By Anthea Palmer
The Rap on Estill Voice Training
Recently, on hearing a truly amazing singer at Jimmy Hornet, I was introduced to Estill Voice Training (EVT). Being skeptical of “schools” of vocal technique, I decided to investigate.
Please note: I am writing this piece before having any EVT experience. This is my opinion based on my general singing experience and initial research and findings.
How is EVT Different?
Why am I telling you all this? Well, you see EVT approaches singing from a physiological and scientific viewpoint.
“Estill Voice Training (EVT) is a program for developing vocal skills based on analysing the process of vocal production into control of specific structures in the vocal mechanism. By acquiring the ability to consciously move each structure the potential for controlled change of voice quality is increased.” – Wikipedia. So essentially, it teaches you to isolate and control all the little mechanisms that impact voice production.
My Teaching Method Experience
I tried at least four different singing teachers when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I wasn’t so interested in their teaching technique, but rather whether I could feel completely comfortable with them. To reach vocal heights given the exercises involved, you need to trust that you can make awful sounds and ugly faces without feeling self-conscious.
I went to a very popular teacher named Malcolm Potter who trained many of Adelaide’s best rock and pop singers in the 90s. He came to teaching from a Musical Theatre background with a focus on breathing and projection. As a result of these lessons, I developed a big, strong, wide vibrato, which I’ve been trying to ditch ever since.
Another problem was, his students all started sounding the same. You could tell when out seeing a band in Adelaide if the singer was a Malcolm Potter graduate. Many went on to find their sound and expand their genres, but after a few months, I decided to put up with my weird habits to remain sounding … like me.
In Melbourne, I went to a very popular teacher (can you see a pattern forming?) named David Jaanz. He claimed (probably true) to have trained Tina Arena, and that’s what lured me in. He came to singing with a pop/soul background and a focus on performance and the “emotion” technique. The first thing David coached me on was perfecting my “cry.” I did appreciate the technique and it expanded my vocal tone. I just didn’t “click” with Mr. Jaanz, so guttural whining and crying, with a distorted mug, was never going to be comfortable.
The woman behind the program
Josephine Antionette Estill was born in 1921. Jo sang professionally on the radio between 1939 and 1947 and performed live well into the 1960s. She voraciously studied the qualities associated with different styles of singing and used techniques including electroglottography (monitors vocal chord vibration), voice signal analysis, X-rays of the phonating larynx, and various other tools of exploration. In 1991 with thirty years of vocal study under her belt, Jo founded the company ‘Estill Voice Training Systems’ to protect the work and begin uniform certification of instructors.
Benefits of the Craft
My favourite singers display great vocal variety, and it is an element of performance that I strive for. I can see how learning how to isolate and use different physical aspects of the voice would assist in creating different sounds with accuracy and confidence, rather than guesswork. Within my tenure in the music industry, I have come across many singers who have experienced physical voice injury. In particular, a condition of vocal chord nodules which are cysts and polyps that form and prevent the voice from vibrating normally. The result is often a hoarse voice with range becoming limited. The nodules are the result of chronic abuse of the voice over time, such as straining and yell
The Three Disciplines of EVT
According to the official EVT website, the program separates voice training into three disciplines;
Encompasses everything the voice is capable of. This stage is all about learning the structures that contribute to sound and feeling and gaining conscious control of them.
I’m sure “Artistry” and application of the technique to singing is also worthwhile learning, however, the “Performance Magic” component sends me over the edge of a skepticism cliff. Jo Estill died in 2010, and I cannot help but wonder whether the “Performance Magic” component was added to the program posthumously. Further research for another day.
deals with how you apply these elements to your communications, be it dramatic performance, musical endeavour, sales presentation, lecture, or customer service call,
went off to find out how others felt about EVT, and there is very little negative feedback to be found online concerning the course, nor any critique of the “magic component.”
One criticism is that the program does not include “breathing” and the related abdominal support within the system. Certainly all of the teachers I worked with focused on breath and support. In my view, it is fundamental to my singing, and I never leave home without it.
Another criticism is about the course itself, that there is just too much information to grasp in the first section about the mechanics and physiology, and then not enough time to workshop the isolation of said mechanics in the practical excursive section. It was suggested the course be run over several weeks, instead of the five-day block it is usually taught in. Several singers suggested they would take the course multiple times … if only they could manage the associated cost.
The Best Singer
In the opening paragraph, I mentioned hearing a truly fabulous and inspirational vocalist. Her name is Nina Ferro and she is an Aussie Jazz Singer and Singing Teacher. When I complimented Nina on her vocal performance, she said “all the hard work is done off the stage.” Although at the time of releasing this article, I cannot confirm that Nina was EVT trained (I’m going on here-say), however, her student testimonials refer to learning about the “mechanics of singing.”
I would recommend anyone who wants a more conscious awareness of what they are doing with their voice, or anyone with injury or concern about same, to seriously consider taking the course. For me, the greatest value would be in keeping my voice safe from harm as I continue to sing through life. I liken it to a train driver who needs to understand the mechanics of his vehicle to control the speed and handling, to ultimately avoid collision and damage. On consideration of whether to take up singing lessons again and with whom, my sway is toward the teachings of Nina Ferro as someone who not only understands the mechanics but tailors teaching toward the individual, rather than strict adherence to a set program.