Ilter Denizoglu. Legato, singing on vowels, a larynx position, vibrato, high volume and female singers mainly singing in falsetto were key points. Other methods came from the theater world (e.g. Linklater Voice & Roy Hart) and speech therapy (Accent method by Svend Smith & Nasal method by Dr. Pahn). Newer, more cognitive methods are Estill Voice Training (since 1999) and Complete Vocal Technique (since 2005). There’s also the Lichtenberg Method and Core singing by Meribeth Dayme.

IMG_8639Ineke also builds everything around THIS voice – vocal possibilities, THIS singer – what the singer wants to express & THIS song – the repertoire, which she calls ‘working from the inside to the outside. Keywords are individuality (finding your own voice while being part of a living tradition) and professionalism (skills and knowledge). Technique and interpretation go hand in hand. When working on a song, the three phases are learning (melody, rhythm, lyrics, pronunciation, the right key, technique,…), exploring by trial and error with an open attitude (range, tempo, groove, timing, lyrics, form, improvisation,…)  and interpreting, which is the result of the research of phase 2. It is not 100% fixed, because it fits the moment. Her working method is build around thinking (skills) and intuition (emotion & storytelling).

These 3 phases and the working method have their use during the practice mode and the perfomance mode.

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This is one of Inekes exercises:
Ask the singer to read (not sing!) the lyrics of the song in 2 tempi:
– As fast as possible
– Very slowly, combined with breaks now and then
It’s very interesting to witness how the expressed emotion automatically changes. You can do the same with breathiness, legato vs. staccato, and so on

Dana Indane – Free contemporary improvisation for singers

11707362_916987508348243_742231735371138656_nImprovisation is still a challenge for me, so there were some butterflies in my stomach when I decided to participate actively in this workshop. Dana Indane shared with us her pedagogical tools, in which she asks the singers to combine their analytical mind with their intuition, in order to end up with a very individual style. We were divided into two groups and given several tasks. It was striking how fast people connected through these simple exercises, and how beautiful the result was. Dana truly managed to reach her goal of combining therapy and wellbeing with art. I left the room with a big smile on my face, as did a lot of my colleagues.

Nana Fagerberg & Sophie Ziedoy – The Body Instrument

Nana Fagerberg and Sophie Ziedoy have studied at the Anne Rosing Institute. They introduced us to her method, which is built around the ‘Body Instrument’, the breath support and the vocal onset. This workshop focused on The Body Instrument.
11755075_916988255014835_8156370249730146393_n (1)These are the 6 visual characterstics:
– No or a minimal arch in the lower back
– A wide back of the ribcage
– A lowered collarbone
– A deep ribcage from back to front
– A wide and open front of the ribcage
– No or minimal arch in the neck

Being a big fan of bodywork for the singer, I again participated actively in this workshop. I recognized a lot of exercises like the gorilla position, power poses, tree poses, and so on, which mostly worked on inhalation and breath support. I have to admit that even though I liked a lot of them, I didn’t agree with some of their ideas and exercises, as they felt uncomfortable on my voice. But then again, we all came to this conference to share and discuss. We can’t agree on everything ;o)

SATURDAY JUNE 20TH

Ineke Vandoorn – Warm-u

This warm-up was really fun, but I have to admit11872617_10204813240265964_1385154043_n
that it was also quite challenging… Singing a jazz song now and then doesn’t make you a jazz singer ;o) Ineke warmed-up our voices and brains with surprising riffs and licks that were built around scales and chords that I don’t use every day. Luckily the faces of my colleagues told me that I was not the only one having to be very concentrated in order to be able follow. the exercises were taken from books of Bob Stoloff, Ann Peckam and Judy Niemack. Alert and a tiny bit proud of myself that I had managed to sing along, I entered the main hall for the following lectures.

Dr. Boris Kleber – Do we feel what we hear? The neuroscience of singing from a kinesthetic perspective

Oh, what a mesmerizing part of our body the brain is! The lecture of dr. Boris Kleber fed the nerdy part of me abundantly ;o) He started out by explaining the auditory-motor development.

