The New Voice Training Method for Singers of CCM/Popular Styles
Based on new knowledge of brain function, Neuro-Vocal Method teaches students to steer changes in their brains and be guided by the changes as they occur. This approach can achieve remarkably fast results, and puts the student in the driver's seat with tools for a healthy voice that lasts a lifetime.
NVM is based on this:
Here's a Brain That's Singing
What you see here is a lot of activity. Many regions of the brain are activated during singing. The activated regions are generally concerned with:
A Brain That's Listening
Here I'm listening to a song I know. You'll see that many of the same areas of the brain are activated but to a lesser degree.
A Brain Vocalizing a Single Pitch
Here we're seeing activity related to matching and holding a pitch.
Measuring physical sensations
A Brain in NVM Mode
This is one of the foundational exercises of Neuro-Vocal Method, the Nasty Triangle. This brain hardly knows it's doing anything!
Activity primarily in the auditory cortex, meaning I can hear the sound I'm making.
Small amount of activity indicating learning reward-relevant events
The point of all that is that, if the brain doesn't think it's singing, you can trick it into adopting new behaviors. If the new behaviors are being adopted based on how good their feel (we affectionately call that the Lizard Brain in NVM) then those behaviors will be physically efficient. Inefficient motor actions don't feel good. In singing or anything else. You can get accustomed to inefficient motor actions, but they never feel good. And if the new behaviors are physically efficient, it means you can maximize the capacity of your voice without doing any harm at all. In fact, you can both maximize the abilities of the voice and have an unusually healthy voice.
Register for Introduction to Neuro-Vocal Method
Now let's talk about you.
You're an independent voice teacher or adjunct faculty at a college.
As an independent voice teacher, all your students (or almost all) want to learn CCM/Popular technique. They either want to sing contemporary music theater, or they want to sing some kind of "microphone" music.
If you're training high school students for contests, or you're helping college students to achieve their degree requirements, you teach them classical pieces. You get to be an important person in their lives; the person that introduces them to the beauty of classical singing. But you know that only a tiny percentage of those students are excited by classical music. Most want to learn CCM/Popular.
As a singer, you either sing classically or CCM/Popular. I'm not talking about "can sing." I'm talking about actually singing; what's in your wheelhouse, what you know about, and what you're comfortable with.
If you were classically trained, it may be that the whole issue of teaching CCM/Popular is uncomfortable for you. You may have conflicting feelings about it. You may not want to leave an area about which you know a lot (classical) into an area in which you may be less-than-expert (CCM/Popular). You may be curious to learn, and wish there was a way you could teach your students healthy pop technique. But you'd need some way to teach them that you felt good about.
If you're a CCM/Popular singer, it's likely you came about your skills naturally. (Well, either naturally, or despite your classical training.) You know the genre, you're comfortable with helping your students get that sound, but you may not feel entirely confident. You may wish you had an actual method - a plan of action - that you knew would yield consistent results for your students.
Introduction to Neuro-Vocal Method: classes registering now!
An Independent Voice Teacher's Challenge
For people who sing a lot, singing is a very strong motor action plan. A motor action plan is a unified motor function stored in the motor cortex.
That motor action plan initiates before you open your mouth to sing. Therefore, because your brain sings before your voice does, and because it already knows very specifically how to respond to the intention to sing, it is, neurologically, a challenging and lengthy process to alter one's singing.
For voice teachers, every new student already knows how to do the thing they are asking the teacher to help them learn. The student already has a strong motor action plan.
People who sing CCM/Popular styles are singing into microphones. The way they hear their voices is through some kind of monitor or speaker system. They very seldom hear themselves well. The best they can hope for is to be able to discern their own voice in the mix, and to identify the pitch they're singing. Singing in order to produce a particular tone - in other words, trying to sing deliberately based on what you hear (or can't hear) in the monitor - is a fast path to vocal strain and damage.
How Neuro-Vocal Method Solves Those Challenges.
This is Oliver Sacks. He didn't always look like Santa Claus.
I'd been teaching voice for fifteen years, and singing in bands longer than that, when all of this clicked for me. I've been reading books about neurology since I first laid my hands on Awakenings by Oliver Sacks, back in the 90's, and was hooked.
