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Friday Focus: The Brain and the Voice

Have you ever had the experience of hearing your own voice on a recording and being shocked at the sound?
Whether you like the sound of your recorded voice or not, there is a reason it sounds foreign.  You aren’t really hearing what your voice sounds like while you are producing that sound at all.
The first thing to understand is that we hear the sound of the voice in two different ways.  One as we make the sound and it passes through the vocal tract and exits.  This sound often vibrates through bone as well as tissue making it sound lower in pitch than it really is.  The second is when the sound bounces off of our eardrum.  This is how other people hear us as well with some variation in individual hearing abilities and tendencies.  Importantly, these sounds are not entirely in sync so why don’t we hear two sound waves  (or an echo effect) when we speak and sing?  It all comes down to that amazing brain of ours.  It syncs the two sounds into one sound.  A construct of our brain’s making for our comfort.
In actuality, the brain is the most important component of the vocal instrument.  It is both your strongest ally in voice-use and your nemesis.
Let’s start with the ways in which your brain might interfere with your vocal production.  In a previous post: Friday Focus: The Vocal Tract we learned that at best voice production is the fourth or fifth important function of the vocal cords. Importantly, the top three are all survival functions.  The brain takes our survival functions pretty seriously and doesn’t give us discrete control of those systems, with good reason.  I, for one, would hate to get distracted and forget to keep my heart beating but I digress.  These survival functions are handled within the brain stem and operate separately from what we would recognize as intellect or personality.  So when we start thinking about communication through the application of air thru our primary airway you better believe the brain is paying close attention to how we are trying to use important systems and resources.  How it all comes together is a complicated dance of neurons, associations and how much active thinking is involved in the process of singing or speech.  In many ways, our perception, thinking and general confusion about the map of the body can interfere here.
The way the brain becomes your strongest ally in voice-use is implicit in its design.  It likes to run the system (this body) as efficiently as possible.  The way in which “you” as in your intellect and conscious self can help is by being a trustworthy participant.  By assigning a value to alignment, efficient breath-use, and to avoiding and addressing constriction you set up an intention for your brain to align with.  As you create clear intentions for your voice-use, the brain establishes and solidifies pathways for those functions.  The great thing is that you don’t have to “know”  how your brain works in order to have it work in your favor.  You simply have to know what you want, set the intention and make sure the system (your body) is set up to for the best aligned, supported and unconstricted voice-use.
In addition, there is a hierarchy of brain waveforms which can be pressed into the service of your best voice-use but that is a topic for a different blog entry.  Until then, how are you making sure you and your brain are allies in voice-use?  Something definitely worth thinking about.
Gina Razón is the principal voice specialist at GROW Voice LLC, a full-service voice and speech studio in Boston’s Back Bay.  She has over 16 years of experience both as a teacher of voice and speech, and a voraciously curious voice user.  Gina has worked professionally as a classical singer for over a decade and more recently as a professional public speaker.  For more information on the studio or to book Gina visit

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