Prior to 2020, I taught a small number of lessons online, mostly to speech clients, and I think I had one opera rehearsal where our stage director Skyped in. That was the extent of my online music making.
Here are three things I’ve learned from spending the last year making music online:
If nothing else, I’ve learned to take my time, that I have time, and that people will wait.
What have you learned from spending the last year making music online?
- Alexandra Plattos Sulack, Co-founder and teacher
"Like most things I begrudge, I needed a kick in the butt..."
Here is my gift to you: my most loving 'kick to the butt.'
Early in my undergraduate career, much to my chagrin, I began recording my voice lessons upon request of my teacher. Back then, I had a rather “dumb” phone, so I purchased a Zoom recorder and an SD card. I would walk into the lesson room, pop on the recorder, leave it on the desk, and turn it off at the conclusion of the lesson. I didn’t listen to many of the early recordings because I thought I sounded… strange. I was uncomfortable listening to myself sing, let alone talk!
Let’s pause for a moment… There is one HUGE caveat to this blog and my recommendations. Dysphoria is real and can be triggered by listening to recordings of yourself. Dear reader, please know that I’m not about to advocate for kicking yourself in the butt if you are experiencing dysphoria. Talk with your teacher and come up with a plan. A plan might be to record just a few of the exercises. A plan might be for your teacher to listen to and assess your recordings and then give you their assessments. A plan might be to listen to the recordings together, listening specifically for the technical aspects you are working on. Ok, unpause.
Like most things I begrudge, I needed a kick in the butt, which I gave to myself. I started listening to the recordings, all of the recordings. It’s still awkward to listen to myself speak, but it’s much less so now than it was in the beginning. As with any sound (or song, or voice, or idea), it becomes familiar with time, and we become more comfortable with it.
The more complex journey than the mere-exposure effect is one of acceptance. It’s taken years… YEARS… for me to be able to listen to myself sing or speak and think “yeah, that’s pretty good.” Our slogan at The Voice Lab is “love your voice.” That’s a complex invitation because our whole identities are wrapped up in our voice - our literal voice and our figurative voice. Through our work in music, we hope that you can come to a place of self-acceptance.
But, we’re here to talk about recording your lessons… so let’s keep going!
Here’s a New York Times article about why we hear our voices differently than everyone else. (In other words: You hear the sound vibrations through your muscles and skull, which gives it different qualities!)
Once I got over the hurdle of “awkward”, I understood a few reasons why recording lessons (and this goes for any kind of rehearsal, too) is a MUST.
Alternatively, and/or when we return to in-person lessons, you can record right on your cell phone! It’s hard to find a non-smart phone these days, and because of this, I’m willing to bet that your cell phone has a “voice recorder” or “voice memo” app pre-installed. If you still prefer to separate the recorder from your phone, then there are a number of accessible recorders ranging from $20 - $100 and beyond. I mentioned Zoom (different company, same name) earlier–I’m a big fan of their recording devices. You can find an entry-level recorder of theirs around $100.
Whichever recording tool you prefer, start recording your lessons and reap the benefits.
This blog was originally published July 2018. It was updated and republished April 2021.
One of the first questions I am usually asked by a speech client is “how long will this take?” I’ll often give a general answer based on where their speaking voice already is. Then, fast forward a few months and the client is despondent because they think they are stuck and not making any progress. What I see in that moment is the learning process which is messy and non-linear… and beautiful. To help a few of my clients, I’ve broken down the steps that I’ve observed. I hope it can shed some light on the process for you, dear voice user. Here goes:
1. How your voice works - discovering the possibilities of the voice, coordinating the registers, finding versatility
2. Discovering the tools - learning about pitch, diction, inflection, prosody, etc
3. Using the tools - working these tools into the voice
4. Conscious Application (short sessions) - using the tools to the voice for short amounts of time (could be 30 seconds, could be 2 minutes, could be 10 minutes)
5. Conscious Application (long sessions) - using the tools to the voice for longer amounts of time (a full conversation, half a work day, your inner monologue)
6. Conscious Application (all the time) - using the tools to the voice nearly all the time (a full work day, all conversations with strangers, your inner monologue)
7. Unconscious Application (habitual) - the tools become habitual and the voice begins to react to your emotional impulses without consciously thinking about any specific tool.
If I’m working with a student exclusively on speaking voice, here are some of my general expectations:
- By month 3, we may get to step 4.
- By months 6-9, we may be somewhere between steps 4 and 5.
- By month 10, if they haven’t already been, a student gets kicked out of the nest (in the most loving way possible) to use those tools all the time, coming back only for check ins (or we focus on singing exclusively!).
This timeline depends on many factors, and for some folks their timeline is shorter and for others, it’s longer.
What we think the process looks like:
What it actually looks like:
(It’s a little witchy, yeah?)