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Intended vocal production -> Motor command -> Auditory feedback -> ‘Do intention and production match? -> Adaptation of motor plans -> Adapted motor commands -> Auditory feedbak -> ‘Do intention and production match? -> …
This also explains the speech motor development of a child, which lasts 14 years.

IMG_8665His research shows that trained singers process bodily information (kinesthetic sensation) differently from non-singers, as they have more brain-structure for sensory feedback processing. Their brain is specialized in integrating sensory stimuli. When you sedate trained singers, and thus lower the kinesthetic feedforward and feedback, they will sing considerably less well. But when you make sure they can’t hear themselves, and thus eliminate the auditory feedback, there will only be a minor difference. This means that for trained singers, the kinesthetic feedforward and feedback is more important than the auditory feedback. On the other hand, the performance of non-singers doesn’t get much worse after lowering the kinesthetic feedforward and feedback. But when they don’t hear themselves, they sing much worse.

IMG_8664I personally find this a particularly interesting way to explain to my students why they need to trust their sensation much more than what they hear through the PA. Oh, what a familiar situation it is, having to sing through a crappy PA, or having a ‘soundguy’ that for example apparently doesn’t know the difference between volume and gain.

But most importantly, this proves that training to be a singer changes your brain, as it changes the relative importance of auditory (less important) & somatosensory feedback (more important)! How exciting it would be, if we could combine vocal coaching with neural enhancement… Would we be able to teach our students more rapidly and effectively?

Janis Kudins – Latvian Vocal Music

The lecture of Janis Kudins was an interesting overview of the vocal music of Latvia. I had expected mainly folk music as I know it in my own country, but apparently in Latvia, opera is a big part of folk music. I was completely blown away by the trailer of War Sum Up by Hotel Pro Forma. If they would ever come to Belgium, I would be the first one to buy a ticket!

Elizabeth Aubry – Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the best voice teacher of them all? Self awareness for the voice teacher

IMG_8679This title really triggered me and a lot of my colleagues, obviously… Nobody jumped up and shouted ‘Me, me, me!’, though ;o) I absolutely loved the message ànd the way Elizabeth Aubry presented it. Here are some quotes in order to give you an idea.

‘Studying the vocal function can help to clarify, correct and confirm what we already do instinctively.’
‘Recognizing and experiencing our own emotions, we can guide the student to perceive, accept and express his own.’
‘The best voice teacher has a clear sense of his / her identity, which is formed by several aspects: Life experience, where we come from, our family & culture, the roles we play in life and everything we have done, for good and ill, and all that has been done to us.’

‘If I live and teach with integrity and with a clear sense of who I am, I will be an example to my students as they develop their own sense of identity and integrity.’
‘Be a first class version of yourself, not a second class version of someone else.’ (Judy Garland)


Hannah Fahey – The singers voice: Rehearse, record, reflect and write

I personally videorecord every coachingIMG_8685
session for my singers and deliver it to them via Dropbox. It’s not only a service I pay to them, but also to myself, because they progress so much faster, which is nice for me too. I urge them to watch the video attentively and take notes afterwards. Just watching the video alone, makes the neuronal connections stronger, even if they don’t repeat the exercises. When you don’t take notes from a lecture or lesson, you remember only 10% of it… If you’re lucky. Taking notes during the lesson is time consuming and also stops the flow. So, there are only advantages! Once the singer succeeds in getting over the idea of ‘God is watching me’ with the camera ;o)

When singers feels insecure about the way they study, I ask them to make a ‘study diary’ and write down the answers to these 2 questions every time they study.
– Before: What is my goal and what’s my strategy in order to reach it?
– After: How did the session go and what are my thoughts on it?
This might for example bring to light that the singer tends to avoid ‘the hot potato’ and only sings the parts he / she already knows well. Because it’s much more fun. You can compare it to a diet diary that brings to light that you actually don’t eat as healthy as you thought ;o)

Hannah Fahey presented her own ideas on this and I agree 100% with her. Documenting creates reflexive, responsible practitioners. The communicable texts enhance the dialogue between the teacher, the student and peers. The singer learns descriptive language, ends up with an archive of developmental data for future use and he / she fosters an interest in pedagogy and research.

