Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute
Oren L. Brown taught at Juilliard for nineteen years and is considered to be one of the pioneers of voice therapy. The first chapter of his book Discover Your Voice is called “Primal Sound.” From the moment you were born, you have been using your voice. At birth you cried out to announce your presence in the world and for the first three months you cried to show your dissatisfaction, discomfort, hunger, and a wide range of other desires. By around three months you were probably beginning to coo to show your pleasure and your cries started becoming more specific – a different quality for hunger versus pain. No one taught you to do this, it was primal instinct. Children do not question how they make sound, they just make it. At some point during their development, they begin to realize their voice has a different quality than others around them. If is often because someone tells them they are too loud, their voice is annoying, etc. Once the child begins to judge the quality of their voice, it becomes difficult to get them to sing without judgement. If you can help your students reclaim their primal sound and stop judging themselves, you can often help them unlock their voices in ways they never thought possible.
The first step is teaching the student to accept that their voice is unique and that being unique is the key to finding success. Students will often try to imitate their favorite singers and compare their own voices to those of their idols. This is a mistake. The world does not need another Christina Aguilera, Ariana Grande, or Bruce Springsteen. The world needs something new, but they don’t know what that is yet. If the student tries to sound like someone else instead of embracing their own unique sound, they could be missing out on discovering their own greatness.
When teaching a student to belt, tapping into primal sound can be very helpful. To help the student find their primal voice, have them call out to someone in the distance. So for instance ask the student to try calling out “Hey Mom!” as if they are trying to get their mother’s attention from the opposite side of a football field. You could also have them call for a taxi (“Hey Taxi”) or “stop” as if trying to stop a child from running into the street. Next have the student extend the call, dwelling on the vowel(s). Try to find the approximate pitch of their call on the piano. Now create a simple exercise to add pitch to the student’s primal sound. If “stop” worked, try having them call “stop” and descend on a 5-1 glide moving up by half-steps. After you have worked 5-1 glides, try a 1-5-1 glide ascending and descending by half-steps. Finally, try moving to single vowels returning to the call as needed to help the student connect their primal sound to the new exercise.
Do you have other ways to use primal sound to find a free and natural vocal production? If you do, please share them in the comment section below. If you are not already following the blog, please sign-up on the bottom right hand side of this screen. Thanks for reading!