Breaking Through the Looking Glass with Mary McDonald Klimek
Of mirrors and mirror neurons ... What's in your Vocal Tract?*
I was mentoring a new voice teacher earlier this week, and we got onto the topic of the value of demonstrations and modeling in voice training in general and in Estill Voice Training specifically. Last week, he sent me a couple of TED Talk links that argued for being willing to question assumptions. This got me to thinking about mirrors, of course! How do we interpret what we see – and hear - in the reflections of “mirrors” that surround us as we teach? Is a subjective assessment of a positive change in vocal behavior evidence that we and our students are achieving our personal vocal goals? Or, should we question, dig deeper, plunge through the appealing reflection?
I frequently demonstrate various Estill Voice Training options and Voice Qualities in hopes of triggering mirror neurons in my students’ brains. If am getting good results I should continue with these models, offering positive reinforcement, right?
Not so fast!
Estill Voice Training (EVT) is built on a paradigm shift in vocal pedagogy whose premise is that the muscle activity for voicing begins before the voice is heard. Craft, developing predictable control of the 13 structures involved in voice production, is at the core of our teaching. Craft facilitates artistic expression, vocal health, vocal longevity. While our students are listening to us, are they “listening” to what is going on in their vocal tracts? When we elicit a change in voice production that is closer to what the student wants, how well does the student understand what he or she was doing a few minutes before that wasn’t working? How well does she or he understand what changed in the vocal tract when things got better? When a model is presented with EVT vocabulary and Hand Signals, both student and teacher have a Craft-based foundation for interpreting and benefiting from the response.
If the student responds in a way that answers the question, solves the problem, or meets the need, there is a structure-and-option framework already in place for deeper exploration. What was heard? What was felt? What was seen in Estill Voiceprint Plus, in anatomical drawings, in videoendoscopy? All these learning channels lead students toward better understanding and ownership of their successes, towards Craft.
If the student’s response is off target, there is a framework for “error analysis”. What feature in the teacher’s model might have triggered the student’s response? Some students have internalized messages about their voices that they attempt to correct, no matter what model is being presented. What is inside their brains, their vocal tracts? More modeling from the teacher will not untangle these false assumptions.
Estill Voice Training prepares us to go deep, to take the Craft-informed plunge beyond what we see and hear reflected back to us. There are Power-Source-Filter discussions and explorations. Spectrograms of whispering, glottal fry and speaking offer a visual representation of sound that begins to train the ear and brain to listen for the frequency mixes in vowels and voice qualities that influence our perception of the voice. Exercises straight from our Level One and Two Workbooks begin the process of modifying Attractor State behaviors associated with breathing, speaking, singing. Sometimes simply starting to vocalize from Resting Expiratory Level proves to be a first “hook” into the realization that there can be an easier way to speak or sing. Seeing reflections that indicate a student’s recognition of “Most Comfortable Vocal Effort” is always a good start!
If you have taken courses in Estill Voice Training and feel you are using “Estill” in your teaching, look in the mirror. Question what you see. Are your students reflecting growing mastery of their voices, their Craft? Do not be afraid to spend a little time in every lesson introducing and revisiting key concepts and Figures for Voice Control.
If you are new to Estill Voice Training, find one of our courses and take the plunge into what we call “Craft” and find a new way to control the individual physiological elements that work together in amazing ways to produce your beautiful voice.
Take the plunge! You might like what you discover.
* An American pop culture reference to a credit card company ad campaign
"Jo Estill's work is pioneering in that she was the first to separate voice quality clearly into source and filter components! Her basic vocal tract shapes associated with sob (yawn), twang, and sing (opera) are fundamental to our current understanding of how the source and the filter interact."
Ingo R. Titze, PhD
World-renowned voice scientist
National Center for Voice and Speech