A Voice Studio Thrives Despite Coronavirus Lockdown

So here we are, Philadelphia’s on lockdown. Obviously, we’re no longer meeting physically at the studio, which feels strange. But we are still working, armed with technology that makes it possible for my singers and speakers to continue thriving and meeting their goals for vocal development.

I am so very lucky to have an online voice school with many digital-only singers and speakers at the Academy of Voice. I’ve been coaching via Skype, Zoom, and FaceTime for many years, and have everything I need to make the experience as good as, or in some cases better than in-studio lessons.

While the in-studio experience affords us time and connection over tea, Skype, Zoom and FaceTime allow us instant access, convenience, and strangely enough I find that my Skype and Zoom realities allow me to hear voices and see faces in a slightly different and more up-close way.

Lately, as I work virtually with clients who I’ve been seeing in person for months, I’ve been realizing how much I can miss in a studio situation. I’m seeing more and more ways I can help people because of the switch to digital lessons. It’s amazing how that shift has actually helped me see and hear vocal issues I never noticed before, sparking new creative ways to help singers and speakers.

In a time of uncertainty, we are creating it. Our work training the voice is a grounding tool that is helping us find ourselves amidst this isolation, bolster our confidence in a time of fear, and equip us to be leaders in our industries amidst a sea of uncertainty. A strong voice is like a rock… with a strong voice, a leader can comfort, organize, fight, win, and ultimately… relax into life with surrender, because he or she has a powerful tool to make dreams reality, to abide the difficult times, to comfort, motivate, and uplift others.

This work is more sacred to me than ever, and a way to give something of value back to others after the enormous trust they have placed in me as their coach. I am deeply honored to be a vocal coach right now.

We need leadership, inspiration, and comfort… I see now more than ever this is a time of doing, a time of action, despite our physical limitations. It’s good to remember that we are in a challenging moment of history where the individual can shine, where new leaders will emerge, where people and organizations are open to any new creative ideas and innovation that can help them navigate the difficult weeks and months to come.

Our whole world feels thrown on edge. Economies and people’s lives and livelihoods are being destroyed. But even amidst all this destruction, we shouldn’t forget that soon, in the ashes, there will be opportunities to give whatever we have in our own ways to rebuild. I see my clients using this time right now to prepare, since not all of us can be at the front lines, readying themselves to be the best leaders, supporters, and innovators to rebuild it all when this chapter is over.

Congrats to Masterclass Singers!

Congratulations to the students who shared a supportive singing experience together in our quarterly Masterclass! It was wonderful hearing everyone share their songs, whether it was their first time singing for an audience, or a more advanced piece of music. Thanks to our amazing accompanist, Anthony Sharp for his beautiful music-making and voice pointers!

The Beauty of The Voice Studio

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This week as I’m looking ahead to the Thanksgiving Season, I’m thinking about how thankful I am for all of the students who have helped me learn the craft of teaching vocal training and singing. Although I always teach my students all that I know, I am constantly learning so much from being a part of their growth. Their endeavors feed my background knowledge to be called upon by the next batch of singers… Their feedback is critical to the success of my method and the growth of my future singers.

As a gardener learns from the growth of each of her plants, working with my students is like tending a vine, week in and week out, nurturing the positive growth, pruning the not-so-necessary, doing what works and discouraging what doesn’t… All the while watching the potential of a unique person growing into his or her own potential. Seizing his or her moment. Becoming him or herself and speaking (or singing!) his or her own truth, with a voice that is GROWING into all it can become. What an absolute honor to be entrusted with this beautiful task.

I love greeting my students one by one each week and helping to create a small but important slice of life for them, pouring the herbal tea and checking in. I love hearing about the week’s ups and downs, the dramas that unfold, the obstacles, and the overcoming of the obstacles. And then digging into how practices went. What was singing like this week? What was accomplished, but much more importantly, what was gleaned, what was learned in the process of singing this week?

The shift from the stress of daily life to the freedom of musical and artistic life is profound. Suddenly, tense, pale faces relax and turn ruddy. Eyes sparkle with joy, and concern, come alive with hope, interest, and wonder. Taking time from the day to ponder your voice is something indescribable for most people, but something wholly profound, digging in the depths, so to speak in order to find the gold.

The observations even beginning singers have about their voices, their songs, the way their sound changes as they move small parts of their bodies or focus their breath in a particular way… each person brings an entirely new universe of thought and perception to the table. There are endless lessons to learn, endless amazements to discover at each lesson, and endless goals to be achieved in working together.

And then the SINGING, what lessons are all about. The singing, the singing… Magically, the thoughts, the conversations, the things we talk about culminating into music, into moments, into the sound of the voice and the singer focused on making that voice grow. And so it does. Week to week, month to month, an instrument forming, changing, growing, till after a few months even the first “Hello” at the door reveals a robustness, a resonance of a well-honed, strengthened voice.

And as we part for the week, the beauty that lingers in the studio after the singer has left hangs like a glorious creation, an energy and expression of life, of humanity, of being… and stays here for the rest of the day, warming the space till we meet again.

Academy of Voice is Launched and Taking Students!

