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  • Writer's pictureJed Wylie

Episode 24 – Do You Control Your Voice?

Is being able to control your voice a good thing?

What does controlling your voice mean to you?

Can you let go of your control over your voice and still sing well?

Can you let go of your control and actually sing better?

Am I going to keep asking you questions or answer some? (-:

Listen to some new thoughts on the subject of control and get ready to “Let Go”!


The Inner Singer Podcast

Episode 24 – Transcripts

Do You Control Your Voice?

Well, hey there, everybody. Welcome to the Inner Singer Podcast. This is Mike Goodrich. Thanks for listening. Today, I’m going to jump right in. I’ve got a very limited amount of time and this is kind of a funny experience. But let’s see if I can get actually get this done this quickly without talking at a mile a minute.

What I wanted to talk about today was freedom versus control. It’s an idea that popped into my mind the other day that I actually think about a lot that it clarifies a little bit. I thought I would talk about it today.

What we really want in our voice, in our singing, in our performing, in our life, really, is freedom because control requires a tremendous amount of exertion and effort.

And what I hear from my students quite a bit, one fellow in particular is always saying, “I got to figure this out. I got to figure this out.” I often tell him, “You may never ‘figure it out’ on that particular level.” In other words, the muscles that we’re dealing with singing are so involuntarily oftentimes that it’s really not about figuring it out. It’s about opening into it.

And I don’t mean to be getting all Pollyanna or la-di-da, “all you have to do is be free.” I do believe honestly that you need a pedagogy.

I was in a singing and performance class years ago before I met my wife. The girl who teaches who I love, she’s a dear, dear, dear friend. She doesn’t work vocal technique at all. That’s not what this is all about in the class. I have seen people do amazing things with their voice by being sort of, for lack of a better word—well, I don’t want to say trick, but being guided into it from the emotional perspective. All of a sudden, they get into this thing that they’ve never been in before and it’s fabulous. And that’s great.

The only difficulty with that as a technique is that it isn’t a pedagogy. It’s not duplicatable. It’s not repeatable. You would have to count into getting that emotional state the exact, same way and have all cylinders fire. Or if you’re unlocking a safe, all the tumblers have to line up and open. That’s not a technique, that’s not a pedagogy.

So, when I say freedom, I’m not talking, “Oh, la-di-da, freedom, don’t think about pedagogy, don’t think about technique, don’t do any exercises, don’t do any scales.” I’m not saying that.

What I am saying is as you do these things and build your voice, working the pedagogy, working the exercises, working the scales, working on the different parts of your voice—your chest voice, your mix, your head voice—balancing the bridges, tuning the vowels, as you get all that going, the environment, the atmosphere, the attitude with which I would love to see you do these things is from the standpoint of freedom versus “I have to control this.”

It really is a completely different thing. You’ll hear as we continue this.

Controlling it means just that. “I’m going to get a grip on this. I’m going to get control over this. I’m going to make this happen. I’m going to make these high notes. I’m not going to let my voice crack because I’m going to control that. I’m going to control my vibrato. It should be six or seven oscillations a second. I’m going to control that. Ooh… I’m going to control my chest voice. I’m going to control my chord closure. I’m going to control my breathing. I’m going to do all these things.”

Well, you know what? I never had any success doing that. As a matter of fact, the more I try to control things, the more of a mess things begot—became, not begot. Yes, I begot a mess basically. So the more I try to control things, the more messed up things got.

And that does not mean that I didn’t intuit things. I remember specific things that I was intuiting that I thought, that I felt into when I was singing about 20 years ago and things weren’t going the way I thought they should. I would listen to these great singers and I thought, “You know, the minute I open my mouth, I’m off. I’m actually bringing my chords together incorrectly. They’re too thick and they’re too heavy. There’s too much weight. There’s too much air.”

So, I intuited that. I played around with that. And I played around with ways to correct that.

But as I reflect back, I was really not able to control much. It wasn’t a good sound. What I was able to do is put myself in a position to experience something new. And that’s far different than trying to control something.

When you put yourself in a position to experience something new, you’re really open. You’re really, really receptive. You’ve got an openness about you.

Now, when you are controlling—and many of us are trying to control. We’re very rigid. We’re very linear. We’re not necessarily open to a spherical point of view, something that could really happen to help us out of the ordinary. We’re not open to the mystery and the magic.

One of my dear friends talks about mystery and mastery. And I honestly, I don’t know how he puts those two together, but when he said it to me, I thought, “That’s really good.” And the way I would look at that for this particular explanation is if you’re trying to master something with that attidue, you’re really trying to control it.

But if you’re open and you’re in the mystery of what you’re openign to, that’s a competely different attitude.

I have heard amazing singers. My dad and I used to go to the opera. My mom would go obviously as well. My dad and I were the ones that would talk about it quite a bit. My mom is a great singer. My dad is a great singer. But my dad and I would talk about the singers, would talk about the singing—not in a bad way (well, I guess sometimes).

