When I first discovered Estill Voice Training in 2003 I was a member of the cast of Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London's West End. Despite singing professionally after years of training, I have to admit looking back at that time in my life that a lot of my knowledge about my own voice was fragmented or simply wrong.
It was nobody's fault - I had met many wonderful performers and teachers as part of my training and picked up bits of invaluable technique along the way - but I lacked a comprehensive owner's manual to my own instrument. For instance, I would do lots of warming up exercises without knowing what part of the voice I was actually training or why it was useful.
This was a tough thing to admit to myself at first, but once I started to learn more about the Estill model and felt how it benefitted my vocal health and performance, I was hooked.
Here are 3 specific things Estill Voice Training has done for me as a singer:
1. Thyroid tilt
Conscious control of the thyroid cartilage means that breaks in the voice can be overcome quite easily. Longer, thinner vocal folds also mean that high notes aren't such a big deal.
Before Estill I would push the voice, modify the vowels or over-darken the sound - basically anything I could do to get to a top note. Deliberate use of thyroid tilt is one thing that really pays off.
2. False vocal fold retraction
False vocal fold retraction means producing voice without strain. It's about not accepting that a little bit of scratching in the throat is fine and just pushing through anyway.
I used to have to take days off to recover from a feeling that my throat had "hit a wall." I thought something was wrong or that I was coming down with a cold when in fact I was experiencing the impact of constriction. What a revelation to be able to override this by learning to control my false vocal folds.
Bigger sings like Mephistopheles in Faust or the bass part in Mendelssohn's Elijah were suddenly doable because the effort in the larynx was comfortable. I would come out after a performance and still have a normal, clear speaking voice. That was new to me!
I am a nervous performer, so knowing how to practice as I prepare for a gig and what I need to do on the day of a concert calms me down. I can then just enjoy singing.
Knowing my craft has given me confidence to sit down with a song or an aria and think "right, what do I want to say here?" rather than relying on endless coaching and "doing as you're told". Of course outside input is a great thing, but shouldn't there be a day when you trust yourself and take charge of your own artistry?
Learn how your voice works
The first step towards becoming a more confident and expressive performer is to learn how your voice actually works. Don't be like me and walk through your whole training without knowing exactly what it is you are working with. Ask questions and learn about anatomy and physiology.
Continue your journey by joining me at my next Introduction to Estill Voice Training workshop. It's a lighthearted, informative and practical overview of the whole Estill model - perfect for getting a taste of this scientific approach to voice training and dip your toe on the way to a full Level 1 & 2 course.
Find out more about my next Introduction to Estill Voice Training workshop:
Stefan Holmström is a professional opera singer and voice teacher working with speakers and singers of all ages and abilities with a wide range of goals. He offers online and in-person vocal coaching and workshops from his studio in central Brighton in the UK. As an Estill Master Trainer (EMT), Stefan uses Estill Voice Training (EVT) as a baseline for safe and sustainable voice use.