Have you ever wondered what your voice says about you? Well, this week on A Voice and Beyond, we welcome as our special guest Dr. Belinda McMahon, a singing and spoken voice teacher who holds a PhD from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. This is part one of a two-part interview with Belinda as she discusses her fascinating research investigating vocal identity and how that work has led her to develop a much deeper passion for this field, inspiring her to create her own business, VoicePrint Professionals. In this program, Belinda works with entrepreneurs, executives, and other professionals to help them elevate their communication skills for greater influence and impact.

In today’s show, Belinda explains how the voice is the single most important aspect of communication, over and above facial expressions, body language, and the words we use. She shares with us the voice qualities that are required to enable a speaker to clearly communicate their intentions and ideas, how they can use their voice to increase authority, how we can build trust and rapport, and ensure people listen to you using specific voice qualities, tones, volumes, pace, and energy. Belinda also does a deep dive into topics around how vocal technique influences vocal identity, how her research has changed the way Belinda approaches teaching singers, and how we ensure, as voice teachers, that we don’t impose our biases around what a singer’s vocal identity should be.

This is a most fascinating interview that will certainly have you listening and to be honest, there was so much that was helpful for me in this interview. Whatever you do, be sure to listen to today’s show with Dr. Belinda McMahon, and remember this is part 1 of a 2-part interview with Belinda, and part 2 will follow next week.

In this Episode

7:41-Studying Vocal Identity
16:00 – Influences and influencers formed our vocal Identity
21:37 – Intentional and Unintentional Imitation
26:37 – How do voice teachers avoid imposing their biases on a voice?
39:05 – “My Job”
40:32 – VoicePrint Professionals: Speaking Voice Coaching
47:50 – The autonomic nervous system reacts to the sounds we’re hearing
51:05 – Importance of Resonance, Tone, Speed, and Pitch as a speaker

Find Belinda Online:

Website: http://www.voiceprintprofessionals.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/VoicePrintProfessionals/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/voiceprintprofessionals/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/belinda-mcmahon-43430455/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/@VoiceprintProfessionals


Putting yourself first is important because it allows you to prioritize your own needs and well-being, which in turn can help you be more productive, creative, and fulfilled in all areas of your life. By taking care of yourself first, you are better equipped to care for others and contribute positively to the world around you.



Visit the A Voice and Beyond Youtube channel to watch back the video replay of this guest interview or to see my welcome video.

Episode Transcription

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  00:00

Hey, it’s Marisa Lee here and I have some really exciting news to share with you. Just recently, I launched my performance mastery coaching program, which has been designed to help a forming artists and other creatives just like you to take center stage in their lives. Whether you’re mid career and simply feeling stuck, or you’re someone who is just about to embark on your career journey, and need help getting started, my unique coaching program is for you. To celebrate the launch. I’m currently offering a free 30 minute discovery session, so you can learn more about the program and how I can help you go to the next level in your life. My first intake is already seeing incredible results. So don’t miss out, go visit drmarisaleenaismith.com/coaching, or just send me a direct message and let’s get chatty. Remember, there’s no time like now to take center stage in your life.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  01:25

It’s Marisa Lee here, and I’m so excited to be sharing today’s interview round episode with you. In these episodes, our brilliant lineup of guests will include healthcare practitioners, voice educators, and other professionals who will share their stories, knowledge and experiences within their specialized field to empower you to live your best life. Whether you’re a member of the voice, community, or beyond your voice is your unique gift. It’s time now to share your gift with others develop a positive mindset and become the best and most authentic version of yourself to create greater impact. Ultimately, you can take charge, it’s time for you to live your best life. It’s time now for a voice and beyond. So without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  02:36

Have you ever wondered what your voice tell someone about you? Well, this week on a voice and beyond, we welcome special guest Dr. Belinda McMahon, a singing and spoken voice teacher who holds a PhD from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. This is part one of a two part interview with Belinda, who discusses her fascinating research, investigating vocal identity and how that work has led her to developing a deeper passion for this field, inspiring her to create her own business VoicePrint Professionals. Belinda works with entrepreneurs, executives and other voice professionals to help them elevate their communication skills for greater influence and impact. Belinda does a deep dive into topics around how vocal technique can influence vocal identity, how her research has changed the way she approaches teaching singers. The ways in which we as voice teachers don’t impose our biases around what we believe a singers vocal identity should be. In today’s show, Belinda explains how the voice is the single most important aspect for communication over and above facial expressions, body language and the words we use. She shares with us the voice qualities that are required to enable a speaker to clearly communicate their intentions and ideas. How we can use our voices to increase authority, how we can build trust and rapport and ensure people listen to us using specific voice qualities, tones, pace and energy. This is a most fascinating interview that will certainly have you listening and To be honest, there was so much that was really helpful for me in this interview. Whatever you do, be sure to listen to today’s show with Dr. Belinda McMahon. So without further ado, let’s go to today’s episode

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  05:26

Welcome to a voice and beyond. We have a very special guest today all the way from Sydney. so wonderful to have a fellow astray. And on the show. We have Dr. Belinda McMahon. How are you? Belinda?

Dr. Belinda McMahon  05:43

I am fabulous. Thank you, Marisa, thank you for having me.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  05:46

Oh, it’s such a joy. You and I have hung out in the past. We were both on National Council for ANATS for quite some time where you were the treasurer. So you had the joy of dealing with all the figures. And I was the secretary. So we were we were both on like the actual committee, the were on the board. It was pretty full on but we choose to forget about those days now. I think

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  06:16

we’re both traumatized.

Dr. Belinda McMahon  06:19

That’s right. Great work, but exhausting work?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  06:22

Oh, yes, yes. That on the upside, I got to meet you. We’ve attended events together. We’ve had quite a few laughs in the past. And I’m sure we’re going to have a few today because I’ve already had a disaster before interviewing you. I was for our listeners. Prior to coming to this interview. I had to cut myself out of a pair of

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  06:48

shorts, because the zipper broke. I couldn’t get

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  06:52

it up or down. So I’ve already had to cut myself out of a pair of pants. So goodness knows what else is going to happen. But whatever. Well, you are in for a treat today with Belinda here. Belinda, you’re a voice teacher, you hold a PhD from Macquarie University in Sydney, where you studied vocal identity. And this has led you on to creating your own brand your own business, which is called voice print professionals. So let’s start with another traumatic event. Aside from being on committee with ANATS, and that is doing a PhD, which I totally empathize with. Yes. Tell us what inspired you to go and study vocal identity. What was all of that about?

