What is holistic vocal coaching?

Holistic Vocal Coaching from Maruja Retana

What is holistic vocal coaching?

The first time I realized holistic vocal coaching was a thing, was about 13 years ago, when I got kicked off the tv show X-factor. Uhm… Ok, kicked off sounds a little aggressive. I was just sent home. They were actually incredibly sweet. But it *felt* like a kick: ‘Go home! Back to that small town where you belong!’ (in the voice of my inner demon)

Simply put, at that time, I had this nagging belief that I was not good enough to be there. I was lucky to get a good run of several weeks, but…every second of that show I thought: ‘When are they gonna find out that I can’t actually sing?’

And one day, they did (or so I interpreted), and I was almost… relieved to go home. To not have to ‘pretend’ anymore.

Life after a talent show can be weird. You’ve lived in a bubble for weeks, and suddenly you’re back in your ordinary world. You feel like something should have changed, broken through, propelled. You feel a bit ashamed. And you feel extremely motivated to do bigger things. So when I went back to my voice teacher / life coach (not his official title but it should be), I was like: LET’S DO THIS.

One of the reasons that I got sent home, was that I wasn’t able to sing very loudly. Basically, I had the volume of a little tiny, shy mouse. And this was a time when people loved big wailing soulful voices. So, for my vocal coaching, I picked a biiiig song, basically all belt voice. My teacher Jan explained (for the umpteenth time) how to create volume, and this time I was ready to do it.

But my brain wasn’t.

My brain was like: ‘Girl, you will never be able to sing, don’t embarrass yourself any further, please.’

I will never forget the tension between those 2 beliefs. The ‘LET’S GO’ attitude that I felt like a fiery tornado in my core, and the ‘please don’t let them judge me, can I crawl under a rock forever’ tension in my chest. My notes came out all wrong. And I just started sobbing.

And sobbing.

Until I couldn’t sob no mo’. (Sorry, Jan, lol)

But then…

After I cried what seemed like a million tears… I was suddenly able to belt like I’ve never belted before. It was the most miraculous thing. I realized that all the tension that I was holding in my chest was now gone, but the power in my core was still there.

Something in my mindset had changed in that moment, and now my singing had changed as well…dramatically, even.

It was the first time I realized that singing is more than just a physical thing, more than just learning a few technical tricks and applying them. It’s a mindset thing, an attitude thing, an alignment thing. In other words: It is a holistic experience.

Is holistic vocal coaching just…vocal coaching?

Holistic vocal coaching is in my opinion the ONLY way to teach someone how to be the best possible singer. Compare it to organic food. Isn’t that just…food? Or do you still feel that barbecue potato chips, corn syrup-y chocolate bars, and frozen pepperoni pizza is ‘real food’ and a carrot is somehow a weird hippie food?

Really, it does not have to be vague or overly complicated. Like, at all. It’s simply an approach that looks at the bigger picture of who you are and how you use your voice. If used correctly, holistic vocal coaching can help you reach a compleeetely new level of healthy, confident, skillful singing.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

The holistic vocal system

Do you feel like you’re stuck in your vocal development, with no real improvement? Even after countless Youtube tutorials or even 1:1 singing lessons?

I know how frustrating it is…

And I’ll tell you a secret:

You’re stuck because you haven’t yet pinpointed the SOURCE of your technical issue…Your voice is more than just your vocal cords. Your voice and your vocal performance are the sum of a few parts: physical, mental and emotional.

physical

The most common issue I hear, is that singers feel their throat in an uncomfortable way. Now, of course the tendency is to think: ‘simply relax the throat’. But we all know, it’s not that simple! If the throat can’t do the work, which body part should?? What happens when you want to sing breathy? Or loud? Or do some intricate runs? Most likely, you’ll go back to making the throat responsible for those ‘out of the comfort zone’ moments, out of habit and lack of knowledge.

Healthy vocal technique is a balanced system. Take care of your body (get enough sleep, drink enough water, stick to a mostly healthy diet), and your whole body will be at your service! And we need your whole body, because it’s the combination of things that will give you significant results. This is why I like to work with certain anchors & triggers, that combine several techniques as a matter of reflex.

For example:
One great way to feel less throat tension is to use an ‘ng’ tongue position. But it won’t have much effect if you don’t also raise your soft palate, drop the jaw, sing in the ‘mask’, and apply healthy breath control. A trigger that usually works is: ‘pretend to yawn’ or ‘smile with an OMG face’. This way, you’ll probably apply all the relevant vocal techniques at once, as a system.

