Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: June 2019

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Why It Can Be So Freaking Hard to Change Vocal Habits

Let's erase your 'IM-' OK?

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Habits are incredibly important. Habit puts action on 'automatic' so the brain doesn't have to consciously take the steps to complete the action in manual mode. Because of that, it's harder to unlearn something than it is to learn it from scratch. And because of that, voices that have experience can have more trouble learning new vocal technique than absolute beginners.

If you have one of these voices... with lots of stage or studio experience but afraid of/ having trouble with learning something new, there are two things I want you to know:
  • You're not dumb! 
When I walk you through the reasons re-training is hard, you'll realize it's not your IQ holding you back. You'll laugh at yourself and stop beating yourself up.
  • You're not hopeless! 
You - yes, EVEN YOU absolutely CAN learn new vocal techniques! I have successfully taught many stage and studio veterans techniques that solved frustrating issues and limitations, some with physician-diagnosed damage to vocal cords, some frozen with doubt that they could ever get better.

It's true... old habits are hard to break! But knowing why helps us break them and trade them for better new ones!

OK so let's talk about the two biggest reasons - physical and psychological - that re-training the voice can be so freaking hard. (Knowledge is power!)

1. Physical: You've paved some myelin sheath highways (bet you didn't know that)

We often speak of muscle memory... but muscles really don't have memory. It's your nervous system that remembers, aided by the creation of myelin sheath highways. My sister Pam Hubbard was the first person to introduce me to myelin, as we were talking about how nerves work some years ago. I've since researched it more, and I hope you find the following as fascinating as I do:

Myelin is a white, fatty substance that serves as insulation for your nerves. According to Courtney Sperlazza, MPH,
[a covering or sheath of myelin] insulates the neuron, protects the axon and directs the nerve's impulse to where it's supposed to go.
We want to keep this sheath healthy. It's good to know that the same things that support healthy myelin also support your vocal health. You can read more from Sperlazza's article about 12 ways to support your myelin.

According to an article by Jason Shen, when we repeat something (practice) a few times,
...we trigger a pattern of electrical signals through our neurons. Over time, that triggers the glial cell duo to myelinate those axons, increasing the speed and strength of the signal. Like going from dial-up to broadband.
So in other words, we put the action on automatic, creating a habit. That's good if that habit is the most efficient way to get the results we want. If there's a better way, that's bad, because we have to replace our old highways to build new ones!

Building new myelin sheath highways is a two-step process: first, we have to go on manual again, firing our neuron impulses in an unfamiliar, non-automated way. (Raise a glass to slow, deliberate practice that feels weird!) Then we have to tear down the old highways which tempt us with familiarity. We do that simply by not going down those highways! According to an article at febfast,
... due to the brain's plasticity (based on the principle of 'if you don't use it, you lose it'), when you change a behaviour that builds a new neuronal pathway; eventually the old pathway gets pruned back due to disuse.
(Now raise a glass to distrusting what feels normal until the new highway turns the new way to your new normal!)

The takeaway here is this: To physically change how you habitually sing you so don't have to think about it in performance, practice as perfectly as you can. Make sure you know WHAT to practice, and HOW to practice effectively. 

Here's a great TED-ed video on how to practice effectively...

2. Psychological: You are scared and frozen!

You may fear...
  • that if you change your vocal technique, your changed voice will lose it's uniqueness and won't work for your career. Nope! Your voice should just do what you want it to, easier, healthier and get a better response. 
  • you aren't coordinated/smart/focused enough so you can't do it. Nope! Your fear may be freezing you and sabotaging your progress. You need to find a learning situation you can trust, be willing to suck for a while and let go of beating your voice up. When you let go, your voice will be able to relax, explore and find its way so much faster!
Again, here is where understanding goes a long way in busting blocks to progress. ESPECIALLY if you use your voice for a vocal career, you are going to be resistant to change. But I have tons of experience with veteran voices and career music makers that prove you can do it.

A few success stories:

  • Ronny Hinson, a veteran gospel singer/hit songwriter, was having vocal trouble at his performances. His wife Lisa, my student, talked him into some vocal lessons with me. had pushed his voice into a polyp that was so large it was diagnosed by his laryngologist at a renown voice clinic as inoperable. They literally told him he needed to get another line of work! When his wife (my student) talked him into trying some vocal lessons with me, he approached vocal training with skepticism, dread, and yes, fear. But as foreign as it felt, he did the vocal exercises I suggested. He and his wife Lisa prayed about it, they both felt he that contrary to his laryngologist's advice, he should keep on performing. So he did, but he used the new training, reinforced by his wife's silent signals to him to pull if he pushed his voice in performance. Within two years, his changed habits took so much pressure off his cords that they healed! His polyp had not just shrunk... it was no longer visible on the new laryngoscope photo taken at the same clinic! Ronny, his wife and I are all grateful to God because that absent polyp is nothing short of miraculous.
  • Jon Frattasio, a veteran singer/guitarist/performer who used to play over 300 days a year, developed a vocal scar from an endotracheal tube inserted during a serious illness. He could no longer sing, and his speaking voice was strained and full of uncontrollable raspiness. His brother talked him into trying a lesson with me, but he had serious doubts his voice could get better. The difference he felt after that first lesson gave him hope, and so he committed to the training. He continues to gain range, freedom from strain, control and richer tone as we work online each week. He recently performed with another professional musician he used to work with, and he was able to even sing some harmony in his head voice! He is carefully but confidently finding his voice again, and all his friends are talking about the improvement they hear in his speaking voice!
  • When Kacey Musgraves came in for her first lesson, it was because she wanted to go farther than where she was. She had a little vocal tightness going on, and therefore a slight limitation to what she wanted to do. She was so happy with the results of our vocal training, she came back in to tweak her control for her upcoming Country Crossroads performance with Katy Perry. She also had me work with her band on their bgvs for her 'Golden Hour' world tour. Just because you're good, doesn't mean you can't be even better!
  • A musician example: A very dear friend of mine, Larrie Londin, was a legendary drummer. Larrie played on hits for Motown, became the top session drummer in Nashville (I'm proud to say he played on some of my records, too), and also played live on major tours. When he was diagnosed with a terminal heart condition, this master musician decided to take lessons the last year of his life from a classical percussionist. What was he learning? He said - get this - how to hit the (drum)head! He wanted to get back to the very basics of how you ask the drum to sound. With that kind of professional humility, curiosity, and informed practice, we can set the voice free to learn deeper things, too. And dear friends, it's never too late to get better at what you love!

A couple more thoughts:

  • Bring joyful determination to careful practice (best with the help of an intuitive coach), and you can overcome fear and doubt to create physical habits that will take your voice where it's never been before. I know, I've been able to recover my own voice from significant damage.
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.
  • You don't need to do it all alone. If you'd like some help for your singing or speaking voice, hit me up! I'd love to help you surprise the heck out of your voice!
Btw...
My new book 'Singing In The Studio' just published and is available on Amazon here 

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