What’s Your Why?

Sometimes I find it hard to get myself to do things. Partly because I tend to make lists of WHAT I have to do. Just ploughing through a list of WHATs can be very tiring and disheartening, especially if you don’t manage to get through it all.  I’ve found it helpful to reframe my thoughts and concentrate more on the WHY.

Let’s say I need to do some vocal practice and I really don’t feel like it. Rather than just trying to force myself to do it, I can think about why I’m doing it in the first place: to keep my voice in shape for teaching and performing, which I love to do. I know my voice sounds a lot better if I practice and that’s the end result I want. Once I start I can actually feel and hear the benefits in a short space of time. So all I have to do is start!

You can apply this to anything, for example:

Sports training: you are building up the skill and power you want
Exercise: your body will look more toned and you will have more energy
Housework/decorating: your place will be a more pleasant space for relaxing, eating, freshening up, pampering yourself, sleeping, having guests over – all the things you enjoy doing in your personal space
A job you’re not crazy about: if you’re lucky enough to be well-paid, think of all the pleasant activities that you can afford to do because you have that job, or you may be supporting a family – consider how great it is to be able to keep them and yourself comfortable, or it may be just keeping your head above water – well you are able to live an independent life and you can plan your future from there.

It may sound simplistic but I believe it’s a good idea to know the bigger why. What you feel you are meant to be doing in this life, and how the stuff you have to do will help you do it. It may also help you decide what NOT to do.  Will buying that suit really help your career progression? Will scrolling through Facebook help you to finish your latest masterpiece?

 You can always change your plan if your values and/or desires change. But rather than just trying to work your way through what seems to be an endless to-do list, take some time to write down your big WHY, and adapt your WHATs to suit.

It would be great to hear what you think – this technique has really helped me stay on track.

Do What You Do Best

“People don’t have a clear idea of what they can and can’t do as artists. I knew my limits. I knew what I could and couldn’t do. I couldn’t play an instrument. I couldn’t sing as well as some and I couldn’t arrange as well as some others. But I could see the whole picture from altitude, and that let me land the planes”.

George Clinton, leader of Parliament and Funkadelic.

This is a powerful statement from someone who is considered to be one of the most influential contemporary artists in the world.  This is someone who recognises what his talents are and gets on with it.

That sounds straightforward enough but we can spend a lot of time doing things that we are not great at because we want to be admired for doing those things.  Often, we don’t recognise our own skills, or if we do, we don’t appreciate them.

There are various tests like Myers-Briggs, the Kolbe Index and Strengthfinder, which aim to help you unearth your true skills which you can then use to fulfill your potential.

You can also discover a lot about yourself with honest reflection and meditation: think back to when you have had a feeling of accomplishment or when other people have complimented you on a good job or if people say to you ‘you’re really good at…’ or ‘you really know how to….’  This can help you zoom in on what you can try, to see if it’s a good fit.  If someone says you are good at making others feel comfortable, hospitality or an advisory role may be your thing.

What about asking someone whose opinion you value as truthful? They may not tell you what you want to hear, but they could help you get to where you need to go.

Be open, not just to what others say about you, but to the direction your life appears to be going in. I went through phases of wanting to be a session keyboard player, a record producer and backing vocalist before I started teaching!  I knew I wanted to work close to music but could not find the role where I could ‘land the planes’. A songwriter suggested I try the lead vocal when I was happy in the background – this led me to booking some singing lessons, which in turn led me to training as a teacher. 

Do you think you have found your true skills – if so how did you come across them and how do you know you’re a good fit?  Would love to see your answers below!

Your Larynx Is A Temple!

The larynx is your voice box, and you can feel it if you put your finger on the bump in the front of your throat (adam’s apple in men, the thyroid cartilage in the diagram). It houses your vocal cords and this is where your sound is created.  The sound then goes through what are collectively known as your resonators – the throat (from the vocal cords to the back of the tongue), the mouth (from the back of the tongue forward) and the nasal cavities (a bit). It takes the perfect coordination a lot of different moving parts for your voice to be produced (the diagram above is very basic). It’s really quite amazing.

‘My body is a temple’ is associated with people who are seriously into health and fitness. The phrase is often used ironically now, but if we look at the way serious athletes treat their body, we will see a lot of activities which should be adopted by serious voice users – your larynx is a temple!  

As you can see in the diagram, the larynx is partly made up of muscles, and these need to be treated like any other  muscles in the body:

Warming up

Athletes will do stretches and activities like jogging on the spot to get the blood pumping and the muscles warmed up.  Going straight into heavy exercise from ‘cold’ will cause damage.  Likewise, if you are going to be projecting your voice as a singer or speaker for any length of time you need to warm up with suitable exercises.  Those of you who have recordings of your singing lessons can use exercises from the start of the lessons. Generally 15 minutes or so should suffice, but if you have a vocal coach you can work out what is best for your own specific voice.

