When learning to Riff, it's easy to think that it's all about fast moving notes. Yet, there are actually many other nuanced changes that occur during Riffs. Changing between VOCAL REGISTERS during a Riff is an example of this. A great way to practice this difficult and subtle vocal skill is to try yodeling exercises! Move back and forth between Chest Voice and Falsetto while singing an "EE" vowel on a 1-6-1-6-1 interval. Master this exercise at a slow tempo and then increase the speed. Soon the yodel skill will become so natural for you that you can easily incorporate it into your Riffs. Being able to change registers while Riffing will add an new ear-catching dimension to your Riffs!
Here's some GOOD news and some BAD news. First, the bad news. The bad news is that you will never be able to accurately hear your own voice. Even when you hear yourself back on a recording, it sounds different than what you hear in your head when you're singing live. There is GOOD news though. The good news is that your voice is meant to be shared! Your listeners get to experience your voice in a way that you never will. You get to FEEL it. We get to HEAR it. But, ultimately the relationship between the vocal giver (you) and the vocal receiver (us) will always be necessary for the uniqueness of your voice to be fully known. This is the magic, the mystery, and the miracle of singing. And this is indeed GOOD news!
Laryngitis. A true vocal killer. Just about everyone has experienced it at some point. But, do you know what it is? Laryngitis is the inflammation of the larynx and, thus, the vocal folds. It can cause hoarseness, sore throat, coughing, and pain when you swallow. It can also feel like it takes much more energy than usual to speak, let alone sing. Colds, flus, infections, and allergies can cause this swelling. However, Laryngitis can also be caused vocal abuse or very poor vocal technique. Talking or singing too loudly or harshly for long time periods can sometimes be the source. So, if you notice a DRASTIC change in your voice after an overly aggressive vocal session - give it a rest. If you suspect you have Laryngitis, check with your doctor to see whether it's caused by illness. The good news is that Laryngitis will definitely heal! Just be patient and conscientious if it comes your way!
What is your vocal SIGNATURE? Just like signing your name, your vocal signature is unique to you. It's not just your God-given resonance and physiology. It's also the amalgamation of all your technical choices and stylistic nuances. We recognize singers by the tone of their voices, yes, but even MORE by their unique vocal signature. Sara Bareilles sings long, legato phrases interspersed with breathy qualities. Rihanna belts with sharp, clean sounds alternating with a little grit. Justin Bieber uses high, edgy sounds mixed with falsetto flair. What about your favorite singers? And what about your own vocal artistry? Constantly take note of the tools that make singing personal and exciting to you. Keep honing your own unique vocal SIGNATURE and you may one day find yourself being asked for your signature!
Should you breathe through your mouth or through your nose when you sing? Great question! The answer is BOTH! Nose breaths are superior, but they're often too slow for quick phrases. Mouth breaths can be drying, but are capable of being taken in more quickly. So, the ideal inhalation will involve both your nose and your mouth simultaneously. We exhale through both our nose and mouth when we sing. So, it makes sense to prepare the inhale breath this way. On occasion, interludes in songs give you the time to take a nice calming breath through the nose. But, typically we don't have that kind of time. This makes the Nose + Mouth Breath the winning combo!
Your body is a Wonderland… of RESONANCE! Try to feel your resonance as your sing with different components of your voice. Place your hands on your chest and feel the vibrations when you sing with a strong Chest Voice. Switch registers to Head Voice and place a hand on the back of your head. You'll likely feel some vibrations there as you move to the upper part of your voice. Next, place your fingers on the front of your nose and try an M, N, or NG. You should now feel the vibrations move to the nose and the front of your face. As a singer, it's much more important to understand how your voice FEELS than how it sounds. Let US appreciate the beauty of your sound. You can just focus on your body. After all, it's a Wonderland!
It's time for your Alignment CHECKLIST! Follow these 5 Steps to great posture and alignment for your singing. FIRST - distribute your weight evenly between both feet on the floor. SECOND - lengthen your spine and your neck. THIRD - allow your shoulders to fall away from your ears. FOURTH - slightly tilt your tailbone and widen your lower back. FIFTH - inhale and expand your ribcage and low abdomen. By going through this simple and easy Checklist before you practice or perform, you will always be able to guarantee that your body is in it's optimal position. Great alignment? CHECK!
Have you explored every nook and cranny of your voice? While it's never wise to push your voice, it's actually a great idea to occasionally explore your voice's EXTREMES. Have you found the highest possible notes in your Head Voice? What about your lowest possible note near your Vocal Fry? You also might consider volume. Experiment with your loudest and softest volumes. How about Larynx height? Have you felt the sensation of your highest and squeakiest Larynx? How about your lowest and hollowest Larynx? Knowing the extremes of your voice is one of best ways to improve your technique and artistry. Almost all of our singing is done in the middle of all these extremes. However, understanding extremes will help you to make the more nuanced adjustments that your technique needs!
Did you know that when you sing a note, you're actually singing MANY notes all at once? It's true! The note you sing is called the "Fundamental Frequency". It's the lowest note present in the sound. But, there are many other higher notes present that are called "Overtones". Depending on how we shape our vocal tract (jaw, tongue, soft palate, lips, and larynx) certain Overtones become boosted and others become dampened. Vocal tone and timbre is largely affected by which Overtones are brought forth. Modifying vowels and making thoughtful adjustments to your vocal tract is how to achieve a clearer, louder, or more aesthetically pleasing sound. Imagine the infinite notes you can sing without ever changing pitch!
Want better Stage Presence? With your finger, point to where you are NOW. (Actually try it!) Good. Did you point down? Now, point to where you're GOING. Did you point forward? Last, point to where you've BEEN. It's behind you, right? As performers, we spend a lot of time talking about the space in front of us (aka "the 4th wall"). And that makes sense. After all, that's the way we're facing! However, where our character has been is just as important as where they're going. So, next time you practice, think of your character's past, journey, and backstory. Be specific about the people, places, feelings, and circumstances that have brought you to this place. Paint the imagery of the "2nd wall" behind you just as clearly as you paint the 4th wall in front of you. Being PRESENT onstage is knowing just how far you've come and just how far you've got to go - and finding yourself squarely in the middle.