Dr. Belinda McMahon  07:49

That’s a That’s a great question. It was quite a journey. I think. As a before I went into research and before I went into teaching, I was a performer. And you know, I performed professionally for over a decade. And I think as a lot of us, I’d been taught, be flexible, be versatile, be able to do whatever you need to do. And so I did that very well. Whatever people need me to do I could do for people. And I actually went down the line of a for a long time I had a successful Bette Midler tribute show love. But yes, she is fabulous. She is fabulous. And, and that was good fun. And that went for over five years. And it was successful and, and great fun to do. But I always knew there was something missing throughout that entire journey. And retrospectively what I think it was, was that it was always feeling what other people needed me to be doing. And it was never really actually discovering who I was as a performer. So sort of fast forward, I finished my I stopped performing. I had a couple of kids. And then I was working actually at Macquarie University, and I was teaching and teaching vocal studies. And I would sit back and watch these, you know, university students performing doing their performance, their final, you know, assessments and performances. And some of these, you know, for one of a bit of work kids, you know, young adults, 20 year olds, 21 year olds, 18 year olds, just sometimes they wish they just really captured this fabulous essence of who they were in their performances. They just really captured themselves. And but other students seemed to be in a little bit of a, you know, struggle with figuring out exactly what their voice was or who they were as a performer, and and what to do, and it just made me question. Where does this come from? How do we learn how to be ourselves? How do we discover our vocal identity, our or our men that come that’s sort of a part of a singer identity, and how we impacted by how we’re taught by who we’re learning who we learn from, and all of our experiences. And I had already done one research project, which was my honors project, which was in construction, vocal construction. And in that research project, it had come up that often mimicking or trying to create a voice that wasn’t really yours was one of the big causes of vocal constriction. Absolutely. Yeah, I guess this lid sort of flowed on from my previous research, combined with these observations of what I was seeing in performers, and my own experiences, where I was like, Well, I don’t know if I, you know, I worked successfully for, as I said, over well over a decade. But, you know, did I ever really, actually tap into who I was? What, who was I, as a singer and a performer? And what was my vocal sound? Or, you know, what is my organic vocal sound? So yeah, that’s, that’s where the the idea and the topic came from. That’s

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  11:02

really interesting. And I can see where you would have run into stripe, not only as a cover singer, because I was covering other artists for years, you know, being in a band, whether it was a rock band, or whether it was singing in the piano bar, you’re always covering other people’s music. But especially if you’re doing a tribute show, audiences would want you to be as close to that artist as possible. So if you’re doing Bette Midler, Belinda would have had to leave the room before getting on stage. And you would have had to totally like, not only just, vocally but physically, in some way, capture the essence of who that person was.

Dr. Belinda McMahon  11:48

It was it was a completely embodied experience. Yes. And I would actually say, like, I, I couldn’t even rehearse effectively in that character. If I didn’t wear the right shoes was very interesting. Like, I had these particular heels that I’d wear for performing. And I needed to be in in those and it was the outfit. And look, it was the hair, the makeup, the eyelashes was everything. But I remember a journalist asking me once when I was doing an interview, if it was hard to get into the character, and I said, Oh, no, not really, I’ve had my process for getting into that character would be the curling of the hero and they’re getting ready and that it actually happened quite naturally through that process. I said, What is hard is actually getting out of the character afterwards. You if you end up embodying that character so much, and becoming that person, but I would find sometimes little triggers in life that I would slip back into that into that character,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  12:48

you’d become bet. Yeah, that’s what

Dr. Belinda McMahon  12:53

I’m that’s what it would feel like to me. It’s like you’d slip back in they’d be triggered because as I said, there were distinct triggers for me such as the shoes and the way I did my hair and particular makeup things and even you know, the mannerisms is certain, certain lines. Like for instance,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  13:12

come on, you got to you have to give us well, well,

Dr. Belinda McMahon  13:15

I have to remember you have to bear with me here. This is going back a long time. My eldest son, my oldest son is 15 and a half I was pregnant with him when I stopped performing. So it before we have the show, so it’s going back a while now, but that when Bette Midler did Sophie Tucker, do you know how big a handle the soap Sophie Tucker was like a vaudeville performer So Bette Midler used to do Sophie Tucker. And Sophie Tucker did all those sort of raunchy body jokes, and the audience would love them, and I must admit, was one of my favorite bits of the show, doing these Sophie Tucker jokes, but a lot of them had in it. This line, I’ve never forget it, you know? Never forget, you know, and that was bit middle of doing Sophie Tucker, and then it became me being Bette Midler doing Sophie Tucker. So well, a bit of a crazy circle, that if I ever say now I’ll never forget it, it always will still nearly, you know, just a bit of an expression. It’ll trigger. Yeah, never forget, you know, I was you know, and, and I hear the van thing going on in my head that I used to have going, you know, the van was the jokes were happening. It was it’s very funny, but it really is an indication of what it’s like to really embody a character. Yes. And I think all actors and performers understand that they’ve been through that and they understand what it’s like to become somebody else. But when that for me, Well, that went on for five years. But that even flowed out of already being a fairly versatile performer that did so many different things. So it’s like, who was I as a performer who, what what was my voice in that it was all very confusing. Yeah. And

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  14:59

you would have won Want to make sure you had your teeth in when you said Sophie Tucker as well? You wouldn’t want to say that with that any front teeth.

