Whether it’s over an orchestra, in an auditorium, or across a crowd of people - it’s common to want our voices to CARRY. Unfortunately, it’s also common to tighten or squeeze parts of the throat in an effort to do it. The famous saying “Many hands make light work” applies here. Instead of the brute force of projection alone, it's better to use SEVERAL ideas instead. First, make sure that your breath is not being shoved out, but rather allow your sound to be carried on a steady flow. Next, take advantage of the brighter resonances of your voice like TWANG. Higher overtones help sound waves to travel. Finally, allow your larynx, neck, tongue, and jaw to feel relaxed and loose so that your sound doesn’t get constricted. These many vocal hands will make your work light. Keep calm and CARRY on!
COMEDY isn’t funny when an actor thinks they are funny or tries to get laughs. Instead, it’s funny when the actor is serious, deadpan, or very committed to what they're saying. DRAMA isn’t dramatic when an actor shows how sad, angry, or emotional they are. Instead, it’s Dramatic when an actor focuses on overcoming a challenge they face. Try to play the OPPOSITES when performing your songs. Avoid getting caught up in the general MOOD of the music. Instead, discern what that mood is and see if you can find something to juxtapose. Hope in the sadness. Memory in the loss. Annoyance in the laughter. Awkwardness in the confidence. Do this - and your songs will become the OPPOSITE of boring.
Have you ever gone to a restaurant and filled up on salad and bread? The same can happen in your singing practice! While warming up is always recommended, be careful not to get carried away. This is especially true before an audition or big performance! If you’re feeling nervous, the temptation to overdo it may increase. As with all things, moderation is key. Warm-ups are built to PREPARE your performance, not replace it. Once your voice feels "warm" - that is to say, you can navigate the different registers of the voice with relative ease - turn your mind and voice to the performance itself. Faith in yourself and your soulful readiness are more important than warming up! So, make sure that you save room for the main course!
The music industry is a JUNGLE! You must find your own noble path through the jungle one step at a time. Luckily, there are some common steps that have helped other artists find their way. Step 1 - Gather some great original songs or covers and record a demo. Step 2 - Make your music available in places like Soundcloud, Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, and Social Media. Step 3 - Submit your music for performances at festivals, competitions, or live shows. Step 4 - Advertise your music by inviting friends, artists, engineers, producers, and agents to hear your music. Step by step you will find your own untrodden path through the music industry jungle! One day others that you’ve inspired may very well want to follow in your footsteps!
TICK TOCK. Your number’s been called. TICK TOCK. It’s your turn in the audition room. TICK TOCK. Nerves are jumping, your mind is racing, and it’s tougher than ever to catch your breath. TICK TOCK!!! Before you launch into your song... slow time down. Pause. Not with held breath or tense muscles, but with your imagination instead. Imagine time slowing nearly to a halt. Listen to your heartbeat and acknowledge it. Take a moment to breathe, to take in the room, and to really SEE your scene partner - imaginary or otherwise. What will seem like an eternity to you will really only be about 3-5 seconds of real time. Yet, you'll have allowed the INFINITE to join you in the room. And, this cool, collected, calm focus will last your ENTIRE audition. … tick … tock…
A famous director, when staging a production of “Richard III”, gave each actor in the cast a note before each performance. The notes contained a word or short phrase that each actor was to meditate on for that night. Some examples were “Be Truthful”, “Listen and Respond”, or “Live and Breathe”. You can employ this same approach to your daily practice and performance life. What if your daily notes said things like: “Be Grateful”, “Be Joyful”, “Learn All You Can”, “Focus On Today”, or “Have Fun”. You can write anything that helps you address issues with your mindset or habits. "Write, Sing, Smile."
What is STACCATO? Staccato is a musical term that means “with QUICK, sharp sounds or movements”. You’ve probably heard singers and instrumentalists use Staccato as a stylistic or expressive tool. But, it also has amazing applications for improving Vocal Technique! Staccato assists with vocal fold looseness, agility, pitch precision, and vibrato. One way to practice Staccato is to repeatedly speak or sing the word “HA” like a panting puppy. It is helpful to accentuate the letter “H” with each sound you make. This consonant helps loosen the vocal folds and ensures that each note will come in free of tension and hopefully with great precision. Practicing Staccato will build surprising new skills for your singing… real QUICK!
Don’t collapse at the FINISH line! One of the most common vocal habits is to lose energy at the ends of phrases. This can happen during vocal exercises and also during songwork. Typically, it causes the singer to get vocally weak, to go flat, or to cut notes short near phrase endings. Be aware of this tendency and instead "fight the good fight"! INCREASE your vocal energy at the ends of phrases! ADD to your breath intensity, your vocal strength, your acting intention, your pitch awareness, and your determination just at the moment when it all wants to fall apart. You’ll soon notice your technique improving dramatically and your songs taking on a whole new level of life and vibrancy! From the start - all the way to the FINISH!
