AKA 5 Days with Charlotte Charlotte Xerri (nee Shorthouse) CMT CCI-TP

Having met Charlotte at The 1st World Vocal Teachers Expo I was inspired to know more about the Estill model. The After just two 1-1 coaching sessions at the camp, (and a lot of fun), I learned a lot including:

  • I really like working with Charlotte as a teacher – important when embracing new techniques and ideas
  • Different vocal approaches can really complement each other
  • New tools and tips help you step  back and think more about how you use your voice and what you really want to do with it

It just so happened there was a 5 Day Course the the week after camp with Charlotte / Voice Your Potential, so I booked myself straight on to find out what this Estill thing was all about.

…but why do you want to do that? Isn’t Estill a cult or something?

I don’t know – is it? A few people had said a few things along these lines, but hey I can hardly talk *cough* CVT *cough*… let’s find out shall we?

Working in SEO has taught me that there is an awful lot of opinion based bias in every industry but it is better to get your own perspective. In my experience of vocal training, it would appear that many models appear to be saying the same thing just using a slightly different language / approach.

Given that essentially ALL vocal coaching or singing training training has come from ‘somewhere, inspired by ‘something’ or ‘someone’ …and singing is something that we as humans have been doing since the dawn of time without any lessons – ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways to sing should ‘probably’ only be discussed with regards to what is right and wrong for vocal health – if it is healthy – how it ‘sounds’ is down to taste.

Anyway – I decided to find out for myself how to understand the language and thinking behind different models, in an environment where I could ask plenty of questions – which means I need to actually turn up in person and have a go!

The Venue

Set at the Urdang Academy (2) just round the corner from The Angel, Islington, London. This dance and musical theatre training academy in the heart of london is a modern, comfortable setting for a 5 Day workshop.

If I have one complaint it is that I am old now, so chairs that twenty somethings can sit on are not as comfortable for me these days 🙂 To make up for it however, Charlotte and her trusty assistants apparently dragged up a tea urn from Brighton to make sure we had coffee and chocolate biscuits to hand for every break time #result

The Estill Complete Model

So here it is – my review of one of the most popular techniques in the UK for singers – the 5 Day Estill complete Model 5 Day Course.

What is the Estill Complete Model?

For those of you that don’t know – the Estill model was created by Jo Estill – who was the first first person to really undertake evidence based voice research for popular singing – which in my humble opinion deserves a certain level of respect.

Essentially a theoretical voice model with ‘Dynamical Systems’ and ‘Attractor States’ (how you naturaly use your voice) , identifying ‘figures’ of voice, certain ‘voice qualities’ and a vocal fold cover choice (thick, thin, stiff etc), that make up a handy toolbox for singers.

The Estill premise is that all voices are beautiful and that singers can make choices in a healthy way to sound how they want to. As a person that just likes to make noises and explore I am totally on board with this one

Much of the Estill research is from the 90s with  the model being based on research that was available at the time. However, Estill states tha the research was always unfinished and ongoing – so with the dawn of the first ever written/kindle book on the model now available – (sorry folks a wopping £72) – lets’s see what the current incarnation of the model has to say 🙂

Given my own experience with ongoing research totally undoing everything you thought you knew and techinques you thought you were using and teaching – I went in with a totally open mind!

Day 1 – 3 – Compulsory Figures

When I first read the course workbook I thought – my GOD – 3 days on this stuff? Each session had a 45 minutes overview of each figure and various identified states within the figure, followed by a study group where every participant tried out the figures under the watchful eye of official course practitioners and CMTs in training.

Each study group was small, and there was enough time for everyone to have a go and it was actually pretty hard to separate each part in the ‘ideal’ way…but hey I love a challenge so I was all over it, and I soon wanted more time on each area not less!

There were no silent judgements, no one made anyone feel bad if they didn’t ‘get it’ first time and  if I’m honest, I spent most of those sessions trying to put it in to my own terms but by day 2, I was just going with it and enjoying the ride.

‘Figures’ include:

  • True Vocal Folds (Vocal Cords)
  • False Vocal Folds
  • True Vocal Folds: Body-Cover – thick thin etc
  • Thyroid Cartilage – TILT!
  • Cricoid Cartilage
  • Larynx
  • Velum
  • Tongue
  • Aryepiglottic Sphincter (what now?)
  • Jaw
  • Lips
  • Head and Neck (anchoring)
  • Torso (anchoring – CVT terms – support)

All quite straight forward if you have some knowledge of the vocal tract but I can see how it would overwhelm a complete beginner with no idea what is going on in there!