Cooling/warming down

After an athletic event or exercise session, an athlete will cool down the muscles with some gentle stretches to help the muscles recover and return to their pre-exercise condition. Can you see the parallel for the voice? Singing as a performer and public speaking stretch the vocal cords, and are different to talking quietly to someone next to you.  If you leave your muscles in that condition and use them the same way for a prolonged period, strain will result.  You need to bring them back to a normal level with some gentle exercises, ending up in the lower part of your voice. Again, check with your vocal coach if you have one, but 10-15 minutes should do the trick.


Chocolate is not the ideal food for this purpose unfortunately.  Chocolate and ‘fast food’ will give you an energy rush which will just as quickly dissipate.  You need foods which a have a slower digestion rate such as fruits, nuts and seeds.  That said, I would not tell you never to have some chocolate (or whatever ‘not so healthy’ food takes your fancy).  Common sense is the key. You also need to notice if any foods have an adverse effect on your voice so you can avoid them before a gig or recording.

Water should be a regular part of your routine – drinking it to keep the whole body hydrated, and steam inhalation for direct hydration of the vocal cords.

Massages are seen as a luxury but are not really – especially if you suffer from muscle tension, which will affect the voice.

Professional voice users (not just singers) should ideally have a team looking after them just as a professional athlete would. I will go into this in more detail in a later blog. In the meantime I have given you some ideas about what you can do to take care of your own voice.

If you have a particular regime that you follow, or any questions, please feel free to use the comments box!

Strike A Pose!

It is generally agreed that our minds can affect our bodies – mind over matter, as a man thinketh so is he, the placebo effect etc. But can our bodies affect our minds?

There is a school of thought. endorsed by motivational guru Anthony Robbins among others, that argues that your physiology also affects your confidence, and in turn your ability to attract what you want.  There is a raft of studies on how our body language affects other people, but not so much on how it affects ourselves.

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy has became famous through her articles and talks on power poses: she proposes that if you stand, sit and move a powerful way, this will affect your nervous system, sending messages of power to your own brain, as well as sending those messages to other people.  It’s been found that more powerful people have high levels of testosterone (the dominance hormone) and low levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). One way of feeling and showing power is to open up, spread yourself and take up more space – other animals do it as well.  Think of gorillas opening their arms out, birds spreading their wings out just to show off.

Cuddy says, don’t fake it till you make it – fake it till you become it, and it’s internalised.

She has suggested trying a power pose for two minutes (like the one in the photo) before going into a stressful situation and see if it makes a difference.  Give it a go and let me know if it works!

Is The Thrill Gone?

BB King died recently. The blues legend, whose hits included The Thrill Is Gone, was held in high regard by artists such as Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen and Bonnie Raitt – all considered legends themselves by many people.

This prompted a familiar flurry of Facebook comments saying that all the old guard are disappearing and that the new ones can’t hold a candle to them etc. The consensus in some quarters seems to be that once the older stars have passed on there will be no one to step up and take their place.  My personal feeling is that although I like some new music, I keep going back to staples like Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic, Sly and The Family Stone, Elton John and jazz musicians from the 40s and 50s. My most recently added favourite was Prince, whose heyday was in the 80s!  He just seemed to have some originality as an artist, and no one has really been able to take his place.

Do you feel the same way? Or do you think that the future of music is safe in the hands of the likes of Mary J Blige, Erykah Badu, Beyonce, Adele and more recent stars like Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran and Jessie J?  Does it even matter if the nature of the music industry now  reflects the consumers’ shorter attention span, and that the ‘favourites’ change at a dizzying rate? Are the real talents to be found outside the mainstream?

Is this an age thing? Or not? Are you a younger person who prefers music from a bygone era? Are you an older person who thinks that music from the 20th Century has passed its sell-by date, and we need to move with the times?

I’d love to hear your views on this – please comment below!

The Bigger Picture By Carol Jack

The other day, I was watching a great documentary about the champion racing driver Ayrton Senna, and I was struck by his philosophy.  At one point Senna was asked how he felt about losing a certain race, and he said that winning or losing one race didn’t necessarily mean you won or lost the whole championship. The championship was won by whoever had accumulated the most points, so you could make it back up if you lost one race.  He was looking at the bigger picture, and still hoped that he would emerge as the champion at the end. On a larger scale, it became apparent during the documentary that Ayrton was equally concerned about his legacy as a man. He was a strong advocate for safety in car racing, as well as being passionate about improving the lives of poor people his home country, Brazil.  When Ayrton died, people were not just mourning the loss of a Formula One racing driver, but the loss of a man who was dedicated to whatever contribution he could make to the world.

I think that’s a fantastic legacy, and it really made me start looking at life in a different way.  What if I could stop worrying about how a particular singing class or gig went, and just see them in the context of the overall progress I’m making.  What if it didn’t matter if I won a particular race, but I could make it up in points as I went along, by learning from my mistakes?

