Voice tips

Voice Practice: SA

December 10, 2013


If you’ve seen the movie “The Sound of Music”, or even heard of it, you’ve probably also heard the iconic anthem, “Do, a deer, a female deer/ Re, a drop of golden sun . . .etc” that features Julie Andrews and the (by-now sixty-year-old) kids singing variations on the major scale and dancing in the alpine meadows of Austria. As the song says, “Do” is the first note, the root, and singing through the whole scale will always “bring you back to Do”.

If that reference is too ancient for you, think, “Doh!” a la Homer Simpson.

(More on that later . . .)

Like “Do” in Western music, “Sa” is the root or tonic note of the Indian music scale.  It is a short form of the word “Shadja,” which means, “giving birth to six”.  There are seven notes to the Indian scale (Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni ), i.e. Sa plus 6 other notes.  It is thought that all other notes emerge from Sa.


 I teach “SA” as a very simple and personal voice practice:

-Stand with feet comfortably shoulder-width apart, with your hands one on top of the other front of your pubic bone and your eyes closed.

-Breathe normally, and when you are ready, on an out breath, allow a single note or tone to emerge as you sing “SA” until you run out of air.

NOTE:  SA is pronounced “Sah”, with a soft “s” and an “ah”

-Keep sounding the SA on each out breath for whatever practice time you have determined:  between one and ten minutes is good.

-Just like Homer Simpson’s spontaneous “Doh!” when something happens, the “SA” can tell you where you are right now.  What sound does your body want to sing?  Is it high or low? Soft or loud?  Mournful or celebratory? Big and resonant or small and contained?

-The “SA” is also a grounding practice, helping you to connect or “root” your body when you feel a little spacey or out of control.

-If you’re into chakras, “SA” is the sound associated with the root chakra: that is,  with being grounded, present, connected to the earth, in a state of oneness with yourself and all beings.

-“SA” practice can also function as a vocal warm-up before you go into a meeting, start teaching, attend a singing circle, etc.  You can even sound it in the car: but keep your eyes open in that case!


If you have access to a keyboard or keyboard app and some basic musical knowledge, you can also locate and track your “SA” from day to day.  For example, one day it might be near the note A, the next it might shift up to a C or down to an F.  It can vary based on emotions, body tensions, hormones, or stress levels.

Over time you might come to notice patterns, and recognize times or situations when it is very helpful to sound the SA.


Drop me a line to tell me how it went, or get info about some personalized one-to-one practice

References for this article include my study of Indian Ragas as well as The Naked Voice UK.



In North America we are pretty comfortable with songs that have a structured form.  Whether it’s the classic 3-minute pop song—three verses, a bridge and a few rounds of chorus—or a classical symphony in four movements, something in us resonates with the predictability of form.  Even in genres like jazz and gospel, the improvising soloist will be playing over top of a predetermined chord progression played by the other musicians. The prevalence of structured song, beautiful as it is, often contributes to people thinking they “can’t sing,” or “don’t have a voice,” i.e. if you can’t hit all the notes “right,” or if you don’t understand musical form, you are excluded from sharing your voice. Music becomes a spectator sport, rather than a participation activity.

“Free Singing,” as I like to call it, is another thing altogether.  It is a highly unstructured, spontaneous practice. It is sounding without any set form or song, without any predetermined set of notes or chords or lyrics.  It is as simple as breathing in, and then sounding out on your out breath.  It can: push your expressive edges; transform emotions; and open space for new sounds, ideas, and states of being to emerge.  Anyone can free sing.


-Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, hands one on top of the other, just in front of the pubic bone.  Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath for a few cycles.

– Imagine that you are surrounded by loving, supportive, curious mentors who only want to hear you, however you sound.  Breathe that in.

– When you feel ready, open your eyes.  On the out breath, release whatever sound wants to emerge.  You might begin with a soft sigh and build from there.  Or you might be surprised at a loud or wild sound emerging on the first breath.  Be curious and let it come organically.

-Let the sounds merge into a continuous flow of sound.  This is like brainstorming or doodling with your voice: do not censor. Your judging brain turns off.  The only task, the only focus, is to keep sounding.

-Sound for a set period of time.  It could be one breath or one minute, five minutes or 30 minutes.  If your schedule is time-sensitive, set a timer to go off one minute before you need to complete so you can draw it to a close.