Individual elements can mostly be isolated (t just takes a bit of practice), and of course all things are connected so they can’t truly be isolated but for the purposes of changing tone and sound – these are pretty handy tools and simple explanations.

I questioned the thyroid tilting thing when I first came across it as I had only come across up and down not in and out (oversimplifying on purpose) but  I am not going to get hung up on tilting. In my head I expected to find lots of strange thyroid bulges happening in class only to be sadly disappointed at it being quite a normal movement that I alreay do quite naturally!

One thing that did put me slightly out of my comfort zone was that I had to do everything so quietly. I am used to making a LOT of noise! 🙂 – but  the whole point is that you are controlling what you do so you can increase the volume later with all that anchoring and those vocal quaity choices. It’s definitely harder to sing quietly and clearly so I went with this too. however, I might draw the line at silent practice!

The siren/miren took me an age to figure out quietly. I have a pretty flexible instrument but could be even more flexible with a few hours of this every day. as a terrible person that hardly ever practices, I will let you know if it improves my singing in due course!

..and the anchoring… head, neck, torso etc – so I guess a different way to access what we term as support (or absorption if you’re going to be super on the button with current ideas) – my posture is awful but I can still sing pretty well, so I will be interested in how much more I can get out of my body to support my voice and intend to look a little more in to this.

Day 4 – Speech, Sob, Falsetto & Two Types of Twang

The first day of Part two Voice Qualities. Essentially Voice Production Control

Speech – not to be confused with speech level singing – it is a vocal quality that you will see being rerefenced in the masterclass video (below).

Sob – get your TILT on – something I first heard mentioned when Toni Braxton hit the charts but there is more to it than just lowering your larynx. I felt like I was doing a Marvin the paranoid android impression for most of the session

Falsetto – oooh the controversial one – does it exist? Doesn’t it? Is falsetto the same as head voice? What is head voice anyway etc etc. I found this one more challenging as falsetto in this sense is a vocal quality, NOT the register – lets not get into that whole falsetto debate now and just stick with the term regarding a vocal quality in Estill terms.

Basically sounding like you’re blowing over a bottle which is sometimes also called flute – no not whistle…(or is it?) 🙂 – I have been experimenting in Whistle and as soon as I can get over one blip at #A5 and connect it – I’ll get it filmed or something

Two types of Twang – HELLS YEAH!! My home territory as a natural twanger. Nasal twang very important if you are a Cuban I recently found out, as without nasality, there would be no Cuban music… and standard good old fashioned TWANG – if you listen very hard you might just hear a little bit of it in the example below 🙂

Estill Masterclass!

As part of the week, it was possible to sign up to a masterclass in front of all of the course participants at the end of the learning sessions on days 3, 4 and 5. We had 3 singers per masterclass session. after all the noises and practice in study groups. it was lovely to see Estill in action with people singing real songs.

In my session (day 4), I was the student with Charlotte Xerri the master teacher. We have a LOT of fun in our sessions and as you’ll see, the class had a lot of fun as well! What you have to bear in mind is that I have only known Charlotte for 2 weeks so you can see how important it is to have a teacher tha you resonate with.

I chose a song that is often set as a big song challenge to students due to it being littered with effects and needing a big sound, so I thought I would put my money where my mouth is and have a go at ‘and I am telling you’ from Dreamgirls.

I don’t really know it that well and had not sung it before so in order to make the session also useful for the class, we cut the bits I didn’t know (the middle bits). However, having seen Jennifer Holiday do it live recently, I think I need to up my game and pull some better faces 🙂

I wasn’t intending to post this video BTW, if I was then I would have sorted out my hair and make up – aint no amount of skill gonna fix this in post! – Enjoy and feel free to comment!

Day 5 – Final Day – Opera & Belting

The final day of part two of  voice quaities

Opera – now I love this quality so was looking forward to the opera sound. Actually pretty interesting and my technique certainly improved – now sing, widen, twang and ANCHOR DAMN YOU!! I

am not sure I am ready for Wagner just yet but I really did want to just sing classical music for the rest of the day, A great taster for you to find out more.

Belting – last but not least the art of Belting. Something I have been doing quite naturally but as usual – I have just been using too much effort.

Belting is essentially the shouty quality that is used in an awful lot of Musical Theatre but if performed incorrecctly you can certainly do yourself some damage longer term so this was a very useful session.

It was not easy for all to perfect in such a short session but this particular technique is great for showing vocalists that they can also make a big noise and realy shouldn’t be afraid of using their voices.

The baby analogy is old hat now but it is true – we are born making very loud noises with pretty good technique as otherwise ater 2 years of screaming none of our kids would be able to talk at all.. and the world would be too quiet!