But anyway, I would notice oftentimes when either going to the opera or listening to the Met Broadcast, the Metropolitan Opera Broadcast, every Saturday—still do for years and years and years—we would hear maybe a singing we haven’t heard before, tenor or baritone—usually, we would listen to the tenors quite frankly. I’m a tenor, my dad wanted to be a tenor—but the baritones as well, and even sopranos, mostly, the tenors and the baritones is what we would listen to, really paying attention to.

We would hear a guy doing the recitative—recitative is the music between the aria, the arias of the song, the big numbers that people are very used to hearing amazing singers sing. They’re like the hits out of a particular opera like in the Pagliacci. Vesti la Giubba would be the big hit that all the tenors do. So, we can imagine, opera fans have heard this aria done a gazillion times by amazing singers, world-class singers, the best in the world, the best that ever lived.

So, I was listening to an opera—I don’t know which particular one because this happened quite a bit—and we would be hearing a singer singing the recitative which is the music between the arias. The voice would be unbelievable. It would be free and vibrant and bouyant. Man, it’s just like banging all over the place.

My dad and I would look at each other and say, “God! I can’t wait to hear this guy sing the aria. This is unbelievable!” And all of a sudden, the aria comes and the singer would go into this formal place of rigidity and control.

Now, mind you, I didn’t know what was happening back then; I do now—at least certainly to a certain extent. And all of a sudden, the voice would change. It would be smaller, it would be heavier. It wouldn’t be as exciting. It wouldn’t be as fun to listen to. And oftentimes, it was such a dramatic difference, it almost sounded like somebody else singing.

So, right there is the total difference. I know you can’t hear that right now, but you can imagine with the way I’m explaining it. Right now, that is the total difference between freedom and control.

When the singer was in the place of saying in his mind, “This is just throaway singing even if there were high notes, but this isn’t an aria. This is just a toss-away singing. I’m acting this. I’m free. Oh, this is really easy. I’m just tossing this off. No big deal! I’m just enjoying life”, they’re just enjoying the voice, enjoying singing very, very freely.

But then, the intro to the aria starts. And all of a sudden, they went into a different wiring in the brain, into a different pattern, into a different story. Now, they’re telling themselves a story on an unconscious level. They’re telling themselves the story that, “Oh, my gosh! The people that are about to hear me sing this aria have heard the greatest tenors since time began sing this, and probably better than I’m going to sing it right now.” This is what’s going through their mind.

So, they get rigid, they get hyperlinear, they’re not open to any exciting new things that might occur in their voice or their performance and they’re just trying to get through it.

And yu can hear that. That’s what it sounds like.

Now, my favorite tenors, Franco Corelli and Mario del Monaco, you never, ever hear that. These guys are alive and vibrant. They just throw caution to the wind. They sing what I would refer to as ‘singing dangerously’. That means they walk right up to the edge and they don’t fall off.

Now, I did not say—remember, I said ‘singing dangerously’. Let me tell you my interpretation of that because that’s not singing stupidly. It’s not throwing caution to the window with no technique and just yelling until you’re hoarse. That is not what I’m talking about.

What I’m talking about is having a solid technique from a specific pedagogy, and then taking that to the limit—walking right up to the edge, walking right on that edge and not falling off. Walking on a tight rope, and juggling at the same time, not walking on a tight rope with your arms waving all over, afraid you’re going to fall.

And that’s fine for the beginning. Believe me, it’s a process. We all go through the whole thing, the process. It’s hard to skip any of these. Go through the process. But the ultimate intention is to be able to walk right up to the edge and not fall off or walk that tight rope while you’re juggling.

The easiest thing in the world now in your implicit memory system, you don’t even have to think about it, now that’s freedom.

But people say, “Okay. Yeah. Well, sure, yeah. That’s Mario del Monaco. That’s Franco Corelli. It’s Beyonce. It’s…” Pick your idol. Pick your artist. It doesn’t matter.

And you say, “Well, sure. Well, that’s because they’re who they are. And of course, they can sing freely. Of course, they can act like that. It’s them. It’s Beyonce. She’s not worried about herself.” Yeah, okay. But then, what came first, the chicken or the egg? What came first? Beyonce singing with freedom or Beyonce singing with freedom?

Does she sing with freedom now because she controlled her voice or does she sing with freedom because that was always her approach?

How about del Monaco and Corelli, do they sing with freedom now because they tried to rigidly control their voice, afraid of what they might sound like, afraid their voice might crack? Or was their approach—

Like I said in the last podcast, like Carusso said first, “I sing for myself. If anybody likes it, that’s fine,” opening up to that magic, opening up to that mystery, letting go of the control.

Control with singing equals rigidity. It equals a ceiling that you’re going to hit up against and not be able to get past. You cannot control your voice. Don’t even try.

Enjoy the vibrancy. Enjoy the feeling of a high note, feeling like it’s going to fly right out of your voice, feeling like it’s going to crack, feeling like you’re going to lose it.