Once you get through the basics, to get from step 4 to step 6 and on to step 7, it's about using the tools as often and for as long as you are able (physically and mentally). Even if you think you are doing it “incorrectly”, you will not be doing it "incorrectly".
Ok, that’s a lie. You will do this incorrectly, especially in the beginning, and that’s OK. In other words, you may not be able to maintain focus on every aspect of the voice all at once, and we don’t expect you to be able to do so. That takes time.
It will take a lot of brain space to pick apart elements of the speaking voice and noodle around with them, so grant yourself grace. If applying these tools all the time is an overwhelming and daunting task, schedule 5 or 10 minutes in your day to focus on it. Then the next week, schedule 10 to 15 minutes. At the end of those 5-15 minutes, put it into practice: call 1 person - this could be a hotel to ask if they are offering any special rates, or a restaurant/store to ask their hours.
The pedagogical journey we are on is to allow the muscles of the throat to make different decisions and to make new connections in the brain through motor learning.
I hope that this sheds a little light on the process, and I want you to remember that you have already made progress and you are already doing the work.
Alexandra Plattos Sulack
Co-Founder and Master Voice Instructor
Dearest Voice Lab family,
Through everything, our community embodies the human experience through voice and music. Our community, as Ariel so beautifully said at our anniversary party, has become a “vessel of transcendence” out of quarantine and into meaningful togetherness. I want to share some peace by giving thanks, and describing what this vessel of transcendence means for us.
— Ariel Zetina, executive/marketing assistant
Did you know that many genres of popular music have roots in the Black diaspora (think pop, R&B, jazz, etc)? While we work to honor and uphold that lineage within our music education, we must also uplift the community that has been the foundation of much of our music… and I’m talking financially now. With Black Friday, Giving Tuesday, and the gift-giving holidays quickly approaching, we are highlighting 16 Black-owned businesses and Black-led organizations.
Inspired by Black Shop Friday, we’ve collected a list of unique and intersectional businesses and organizations, many that already serve our incredible Voice Lab community.
I challenge you to include at least one of these businesses in your shopping cart this weekend, and I challenge you to include at least one of these organizations on your giving list on Tuesday. (We have some handy graphics and direct links below!)
As a transgender woman of color, I believe it is important to do this work to support the Black community this Black Friday!
"There’s a sense of lightness that I never ever had before and if I can help one person feel that way? HAVE it please, because everyone should feel that way."
Certified through Martha Beck's Wayfinder training, Voice Lab student Jenna Watson's passion for becoming a Life Coach stems from finding her voice.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of interacting with Jenna knows firsthand what a compassionate and vibrant person she is.That depth is sure to come through tenfold in her life coaching practice, Inner Oracle.
Inner Oracle FAQ's
"I'd love to work with fellow Voice-Labbers!"
Q: Who is life-coaching for?
A: People who feel like they’ve lost their sense of self, or are going through a major life transition. I help clients to examine their lives and reclaim that sense of self so they can live a life that is really in alignment with who they are
Q: What would you say to those thinking about Life Coach?
A: We’re going to go through the muck together. Get a free consultation, barrel through, push through, see what you think. Just try it on for size.
Q: How do you like to run your sessions?
A: 1.) We talk about what makes you, you; Your patterns
2.) I give you tools to help make new decisions, identify when thoughts keep you stuck, and how to move past them
3.) We analyze your thoughts and fears, figure out why they're holding back and then confront them head on
Q: What is your favorite moment in the process?
A: When someone gets a taste of that lightness, I can see and feel it which sounds weird and it’s true. I can tell when someone exhales from their very being and it’s phenomenal.
We believe that every voice must be heard, valued, and loved. We believe in amplifying the voices of those who endure systemic oppression, that everyone deserves a safe space to find and use their authentic voice. The realities of our country show us that this is not possible for the Black community.
Although we are currently unable to gather to process, grieve, and build strength in our communities in person, The Voice Lab stands with you.
Love is not a passive act, and we must stand in solidarity with the protestors in our city and across the country fighting for justice and equality. We are heartbroken for the Black community. We urge you to help in whatever ways you can and to join us in donating to organizations like those listed below.
Black lives matter.
MY BLOCK MY HOOD MY CITY: https://www.formyblock.org/
Black Visions Collective: https://www.blackvisionsmn.org/
Chicago Community Bond Fund: https://chicagobond.org/the-revolving-fund/
George Floyd’s memorial: https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd
Minnesota Freedom Fund: https://minnesotafreedomfund.org/
We are lucky to have so many wonderful and amazing students at The Voice Lab. Each and every one brings their own personality and special spice of life to the studio, and Lawrence Peters is no exception. Keep reading to learn more about Lawrence and his vocal journey. You can also pop over to his website to hear some of his music.
Q: Who is your voice teacher and how long have you been taking lessons?