Dr. Belinda McMahon  15:13

And that’s right. Oh, look, I tell you what, if you want a good laugh some of the jokes that been released today, they were they were great fun. It was a great fun show today. So I really was very blessed and honored to be able to do that for so long. That, you know, and for me that flowed on from previously being a classically trained singer that did my MSA in classical singing and, and then did all this other, you know, sort of, I guess you just move so much. And

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  15:42

you know what? Belinda? That is a whole other conversation. That is, that is a whole other discussion. But I’d be interested to hear, what did you learn from that research? Oh, look,

Dr. Belinda McMahon  16:00

the biggest things that came out of the research, and obviously, there’s a lot as you know, Ph. D, is Hep C research. But the biggest things that hit me, were the influences and the influencers, on our vocal sound. So I was looking for the influences and influencers, in particular, on vocal sound, and how that, you know, formed our vocal identity. And it was the holistic nature of these things. That really struck me it was the fact that it was the music that was played in our household as we were young children, it was the passing comments made by our teachers at primary school, or, or music, or in high school or in musical groups. It was the choirs that we are that were in or weren’t in or didn’t get into. It was the roles in musicals that we were given or weren’t given, because they weren’t for us. They didn’t suit our voice. It it was all of these things, as I said it was the support given within the family. It Yeah, it was all of these sorts of experiences that may sometimes see seem passing or fleeting, that we’re coming up for, you know, these people, for people who were submitting my questionnaire and being interviewed, these might have been experiences from 1020, even 30 years before or longer, even 40 years before, yes, but these were the things that were still standing out in their mind. And these were the things that then was shaping what they did, I will I became it started focusing on becoming a jazz singer, because my music teacher in high school said I was really good at jazz, but I wasn’t very good at musical theater. So therefore, I focused in on this. And then as a result, then they they found a teacher that specialized in jazz. And then from there, they started working in that era, and that that that area, I mean, that’s just an example that I’m providing there. Yes,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  18:09

yes, but it’s

Dr. Belinda McMahon  18:11

these first things that occurred, these first experiences, or, you know, things that happen in their lives, that then have led to the decisions that they have made subsequent decisions over many years, that have created this identity that they have with their voice. So I relate it to our own identity, our identities are constructed by largely by our belief systems, who we are told we are what we are told we can do what we are told we can’t do, and often a very early stages of our lives, and we then construct a belief system based on that. And as a result our actions then result from from what we believe we can and can’t do. And so therefore, we create that is as our identity so a lot of my initial research started looking into identity research to start off with interesting yeah, we have our identity and then we can branch into say musician identity. And then we can have singer identity. And actually it’s one of my examiner’s actually wrote, they said that vocal identity is like a niche area in the middle of these other areas of identity.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  19:32

So interesting. You know, what breaks my heart in amongst all of that is, what about the music that brings you the joy? At one point of time, two people consider that when it comes to their vocal identity, you know, like people are being told you’re a good jazz singer, or you should study classical. You should do This, you can’t sing. A lot of teenagers when they’re going through puberty, you’re told that they can’t seem or they’re terrible singers, when they’re just going through puberty. And they’re going through a voice change, be it female or male. And they end, a lot of students that age do sound, not their best. But what about the joy? I mean, that’s where I figure I was really lucky is that I pursued the music that I had so much love for. And no matter what, and, and thankfully, when I auditioned for the choir, I was told no, I was not allowed in my high school choir, because I was told I was too loud because I was singing pop and rock at home. And I didn’t have a lovely head voice or M2 sound like voice, whatever you want to call it. So the me the joy, no matter anyone telling me I couldn’t sing this music was not going to stop me from singing it because I just loved it so much. Yeah,

Dr. Belinda McMahon  21:12

and I think that’s fabulous. And look, don’t get me wrong, I do think that the music people were interested in, definitely shaped the way their voice developed as well. Because as you say, it does mean that they lent into singing along with these particular artists, listening to these artists, and mimicry becomes the victim,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  21:34

oh, that’s how we learn, isn’t it, how we learn exactly.

Dr. Belinda McMahon  21:37

And and I, in my findings, I broke it down into two things, it was intentional imitation, which was you know, when we are intentionally imitating to say for instance, experience how to do a riff or run or, or something or a particular sound that we’re really enjoying hearing, and we try and imitate it to learn. So as you just said, a learning process through imitation. And then there’s the unintentional imitation that can occur that we are not necessarily also always so consciously aware of in the moment. So I think the students interest in music would definitely drive it, I think the the the family’s interest in music. So often people would comment on the love of music they had because of great childhood memories, listening to a particular style. And then that therefore resulting in a great enjoyment in themselves singing that music because of those early memories from listening to that music. Now, obviously, I realized I should just specify that some elements of the voice and our vocal identity, so our vocal sound, you know, due to our individual morphology, so as you know that the size of our year genetics, the size of our vocal folds, the length and shape of our neck, our resonance cavities, our you know, some of those elements that are obviously the bits that are out of our control. Yeah. So there’s some of that, but due to things such as growth, the malleability of our voice, and our vocal sound. And as as singing teachers, we understand how malleable with the right tools and, and techniques, our sounds can be exceptionally malleable, we may still have an essence of us in the sound, we have an essence of our voice and our personality, but through changes in resonance, and, you know, and just sort all the way we’re using the voice, different techniques, we learn and we train, we can really put we can create quite different sounds. So there’s a lot of malleability within the instrument. And then we have obviously also have growth. Hormonal changes, as you’ve already mentioned, we have growth we are but we also have hormonal changes later in

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  23:57

life as well. Yes. And that experience vocally for me.