Astrid Vang Pedersen – Icebreaker
&
Jim Dhaus Hjernoe – Intelligent choir, an innovative methodology to empower conductors & singers in rock / pop / jazz / vocal music

11755180_916988828348111_4358374100074681634_nOh, how much I have looked forward to the workshops of Astrid Vang Pedersen and Jim Dhaus Hjernoe. I have been blown away by the concept and attained results of the Intelligent Choir for the first time at the 3rd session of LeoSings (Tours, October ’14), and a second time at the 4th session in Freiburg (March ’15). My personal report on LeoSings4 is still in the making, but for now, you can watch this video, which reports on all sessions of LeoSings. LeoSings4 starts at 03.46.

When working with this method, the music is divided into 4 main areas: Time & Groove, Intonation & Pitch, Sound & Blend and Expression & Interpretation. Afterwards, you can add Performance & Concert Design, which is a specialization of Astrid. The Intelligent Choir concept embodies quite a lot of voice painting (based on soundpainting by Walter Thompson), improvisation and circle singing in order to develop the skills and expand the comfort zone for every singer. You can read more on it in this presentation that Jim gave at LeoSings1 in Aalborg. Start at page 13.

11028026_916989711681356_7196491079207929480_nAstrid was responsible for the icebreaker. The exercises did exactly what the title promised to do: They broke the ice, so everybody was energetic, awake, in a positive mood, enthusiastic and up for the work with Jim (with the whole group together). This is one exercise: Two people stand in front of each other. You count to three over and over again, alternating between each other. Then you make all kinds of variations with clapping the hands and stamping the feet. Clap – 2 – 3 – Clap – 2 – 3 – … or 1 – Stamp – 3 – 1 – Stamp – 3 – … Oh yes, it may sound easy, but I can assure you it always ends in hilarious situations!

I have decided not to take notes during the workshop of Jim, in order to be able to experience it 100%, but you can watch this video about LeoSings2 in Aalborg, in order to get an idea of what we have done and how it works. As you can see, it is fun, fun, fun! The goal is to prepare the choir for the performance. And yes, we were prepared! Too bad we didn’t go on having a performance ;o)


Isabella Jezowska – Voice release through movement

11694973_916990725014588_3300712977944726291_nVoice and movement, they go hand in hand. Here you can find some beautiful classical examples. Isabella Jezowska is writing a book on how areal yoga (yoga in a hammock)
can help during voice training.

She states that IMG_8705as the voice is a mechanical wave, it needs to be mechanically influenced. Movement has a direct influence on modulation and articulation. She works on pitch, the position of the vowels, dynamics and articulation, but the main focus is breathing and breath support. The exercises are divided into three parts: a warm-up, the fundamental part and the relaxation part afterwards.

IMG_8706As there were no yoga hammocks in the room, Isabella showed us a few exercises which demonstrated some of her goals. Even though I didn’t agree with some of the exercises – For example, I don’t believe in pushing the belly out during inhalation and breath support, I am curious for the results that Isabella presented as being amazing. Her lecture was unfortunately quite hasty, but also confusing, something I dedicate to the fact that she is still in the process of writing her book. I’m looking forward to the publication in 2016 and in the meanwhile, I’m starting areal yoga classes myself in September. A fortunate coincidence ;o)

Jaana Turunen – Group singing education for beginners

Jaana Turunen gave a beautiful lecture on the dangers of testing singers through auditions. We loose much too much potential, as we test too early, before every potential has been developed. We need to give musical education to everybody, without testing. I agree 100%. Read this quote on how singing in a group can help people who suffer from a lack of confidence.

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Singing is not a mystery nor science impossible to understand and every singer starts a a beginner.