Lawrence: I’ve been taking lessons at The Voice Lab since June of 2018, and I currently study with Margaret.
Q: Why did you decide to take voice lessons?
Lawrence: I consider myself to be a baritone/bass, but I’ve had years of singing all out, and as high in my range as possible, in an effort to hear myself over some previous bands that were too loud. That’s gotten me stuck in some vocal bad habits. I came in hoping to strengthen my upper range, but also to get reacquainted with my lower range.
I’ve been getting more high-profile gigs in the last couple of years, and some nice acknowledgment, and it seemed like a good time to strengthen the stuff that was working, and hopefully find out I was really capable of.
Q: Did you have any goals in mind when you started taking lessons?
Lawrence: I’ve been working on a new album—my second as a band leader. I wrote all of the songs, most of them upbeat honky tonkers, but a couple of them are pretty tender, and I wanted to honor them all with my best voice.
Q: Has your voice life taken you toward those goals? Have any new ones popped up along the way?
Lawrence: Definitely. I’m feeling more connected when I sing, and less tight and tense. The higher range is getting easier and clearer, and I’ve gained a few notes at the top of my voice. I was also excited to learn that I have an unusually low range.
As for the new goals, the big one is getting out of the way of my breathing. It’s taking some work, and part of that is making peace with having a big gut that I’ve spent years holding in.
Q: What is the weirdest thing you've ever done in a lesson, what was the goal of doing that weird thing, and did it work?
Lawrence: Ha! Lots of weird stuff in our lessons, and lots of time out of my comfort zone. Singing a song on a raspberry sound is probably the weirdest, and it is really making a difference.
Q: What are you looking forward to in the coming season or year with your music life?
Lawrence: I’ve got some real cool gigs coming up, but what I’m looking most forward to is having a new album in the world. Some live recordings were made for a compilation, from a recent show my band and I played, and my voice sounded like I remember it when it was at its best.
Q: What would you tell someone who is considering taking voice lessons?
Lawrence: Do it!
Online teaching isn’t so bad, after all. I might even be enjoying it!
—Alexandra Plattos Sulack
I will be honest - I wasn’t stoked about moving my whole studio online. My teaching is visceral, and I work with the energy in the room. My assumption was that I would lose the ability to have you (my wonderful students) move, and that I would lose the ability to collect, pass, and share energy.
I’ve taught online lessons before, but they have been mostly speech work. I thought singing lessons would be a totally different level of teaching, and I didn’t want to do that.
I’ve been 100% online for over four weeks now, and I have to admit—it’s actually pretty great. Here are five surprising take-aways:
1. You are THRIVING in this environment. Many of you, upon your first online lesson, made HUGE strides. I am blown away by the freedom and ease of your sound. We didn’t really do anything different from our in-studio lesson, but the way the information was presented and how you were able to consume it made a big difference. Perhaps, some of you feel more comfortable opening up online. It feels safe. Or, perhaps, you no longer have to worry about a commute, and therefore, are more relaxed coming into the lesson.
2. I can listen more intensely. I enjoy playing the piano, and I enjoy accompanying you in lessons. In an online environment, that is (currently) impossible because of the digital lag. I can play a few basic chords in almost real time, but while you are singing, I have the opportunity to just listen. I’ve found that my ears are able to pick up on subtleties in the sound, and we can work in a more detailed fashion. (Ahem, we can focus intensely on technique!)
3. EARTRAINING! Because I cannot accompany in real time, this requires you to generate, hear, and produce the notes on your end. This reinforces the internal ear, it encourages the brain to audiate, and it strengthens your ability to find the center of each and every pitch. A win-win-win-win-win!
4. We’ve still got the sillies! I, mistakenly, thought online lessons meant we had to be focused, serious, and get down to business. I’m finding that I can bring just as much play and silliness to online lessons as I do to in-studio lessons. But this time, I have ALL my props, costumes, and toys at my disposal. I’ve been having most of you blow bubbles and sing into a glass of water, so we’ve played around with different methods of keeping the water from splashing our eyes. Everyone is busting out the safety goggles or swim goggles (see exhibit A.)! One of you dubbed my lessons “constructive silliness”. I don’t think I could have come up with a more apt descriptor.
5. It’s working. I still miss seeing you all in person and being in the same room together. We are making music, and we are making technical strides. You are being pushed to learn in new ways, and I am being pushed to teach in new ways, and it’s all working.
These are tough times, and we are all in this together. By staying apart, we are protecting each other. I am grateful for your willingness to try out this new format, and I am grateful that we are all thriving. So, yes, online teaching isn’t so bad, after all. I might even be enjoying it!
Social distancing means creative learning
We believe in combining technical and pedagogical expertise with a deep love of voice and singing. At The Voice Lab in Chicago, our teachers bring a diverse singing and voice care background ranging from operatic to pop, language studies, songwriting, and voice science research.