My teacher never explained anything. If I questioned him about the purpose of a certain exercise, for example, he would look at me with a Mona Lisa smile and murmur, “Can you just be in the confusion for a while?” It drove me crazy! And I seem to have swung to the other extreme, where I explain everything, till I’m blue in the face and my students’ eyes glaze over.
But lately I’ve realized there’s something about my whole approach to voice training that I just take for granted and never bother to explain, and it might be confusing for some students. It’s this image of your body as a container with lots of empty space inside, and your ultimate aim being to use all that space for producing the sound of your voice.
Now of course there’s no empty space in your body. All available space is taken up by bone and muscle and various organs. So if I tell you to imagine and cultivate more space in your sides, back, shoulders and neck, you might be thinking, “That’s impossible. There’s no empty space in there.” And you’d be right. But acting as if there’s space is still beneficial.
Take this acoustic guitar. If you stuff it full of newspaper or fill it with sand it won’t sound very good. You need that interior space to get the best sound. Picturing your entire body as a big guitar, empty on the inside and vibrating with sound is one good way to cultivate your best voice.
Imagining more space encourages relaxation. Muscle tension implies contraction and that results in less space. Imagining the feeling of more space invites tense muscles to let go. It might not be the only strategy for releasing tension; you might employ stretching, massage, physio, or other practices, but it’s an easy way to start.
The image of empty space helps with breathing. If you imagine filling a particular part of your body with air, that implies expansion, which encourages more space. Also, imagining there are no obstacles to breath flowing through that part of your body invites surrounding muscles to relax and breath flows more easily.
Optimizing your voice is ultimately about optimizing resonance, and vocal resonance is all about how sound vibrates in your body. Larger spaces produce more resonance than smaller spaces. Maximize the imaginary space you feel and you maximize resonance.
So imagining your body as a large empty space available to vibrate with sound encourages relaxation, breath and resonance, and those three ingredients always result in a speaking voice that’s strong, clear, engaging and effective. There you have it, the one explanation I’ve never inflicted on my students. Thanks for humoring me, and I’ll see you in the next video.
Voice Training: Finding More Space
There are different approaches to voice training and they all have particular areas of focus. I have always taken the perspective that good voice is all about openness and that openness starts in your body. That idea is so intuitive for me that I often assume it makes perfect sense to everyone else, but I know from experience that it doesn’t. Here’s my attempt to explain one of the underlying assumptions at the bottom of my approach to voice training.