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Its HERE!!!!! The Academy of Voice is launched and taking new students! I am so excited to make this announcement after 6 years of video production, recording, and creating the logic for all of the programming, this new cutting edge resource is finally available to all my students!

I know it may sound crazy to say that an online studio can get you great results, but we have some very powerful tools at our disposal at AoV:

  1. The Voicessment – This easy, free 20-minute voice test is self-assessed. You answer some questions about your vocal background and goals, sing along with some easy voice coaching videos, and report the codes you see when you reach specific points in your voice. You answer a few more questions and you’re done. Even complete beginners have proven to get accurate results!
  2. The Vocal Profile Report – This report is something that entertainment lawyers and agents pay me to create for their clients to understand the potential of a voice. Now you can get this information about your own voice for FREE at AoV! As far as I know, nothing else like this exists on the Web anywhere and definitely not for free… this is a really huge giveaway but I really want to help people get started training their voices, and understanding your baseline is the best place to start that process.
  3. Custom-Fit Vocal Training Exercises – These exercises are tailored for each student depending on your vocal profile. They will all start out where it feels easiest in your range and then take you to the edge in a sequence that optimizes your practice time and challenges your voice to give you the best results. As your range expands with training, and you take more Voicessments, your exercises grow with you and continue to challenge your voice to keep growing.
  4. VTrain Vocal Training Practice System – You can take this app anywhere and use it on just about any device. It’s basically a practice folder that lives in your phone, tablet or computer. For each set of exercises there are slides with text, graphics, videos, and drawings to help take you through your practice in the correct order without forgetting anything. Included in the VTrain App is a repertory area where you can add songs with lyrics and audio tracks to sing with so you can warm up, train, practice your songs, and do cool down all in one convenient practice anywhere and at anytime.
  5. Video Voice Lessons – My 8 week course Foundations in Vocal Training is a powerful set of videos full of teaching, demos, graphics, and audio. You will learn all of the inside secrets of all of the exercises as we build our vocal training routine from the ground up. Starting with intro videos that build your background on the voice all the way through to advanced techniques and exercises that will build your voice, this course is the equivalent to 2-3 months in the studio doing lessons with me.
  6. On-Track Calls – Just because you’re my online student doesn’t mean we can’t talk. I am so excited to meet on weekly and monthly calls with my students from wherever they are in the world. I love teaching and I love being there for anyone who wants to seriously train his or her voice with my system.
  7. Coaching Packages – My online students also have access to working with me, live on skype or remotely with recordings. I am dedicated to helping my students achieve their vocal goals anywhere they go and whatever they are working on.

Please come check it out, get a FREE Voicessment and Vocal Profile Report and see for yourself how fun and exciting working on your voice can be!

New Article – Connection Piece

Maintaining a Vocal Connection to Self:

Why staying attached to the spark behind our first cries contributes to vocal success.

                                                 by Emily Anna Bridges, Ph.D.

One of the first actions a healthy baby makes in the first moments after birth is to take a deep breath and cry. In doing so, she releases her anger, fear, confusion, and frustration at the birth experience.  She inhales deeply and screams out, releasing her emotions loudly, clearly, and in a completely unguarded way.

Over time, the simple cries evolve into babbling, cooing, laughter, and other more complex gestures, as the child grows to understand the rewards that communication brings. Eventually, speech emerges and the first words bubble out of the child’s mouth. We can all learn a lot about ourselves imagining this child; we awake to our daily lives speaking prolifically, rarely conscious that we are speaking at all, or aware of the connection that still exists between our voices and what master vocal coach W. Stephen Smith calls, “the source of utterance.”

It was Smith’s incredible book, “The Naked Voice,” that got me thinking more about this connection, and led me to some new discoveries in the voice studio. Smith compares the voice to the conch shell in Golding’s famous ‘Lord of the Flies,’ which is used by a group of boys stranded on a desert island to call meetings and to limit speaking to whoever possesses the shell. The conch is a symbol of power and democracy, and is a perfect metaphor for the voice.

We use our voices to express our ideas, dreams, fears, complex thoughts, as well as everyday conversations with our speech. We discuss our beliefs, say prayers, intone mantras, and sing songs. We express intense emotions or respond to physical sensations with laughter, sighs, whines, squeals, screams, and cries. Our emotional, physical, spiritual and logical lives are lived through our voices both spoken and audiated (heard in our minds) as we write it down or think to ourselves. We use our voices differently depending on what we are doing, what part of us is functioning at the moment, what role we are playing, and how we are feeling.

Our voices have the power to express any of the many parts of who we are. We often limit the use of this power to specific parts of our selves, banishing or silencing voices that are scared, negative, jealous, enraged, or destructive. We play the jail keeper or scolding parent, disowning our own feelings and inner personality by denying it a voice. Often this silencing of our selves leads to much personal pain and self-distrust, as these selves continue to be part of who we are, though increasingly despondant, enraged, and alienated.

