When we want to learn a new skill, we go through various stages. At each stage, we experience a unique set of emotions. First, do you have it or do you need that skill in your arsenal? Awareness dawns and at a later point in time, you realise you don’t have the skill and you need it.
Now is the time when you think and find the ways and means to gain the skill. And then, when you learn it, you will struggle with unlearning and relearning. There will be times when you want to give up, but perseverance wins and you will stick to it and work hard. Finally, with dedication, you master it over a period, and once this happens, it becomes your second nature and there will be no need to focus on it anymore.
The Conscious Competence Ladder
Noel Burch, an employee with Gordon Training International, developed the Conscious Competence Ladder in the 1970s.
The model highlights two factors that affect our thinking as we learn a new skill: consciousness (awareness) and skill level (competence).
According to the model, we progress through various levels of building competence:
Unconsciously unskilled–we don’t know that we don’t have this skill, or that we need to learn it.
Consciously unskilled–we know we don’t have this skill.
Consciously skilled–we know that we have this skill.
Unconsciously skilled–we don’t know that we have this skill, but we don’t focus on it because it’s so easy.
Do you remember how you felt when you learned to drive? It quite baffled me when I did so years ago. I had glided from the stage of ‘unconscious unskilled’ to ‘conscious unskilled’. I desperately wished for some magic that could make me drive like a pro quickly. And there I was, meeting my trainer every day to understand the whole process of igniting the engine, striking and releasing the clutch and accelerator, pressing the leg brake, pulling and releasing the handbrake, changing gears, monitoring the dashboard all the while focusing on the road and checking all the mirrors too. I wondered how that was humanly possible!
As I progressed on my driving skills to the level of ‘consciously skilled’, which is stage three in the competency quadrant, I felt proud. Yes, I was doing well! Today, at stage four of ‘unconsciously skilled’, can I say that I can turn into an F1 driver? Just because I am great at dishing out delicious meals at home, does that qualify me to be a star-rated chef? To qualify for each of these professionally, I need to gain a unique set of skills and specialized training.
Similarly, to become a wonderful speaker, to pursue voice acting or singing, we need to first distinctly acknowledge that we are born with an amazing vocal instrument. All we need to further do is learn to play this instrument. We can train it to either become a vocalist or master the art of voice modulation to become a skilled orator, or both. The process begins with an awareness of the limitlessness of our vocal apparatus.
Now, does a magnificent speaking voice guarantee a great singing voice too?
I often get asked if an excellent orator can be a good voice artist and if a good voice artist can be a good singer, and vice versa. It’s an interesting question and I feel such interesting questions are not so easy to answer.
My answer is, “Why not? Of course it’s possible!”. Really? How?
Simple, just learn the craft like any other! Technically, since you are born with your own unique vocal instrument, you are free to use it to speak, recite, narrate or sing. However, your proficiency in the craft largely depends on your desire to learn and excel in it. Similar to the previous example of learning to drive skills, if I want to become an F1 driver, I need to get trained. There’s no other way out or substitute to training, practice and hard work.
Practice makes a man perfect!
So what about voice culture? Why would you need it? Let me tell you the small but crucial part of the story of a vocalist who took up a unique path to enhance her singing.
PadmaShri Aruna Sairam is an Indian classical vocalist and a top Carnatic musician. She started receiving her singing education at a very early age from her mother. As she grew up learning to sing, she didn’t stop her research and self-education. Although she turned out to be a fine singer, her intuition kept nudging her to explore her voice. Something kept telling her she had a caged voice, and she wasn’t using it to her full potential. She felt she needed her voice to be ‘free’.
Her search lead her to German Voice Expert Eugene Rabine. She was running out of currency then, so they struck a barter deal. In return for cooking him and his wife Indian food, Eugene Rabine started guiding her in culturing her voice. He told her to keep practising, and said, ‘I want to connect your body, mind, and voice. Never sing with your voice alone; sing with your full body.’ He also told her not to expect a change for several months and asked her to call him once she deciphered a difference. It’s only after two years that she and her audience noticed a remarkable difference in her delivery. This story had appeared in ‘The Hindu’ on 14th June 2018.
Globalization has exposed us to many professional choices, bringing us tremendous opportunities for career growth. In the current pandemic situation, the world dynamics have changed. Unlike the era before the internet and social media boom, almost all of us have graduated to a space where we are eager to share ideas, grow our networks and continuously learn from each other. This has pushed many of us out of our comfort zones into the world of frequent verbal interactions.
How a cultured voice can help?
Whether you are with the armed forces, a bureaucrat, a minister, a corporate leader, a doctor, a teacher, a consultant, a writer, a trainer, a coach, a chef, a photographer, a dancer, a singer, an actor, or a voice artist, whatever profession you are into, there is a need to address people beyond your circle and the boundaries of your profession. Your voice is singularly the crucial gateway to creating opportunities to build connections and influence them.
More than the technical correctness or the texture of the voice, it’s the emotion and expression in the voice or the lack of it that draws an audience towards or away from it. The human vocal instrument, with its complex system of muscles, nerves, bones, air cavities and articulators, is limitless. However, we have been taking this unique instrument for granted on the pretext that we don’t really need to pay attention to how we sound. So far we believed that it’s a concern for only those in the profession of public speaking, broadcast, media or performing arts.
Lately, the scenario has changed. More and more people are excited about speaking on global platforms to create a strong personal brand and take up challenging leadership roles in the corporate world, or embark on an entrepreneurial journey. This requires them to hone their communication skills, urging them to look for mentors or coaches to train them.
The workings of a Voice Coach
Remember, the right voice coach has a customised approach for each voice. It also involves working with the whole person and not just the voice. A voice coach focuses on freeing your voice first by working on the neurological, psychological, physiological, biological, and acoustical aspects of your vocal apparatus. Just the way psychosomatic conditions impact the vocal performance subconsciously, it is in our ability to consciously control our vocal instrument and influence the emotional expression in our voice. When your coach is working with you on culturing your voice, you become more aware of all the subconscious and conscious aspects of your emotions, body state, and vocal function.
When I forayed into the world of voiceovers, I knew I needed a coach to guide me. Despite being appreciated for my voice quality and vocal performance, something in me pushed me to find a coach who could help me bring in professional finesse in the nuances. I strongly believe that ‘The Master appears when the Disciple is ready’. I am indebted to my coach in training me to find my own flaws and showing me the way to correct them. There was no magic. It took me a good one year to see the difference it made.
Kickstart your process of voice culture by:
Practising breathing techniques, especially diaphragmatic breathing.
Listen intently and register all the surrounding sounds.
Adjust the frequency of your voice.
Exercise the vocal cords and the articulators.
Set the intensity.
Fix the rate of speech.
Know where to pause and why.
Identify the keyword stress.
Feel the emotions.
Use the body to express.
Develop the ability to remember and correct the notes (intonation).
…… and all of this simultaneously, just like driving a car.
And yes, don’t forget to listen endlessly to healing sounds, music, and voices. Remember, sound is pure energy. Each cell in our body responds to sound. And we humans learn to speak or sing only because we listen to the sounds of voices since the time we are in our mothers’ womb.
The magic begins when you understand the art of voice modulation and practice taking your voice to performance levels as an orator, narrator, or singer. Keep reminding yourself about the four quadrants of competency—unconscious, incompetency–conscious, incompetency-conscious, competency-unconscious competency!
Happy Culturing your Voice!