Janine Magnin – I like to sing: Scaffolding performance learning around the school pupils self motivation

Janine Magnin presented her research on the aspects that motivate children to take singing lessons. I have to admit that I didn’t understand a lot of the presentation… The main idea that entered my mind, is that HOW we present something is often much more important than WHAT we present, because even though I find this subject quite interesting, I have no idea what to report on it…

Marina Bizjak – Do we realize the importance of vocal technique in adolescence?

The lecture of Marina Bizjak explained why I have chosen not to coach singers younger than 15. It is a very specific field of work that I just am not specialized in. Let the cobbler stick to his last ;o)

The most important physical changes that a voice goes through happen between the age of 9 and 14, due to testosterone and estrogen. The vocal mechanisms like the larynx, laryngeal skeleton, lung function, vocal tract and thorax grow a lot. The indicators of these changes that are happening are hoarseness, huskiness, cracking, lowering / insecurity of pitch, decreased or inconsistent range and register breaks. Obviously, there is a significant difference between girls and boys.

IMG_8719      IMG_8720

Exercises need to be adapted to the personal situation and needs of the young singer. The focus needs to be on relaxation, posture, breathing coordination and vocalizing.

The End

11738056_916991131681214_5792860731245355107_nEurovox ended with a presentation of ICVT 2017, the International Congress of Voice Teachers, which will take place in Stockholm, Sweden Augustus 2nd – 6th 2017 (Everybody, head over there!), a lovely concert by the singers of the YPP program and a celebration of Midsummer Solstice. Click here to see the pictures of this magical event, where we even made our own flower crowns. The evening ended with everybody dancing around the fire, chanting folk songs from their own country. Thank you so much, EVTA and Antra Jankava in special, for a very inspiring conference which ended with a big climax like I have never experienced during a conference before!

Also a big thank you to my wonderful colleagues for sharing their pictures. This report could not have been as colorful without them!

Versie 2

Microphone Technique

If you’re not a classical singer, chances are you’re using a microphone when on stage. Knowing how to work with it is crucial, if you want to make the most out of your vocal performance.


The spheres

The spheres are a way to describe the distance you create between your microphone and your mouth.

SPHERE 1

  • Closest to the mic.
  • Only suitable for very low volumes.
  • Bass boos / Proximity effect: Low frequencies are amplified more than middle and high, which results in more “body” in the voice. Neutral with air works perfectly here. Sphere 1 makes it sound rich and broad, which is impossible without a microphone.

SPHERE 2

  • This is the sphere you use the most.
  • All frequencies of your voice are picked up equally.
  • When you sing the loudest, pull the microphone away a bit more than when you sing more quietly

SPHERE 3

  • Here, the mic only picks up some higher frequencies.
  • You are more audible acoustically than amplified.
  • Hence only suitable for intimate performances where you want to add an acoustic element.

Exercise: Practice singing a dynamic song in a microphone while looking at the lights of the input-volume on the mixing console. Your task is to keep them at the same level at all times! Quite frustrating in the beginning, but oh my, how you get to know the spheres like this 😉


Holding your microphone

Picture by Charlotte Marez-Vanhecke

Hold it a bit angled at the level of your chin. Above all sing straight into the microphone unless you want to obtain a special effect.

Holding the capsule of the microphone or covering it with your hand / arm like Ronnie James Dio creates a special muffled sound, but beware of feedback (the screeching sound coming from the speakers…). You also make the job of your sound technician a lot more difficult like this, and you really don’t want to get them into a bad mood 😉 Never – ever aim the microphone towards the speakers or monitors, as that will create feedback for sure!

Exercise: Practice singing with a microphone with the sound (backing track + your voice) only coming through your headphones, not a speaker. Now you hear what the audience will hear, without hearing your voice acoustically, so you can practice functionally.


Buying a microphone

Every microphone is unique. They all favor different frequencies and thus change your sound. Take your time to choose and don’t economize. It is a crucial lengthening of your voice that will define your sound substantially. If you’re a beginner at this, don’t hesitate to ask advice to the people at the shop, friends, colleagues,… Use extra sets of ears that will help you to know what to listen for when trying out microphones. Tip for beginners: Yes, Shure SM58 provides good quality for your money. But it’s not because it’s the most popular (best marketed…) microphone, that it also works for your voice! Test as much microphones as you can!