To learn all about the physical part of your vocal system, check out the Vocal Technique online course (everything you need for self-study!)

Mental

Believe it or not, singing is mostly a mental game. The thoughts you have influence your body. We’ve all experienced this!

Have you ever given a speech? Or been to a job interview? Or sang in public? A common thought in those cases is a version of: ‘I hope I don’t make any mistakes… Can I really do this??’

In other words, a version of: ‘Am I good enough?’

That thought tends to make people nervous… And nerves tend to have an impact on the body. Tight abs. Shallow breathing. Shaking. You know the drill. And I’m guessing you also know what that does to a voice.

But did you know there are many other examples of how thoughts can influence the voice?

For instance, pitch control issues are often related to lack of focus and not reeeally being in the moment. Sometimes people are distracted, or sometimes they are still in the past (‘Did I sing that note alright?) or already in the future (‘Uh oh, that high note is coming up…’)

Range issues (high notes / low notes) are often related to breath control issues, which usually have something to do with trying tooo hard… forcefully pushing air out with your throat muscles, instead of finding your resonance and flow in a mindful way. The thought here is often: ‘Come on! Do your best!! Work REALLY HARD!

Emotional

The whole reason that we love great singers and that we love to sing ourselves, is because it makes us feel something. Songs and voices have the ability to take you on an emotional journey.

As a singer, nothing will benefit you more than knowing how to use your emotions, instead of having your emotions use you.

If you can consciously infuse that heartbreaking song with sadness (because you’re genuinely telling the song’s story), you’ll touch people’s hearts, guaranteed. If you’re too nervous to do that, and instead you infuse your song with the fear of ‘What will they think of me??’, you may not have that same positive impact.

Singers need to be masters of their emotional system.

Not ‘just’ for performance reasons, your emotions also influence your body, and therefore your vocal technique.

In my own example: Lack of volume is often related to shyness, which tends to prevent the chest resonance space from opening up. There is also most likely not enough groundedness, it kind of feels like you’re ‘floating’. This is a sign of not enough lower body support.

Starting to see the big picture here?

Oh…and if you think that holistic vocal coaching means MORE work, you couldn’t be more wrong. Often, it means you’re UN-learning limiting habits, instead of learning new ones. You’re relaxing more. Letting go more. Until singing feels…easy. And natural. Organic, if you will. (Pun intended.)

What does this mean?

So how does this work in practical terms? What do we do in a holistic vocal coaching?

Glad you asked! 🙂

A holistic vocal coaching can include many things. Tim Gallwey (author of The inner game of tennis) once famously stated:

’Performance = potential – interference’

In a holistic vocal coaching, we do our best to eliminate the interference. REALLY look at what makes singing challenging for you, and find your best way of overcoming that.

In my case, we always start with an in depth vocal analysis. During this analysis, we figure out exactly what is working for you, and what isn’t. What feels easy, and what feels difficult? Where in the body do you experience tension and why? What is the emotional reason behind your challenges?

After the vocal analysis, we do whatever we need to do to make singing easier for you! This can range from:

  • approaching vocal & breathing technique from new angles, until you *really* get it and embody it
  • using NLP techniques to reframe your fears around singing & your limiting beliefs about being a singer
  • crafting a pre-performance routine, so that nerves aren’t an issue anymore
  • meditations & visualization, to transform your mindset from negative to confident
  • mastering storytelling & emotional delivery, so you can turn your audience into REAL fans
  • S.M.A.R.T. goals: what are concrete next steps you can take regarding your artist career?

That’s about it!

Hope this gives you a bit of perspective on holistic vocal coaching! In a very interesting way, it helps you balance your voice, and sometimes even more than just your voice. Your resilience, your self-talk, the way you look at yourself and the world, it all usually tends to shift in a really good way.

And you’ll see, painful experiences (such as getting kicked off a talent show) and the things you previously saw as shortcomings, can actually be blessings in disguise. All it takes is zooming out a little, and having a good look at the big picture of who you are.


Your mind, body & voice work in their own unique way. Want to find out the source of YOUR singing challenges and overcome them once and for all? Check out our online Vocal Psychology® course or book a private online Strategy Session with Maru


Disclaimer: Vocal Psychology® coaching is in no way to be construed or substituted as psychological counseling or any other type of therapy or medical advice. I will at all times exercise my best professional efforts, skills and care. However, I cannot guarantee the outcome of coaching efforts and/or recommendations on my website/blog/email series and my comments about the outcome are expressions of opinion only. I cannot make any guarantees other than to deliver the coaching services purchased as described.

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