Dr. Belinda McMahon  24:05

That’s right. So we have vocal health issues and concerns that can come and go and can influence us. So in actual fact, our our sound is not nearly as fixed as we potentially think it is. Now, what was really interesting to me is that I went into this research as a heavily trained singer. I had been trained since, well, in those days, what was considered a young age, I think I started around 12 or 13, which in those days was really quite young to start lessons in Australia anyway. And then as I said, I was a trained classically did my MSA but I’ve always performed in contemporary musical theater sell. So I guess I always did a meeting. Yes, and I did. My teacher was always about flexibility. She was always about the fact that you can do multiple different things. So I was actually Are you performing professionally as a contemporary singer, just at a young age, I was like 20 or something. When I was doing my MSA classically. So it did the two at the time. But so but heavily trained and heavily influenced by my teacher, because I had a very close relationship with my teacher for a long time. And then I was a teacher, someone who embarked on that research, I would have to say, in all honesty, I think actually my initial research question, because as you would know, your research question evolves,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  25:33

it evolves. Yes,

Dr. Belinda McMahon  25:35

it evolves. That’s right. So I think my very initial research question was something about the impact of pedagogy, and, you know, pedagogical techniques on the development of vocal identity. And as, as it evolved, and went on and realized that was a bit limiting, and we open it up so much further. And, and I’m so glad we did, because I would say that the teacher and vocal techniques, still were important, absolutely, still important. But I’d Nellie say they came through like a second tier level, because it really depended on these first experiences that occurred in their lives. And these first connections with music and singing, and their belief systems that developed etc. That then led to whether they went to a teacher or not, and then which teacher that they went to, and you know, what techniques and everything worked for them then? So it was interesting. Yes.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  26:37

Couple of questions around that. And as voice teachers, now, how do voice teachers avoid imposing their biases on a voice even though you’re saying it doesn’t nest, it’s a second tier influence. However, I had a conversation with a student who is also a young singing teacher. She’s early in early stages of teaching. And she came in vocally fatigued a few weeks ago, and told me that she’s doing all this singing, teaching for studio for music school somewhere. And I said to her, how much singing are you doing in the lesson? Oh, I do all the exercises. I show them how to do stuff in the lesson. And I said, Can I this is just my opinion. And I’d like for you to give your opinion on this. I said, you know, we learn through mimicking. I said, Have you noticed how I really don’t sink? Well, I seen very little in a lesson. And she stopped and thought about it. She’d had me for three years at a university level. And she said You You hardly ever seen. I said yet because I don’t want a cohort of students leaving here sounding like me. Because I’ve heard other singing teachers who are like helicopter teachers, that this students all sound like them. So I think we actually do have quite a deal of influence on or we can have on our students. And I suppose some of that would be dependent on their age, if they don’t, if they haven’t established their own vocal identity as yet. They may take on that of their teacher, as someone that who is role modeling. So how do we as voice teachers ensure that we’re not imposing an identity on our students, either by making a sound and telling the student this is what it needs to sound like? Or because we have our own biases?

Dr. Belinda McMahon  28:58

Absolutely. I actually couldn’t agree more. Marisa. And whilst that, as I said, it’s sort of a second tier influence, I do think it’s still a significant influence. And that is largely due to exactly what you just said that unintentional imitation. Yes. Yeah. And that would definitely came through. So I do think as teachers, we can sometimes have a lot of influence on the sound that the students make without us even intending for that to happen. So I could say in actual fact, since completing my research, I think my entire teaching practice has changed. I

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  29:39

was going to ask you, how has it changed? So it’s another question, I

Dr. Belinda McMahon  29:44

wouldn’t really say entirely, entirely. And then that’s not to say that I think I was doing wrong things before that. I I still have connections with students of mine from 20 years ago, and they still are very appreciative for what I did with them. So But I’m not saying that, you know, you know what it’s like as teachers

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  30:03

we evolve, you didn’t hurt anybody. That’s what I say in my about my early teaching days. I didn’t harm anybody.

Dr. Belinda McMahon  30:13

I most certainly hope I didn’t do that. And people, you know, a lot of them are music teachers themselves now and doing very well. But I think now, I number one take a much more holistic approach. Yes, in any lesson, much more holistic, I am far more aware of, I’m far more aware of the words I use.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  30:36

Yeah, 100% are language and

Dr. Belinda McMahon  30:39

language, very aware of the words I use it. And this is in relation to what we’ll be talking about later, in terms of tone of voice and speaking voice, I am really aware of the tone of voice that I’m using when I’m working with students, and how that can be impacting them, so that I can be building that bond. So I am now far more focused on creating a very safe space. Yeah. And I like to think that I always did this. But I guess it’s just my intention is very focused on this. Now, yes, I very much focused on creating a safe a safe space, rather, where students feel comfortable to explore their vocal sound, and discover what’s working for their voice and for their age and stage. And as we’re dealing with all different ages, and stages all the time, we’re also dealing with very different personalities, all the time. And so I have shifted, look, I probably have shifted from modeling. And I’d say this is probably the biggest shift I’ve made is that I think previously, I did do a lot more modeling, vocal modeling. So demonstration of exercises, whereas now I like to instead we are make sure everyone has an understanding of, of the Voice Science as it’s relevant for them at the agent. Yeah, our understanding of what’s going on, and then we discuss how it feels their kinesthetic awareness. How was it feeling? Where are they feeling it, you know, maybe listening to recordings to get that, that idea, get the get that feel. In some cases, I don’t use this often, I’ll be very honest, I don’t use it often. But in some cases, where people were some students might be struggling to hear, hear different sounds, or feel different things. Occasionally, we’ll do a recording. And we’ll look at a spectral analysis of the sound to see if a visual representation of the voice helps them see these differences. I would preface that by saying that that would probably be an older student, you know, that’s able to take that on. Obviously, that’s a case by case decision. But overall, I am finding that the students, it may take them longer. Modeling is sometimes quicker, ie we say do it this way. They can hear it, they can replicate it. And it might be easier. But I am finding that encouraging them to explore the feel the sound and all their awareness around it. And actually considering what did they want to sin? How did they want to sing it? So I’m also taking a step back in repertoire selection,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  33:31

I don’t select repertoire unless the student asks me to add Yes. And if they choose repertoire that’s not accessible in its original form. We work together to make it accessible, even if it means finding a different version of the song, even if it means slowing it down. If it means removing a bridge, even if it means improvising high notes. It’s all of that how can we make this work for you that you have a win here?