There are roughly 2 types of microphones that are used the most for amplifying voices. Make sure you know what you need, when choosing your mic! For many live performances, you will need a dynamic microphone. As its pick up pattern is cardioid – it will pick up sound mostly at the front of the microphone, it is suited for louder bands. A condenser microphone is much more sensitive and will also pick up the sound of the other instruments surrounding you. Hence, these microphones are mostly used in studio or for more intimate live performances.


General tips

  • Make sure you don’t drop your microphone and protect it (also from moist) during transport.
  • Allow your mic to heat up a bit before using it, when it has been stored in a cold place, because condense will ruin it.
  • Smoke is bad for your voice ànd for your microphone. The tarnish on the membrane of the mic will dampen high frequencies.
  • During a sound check, you sing a song. Don’t hit or blow into your mic, especially not a sensitive condenser mic, as it could damage the diaphragm.
  • Don’t forget the batteries + spares if your mic needs them… I know what I’m talking about 😉

What happens after the microphone?

Make sure you have some basic knowledge of equalizing, compression and effects. By doing so, you will be able to communicate clearly with your sound technician during the sound check and make them perfectly clear how you want your voice to sound. Don’t leave it all up to them as it is quite possible that their artistic opinion doesn’t match yours.

Because this person will define your sound, it is very important that you build a good relationship with them. Say hi, introduce yourself, be polite, communicate clearly and say thank you afterwards. It’s incredible how many musicians forget this… The sound technician is an equally important member of the band as your guitarist or you, the singer!

Have fun with your microphone!

You are responsible – Part 1

One of the first things I communicate to you when you start lessons or coaching with me, is that YOU bear a big part of the responsibility. Whether my work with you will be effective and have clear results, is not only defined by me! I depend on your questions and feedback, in order to be able to give you what you came for.

I am not the kind of teacher that will tell you what to do every step of the way and expects you to always believe me and follow my opinion. On the contrary. I am here to help you find and develop your own artistic personality and make sure that you do this in a healthy way. Your voice, your sound. That’s one of the reasons I work with Intake sessions. Before that session, you will have to fill out a form with questions that will help me to understand who you are and what you need. These questions will compel you to think about your goals as a singer and what will be the best way to achieve them. I ask you to answer those questions again every few months, in order to make you reflect about the path we have taken together. Did we stay on track? Did we use the right strategy or do we need to change something? And so on…

So, whether you’re thinking about starting lessons or coaching with me or with somebody else, I advise you to think about these questions. First of all, you are helping the teacher and coach to work with you in the best way possible. And as a bonus, it just feels SO good to reflect on the questions, write the answers down, re-read them a few months later, realize you have reached your goals and find new ones, eventually change your strategy,… It’s great to take your growth as a singer into your own hands, and work together with your teacher and coach. They are there to help you. So you have the right ànd the responsibility to make clear what it is you want.

Oh, one more thing: It’s OK to answer “I don’t know (yet)” ;o)

GENERAL INFO FOR YOUR COACH

  • Which relevant education(s) did you receive in the past?
  • Which relevant education(s) are you receiving at the moment?
  • Are you singing in a band / choir or have you done so in the past?
    Are you performing?
    If so, how many gigs per year?
  • Are you suffering from relevant medical conditions? Airway-problems, food intolerances, allergies, structural problems that effect your posture, reflux,…
    If so, are you being treated?
    If so, is it necessary that your vocal coach gets in touch with the person you’re treated by?

WHO ARE YOU AS A SINGER?

  • What are your strong traits as a singer?
  • Which singers / composers / artists / … inspire you?

PERSONAL GOALS IN THE PAST

  • What have been your goals? (f.e. breath support, interpretation,…)
  • How did you work? What was your strategy?
  • Are you happy about the progress?
  • If not, why?
  • What did you have to do differently?
  • How do you think your coach can and should help to do this better in the present?