We often put so much importance on that audition, that record release, that concert. And if it goes ‘wrong’ our career, our reputation, our life will never recover. Try taking a step back and look at that one moment within the bigger picture.  It may help you have a different, more positive perspective about that moment and what it means.

As always, I’m keen to hear your views – has this article made you think in a different way, or have you always been philosophical about losing individual ‘races’?

Success Leaves Clues By Carol Jack

Have you ever thought about modelling? Not as in the Naomi Campbell type of modelling – but as in studyingpeople who are where you want to be, or have what you want, and using their journey to assist yours. Motivationalspeaker and coach Tony Robbins is a great believer in this concept, and has used it to obtain fantastic results withpeople in all walks of life.  

I heard an interesting take on this from life coach Ed Lester – your model does not have to be similar to you – youcan model someone of the opposite sex, someone in a completely different field of expertise, or even an animal! Ed says that once when he needed to feel motivated, he watched footage of the racehorse Red Rum winning theGrand National. Red Rum looked invincible, fearless and full of energy and confidence – by the end of the race, Edfelt the same way.  I’ve always thought I’d love to have the presence of one of those wild cats you see on natureprogrammes – they seem effortlessly graceful, even when they launch into full speed to chase their prey.

If you’re a performer you could model other performers – male or female – other creative people like painters,scientists or even someone you know personally. As long as they have something you’d like to aspire to, it’s worthstudying their modus operandi.

Obviously you don’t want to open yourself up to the accusation of blatant copying, or having a creepy scenario like ‘Single White Female’ (the movie where a woman’s new lodger decided to become her clone)!  You want todevelop your own voice, style, personality, business idea or whatever you ‘do’. But you can learn a lot from others -as the saying goes ‘Success Leaves Clues’.

I’d be interested to hear if you’ve ever modelled anyone, or if this article has got you thinking about who you couldmodel, and why. Let me know in the comments section!

But Will They Like Me By Carol Jack

I recently heard an interview with the top tennis player Roger Federer, who nearly always looks really confident during a match, even if he’s made mistakes. When asked why he continues to play although he’s pretty much won everything there is to win. He replied that he plays for the love of playing. That’s not to say he doesn’t take any notice of his mistakes – he just does not let them get in the way of his performance at the time.

We as singers could take a leaf out of his book, and not worry so much about singing perfectly, but remember why we are singing.  If we go into a performance thinking about how much we love singing rather than worrying about whether people will like us, we are more likely to perform well. It sounds counter-intuitive, but you can probably think of examples from your own life where you felt like the harder you tried the further away your desired results seemed.

In singing, as in life, you will never get everyone to like you.  So going into a performance with this goal is not the best approach. As a voice teacher, I believe having a good technical foundation is important for confident performing, but I also believe that concentrating on technique and getting everything ‘right’ can lead to a dip in confidence, and may also lose your audience.  It’s a fine balance – the ideal is to get to the point where you are technically competent so that you don’t have to worry about it, and are able to enjoy expressing yourself!

Let me know your thoughts by posting a comment here!

And….breathe By Carol Jack

The topic of breathing causes a lot of concern amongst new singers. Which shouldn’t be the case, since we are breathing every momentof our lives!

It seems to have become quite complicated, and singers come to me saying that they need to ‘work on their support’, or learn to ‘singfrom the diaphragm’.  I like to keep things simple (because that’s how my brain is!).

As a singer, you just need to be able to breathe in enough air to cover your singing, which is essentially breathing out. And you need tobreathe into your stomach, as breathing from high up in your chest is not effective for singing. That’s it.

If you’ve ever done yoga, the instructor would have directed you to breathe into your stomach so that it expands as you take the air in.Then when you exhale just let your stomach fall back. You can rest your hand on your stomach to check that this is happening. Think ofyour stomach as a balloon that takes in air when you inhale, and deflates again when you breathe out.  It should not be a stressful orforced action – remember you are just doing what you normally do, just in a more efficient way.  

You can practise this anywhere – waiting for a bus, sitting on the sofa in front of the TV, at your desk at the office. At home, you can trymaking a sound like ‘sss’ or ‘mmm’ on the exhalation, and make them last different lengths by controlling how fast you release the air. 

Then try it on songs.

Let me know how you get on, by posting a comment!

Don’t Compare! By Carol Jack

If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

The poem Desiderata was written as a general guide to living well. But in my field I’ve come across so many singers who compare themselvesunfavourably to others (and of course I’ve done it myself!).

In singing, as in life, It’s very easy to compare yourself to other people so much that you decide to give up.

As singers we can be very sensitive, and judge ourselves before even daring to share our voice with others. Even convincing ourselves that no one needs to hear us, we’re too old, too young, not pretty enough etc.

Don’t worry about the others. While it’s good to study successful people you admire, you are not those people and they are not you.  Work out whatyour own path is and follow that. If you are truly being sincere in the message you want to share through your singing there will be people who wantto hear it. Think Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Prince, Susan Boyle, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith….etc, etc.

Take a cue from Desiderata, and:

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.