Some people complain of their speaking voices TIRING out very quickly. On the other hand, there are other people that can speak all day long and never seem to wear out. Want to be one of the healthy ones? Then, use VARIETY! One big reason for vocal fatigue is doing everything the SAME. Perhaps the pitch is monotone. Or, maybe the voice is predominantly in one register like vocal fry or Chest Voice. It might be that the volume is always at one level. Or, perhaps the resonance is consistently very dark or bright. By varying the pitch, registration, volume, and resonance, you will keep your voice spry and HAPPY. Plus, your voice will be more interesting, engaging, and attractive. Variety is indeed the spice of long vocal LIFE!
When selecting new songs to be a part of your repertoire, there are a number of factors to consider. For example, the range of the piece, the style of the piece, the technical demands, and the acting values. All of these factors are crucial to determining if it is wise to add the song into your repertoire. However, at the end of the day, the most important variable is how the song resonates with YOU! What does the song mean to you? How does it represent you? How does it showcase something that you can personally connect to? While a singer might be able to execute every aspect of a piece flawlessly on a technical level, if the piece doesn’t speak to the singer’s SOUL, the listener will pick up on this! Be wise to choose pieces that you can not only sing well, but also sing with soulful integrity!
Riffs, runs, melismas, grace notes, arpeggios. All of these things require vocal AGILITY. But, Agility goes far beyond just fast moving notes. In fact, it has many other benefits for the voice. When you practice your Agility, you are also practicing your high notes, your vibrato, and your lighter vocal registers. Why is this true? Think about it. If your vocal folds can move fast from note to note, then they clearly do not have a lot of tension on them. This lack of tension and freedom of movement is the very same thing required for vibrato, high notes, and lighter vocal registration. So, make sure you are practicing some Agility exercises in your daily workout. It’s MORE than just moving fast!
Don't be FOOLED by the vocals you hear on your favorite albums or studio recordings. The performers likely sang each song multiple times to get the best possible take for every moment. Then, a talented audio engineer lovingly mastered and "retouched" those vocals to make them 100% perfect. No live singer can achieve that standard! In fact, the imperfections and variations of a LIVE performance are what make you come ALIVE as a singer. When you're performing, focus on nailing the key elements that matter to you the most as an artist. From there, give yourself permission to make a mistake or try something a little different. You might be surprised at how much GENIUS is contained within imperfection!
Vocal Tension CHECKLIST! Are my neck muscles calm when I sing? Check! Are my shoulders and collarbone staying still with my inhalation? Check! Does my chest remain tall as I sing through my exhalation? Check! Is my jaw staying back and is my tongue staying high as I sing? Double Check! Is my larynx staying in the position that I’ve chosen for my stylistic needs? Check! Are my vocal folds finding a balance between compression and decompression? Check! If any of these things aren’t happening, then you should CHECK in right away! But, if you’ve mastered this Checklist, then get ready for your very best singing. Just remember to bring the Soul. CHECK!!!
FREESTYLE your style! Feeling uninspired with the song you’ve been singing? Try changing styles. PLAY! Approach an R&B ballad like a Country song. Try a Classical art song as a Pop tune. Sing a simple Folk tune with your best Gospel belt. Go as far as you can! Be silly even! Or draw some inspiration from imitating another singer - How would Justin Bieber sing a Sam Smith song? How would Jennifer Hudson sing an Ed Sheeran song? Playfulness leads to creativity, and creativity is a great goal for expanding your vocal artistry. After experimenting, return again to your primary style. You’ll be surprised how effortless it is to incorporate the discoveries you made while FREESTYLING in other styles!
Are you a PUSHER or a PEEPER? Pushing is singing with too much pressure and tightness. Peeping is holding back by not using enough breath and vocal fold compression. Either way, the Vocal Fry can help you fix your problem! Try letting your voice make a lazy, low, creaking sound in a very relaxed way. It should be so low that you don’t hear a note, but rather a series of pops and bubbles. Next, gradually glide up to the first note of a sung phrase (where you usually push or peep) and then sing confidently. Monitor what you feel and hear. If all goes well, your voice will have enough compression and breath flow to keep your sound solid, but will also be free from excessive force and tension. No more PUSHING, no more PEEPING!
