eZINE 76 – This is a Voice!

GillyanneKayesJeremyFisher2Our new book is out on April 14th, just in time for World Voice Day. “This is a Voice: 99 exercises to train, project and harness the power of your voice” was commissioned by the Wellcome Trust to complement their exhibition in London (2016) and Sydney (2017).

We’re dedicating this Vocal Process eZINE to the book and its contents so read on to find out more


How did it all start?

Each exhibition created by the Wellcome Trust for their Collection has a publication connected with it. For a previous exhibition on Forensics they had asked internationally renowned crime novelist Val McDermid to create a book on the reality of Forensic Science.

This is a Voice - the new book from Gillyanne and Jeremy at the Wellcome Collection

This is a Voice – the new book from Gillyanne and Jeremy at the Wellcome Collection

In August 2015 The Wellcome Trust approached Vocal Process to contribute to a book on Voice. They were looking for a practical book of exercises for all sorts of voice use including Ventriloquism and Speech Making.

It was to be a graphic book from the start, so each exercise would have an illustration. The deadline was very tight – four months from start to final manuscript is extreme for any book but one with such a wide brief where we also had to provide a suggestion for every illustration?

We all settled on seven topics: How the voice works (anatomy and physiology); warming up; effective speaking; mimicry; ventriloquism; beatboxing; singing voice. We prompted the Wellcome to expand the singing section from just classical techniques to opera, oratorio, rock, pop, jazz and country, and we were off!


What’s in the book?

Images from the book This Is A Voice - the new Wellcome Collection book by Gillyanne and Jeremy

Images from the book This Is A Voice

The short answer is over 170 pages of easy-to-follow, effective techniques for using your voice in many different ways. If you work through the book from start to finish, you will know your voice extremely well by the final chapter. But you can also drop in and out of the exercises, or follow the instructions on page 21 and work your voice with specific routines of 4 or 5 exercises to prepare for different situations.

Foreward by Cerys Matthews
Introduction by Professor Steven Connor

How to use this book

How the voice works

Getting started: speaking and singing warm ups

Speaking exercises:
     Speaking effectively    
     Ventriloquism and mimicry

Singing exercises:
     An introduction to singing
     Opera, oratorio and classical
     Rock, pop, soul, jazz and country

After the exercises (The cool-downs)

Acknowledgements and further reference

Glossary and Index

There’s a complete list of our exercises on this page.


Who did the design and the images?

We were very fortunate to have the Wellcome team creating the look, with a designer and an illustrator.

Drawing of a motorbike with voiced fricatives v and z emerging from the exhaust

The fricative motorbike from This is a Voice

The visual concept of the book and the collage look for the chapter header pages came from Marianne Dear at the Wellcome Trust, and the illustrations and my favourite character font cartoons were created by Bret Syfert.

Part of our brief was to provide illustration guides for all the exercises, so we submitted a huge portfolio of photos, collages, illustrations, hand-drawn guide pictures and even selfies for Bret to work with.
The basic look has remained the same throughout, but the details and the colours have changed several times. We love the hardback colour, it’s got such a positive vibe.


Research, research, research

Scientist in a white coat mixing in a testtube

Research, research, research

The Wellcome Trust is renowned worldwide for its approach to science, art and health. It’s “an independent global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health, because good health makes life better”. So we knew the voice science aspect had to be strong. But it was also a gift book aimed at the intelligent man in the street, so the language needed to be straightforward.

Singing, Speaking and Physiology

Obviously we know about singing voice, both classical and contemporary, and Gillyanne had already created the chapter on Vocal Anatomy and Physiology for the Oxford Handbook of Singing. So those sections weren’t an issue.

We already use many speaking voice exercises in our training, and Gillyanne has co-taught for years with great spoken voice trainers including David Carey (RADA) and Andrew Wade (head of voice at the RSC). We also trawled through the great textbooks and included (with permission) a couple of pre-existing techniques from the excellent Christina Shewell book Voice Work.


Jeremy has been using Ventriloquism techniques for many years to sing really fast patter songs, but researching the best ways to work the awkward consonants took several weeks. The resulting exercises had to fit the consonant work we had already done in Effective Speaking, and connect with the phonetics information in the How The Voice Works section.


Mimicry was a challenge as there is nothing written on the techniques, so Jeremy interviewed Alistair McGowan. Alistair’s ability to change his voice, manner, energy and vocal placement is astounding, and to sit across the table with more than 50 different people over 2 hours was a total treat. Alistair was very articulate about his thought processes for changing sounds, but it was up to Jeremy to create the exercises that would take a complete beginner towards imitating another person.