Dr. Belinda McMahon  34:05

And that’s so important, isn’t it? Because it becomes a win. Whereas if we’d sort of in our in our haste and because we all know a singing teacher, sometimes we are unfortunately in a hurry. We are working to clock and we do have someone else coming. All

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  34:22

the students themselves may have an audition coming up tomorrow, that they’ve only just told you about in the last 15 minutes of the lesson. Yeah,

Dr. Belinda McMahon  34:32

that’s exactly what I was about to say I’m so glad to hear. It’s not just my studio, because I feel like it’s my entire life is about pivoting. It’s because I think I’m going to do such and such with the student that day and they walk in and as you say it’s an audition the next day oral performance the next day. And so it’s so much we often have to respond and move and it is very easy for us to go. No you can’t sing that. That’s a terrible choice. I mean, we probably wouldn’t use those words. But you know, no, I Oh, no, I don’t think that’s going to work. How about this? And for us to just pick something now, it is easier because it’s faster. But then we need to think about what’s the impact on the student. So I guess in summary, I would say the biggest shifts I have made is that I am trying to actually establish far more autonomy in my students, or, you know, ownership of their learning, ownership, their voice over the shape of what they’re singing, I say I’m here for them. But I guess I’m, I’m more, I’m a guide. I’m here to give them the tools. I’m here to ask the questions to help, you know, ask the right questions to get them thinking about things.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  35:47

It sounds like to me, you are breaking down the pillars of the master apprentice model that came about in the 15th or 16th century, which is about?

Dr. Belinda McMahon  36:01

Well, I guess so I guess so. And, look, I’m finding it to be very successful with my students. And I teach students of all ages from young, through to, you know, retirees, you know, professionals, a lot of university students, because I do work within university programs as well. And so we’re all we’re always meeting deadlines, still, we’re meeting we have to have auditions, we have to have repertoire ready for gigs, I have professional singers in all sorts of genres, we, we have to be preparing students to be marked by the dreaded rubric. Because we know that’s what if you’re doing music, as in a subject, when you get assessed, you do have to be marked by a rubric. Yes,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  36:45

I have one of those that guides my marking. That’s

Dr. Belinda McMahon  36:48

right. And we need rubrics, rubrics are there for a reason, and we need them. And so we sort of have to try and encourage autonomy, ownership, individuality and exploration, while still helping them actually be able to hit those goals. So it does take a little bit of a different approach. But I’m personally really enjoying it, I’m liking the results that I’m seeing in students. And, and as I said, this has all just been guided by my research that the influences and influences on people’s vocal development. When these students that I’m working with when they’re later in their life, I will be one of the influences on them, the techniques I’ve taught them will be one of the influences on them. But there are multiple of them. And so I try and position myself now in that spectrum of understanding that I am just one part of the overall development and growth.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  37:44

Amazing. We’re here to help them access all the sounds that they need to and want to create a thriving exactly, and allow them to explore who they are as individuals. And what stories are they wanting to share through their singing? And how how do they want to share those stories? Absolutely,

Dr. Belinda McMahon  38:06

absolutely. You know, and it because we can listen to any number of singers who are professional singers. And you and I and the next person and the next person might all have different personal opinions about what we like or what we don’t like, Yes, I hope I don’t want to misquote him here. But because I adore his work Brian Gill, who I know has been.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  38:31

Yes, he’s my buddy. Yet when I first stumbled

Dr. Belinda McMahon  38:34

upon his work when it was when I was fortunate enough to be living in Manhattan. And I wondered on down to NYU voice in for this little workshop thing that was happening one evening. So first time I ever had ever seen him work. But I distinctly remember a light something he said and I could be misquoting the words exactly here. So please forgive me where I’m thinking of you. I’m

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  38:52

sure. It

Dr. Belinda McMahon  38:54

was along the lines of I’m not here to tell someone whether it’s a good sound or a bad sound. That’s not my personal opinion of whether I like it or not is not my job. My job is to help someone be able to, you know, do what they need to be able to do with their voice. And for it to be repeatable, ie, you know, yet to be in a manner that that person can then use their voice for as long as they need to end or want to, or want to. Yes, and yeah, and once that’s and I was like, well, that, I think was that was a really significant, you know, thing that when I heard that, I thought that’s so true. We can get too caught up with our own personal opinion sometimes of whether a sound is too bright to 22 days or yes to this.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  39:41

And seeing teachers can be so critical and so opinionated as we know our group, and it’s not about us, it’s about our students, and it’s what they’re wanting to share what parts of them they want to do. I want the world to hear and, and what what stories they want to tell us. And the way they may tell a story right now may be different to how they’re going to tell it in two hours time, or in weeks time. It’s always going to be different if they’re going to be authentic and, and they’re singing from that holistic place where the emotions and the psyche and the physicality are all involved in that process. Yes, absolutely. Now, miss, yes, Belinda. I would love to hear about your speaking voice coaching that you’re doing. So how did you transition to that? And what are you up to with this new business voice print professionals?

Dr. Belinda McMahon  40:48

Yeah, well, I would say it was towards the end of my PhD research. And after spending so much time thinking about vocal identity, and how our singing voice really is a representation of who we are, as a person, and all our life and learning experiences. I guess that’s if I was to summarize, on vocal identity. That’s what it is. It’s a representation of our life and learning experiences, and our emotional responses to those experiences. I love that, that that’s in that’s in my thesis, if you want to read all 12 chapters, you’ll find it.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  41:29

Give that to read.