What is RESONANCE? Resonance is “sound waves vibrating within a space”. Those spaces are the pharynx, larynx, nasal cavity, and mouth. Yet, Resonance can often cause sensations and vibrations in other parts of the body too. Simple spoken exercises can help you locate these vibrations. Find Chest Voice by calling out a strong “YO!”. You'll likely feel a slight vibration in the chest. Nasal Resonance can be felt by humming on “MM”. You should feel vibrations behind your nose. To experience Head Voice, make a high-pitched owl sound on “HOO”. You should feel slight vibrations in various places in your head. Your Resonance is beautiful. Hopefully, you FEEL that this is true!
Does it really matter if the hips, arms, chest, shoulders aren't properly aligned and free? After all, the vocal folds are within the Larynx - FAR AWAY from all those parts of the body. It seems like all that posture and alignment stuff shouldn’t matter! Right? Well, let's experiment! Try clenching your fist and holding your arm in a very tense way. Is it just your arm that is affected? Or does this tension transfer to your shoulders, chest, abs, neck? Interestingly, the tension in your arm can even transfer all the way to the external muscles of Larynx. It’s good to remember that every part of our body is INTERCONNECTED. Let go of tension in each part of your body. Also, let it go in your mind, emotions, and Spirit. You'll instantly notice that your whole being benefits!
Want to be a Vocal TRIPLE THREAT? Then you need 3 things: TECHNIQUE, STYLE, and SOUL! Great TECHNIQUE takes practice, but gives you better range, tone, and control. This opens the door to trying a wide array of repertoire. STYLE can be learned by singing many different kinds of songs and mastering the intricacies such as dynamics, texture, and phrasing. In discovering all the stylistic options available, you become more and more creative. Unlocking your creativity puts you in touch with your ever-expanding Freedom and Joy. That’s when the SOUL starts to come through in your singing. And, when you sing from the SOUL, what happens? You want to sing and practice every single day! And that brings us back to TECHNIQUE! See? You’re becoming a Vocal TRIPLE THREAT already!
It’s common for singers to "stand and deliver" while on stage. However, there are many times where heavy movement is required for performance. The integration of voice and movement is vital for most professional vocalists. Yet, all too often singers are left to figure out how to combine movement and singing without a solid strategy. Try some simple movements while practicing - walking, crawling, jumping jacks, or yoga positions like tree pose, lunge, or upward dog. These can be great ways to simulate stage movement while still in the vocal studio. Some actions may feel easy for you, while others may pose more of a challenge for breathing, resonance, and technique in general. So, get moving... and get singing! At the same time!
What do all successful singers have in common? They are all FAILURES! It’s true! Anybody who has reached a high level in their craft or in the industry has found a way to be comfortable with failing. This doesn’t mean that they enjoy it or that it’s fun. But, it means they understand that failure is actually the best way to succeed. This is true when we learn, when we audition, and when we perform. Learning to sing requires us to experiment with a whole lot of "ugly" sounds that are necessary to make the "pretty" ones. Auditioning takes a whole lot of NOs before you get a YES. Performing involves a lot of hit-or-miss risks before you develop the bravery to know that you can do anything. So, stop thinking of how to be successful as a singer. Start FAILING like the pros!
Is your voice too DARK or too BRIGHT? You might tend toward either extreme, but actually you can produce ALL sounds by adjusting your Resonance. There are 3 main resonating chambers in your vocal tract: pharynx, mouth, and nasal cavity. Brighter sounds are often the result of higher larynx positions, whereas darker sounds result from lower larynx positions. When you sing with a wide mouth the tone becomes brighter. Conversely, narrow or even puckered mouths result in darker tones. Finally, more Resonance in the nasal cavity adds brighter qualities and vice versa. Listen for bright and dark resonances in singers you admire. Record yourself as you adjust these aspects of your own voice. You’ll discover that you are neither too dark or bright. Rather, you contain all the colors of the vocal RAINBOW!
Have you considered the ACTING values of your song? It’s easy to go through the motions while singing. However, in order to make a true connection with your audience, you must understand the dramatic nuances of your song. Musical aspects come first of course - the melody, rhythm, and stylistic choices. But, consider the CIRCUMSTANCES next. WHO are you singing to? What do you WANT in the song? WHERE does the song take place? What are the specific BEATS (or changes of thought) that the character has throughout the song? What do those unfamiliar words MEAN? If you hang onto both the musical and acting aspects of your songs, then you’ll be thrilled when your audience hangs onto your every word!
Singing, acting, dancing, modeling, performing. In all of these crafts, how you see yourself and how you present yourself are vital. This is why PERFECTIONISM is the greatest enemy of performers. All of us have a desire deep down to look perfect, sound perfect, act perfect, and BE perfect. However, since this is unattainable, it frustrates and even DESTROYS our artistry and individuality. So, the next time you go onstage to perform - think about who YOU really are and how you are going to present yourself. Are you perfect? No. So, should you try to show perfection to your audience? No. What do you show them instead? Show them your self-expression, your work-in-progress craft, your beautiful weaknesses, and your SOUL... in that moment. Perfect.