In the voice studio, I could see these silenced parts of my students creating blocks to their progress with their voices. Singers would be excited about learning new exercises to strengthen their voices. When covering non-vocalized exercises everything was great. Students would practice and be full of motivation and excitement to move ahead. Then, upon learning the vocalized exercises it would be clear that singers were delighted with the changes they could feel almost immediately in their sound. However, by about the third week of intense practice with these vocalized exercises, there would be a slump in motivation as the student would sink back into familiar patterns and lose interest in sticking with practices. I felt this was strange, given that many of these same students would still be remarking in lesson how much the exercises were helping their voices grow.

I wondered after reading Smith’s work if this predictable block in motivation might be related somehow to voice and identity. Might these exercises, a vocal routine that’s coming from me, from outside of my student’s authentic self, be posing (or imposing) a threat of some kind to some part of the student? Maybe there were parts of the self already being deprived of time to use the student’s voice. For instance, maybe the Inner Child desires to play with the voice, but the student is monopolizing the voice in daily life trying to advance in his or her career. Maybe that Inner Child was getting just the smallest bit of singing fun every other weekend in the car or the shower. At the start of vocal exercises, any of that spare time vocalizing suddenly gets used up by the rest of the self that’s enrolled in voice lessons, repeating this ‘foreign’ material that is helpful to grow the physical aspects of the voice, but not to advance the expression of the inner Child.

I didn’t want these exercises to block expression. The whole point of helping students strengthen their voices is to empower all the parts of the self, and help people achieve full expression. I realized that nowhere in the practice session I’d created for my students had I allotted time for the connection to self.  I was unwittingly trying to compete with the student for time with their voice. It dawned on me that in order to prevent these motivational blocks from happening, I would have to strongly encourage each student to give time and attention to their inner selves at every single practice.

Thus, the Connection Piece was born. At the end of every single practice session, I encourage my students to do a Connection Piece. This is a meditative moment to vocally connect with all aspects of the inner self. After the physical, mental, and emotional parts of the practice are completed, it’s time to turn off the critical mind and fall into a listening state. It’s important to create a space with a listening ear for any aspect of the inner self to be welcomed to take control of the voice. I tell my students to think about hearing a five-year-old singing a song. How would you react if you heard that young child singing a song for you? Would you be caught up on what notes were off-key or rhythmically incorrect? No, you would probably just feel the love the child was expressing and feel gratitude. This is the right mindset to be in for a Connection Piece.

The whole thing takes just two minutes. Once you have found a quietness in yourself, invite all the parts of you to say something. Some part of you should volunteer: It could be a song from childhood, something you remember from religious ceremonies, school, camp, some sort of song from any point in your life. It could also be more deeply emotional or animal, like a series of cries or sounds released from your body. It may find the form of speech, words that you would like to say but haven’t allowed yourself to. This can be negative feelings that you haven’t felt comfortable expressing because you didn’t want to give them power. But sometimes releasing them allows you to move on and let go of whatever negative emotion was associated with those thoughts. It’s amazing how letting your self connect with your voice will release so many burdens. Perhaps this is part of why talk therapy, prayer, and the power of a conversation with a good friend over coffee are all so therapeutic. Eventually, you may find that with each practice there is less and less enthusiasm in your Connection Piece. That’s okay, you can use these two minutes to improvise a new song and let your creative self make something up… or you can just let yourself be silent. The important thing is that you’ve honored your self with something powerful – time with your voice. Even just two minutes a day will create a profound shift.

In all of my years of experience teaching voice, I’ve never seen such a powerful change as the week I implemented the Connection Piece. Students came back glowing, making huge progess and reignited with motivation. After several weeks, students started making life changes or plans toward them. Suddenly unfulfilling or dead end jobs were up for changing. Old relationships that weren’t working were getting worked on. All sorts of personal and professional goals were being named and worked toward — and reached! The motivation to change the voice grew and followed through into a motivation to integrate and strengthen the self, for a more authentic and real existence.

When each part of the self gets to use an instrument that’s getting stronger, everyone gets on board. The inner child says, “Hey look! I can do my thing better, it’s more fun! I’m getting to express myself! I like this work! I want to make my voice better!” As each aspect of our neglected self gets the chance to speak it’s truth in whatever language that comes in, and it feels accepted and listened to, we are free to integrate behind the common goal – to improve our voice.

The fantastic thing about this integration is not just the improvement of the voice itself. The most amazing part of the transformation created by practicing the Connection Piece is the profound positive effect of integrating the intention of the core authentic self through vocal expression. When you can speak your truth to yourself, you can speak it to anyone. You can accept yourself for who you are. There’s something powerful about this kind of work that goes way beyond the voice studio. This profound realization is something that can help everyone, especially through voice teachers and those who are helping people express their true authentic selves in a vocal way.

Copyright Emily Anna Bridges 2014.

Spring Master Class a Huge Success!

We capped off last week with an amazing night of singing here in the studio. Each of my students who participated had a chance to work with amazing pianist and accompanist Feifei Zhang, and to talk to the other students about their process with each song. It was a wonderful night of sharing and making music and I think we all learned a lot about ourselves through sharing each other’s journeys.

Thanks to all of my students, and to Feifei for the hard work that led to such a productive and inspiring night!

Anna