Vocal Lessons Article

#31 By This Time Next Year...


At this time of year every year, articles appear in USA Today, Men’s Health, Cosmopolitan, and Psychology Today citing secrets to “keeping your New Year’s resolutions this year.” They offer statistics about how 50% of well-intentioned declarations of self-improvement will be broken by mid-January, and experts make every effort to explain the secrets to real change.

“Set attainable goals,” they insist. “Don’t get discouraged when you falter.”

We all like to assume we have the will power of Gandhi, but that way of thinking – i.e. human nature – is the greatest obstacle to achieving significant, sustained improvement. Using the most common example of a New Year’s resolution – losing weight – setting the goal of ceasing watching Criminal Minds marathons for three hours a day and instead going to the gym for four isn’t likely to happen. By setting a goal that requires an obscene amount of willpower, you set yourself up for failure. You miss a day, discouragement sets in, and you stick with the CBS show that you find to be generic but comfortable.

So what is the panel’s “stick-to-it” suggestion?

Walk. A few minutes a day. If you resolve to do this, the argument goes, you will succeed. Success breeds encouragement and results – however small. These results fuel your motivation to pursue walking an additional few minutes, which leads you to try running, and then you’re breaking the New Zealand woman’s long-distance record before you know it.

Why doesn’t everyone take this approach?

It’s not sexy. It’s not instantly gratifying. And instant gratification is the very thing we have come to expect in all aspects of life. This style of goal reaching takes patience, persistence, and an approach of attainable baby steps.

Never is this truer than in the case of the voice. When someone wants to experience a change in his or her voice, it takes conditioning. This conditioning is often nuanced and specific. It can at times feel a bit like physical therapy. Like walking or running, it is often at first not a way one would choose to spend a Saturday night. Thus, it is difficult for the individual to desire to practice. They have difficulty incorporating sitting down for 20 minutes a day with the stimulating recording of my voice nattering away at them about relaxing their tongue.

So what is the “walk a few minutes” approach to a New Year’s resolution on voice?

Warm up your voice in the shower. Every day. An arbitrary chart of my clients’ success rate for a given goal might look like this:

  • Someone who practices exercises for forty minutes a day – 3 weeks.
  • Someone who practices in the shower exclusively – 8 -10 weeks.
  • Someone who never practices – 1 year +.

A little bit of conditioning is infinitely better than no conditioning outside of class. Because you shower every day, it’s time that’s already built in. It’s a healthy environment for your voice, and it’s often a time that’s conducive to making strange noises.

If you do the exercises in the shower all week, you will see improvement. Once you begin to improve, practice becomes fun rather than tedious. Once you think practice is fun, you will want to do it. And when you want to do it, you do it. And you have the glorious speaking voice of your dreams, all from those built-in ten daily minutes.

What exercises you’ll do in the shower, will depend on your vocal concerns, and for that you would want to diagnose your particular misuse with a vocal coach. But generally, light, breath-based, low or neutral larynx scales are a great way to start the day.

Other options for your “walk a few steps a day” approach?

Read aloud. For five minutes before you go to bed with your voice recorder. Read whatever you would read for pleasure. Read a few paragraphs, listen back, then try them again making the corrections necessary.

Film yourself! Do one speech a week. It can be just a minute long. Give yourself a topic, set up your laptop, and talk for a minute. Then watch the recording, and try again making adjustments. Even if you do this for just five minutes a day, three times a week, you’ll see significant improvement within just a few sessions.

Ask your family and friends to hold you accountable. If they hear you say “um” or slip back into the nasality you ‘ve been trying to eliminate, ask them to give you a tug on your sleeve.

Just commit to one of these. They’re each attainable goals that will yield much bigger success down the road! Even a simple baby step can be the beginning of making this year the best you’ve ever sounded.

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John West

John West

Head of New York Speech Coaching