I had been teaching a version of Speech Level Singing. Over time, and based on what I'd learned from my brain books, I believed that the somatosensory cortex expected singing to feel a certain way, and that the motor action plan for singing responded to meet that expectation.
I believed that the hierarchy of motor function would create a situation in which the somatosensory cortex would respond more quickly to feeling - sensed through the brain stem, parietal and frontal lobes - than to sound - processed primarily through the temporal lobes. I also believed that if the sound being produced was as efficient and natural as possible that it would be produced in a healthy - and even healing - way. I began to fashion both my vocal exercises and my voice lessons around training the brain rather than training the voice.
If a Tree Falls in the Woods...
I've always had a busy voice studio, so over the years I had a lot of students on whom to test my ideas. Students who were professional singers all the way to students who couldn't consistently match pitch. The newly forming method worked for all of them. But it wasn't just working to improve their singing. It was transforming their singing. I could not ignore what I was seeing.
During this long (really, long...over ten years) part of the story, I watched my students access ridiculously high pitches in chest mix, and with no strain. I had students who sang unreasonably long gigs, students who sang in bands with no monitor, and students who sang seven shows a week for months. None had any vocal problems. All of them glowed about their new abilities. Some came back from follow-up visits from their laryngologists telling me that the damage that brought them to me had disappeared.
And then there were the students who were afraid to sing, who weren't "naturals," and who aspired just to bring singing into their lives in a meaningful way. Those were the students who really convinced me that this brain-training thing was the way to go. Some described their improvements as "miraculous," and it was hard to disagree.
Get the book!
I Was Always Taught to Share
The embarrassing truth about my voice teaching is that I started (lo, these many long years ago) as an evangelical. I wanted to teach pop singers pop technique (the term CCM hadn't been invented yet) because I had not been, and had suffered. I wanted to save pop singers from inappropriate techniques that could do damage to them as it had to me.
Long story short...after 8 years of classical voice training and a B.m. in studio music & jazz, I sang in a road band for a year. the way I'd been taught to sing wasn't created for singing three hours a night, six nights a week, for months at a time, and in situations where you could barely hear yourself. I trashed my voice and spend the next year dedicated to healing my voice.
What can I say? My dad was a preacher and my mom was a teacher. Helping was in my blood, and I wanted to share this method with other voice teachers. I especially wanted to share with people who wanted to help their students who wanted to sing CCM, but who didn't know how.
I decided to write a book. Then decided not to. Repeat ad nauseam. I'd write for a week and then quit for two.
My confidence came from my own experience. But my insecurity came from my inability to scientifically prove my method. Additionally, I didn't know my theory was correct. I just believed it was correct. For someone else that might have been enough. But it took the wind out of my sails time and time again. I needed something more concrete.
In order to prove that my theory was correct, I'd need a reasonable number (40? 100?) of people who knew my method and could execute it perfectly. I'd also need to put each of those people, along with a number of "control" people, into a fMRI for an hour or so. Then the results would have to be analyzed to test my question and confirm (or disprove) my theory.
So...yeah. That wasn't going to happen.
I did think, though, that if I could get
myself into an fMRI, at least I could take
a gander at how this new method might be working.
Happiest Day of My Life
OK. Maybe not the happiest. But right up there in the Top 5. It was the day I first saw those brain pictures at the top of the page. I was thrilled! (Actually, I'm still kind of thrilled...)
The back story is that I found a neurology researcher who is also an excellent musician and pianist. I explained my idea and he thought it had enough merit to stick me in a fMRI for 90 minutes to look at my brain. We planned and executed the fMRI session, and then I waited.
Turns out most of the science of that technology is in the software, and the art is in interpreting the data. Luckily, Dr. Doug Burman is no slouch!
Then came that happy day. I sat down with Dr. Burman and saw what you see in the scans shown above. It was magical. It showed me that what I thought was happening was, in fact, happening. At least in my brain. It wasn't science, but it was evidence, and it was exciting. This incredible experience and its outcome gave me the incentive to actually write my book. Thank you, Dr. Burman.
The results are the brain pics you saw at the top of the page.
A more in-depth explanation of the basis and application of the method is in the book. Additionally, I teach NVM to a small number of voice teachers every year.