A dear friend of mine that was a mentor of mine for many, many years, Seth Riggs—many of you have probably heard Seth. He’s still actually teaching. He’s a dear guy. He showed me something—the first lesson I’ve ever had with him (which is about probably 1989 or 1988), he took a pencil.

Now, visualize this. He took a pencil and he grabbed tight onto the pencil, leaving one end coming out of one end of his hand and one end coming out of the other. So, he had a good grip. He made a fist right around the pencil—one end of the pencil coming out one end of his hand, and the other coming out the other end. So, he had a good grip. Nobody can get that from him.

And he made this analogy, “Here, take the pencil. Get the pencil.” You can’t get the pencil. He goes, “I know! That’s how we want to feel our voice, right? That’s how we want to feel?” I said, “Yeah, I want to really. I’m tired of cracking and I don’t want to mess up in front of my audience or do anything silly or miss a note.”

He goes, “Okay. Watch this. Here’s what you have to be willing to accept.” And then, he took his finger and his thumb of the other hand grabbed the tip of the pencil and pulled it through his hand until he was only hanging onto the pencil with his thumb and his forefinger of the other hand—barely hanging on to the pencil at all. He says, “Now, take it.” So I take the pencil easily.

He said, “Yeah. But that is what you have to be willing. That’s how much you have to trust.”

And I’m paraphrasing.

But you can imagine that. Grab a pencil. Grab something that you can get a good grip on, your cellphone or whatever (just don’t drop your phone). Grab your cellphone. Wrap your hand around it tight. Say, “Okay, wow! This is great. This is how I want to feel my voice. I want to have control over my voice.”

There’s nothing wrong with that. We all want that. We all want control of our voice.

And then, say, “Okay, now, I’m going to release that grip. I’m going to lighten up. We’re going to be freer with this.” I’m going to pull whatever I’m holding almost out of my hand, and I’m now going to hold it just with my thumb and my forefinger, and I’m going to realize, “That’s how I must treat the voice.”

That’s how much trust I have to bring to this. And that’s how much freedom I have to allow in this process because if I want to hang on for dear life and control it and figure it out and make it an intellectual process and get this all handled, you’re going to build a hill that you can’t get up.

But if you let go and reframe that and say, “Okay, I’m going to approach this from freedom, from receptivity, from the mystery. And through the mystery, I will experience mastery.”

But if I go after mastery with a sense of control and “figuring this out” and “getting a grip on this,” controlling my vibrato, controlling […], controlling my voice, and making sure my voice doesn’t crack, controlling my breathing and getting all these in order, I’ll never master it.

The only way you can master something is to open to the mystery. And through the mystery, you’ll discover the mastery.

So, play around with that idea, opening to the freedom versus the control. And you can exercise that in your singing, in your vocalizing, in your performing. See how much you can begin to let go of control.

Let your voice crack. Who cares?

Okay, granted. I’m a performer. I haven’t performed for a while, but I’ve performed for years. An old buddy of mine, Jay, was a Broadway guy. He was terrific. He was a really good buddy. He used to be in a class together, the class I told you about earlier in this show.

There would be a gal that would get up and she would be able to cry while she was singing. Tears would come out of her eyes, just rolled down her face.

He’d look at me and say, “How the heck does she do that?”

I’d say, “I don’t know.”

He’d say, “Well, if I start crying, my voice goes.”

I say, “Yeah, me too. I get this lock in my throat, and I can’t even sing.”

So, we’re always trying to figure out, “What is she doing? What is she doing?”

And in the class, we would go to these emotional places, right? And many times, in the class, we’d get so emotional, we wouldn’t be able to finish the song. Jay and I would agree and say, “Yeah, in a rehearsal process, that’s great. That’s fine. But in the show, you kind of want to finish the song.”

So, believe me, if you’re doing a Broadway show or you’re singing karaoke or you’re singing in somebody’s wedding or whatever you’re doing, don’t misunderstand me, I completely get it, you got to finish the song.

So, during the show right now, you do what you have to do. You do what you have to do to get through the song. Nobody’s going to try and take that away from you. I certainly wouldn’t. You do what you have to do to get through the song.

But when nobody’s looking, when you’re rehearsing, when you’re vocalizing, when you’re in a lesson, when you’re in a class, give yourself permission to begin to make the shift into coming from a place of freedom, of not controlling, of just freeing the voice, allowing it to be free, freeing the body.

[It’s] allowing the voice to feel like it’s going to crack, allowing the vibrato to go all over the place, just allowing for the mystery that may show up, the new things that may come into the voice when you’re not controlling it, when you’re not stunting your growth by taking where you are now and trying to control that and refine it.

No! Continue to open, open for more, open for more, open for more. And then, after that, continue to open for more. Just develop this attitude of coming to it from a place of freedom and not control.

Freedom is the watch word, okay?

So, I hope this has helped. Have a great time with this. It’s been my pleasure. I always love doing these. I will take to you on the next show. Alrightee, have a great week. Bye bye.

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