Beatboxing was a completely new experience for both of us, and took months of research. Early on Jeremy discovered the excellent humanbeatbox.com website which was a great starting point for discovering different beatboxers and their individual techniques. TyTe, the owner of the site, has created a way of marrying phonetics and beatboxing sounds, which Jeremy was able to use as a reference point.
Writing a chapter of exercises for beatboxing is a challenge as it is essentially an audiovisual medium, with techniques passed around on video, usually filmed by teenagers in their bedrooms. The main problem was finding the language to describe some of the 80+ beatboxing sounds (many of which don’t appear anywhere else in spoken language), without having any sound or video files to support the written descriptions!

We have one abiding memory of writing this chapter – Gillyanne learning to make beatboxing sounds while driving to visit her father 2 hours away. The test was for Jeremy to read out each exercise instruction without giving any examples or demonstrations, to see whether Gillyanne could create the beatboxing sounds purely from the words in the exercise. It worked!


Where there any big challenges?

Stick figure on a mountaintop

The hills are alive with the sound of Solfege

We’re pretty sure this book is unique in its scope and content – after all it contains specific exercises on how to sing, give speeches, mimic, ventriloquise and beatbox. So the first challenge was creating something completely new covering such a wide range of topics, in a way that flowed through one book. We did discover a theme that linked all the sections and that comes to a head in beatboxing. We’ll reveal that link in a future blog!

The biggest challenge was reframing our approach to singing for the man in the street with around 150 words per exercise.

We’ve written for actors, for singing teachers, for primary school teachers with no knowledge of singing, and for the intricate ins-and-outs of academia. Gillyanne has written a PhD and Jeremy writes copy for websites. But we didn’t realise how different writing for the “BBC documentary-watching man-in-the-street” was until our editor, who wasn’t a musician, emailed us with two questions: “what’s a note?” and “what is pitch?”.
It’s surprising how much you write within a body of knowledge that you take for granted, so unpacking pitch patterns for non-musicians and non-music-readers in 50 words was quite an undertaking! In the end we drew on The Sound of Music’s use of Solfege to indicate how moving between notes might look and sound. So for some of the singing exercises we included both the written music score and the solfege names to give as many people as possible the opportunity to join in and explore their voice.


Did anything get left out?

Stick figure doing a karate kick

Energy and movement

Yes! The original brief was for 50-60 exercises, but considering the Wellcome wanted seven distinct standalone topics that was always a little conservative. We wrote the book out of section order, and when the team saw our level of expertise, particularly in the singing and beatboxing exercises, they asked us to write more. So the focus of the book began to shift.

We ended up writing more than 120 exercises covering over 200 pages, so something had to go. The tough decision was made to halve the mimicry and ventriloquism sections and combine them into one chapter on “speaking with someone else’s voice”. Jeremy was very sad to lose his exercises based on energy types and Laban movement techniques, and all of the practical-application-to-performance exercises, but in the end it was the right thing to do.

So the book now contains 99 exercises, over 100 images and a wide-ranging anatomy and physiology chapter to put everything into a voice science context.


Don’t forget our #WorldVoiceDay quiz

The opening page of our World Voice Day "This is a Voice" quiz

#WorldVoiceDay #ThisIsAVoice #Quiz

To celebrate the launch of the book (14th April 2016) and World Voice Day (16th April 2016), we’ve created a quiz based on information in the book. It’s multiple-choice with some fun answers, and if you complete it successfully your name goes in the hat. The 10 names we draw out will each win a copy of the book signed by us.

Click here to go to the #WorldVoiceDay #ThisIsAVoice quiz – it should only take you a few minutes to complete!


And finally…

Here’s a headsup on the next two Retreats.

The ADVANCED Retreat

Doctor examining a voice with a magnifying glass

Examining your voice

The ADVANCED Training Retreat happens on May 28th to 30th 2016. On this weekend you go deeper Inside the Singing Voice to understand mixing, gear changes, words and their problems, sounds in different genres, and whether your breathing patterns really work for you. You can’t have voiced sound without breath, so we’re spending the whole of the first day on how you breathe, when and how much you need for each sound you make, and why changing your vocal setup means you MUST change your breathing pattern.

If you’ve already done Singing and the Actor, Inside the Singing Voice, or Estill Levels 1 and 2, you’ll LOVE this practical delve into voice, singing and performance skills. Click here to see what we cover


The Singing Teacher’s Retreat

The singing teacher's retreat - singing and training support from Vocal Process

We’re running the next Singing Teacher’s Retreat on June 3rd to 5th 2016. The format is unique with course content created around your specific teaching needs. The feedback from this course has been amazing.

You get to learn what your hidden skills are, how you communicate with your students, how to focus your attention on the things that matter, and how to get to the point straight away! We teach you the techniques WE use to get the results, the clients and the reputation we have. And we include a follow-up session after the weekend to help you embed your new knowledge.


Join us on the next ADVANCED Retreat in May or the Singing Teacher’s Retreat in June – click here to read more about each Retreat

We’re looking forward to hearing from you


Jeremy and Dr Gillyanne

PS We forgot to say, you can buy This Is A Voice at all good bookstores, or get a copy signed by us from our store here