Frances Dickinson is an award-winning vocal coach who has worked with some of NZ's most successful artists, including Lorde, Six60 and Theia through her vocal coaching business, Establish Music. Frances also works with business leaders to help them develop their voice. I’ve had the pleasure of learning from Frances over the past year and she’s opened my eyes to the role voice plays in communication and leadership. In this blog, Frances answers some important questions to shed light on the value of vocal development.
How did you become a vocal coach?
The truth is, by accident! I was working as a full-time musician and doing some part-time teaching in between gigs. I’ve always loved working with others and I quickly realised that I had a knack for putting information about singing and songwriting techniques into clearly defined processes which my students found really valuable. I was also super inspired to learn more about vocal production and songwriting theory for my own development, so as I did more research and professional development, I was really inspired to keep sharing all the amazing tools I was discovering. I never really intended to make a career out of it but after some of the clients I worked with went on to have major success, the job kinda stuck!
What do you love about vocal development, singing and songwriting?
There are few things really. Firstly, I love sharing information. I am a complete science nerd and I get a buzz out of helping people understand concepts or giving them information which empowers them. I love solving problems and seeing the -’ah-ha’ moment on peoples faces when they finally get the results they wanted. I also have quite a strong sensory relationship with sound because I am synesthetic; I see sound and I also feel it in quite an intense way. So this means I have a unique viewpoint around what is happening in song melodies, production or people’s vocal production which can be hugely valuable when working in the studio or helping to fix a vocal issue.
What's the most common belief that people have about singing that is not true?
That singing is a gift, not a skill and that people are either born being able to sing or not. The truth is that, as long as you have the same functioning anatomy as everyone else (the ability to hear sound, lungs, vocal folds, etc), you simply have to train your muscles to do the moves. In all my years as a coach, I’d say that the only thing I’ve seen that generally holds people back from learning to sing is their own lack of ability to connect with the sensations in their body.
What's the hidden power of voice that most people don't understand in a leadership context?
That tone, voice quality, projection (volume) and speaking with ‘authority’ are all skills you can learn. Even if you are a complete introvert who hates crowds, you can absolutely develop new skills to make your voice your number one asset.
To develop a stronger voice that people are more likely to listen to, what should I (or anyone else who’s interested) be working on?
That’s a tricky one to answer since everyone’s challenges are different (not everyone gets the same set of exercises when they join a gym) but there are three main areas of the body that contribute to your overall vocal quality - your breathing, your larynx/vocal folds and your head and mouth for resonance and diction. If you feel like your voice is weak, breathy or you can’t finish sentences then I would recommend learning breathing techniques and looking at your overall fitness. If you want more dynamic control of your sound and better intonation, then learning how to travel through your range and access different voice qualities might be helpful. If you want to improve your diction, then you would benefit from looking at some research on pronunciation and inflection and also mimicking the intonation of voices you love to listen to!
As a leader or public speaker, what skills should I learn that I perhaps don’t know about?
One of the most common issues I see in my work is when people who use their voice professionally (as a speaker, presenter, musician etc) don’t know how to look after their vocal health. Surprisingly teaching, not singing, is the most common vocation linked to vocal damage. I would be encouraging anyone who uses their voice in a professional capacity to learn some simple vocal warm-ups to stretch the voice muscles before they work, and also how to warm it down and do maintenance exercises.
What kind of practitioner could leaders work with to improve their voice?
Singing and speaking are essentially the same physical movements, but with different outputs (words and lyrics) which are either shorter or longer. So, one easy way to build vocal skill and strength is to find a vocal coach who can instruct you on the mechanics of vocal production!