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Episode 7: Befores and Afters and the Steps In Between

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Befores and Afters and the Steps In Between

Believe me when I tell you that no one is “born ready” for the stage. Really, no one.

Sounding amazing, or even simply adopting a new vocal habit takes time and effort, and a ton of self-compassion. Today’s episode is heavy on the compassion.

You can subscribe to Can’t Wait to Hear You wherever you get podcasts.  If you have a question about your voice or how you’re using it, please email 

Our music is thanks to Katya and Ada.
The show is edited by K.O. Myers at Particulate Media.


Your voice is unique to you. It grows as you grow. It changes as you change. If you’re curious about the relationship between your voice and your body, your heart and your mind, welcome. My name is Michèle Voillequé and I can’t wait to hear you. 

One of the thoughts that I find I need to disabuse a lot of my students of is the thought that people who are good at singing and speaking were just born that way, and that there really wasn’t any serious effort or practice involved, that they just wake up in the morning and it just works out for them.

And as somebody who’s been around the block a few times, I can tell you anybody who has ever done anything amazing on stage has practiced. Even if there is some kind of natural talent or leg up, like you’re born into a family of performers, or you get to go to great schools and have great teachers, even if you have a little bit of a head start, you’ve had to learn things.

And learning involved repetition and practice and failure. Learning involves failure. So all of the people you see, who you look up to, you think are amazing, “it’s never hard for them.” It’s been hard for them. It’s been hard for them, just like it’s been hard for you. Maybe not in the same area, but like it’s been hard for you.

So I want to talk today a little bit about befores and afters and the journeys in between that you might have forgotten about.

So when you were born, you couldn’t walk and then you learned to crawl and to walk and maybe even to run. 

When you first picked up a pencil or a crayon, you didn’t know the first thing about making a letter, and then you made some letters. And then you learned cursive, and if you’re like me, your cursive has degraded a lot, but it was…my cursive was pretty great until I went to college.

Any sport you have ever tried – kicking a ball, throwing a ball. If you’re able to do that now, just think back. There were moments when you couldn’t do it, and there might have been moments when you fell down. 

And my favorite example of befores and afters and the, the process we forget in between is probably driving a car. My car today takes me places, and I have no conscious memory, really, of how I got there. In terms of operating the vehicle, I didn’t give it any thought. 

But I tell you, when I was learning to drive, it would give me a headache to go across town in a tiny, well, maybe not tiny, a small town in Idaho, like, not very complicated layout, you know, pretty much a straight shot. Didn’t even have to make a left turn. By the time I got there, I was exhausted. 

So, if you’re embarking on the project of learning how to sing better, or at all, or improving your speaking voice and it feels like you should have these results immediately, there are some quick wins, but the fact that you might not be experiencing immediate results doesn’t mean that you don’t have talent, it just means that you need a few more tries, you need a few more iterations.

You might have forgotten how long sometimes it takes to learn something, or to create a new habit. 

One of the habits that is really – I’m not sure struggle’s the right word – difficult, let’s say, or challenging. For most of my students, and certainly for me, is learning how to sing and speak with a more relaxed jaw.

With a jaw that’s willing to feel dumb. I mean, slack. I mean, not involved, or less involved in the process of making sound. And one of the techniques I employ to help my students help their jaw relax is putting the fingers or the fists in the jaw hinge. So that spot between your molars is at the back, on the outside of your face, you can press into that spot and feel your jaw hinge.

It’s probably tense. And if you put your fist there, you’ll find it’s now really difficult to close your mouth. You kind of prop your mouth open with your fist in that way, and I have people sing with, uh, their jaw in that position, or speak a little bit with their jaw in that position, just to feel what it feels like when there’s more room there.

And almost to a one, the very first question that comes out of my student’s mouth is, “How am I supposed to perform like this?” Their mind has already jumped to the end state. 

Do you hear how very little time there is for learning? This is just the first step of an exercise, but already the brain is worried about, “How am I supposed to do this in public and aren’t people going to laugh at me?” When it’s an exercise so that your jaw can loosen up, so that it can be looser when you’re using your voice. 

You will reach a point where you won’t need your fists in your cheeks, but today on Day One or your second lesson ever in your life, it’s a helpie. This is support that your body needs right now to try on this new way of doing things.

One of the things I can guarantee about working on your voice or honestly trying to learn anything new is that you’re, you’re going to get frustrated and you’re going to get scared and there are going to be days when you feel like you should be making more progress than you are. At least that’s been my life.

So let me suggest, when you’re feeling calm and competent and smart, that you take a moment to make a list of all of your befores and afters in your life, or at least all those you can remember. Or if befores and afters don’t appeal to you, a list of your life hacks that you’ve discovered. Maybe you have a particular way of doing the dishes that just is brilliant and saves time and or feels good or something.

Or maybe you have a way of organizing your finances. Maybe you have a favorite way to grocery shop. I don’t know. But I know because you’re a person, you’ve come up with some brilliant things in your life. You’ve solved some amazing problems for yourself. And that process involved learning. It involved trial and error and, trying again.

Make a list of those things. And have it nearby for when you’re trying to learn something new and you get frustrated, to remind yourself what an amazing learner you are. And what capacity you have to integrate new information, to find solutions, to make paths where before it just looked like brambles and you were never gonna get through.

And because I don’t believe in giving homework that I don’t do myself, I wanna tell you about, a skill that I am working on right now that’s a challenge for me. So a few weeks ago, I learned that my body responds to sulfites with anaphylaxis. 

I can tell you that sulfites have never been particularly good. So I don’t drink, but when I tried to drink, red wine always felt like a bad idea. Dried fruit that had been sulfured never felt good to me. I’d go to a sulfur hot springs and I always felt sick. And a few weeks ago all of this escalated to actually full blown anaphylaxis in response to sulfites in a salad dressing.

And so the skill that I’m developing is asking questions in restaurants about food. And this is really a challenge. I’m sort of a naturally shy person. I’m not a particularly picky eater. I’m not one of the people who goes into restaurants and like wants to talk about all of the things with,  who would love to meet the chef and like, just talk about food all the time. That’s really not me. 

But now I really do need to ask questions because, you know, we’re talking about, this is kind of life or death now. 

And so the before and after that I’m meditating on now to help me through this awkwardness, this awkward learning how to ask questions in a restaurant, is taking myself back to when I was in college and learning Russian and living in Russia and needing to ask everybody for everything – getting lost all the time, asking for directions, not understanding the signs in the store, asking how much is this, how much is that? 

The process of learning a foreign language and living in a foreign country, you ask a lot of questions. You have to get good at talking to strangers, and I’ve done that. I know how to do that. I do have this muscle in my body for asking questions, even when it’s hard, even when I can’t speak the language.

I mean, this time, asking about sulfites, I’m at least a fluent English speaker. So that’s how I’m currently leveraging one of my strengths to help me acquire a new skill. 

Please, if you have medical advice for me, please don’t send it. Know that I’m in good hands, I have great doctors, and that’s all under control.

If you take anything away from today’s episode, please let it be that we can get there. We have gotten there before. And we can get there again. 

Thanks so much for listening.

If you enjoyed today’s episode, please rate and review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. Every positive review helps new people find the show. Subscribing ensures you’ll learn about new episodes as soon as they come out. If you have a question about singing or speaking or being, please send me an email at

That’s letters at M as in Mary, V as in Victor, M U S I 

Transcripts and show notes are available on my website. You can subscribe to my newsletter there, too. Can’t Wait to Hear You is produced in conjunction with Particulate Media. I’m your host, Michèle Voillequé. I can’t wait to hear you.

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