-Note that your voice might change over the practice, or stay the same.  If you commit to this practice several times over a week or month, each time might be different.

Hints & Extras

-If you’re not sure how to start, ask yourself a question like one of the following:

How am I right now?

What song might I sing if I had just been born this minute?

What if this was the last song of my life, my “swan song”?

Who am I? What do I long for?

Then forget about the question and start with the first step of the process, letting your body answer rather than your head!

-Movement helps. Once you have centered yourself and have begun sounding, let your body move as it wants to.  Sometimes movement generates sound and vice versa.  Just make sure that you are safe and there are no obstacles in your way.

-Background music. It can help to have a drone sound playing in the background.  There are various drones available.  One option is Chloë Goodchild’s Eternal A (available on iTunes). Another is the iPhone app iTabla, which allows you to either capture a comfortable “home” note and then create your own drone, or use the instruments on the app to create a drone.  You can also find recordings online: you might try YouTube under “musical drones” or “tanpura drone” (tanpura is a stringed Indian instrument used for meditation and classical music).

-Practice with a friend.  If you have a friend you trust who is willing to share this practice with you, take turns.  One of you is the Singer, one of you is the Witness.  As the Witness, you simply sit, listen with your ears, see with your eyes.  No commenting or analysis during or after.  Simply bow to each other when one person’s process is complete, and move on to the next person.

You can also have an agreement that you will gently and with minimum interference encourage each other if either of you gets stuck or hesitant or embarrassed to keep singing.

This is one of the many practices we explore in the one-to-one Essential Voice Package.

And I’m always keen to hear how it goes.  Drop me a line at Say Hello.






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Voice Tip Two: Body Tension

November 20, 2013

Many key tension areas of the body that I observe frequently in our population are the same areas that relate to the functioning of our vocal apparatus. Tension in these areas can impact resonance, projection and precision.


Do a body scan for some key areas:
-tongue root
-neck and C-spine area and throat muscles
-shoulders; all the muscles that surround our shoulder blades
-hands (clenching)
-the thoracic spine T-8 to T-12
-side ribs
-the base of the spine, lower lumbar and coccyx
-buttocks (gluteus muscles)
-inner thighs
-ankles (yes, ankles!)
-feet, toes

Where are you holding tension?

Stretching, yoga asanas such as forward bends (sitting or standing), gentle side-to-side head rolls, shoulder rolls, rocking back-and-forth or side-to-side on feet, gentle side stretches, gentle self-massage, or simply breathing into the area of tension are all ways of opening up more space for sound in your vocal apparatus.

Always practice with safety and attention to your body’s needs.

You may want to consider practitioner-supported modalities such as massage, osteopathy, craniosacral therapy, Thai massage, or reflexology.

If you are finding areas that habitually hold, these can be worked with in more personalized one-to-one voice work sessions with a voice coach.


Voice Tip One: Am I Breathing?

November 20, 2013

“Am I breathing?” sounds like a ridiculous question on the face of it, but two areas that are greatly affected if we don’t have access to full breath are:

Being Heard without Strain. Often, when we become involved in an activity at a mental level—especially if there is some strong emotional content or anxiety in the activity—we will start to breathe more shallowly.  The diaphragm does not have its full range of movement and the lungs do not have full capacity. This means that your speaking or singing voice is not supported, and therefore other muscles will tense up to compensate as you  “force” your voice to be heard.  I find this is the number one cause of vocal strain in my own voice.  A supported breath is essential to a sustainable and resonant voice.

Emotional Expression.  When we breathe fully and completely, our diaphragms drop down into the belly and access all the wonderful unconscious and emotional material stored there, which gives rise to our most exquisite vocal expressiveness.  Breathe incompletely, and you lose access to that information, and therefore your authenticity of expression.


If you notice a slight or great lack of breath in the moment while using your voice at work or in a social context, simply stop and bring awareness to your breath for a moment (without trying to change it). Sometimes awareness is enough, and our bodies begin to shift things automatically.

-Yoga pranayama, qi gong, chanting and other body/meditation practices support embodied breath.

-There are many different techniques for working with breath as it relates to vocal expression. At Compassionate Community Voice, we offer both structured and spontaneous practices to help you evolve a more embodied sound.  Or see our list of resources on the Sound Info page.