Dr. Belinda McMahon  41:35

But anyway, but to start but but that basically, I you know what it’s like when you’re doing your PhD, you get completely immersed in it, it is there is nothing else going on in your life. Except for that, you know, you’re very, very immersed in it. And, and I guess whilst I was in that state in that stage, it really drove me over to thinking about speaking voice. I was like, well hang on, if our singing voice is telling. So it can tell so much about who we are, and what our experiences have been. And as I said, our emotional reactions, why isn’t the speaking voice the same? Or is the speaking voice the same. So once I got the PhD research all done, and that that all submitted, I then crazily enough delve back into more research in spoken voice to explore that area. And I guess found a whole new passion in this area about how our voice represents us, and how people are reacting and responding to our sound. And why it is that people react to our vocal sound, and what information people are actually taking and skimming from our voice. And so then thinking about that, it just opened up this whole new world of thought to me about well, you know, we’re not particularly aware about this, we, we pay so much attention to what photo we put on LinkedIn or on Facebook, or, you know, and the words we write, but we really stop and think about how much our actual voice is impacting our life and impacting others and impacting the results were achieving. And I love

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  43:15

that you said impacting others, but also how much it says about us. So I know when in my singing studio, the first thing I do with a student that walks in the door is I start talking to them for a couple of minutes. And I know they say you know we shouldn’t talk to our students, you know, it should be striped down into business. However, from the moment they walk in, not only my looking at them to see what their physical demeanor is that day, because that already tells you what’s going on with them. But also the speaking voice before they start singing, the speaking voice having that five minutes of talking to them. That also tells you so much about their what their voice is going to behave like that day. So give them so you can start preparing yourself and knowing what direction to take that lesson. And should you be asking further questions based on how they sound. And as singing teachers. We are so aware of voice whether it’s a speaking voice or a singing voice. And we get to know our students so very well. As soon as my students opens their mouths and says hello, I’m already on to that voice sounds different today.

Dr. Belinda McMahon  44:37


Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  44:38

And then even what words they’re using, the language they’re using, how they’re describing their week, tells you so much but I’m batting into what you’re talking about here and I just want to ask a couple of things about the business before we start launching to the nitty gritty. So when someone comes to you to your booth isness what is it? So do you give them an assessment? Is the program tailored to the individual? How do you work with somebody?

Dr. Belinda McMahon  45:11

Yeah, look at the moment, I offer different options, I have courses, I’ve got a shorter one and a long one. So I guess tailored to the individual now, at the moment, the way I deliver courses, their online interactive courses. So by that I mean, I’m, there may be some pre recorded content, but mostly I still deliver the content live. It’s interactive, we’re asking questions, and there’s feedback. And I actually have to say, I have been loving the results coming from the group online, like interactive, dynamic interest. Yeah. And I’ve actually had some really positive feedback from students as part of these courses, actually feeling that their development was greater in the, in the group environment than it possibly would have been in one on one or in other one on one situations they’ve been involved in, because of that group learning and that community that we have established. And that actually does link back to my research that community and being surrounded by like minded people, was actually a real driving factor in people’s engagement in singing. So it makes sense that that that is applied in other things, and we all know that there’s a big focus on community now, in a lot of in a lot of businesses. So it’s interactive and working that way, I obviously do private coaching with people as well, if that works better for some people, that works better for them for either their needs, or their, you know, their time restrictions. And I always start everything, though, with with a voice analysis, but you know, not not a big scary, you know, evil analysis, it’s, I guess, you know, it’s a voice analysis to help us get an idea of where somebody’s voice is at, at the moment, and what their voice is able to do right now. And then what would they like? Would they what would they like to be able to achieve with their voice?

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  47:10

Okay, so it’s student centered, client centered? Absolutely.

Dr. Belinda McMahon  47:14

Whether it’s my singing, teaching business, or my spoken voice work, everything I do is always surrounding what that client needs and what their goals are. And as far as I’m concerned, there is no one size fits all approach to any learning. And that is because there are no rights or wrongs, just like, I’m not, I can’t tell a student, I mean, that the sound they are making when they’re singing is wrong, as you would know,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  47:43

no, we don’t use that language. And anyone that does shame.

Dr. Belinda McMahon  47:50

That’s right. That’s right. We’re not there. And so with my spoken voice work, it is the same. So I, as I said, I continued on researching it and sort of delving into it more and learning about why we respond. And so one thing that, you know, just really struck me, and it makes so much sense, but I hadn’t known it before, but it’s our autonomic nervous system reacts to the sounds we’re hearing. So even mostly, it’s happening on an unconscious level. But we react to the sounds to that we are hearing now whether those sounds are coming from something, or someone. And that is why we can often instantly like someone trust someone feel that they have authority in a subject think that they’re trustworthy, or it could be the reverse of all of those things. Or we might think that somebody is very shy or very timid, or we might think they’re very nervous or anxious. We are making all of these assumptions always when we hear somebody’s voice, but we’re often very, not completely aware of it. And I actually urge you as a little challenge a little project, just for the next week, stop and become aware about how much you are voice reading, I refer to it as as voice reading. And I think we are all doing it all the time. But mostly it’s on an unconscious level because it is our autonomic nervous system that reacts to the sounds that we’re hearing. And this comes from you know, it’s from an evolutionary perspective, that some sounds told us there was danger approaching and we are in trouble and other sounds were nurturing and warm and comforting sounds they were sounds of safety. So as an example and alarm that is high and piercing, and is it makes us feel uncomfortable, it makes us pay attention, because mostly we don’t like those high piercing tones. They, they you know, you feel them. You don’t just hear them. You feel that discomfort within you. Often when you hear those sounds, yes.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  49:55

And it’s interesting because even in music, that quiet Often in the background of a song, there will either be a phone ring, or some sort of alarm go off, that we’re not even aware of that’s put into the music. And really it is there to get our attention. And it’s even like Netflix when it has that poor bone at the start. That’s intentional, intentional,

Dr. Belinda McMahon  50:24

but you know, that’s I never knew that Marisa, they put phones and alarms into the back of music sometimes, that is so interesting. Oh, I have to look into that more. Yeah,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  50:33

it’s actually really common. But we, we don’t even know it’s there, there may be a song playing and all of a sudden that gets your attention. And you may not even know that it’s because there’s been an alarm go off, that usually would mean fire, ambulance, police, whatever it is, or even the alarm that we use to wake up to in the morning has been placed in the background of a song to wake us up or to get our attention or to make us listen. That’s