PERSONAL GOALS IN THE PRESENT

  • What are your goals? (f.e. breath support, interpretation,…)
  • How are you working? What is your strategy?
  • Are you happy about the progress?
  • If not, why?
  • What has to change?
  • How do you think your coach can and should help?

PERSONAL GOALS IN THE FUTURE

  • What are your long-term goals? (f.e. a certain song, performance,…)
  • How are you going to work? What will be your strategy?
  • How do you think your coach can and should help?

STUDYING

  • Do you have a certain strategy?
  • How regular do you study?
  • How long do you study?
  • Are you using a fixed structure / routine?
    If so, explain.
  • Does your strategy & routine work?
  • If not, what has to change?
  • How do you think your coach can and should help?

EXTRA

  • Is there something else you want to mention?

Click here for part 2 of this blog, where I explain about how you can take responsibility during a coaching session.

Testimonials on Skype Coaching

I have started offering coaching via Skype successfully in January 2013 and wrote a blog on my own opinion about it. But sometimes, I notice that people are still skeptical. That’s why I decided to share the testimonials of a few people that I’m coaching.

It’s simple: It works! ;o)

Julia Klotz, Musical theater singer, Germany, leading part in Evita.

Afbeelding

“I took Skype lessons with Sarah and her vocal coaching was amazing. She helped me through a tough time with lots of rehearsals and shows to play.

My singing improved more than I expected and it still does with her concrete and precise tips in mind! :-)”

 

Singer-songwriter, Belgium

“I was recording in studio and the deadline was approaching. Sarah was abroad, so I booked a coaching session through Skype.Afbeelding

Besides the advantage of the last minute aspect, I felt even more freedom compared to regular sessions: I didn’t have to come to the coaching studio and we immediately started working to the point. After the session, I felt completely relaxed and ready for action!

Compared to a regular session, the way Sarah handles coaching through Skype is equally personal, the result equally impressive and efficient.

Whether it’s offline or online, Sarah is always great, and the session is always productive.”

Sara Van Crombrugge, singer, Belgium

I just had my second Skype lesson. I wondered in advance whether it would be something for me, but I’m glad to say it was very nice. Next to the fact that I don’t have to make the trip to Ghent, it was very nice to have the lesson in my own living room, where I’m very at ease. I would recommend it to everyone  🙂 !

I’m so grateful to be a vocal coach!

Today, a student and I have had the last lesson before her exam… Oh my, she made me so proud!

This jazz-singer started her studies at the conservatory in october and started private coaching with me that same month. With a very hungry work ethic, she booked lessons every week or two weeks. Every time she was prepared and had a clear idea of what she wanted to work on. Her hunger sometimes turned into being a control freak, but that’s OK. I think we all have been there ;o) Of course I focused mainly on technique during the first sessions, especially breathing and breath support.

After a few sessions, I started to ask her more regularly why she wanted to sing the song a certain way. It was clear that she had difficulties understanding the fact that technique is only a tool. It serves your main purpose: Telling a story, touching hearts. Your audience doesn’t care about the mode you’re singing in, it doesn’t care that one note isn’t in tune…

Even though she had lots of difficulties opening up emotionally to the music and (I heard a lot of “I can’t!”), she kept on trying. During the last lessons of december, I noticed that something had happened. I could see, hear and feel a bit of her personality when she was singing. And then there were the holidays…

Today, I was so very curious. The last lesson before the exam. Had she been able to work and progress on her own? Would she be ready? And there she was: A performer. I witnessed her singing the songs from her heart, telling a story, showing me her musical identity, opening up to whatever would happen.

The way you feel as a coach, when you watch a caterpillar turn into a butterfly… I can’t describe it, but if you could see the smile on my face right now, and feel the, well… butterflies in my stomach ;o) THIS is why I absolutely LOVE my job. It’s an honor that people trust me with their voice, their story. It’s so beautiful that they let me guide them to things that they sometimes never dared to dream of.

So, to all of you, that have ever walked into my classroom and sang to me: THANK YOU!
And to the singer of the story: Good luck, wednesday!

*Big hug*

Sarah