So that’s it!

We come to the end of a full on, but highly enjoyable week.

Is it what I expected?

Yes and no! I expected a lot more psychobabble (sorry Charlotte!), and a lot more grey areas for me to question, but I actualy felt it was a solid model. Estill admit themselves that more research is needed and that reaearch is old. The fact that it has only just been comitted to some sort of publication suggests that this could be the start of an updated Estill journey… but it does work in it’s current format.

I do think that the Estill website could do more regarding explaining the model and owning their space online, as currently the model is very academic which could be offputting for new singers – and potential new teachers.

I don’t know enough people that have trained using Estill to know if it ‘churns out’ a certain type of singer or if it is favoured by any particular genre but I look forward to your comments on that. I enjoyed the week and definitely learned some new tricks, and all tricks can be used for all styles of music.

I am a firm believer that the teacher makes a huge difference and that not all teaching suits you, so if this model suits you, and suits how you want to sing, then go for it. Many parts suited me and I will investigate further controlling the various areas of my vocal tract so thatI have more flexibility and I may even go on another course to make sure I am talking the right language.

Aspiring rock singers and metal heads might feel frustrated at the start quietly approach, but once you have your technique down, you can add the rest later. From what I have learned, many techniques avoid the whole vocal effects area, but with good reason – you can really damage your voice if you have an incorrect foundation and understanding what you are doing is a major step to getting what you want out of singing.

I would like to see more techniques embrace this side of things in the future as mostly metal genres and beatbox techniques are self taught but there is a new breed of singer and artist that whether we like it or not – are here to stay!

What should you expect?

Expect long days so this was not a problem for me but it can take it out of you if you are travelling to London every day. I am lucky in that no amount of late nights and lack of sleep seems to affect my ability to sing but if you are affected by that sort of thing, then get a place to stay in london instead of commuting.

Expect to sing a lot – you will be in 4 practice groups every day which means you will be singing. Nothing too heavy but if you are not used to moving parts of your vocal tract independently, you may feel that you have used your voice – I very much doubt that you will do yourself any damage in a week!

Prepare a masterclass piece – you really will get over your nerves quite quickly for the sake of putting what you have learned into practice. Record it too – it is interesting to see my terrible posture as well as hear the difference – I would not get that on an audio recording.

Be kind to yourself –  you are probably a better singer than you think you are so instead of worrying that you can’t do something in front of the class – think about what you can do! Not everyone will be able to do everything,

Prepare a masterclass piece – you really will get over your nerves quite quickly for the sake of putting what you have learned into practice.

…and as if you didn’t know

Singing takes effort – and a little bit of study. No technique is going to hand it to you on a plate without you putting a little back in, so if you want to explore any technique, consider a short course to fully try out a method and the theory behind it as a single lesson may not help you fully engage with the product as it were.

end bit…

In my SEO world – if I just read a book or took a course – I would not learn a great deal about SEO without also experimentation, experience and getting it right and wrong sometimes based on Googles ‘opinion’, so i personally think that it is the sign of a good voice teacher to let go of the personal bias, and gain an an understanding of what is available for singers in vocal world RIGHT NOW

Which is one of the reasons I took the course in the first place… As a relatively new kid on an old block – I can see clearly that things are changing, voices are changing and requirements of vocalists are changing, but some opinions about how you ‘should’ sound have in may cases stayed the same.

If you had asked old school classical singers hundreds of years ago about vocal effects for death metal, if they had seen ‘that sic video of that girl sounding like autotune’, or if they could lay down some vocal beats  – they may have locked you up for being in league with the devil.

Although I am CVT quailfied and I really enjoy the CVT model because it works for me and they are always researching things. I am not set on one particular school of thought. As Charlotte says in the video – I am not afraid to play with my voice and experiment, and having been lucky to have been born with a naturally flexible voice.

Many of the things I can do now I figured out without lessons but now I have had some great vocal technique grounding, I have tools to experiment without damage (so far anyway), so  I want to make as many different sounds as I can whether to your taste or not! 🙂

I will definitely be looking at other models to see what they have to offer. If it’s anything like SEOworld – no one platform has all of the tools you need in one place.

Thank you Charlotte for showing me other ways of approaching singing and thank you Jo Estill for having the vision to research and document from a modern singers perspective. You have inspired many to pick up where you left off, I can see Estill -esque teachings in the lessons of other techniques that I have attended and I can’t wait to see where we all end up.

If you are interested in finding out more about Estill – contact http://charlotteshorthouse.com/ for details about upcoming courses – or go to the estill website to see courses near you.

In the meantime – have a look at the lovely class and team! Let me hear an UH OH!