Dr. Belinda McMahon  51:05

right, exactly. So that’s, that’s interesting about the songs. But that is exactly what they’re there for. And now, if you look at an alarm on a spectrogram, it is it’s a very narrow resonance frequency, it’s high, it’s the high harmonics or the performance, it’s high, it is very narrow and piercing. Whereas if you look at running water on a spectrogram, it’s got a wide resonant spectrum, it’s that warm set, it’s a you know, what we refer to often in the voice world probably as a as a warm tone, you know, because it’s got that wider resonance spectrum, it’s got depth in the resonance there. And so, as singers, we can understand this, because we are working with resonance and how to alter resonance all the time. But as speakers, often people don’t think about their resonance, they don’t think about their tone. Now. Now, voice coaching is not new voice coaching has been around for for, you know, forever. politicians, journalists, obviously, actors, they do a lot of voice coaching, and always have that it often focuses on, say, pitch, speed, articulation. Now, those things are definitely important, they’re all part of it. But what I have noticed is it often tends to just lead towards a bit of an assumption that everyone, everyone wants to just be working towards a space of, say, being a leader, or being commanding or being authoritative, in that space. So I did a little bit of analysis of different different voices. And I’ve created a model that and this I use, when I’m doing an analysis, I use this model as a guide to go where we’re going. So obviously, I can’t show it to you, but we have the, you know, your x axis going across. So it’s a graph a, you know, a graph with the X and a Y creating four quadrants. And on the x axis, I’ve got collaborative, so a collaborative voice tone, I voice, a vocal tone, when we’re wanting to really connect with somebody engage with people, get them to trust us built, build that rapport with somebody. And then at the other end of that access, we’ve got authoritative. So when we’re looking for someone to be that leader, more commanding, very, you know, it’s going to be more of a leader in that position. And then on the y axis, I’ve got at the top, I’ve always, you know, think energizing or motivating or activating that type of voice and then at the bottom of that axis, say calming, soothing or nurturing some of those in on the x axis there. Now, if all of them have got different particular vocal qualities that go with them, so going through by listening to leaders, voices, listening to voices of say, motivational speakers, listening to voices on meditation, recordings, and as such, they’re listening to different things, paying sort of analyzed what vocal qualities we’re hearing a lot in these. Now, I would very clearly like to say at the beginning, I don’t think anyone is always in any of those force. For forever, it’s like anything, it’s like any sort of voice we’re moving through, I would actually say that mostly we’re moving through those four quadrants at different times of our day, according to what we’re doing in that moment, and what we would like to do but not everyone actually has that some people want to be more authoritative but find they’re a little bit stuck in and maybe they’re a little bit stuck in that calming nurturing type voice and which is you know, a bit of a warmer tone and you know, more breath flow possibly even a slightly bit of a slight bit of breath Enos in there, a slower pace, pitch contours a quick clearing at a slower rate not at such a Oh a fast race. So they may be more there that may be there. Let’s say that’s maybe where their natural vocal identity or vocal personality sits more.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  55:09

I can think of a pedagogue already, who fits into that. Or really, yes, I’m gonna name that’s fine. No, but I know someone who is very calming and very slow. And she never Williams.

Dr. Belinda McMahon  55:25

Oh, yes, yes. And she’s fabulous. Exactly. Yeah,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  55:28

this is not a fabulous contest. You know, like, it’s not making one battle better or good or bad. But she never is a perfect example of that type of voice. Yes,

Dr. Belinda McMahon  55:41

that’s right. So calming. Yes, I would agree with you. Absolutely. And, and so and I would probably say with her too, in that if we think about the quadrants and the graphing, we’ve got the calming down here. And then over here, we’ve got collaborative and I know for people listening to this, they can’t see my hand gestures. But if we say we’re moving to the, to the left of the calming, we’ve got that collaborative thing and to the right, it’s to the authoritative, which she can be also. Yes, exactly. Well, I think we all can be Yeah, she can

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  56:16

be so authoritative, but still have that calming? Yes.

Dr. Belinda McMahon  56:21

So if we were to graph her voice, I mean, we haven’t been if we were to graph it, maybe we would find it somewhere in that bottom right hand quadrant, between the calming and that authoritative space, whereas somebody else, maybe somebody who’s a far more, I don’t know, got a stronger volume and a bright tone, clarity, faster pace, lots of the porosity, which is in linguistics, it’s a term that’s used for it’s for the for the accents, and the inflections in turns, not when I say accent, I don’t mean

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  56:54

No, I know what you mean, like very dynamic,

Dr. Belinda McMahon  56:57

very dynamic. That’s right, exactly. And a lot of that, then that tends to be your, your energizing and motivating speakers. Now an authoritative person has that as well, but often just slightly more controlled. So if you think they’re of your politician, or your leader, they have very purposeful prosody, and very clear intent. Whereas maybe more motivational, energizing speaker, it might be a bit faster, and we’re getting those words out and lots of prosody lots of emphasis, lots of volume and everything still, but it’s at that different pace. And then when we’re working with the in the collaborative space, it’s definitely a warmer tone, like what we’re talking about with calming, because it’s about connecting, there’s still clear porosity, but not necessarily to the same point of energizing and activating somebody. And in collaborative, what can be very useful. So if you are wanting to collaborate with someone is that you, you do what’s called tone matching and piece matching, and pitch matching. So because we it because we like familiarity, we like things that are the same for us. So if you want to build trust with somebody, you use, you try and use a vocal tone as much as you can, or a pitch as much as you can with gender differences, obviously, and a pace that aligns with the person that you’re speaking to. So so that you can bring them in. And so I did a presentation really recently at a conference that was talking about how to use your voice in sales and negotiations. And saying how you can go from using your voice in this collaborative way, you’re building trust, you’re building rapport, and then you can shift along this, this line over to authoritative when you then want to take control of that situation more, and really direct that conversation and direct it to the outcome that you’re wanting to go towards.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  58:59

I need to talk to you I need a session. I’d love to, I’d love to session honestly. Love to Learn how to close the deal.

Dr. Belinda McMahon  59:13

You know, and it’s like it’s directing. It’s learning how to use particularly your emphasis your prosody, whatever it might be, on the particular words, to steer the conversation you want it to go in. So as an example, if I said to you, you know if there’s a conversation about say, let’s say an event, and the AI could say, so should we do the event in spring? Now that should we do the event is what’s mostly coming through to you it’s going to steer the conversation of, well, of course, we should do the event or No, I don’t think we should do the events. Or if I go, should we do the event in spring? That emphasis is then going to drop the station to Well, are we going to do it in spring or in autumn? So wherever it might be, but so it’s there’s little ways like that, that you can try and fairly subtly steer a conversation in the direction of where you want it to go. What do you want me to focus on next? Do you want me to focus on the event? And whether we’re having it or not? Or do you want me to focus on when we’re having the event? So

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  1:00:25

interesting? Yeah. So, so interesting. So you know, even just what you were saying about pitch matching and as much with the person that you’re speaking to, to have developed that collaboration? Is that why women tend to lower their tones if they’re working in a male dominant field, or they’re working with CEOs or they’re presenting, and it’s male, you’re working to a roomful of men? Is that why women lower their pitch? It

Dr. Belinda McMahon  1:01:01

is indeed. So research shows us that we are more likely to vote a person into power with a lower pitched voice. Oh,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  1:01:12

is that how Joe Biden got in? Like what happened to our prime minister Albanese?

Dr. Belinda McMahon  1:01:21

Oh, look, I actually have my own thoughts on that. I don’t know. We probably don’t have time to delve into that. But I actually do think I can chat with you about this another time. But I do think the whole situation with Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese, and the way Scott Morrison’s, very low, strong, commanding very authoritative voice seem to at the beginning of his political career, and as Prime Minister stood him, well, it served him as a figure of authority, and everyone loved that, or a lot of people. I’m not saying everyone but, uh, you know, obviously people got behind him and voted him in with that. And like that, but then by the next campaign, when people were wanting him to maybe admit to some errors or acknowledge some issues, and he didn’t and he stayed very, very strong. And then he was an stayed with that very low, commanding, authoritative voice. I remember watching a debate and vocally he slaughtered Anthony Albanese vocally, but this is where it’s interesting. And this the research supports this, that sometimes a lower pitched voice at times can be seen as aggressive, or arrogant. Actually,

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  1:02:28

I think those words were used about him quite often. Yes,

Dr. Belinda McMahon  1:02:32

that’s exactly right. And the public at the time, we’re looking for more for somebody genuine and authentic. Now, Anthony Albanese, his accent for you know, and some twang in his in his voice, is something that really makes him individual and makes him authentic and genuine them. So it was the two compared to each other. Now, if there were three or four people in that particular competition, maybe things would have been different. And I think this is what’s really important to emphasize is that there is no right or wrong voice use that, you know, you can’t just learn how to use your voice better in one way, and use it that way forever. And in all situations. As I said, this quadrant thing, that model that I have developed is we will be moving through these different quadrants at different times according to our, the purpose and the situation we’re in and who we are speaking to, and what results we want to achieve in that moment. So whilst research shows that we will usually vote in the person with the lowest voice, at times, that is mostly the case, but not in all situations, if that low voice in that particular situation can come across as too aggressive in comparison to the other person. And so, yeah, so it’s definitely not as said, it’s not definitely not just a situational, it’s not definitely a one size fits all. Scott Morrison’s voice worked for him at the beginning. And obviously there’s more to it than just for his voice is only one one component. But that that very strong, dominant, authoritative voice, then potentially was perceived differently when the situation changed. And when the opponent changed the person he was up against changed. And and I think that would have only been seen if that was being analyzed and monitored in the moment for that feedback to everything coming through. And I personally think that voice is something that’s often hugely overlooked. We you know, we think about the words that we’re saying we think about how we dress and as I said, we think about our photos, we think about all of those things, but we often don’t think about our voice beyond knowing that we need to be clear and we need to project you know, we need to be heard and people need to be able to understand our words. We are taught that. And then yes, this concept has crept in Have, we just need to be lowered to be more authoritative? And it is true, the research does support that, that we do prefer a lower voice. But in regards to the pitch, though, what was interesting was there was one study done using elephants, I will say it was with it was how elephant was how elephants responded. Yes, it was funny, but in that sense, we’re getting their response. But they actually because the elephants responded differently to the males to the females. And they actually pitch change the voices, they took the male voices higher, and they took the female voices lower using software. But the elephant still responded the same way. The change of pitch didn’t change the elephant’s responses. So our reactions, and so the thought was that it’s not just pitch. And so this is the good news. For women. It’s not just pitch, it was also the vocal quality and the vocal tone. And often as women, we often lean more into that calming or nurturing voice, which has a bit more breath flow, maybe even a bit more breathiness. And that gentler, warmer quality to it. And that may be what is undermining our authority. Because I do have a lot of women speak to me about the fact that they feel spoken over. They feel unheard. In executive level meetings, they don’t feel like they can cut through the noise of a lot of the louder men. But it isn’t just pitch, which is a good thing, because we don’t all want to start straining our voices by speaking too low all the time. Exactly.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  1:06:41

And you know what, we’re going to continue on this conversation. And I want to take it further by starting to talk about women. That sounds fabulous. And then we’re going to segue, so we’re going to cut into the next chapter. So this is chapter one, with Belinda McMahon and people. Next week, there will be chapter two. So look forward to that with you. This has been amazing. It’s been so much fun also. Your a great sport Belinda. So I look forward to talking to you further next week.

Dr. Belinda McMahon  1:07:16

Thank you so much, Marisa, I look forward to it.

Dr Marisa Lee Naismith  1:07:18

Thank you. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of a voice and beyond. I hope you enjoyed it as now is an important time for you to invest in your own self care, personal growth and education. Use every day as an opportunity to learn and to grow so you can show up feeling empowered and ready to live your best life. If you know someone who will also be inspired by this episode, please be sure to copy and paste the link and share it with them. Or share it on social media and use the hashtag a voice and beyond. I promise you I am committed to bringing you more inspiration and conversations just like this one every week. And if you would like to help me please rate and review this podcast and cheer me on by clicking the subscribe button on Apple podcast right now. I would also love to know what it is that you most enjoyed about this episode and what was your biggest takeaway? Please take care and I look forward to your company next time on the next episode of a voice and beyond.