Practice your voice SMARTER, not LONGER! A lot of times we skip our vocal practice because we think we don't have enough time. But, we can actually get a lot done in a short amount of time if we're very focused. Try isolating a challenging musical phrase and working very specifically. Think about how your breathing affects the phrase. Make any necessary adjustments to your larynx position. Consider whether you are squeezing your vocal folds or allowing them to phonate freely. Ask yourself if there are modifications that need to be made to the jaw, the tongue, or the resonance. It only takes 10-15 minutes to practice this way. After only a week or 2 of these SMART practice sessions, you'll see just how much progress you can make in a truly SHORT time!
"Am I too old to sing?". This is a question asked by 17-year olds. This is a question asked by 30-year olds. It's asked by 50-years olds. And, by 70-year olds. But, if it's a question that virtually everyone asks themselves, then there's something wrong with the question. Singing is meant for everyone to enjoy and to succeed at regardless of their age. It's actually quite reasonable to sing into one's NINETIES very beautifully! Often society puts pressure and expectations on people of all ages regarding what they "can" or "cannot" do. So, you have two options. You can listen to those pressures and stay silent. Or, you can dare to "Make A Joyful Noise!". If you do, it will keep you forever YOUNG!
"Treat others how you want to be treated." Definitely. But, do you treat YOURSELF the way you treat others? Among aspiring artists, the quality of SELF-compassion can be especially neglected. Maybe you rehearsed a song 1000 times perfectly, but then felt like you blew it on audition day. What is your reaction? Instead of dwelling on your shortcomings or beating yourself up - imagine what you would say to someone else in that situation. Chances are, you would tell them that it’s going to be OKAY! There’s often a discrepancy between what we’re capable of and how we actually perform when the pressure’s on. The best way to bridge this gap is to reduce the unneeded pressure - which is often SELF-induced. Learn to be kind to YOURSELF just like you would be kind to other artists!
When you run into a vocal health problem - who do you consult? With such a variety of vocal professionals out there, knowing which one to turn to can be tricky. If the problem arises from improper technique, your singing teacher could be the solution. However, if an underlying medical issue is the culprit, you may need the services of an ENT Doctor or a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP). SLPs can evaluate you, provide therapy to target the underlying issue, and restore your voice to optimal function. A Singing Voice Therapist is even more specialized, and provides singing voice rehab to vocal artists. If you have a vocal injury, bypassing voice therapy can have detrimental effects to your long-term vocal health. So, don’t be afraid to ask which professional is appropriate for you!
PANEL: “Why did you choose this song?” SINGER: “Because it speaks to me!” We all enjoy singing songs that we love. However, to maximize our chances in an audition, we must consider other factors. Does your song show off your RANGE, style, or have that 'Money Note’? Does your song have LYRICS that you can connect to and play as an actor? Finally, does your song fit within your casting TYPE? You may sing “Bring Him Home” beautifully. However, if you’re in your 20's, then it's probably not going to work! It’s important to choose songs that allow the casting panel to imagine you in parts that you could currently be cast in. Even if this particular audition doesn’t work out, their minds might be racing with other parts you can play. Choose material that gives them every chance to see who you are. SINGER: “Why did I get the part?” PANEL: “Because you spoke to us!”
Is there a difference between breathing for singing and breathing for everyday life? YES! In everyday life, our vocal folds generally stay apart, allowing air to enter and exit the body with ease. During singing, our breath is constantly flowing and our vocal folds are constantly vibrating. Great singing requires a balance of airflow and compression. Airflow from the lungs and muscular compression between the vocal folds interact to help create pitch, volume, vocal registers, and timbre. Lots of airflow and very little compression could result in a wispy or “breathy” vocal quality. On the other hand, lots of compression and very little airflow will likely result in a "pressed" or harsh tone. There are infinite gradations in between these two examples that can be explored! You will never run out of possibilities as you breathe, experiment, and master your singing voice everyday!
In the middle of a performance your voice is feeling TENSE. What to do? Well, you can’t stop to ask the audience if you can do some vocal relaxation exercises! So, Step 1: Don't PANIC. Panic only creates more tension. Step 2: Get grounded in your BODY and connect to your BREATH. Step 3: Communicate the LYRIC. The audience probably won’t notice your tension, but they'll notice if you stop connecting with them. Step 4: Use more Head Voice and Nasal Resonance to keep your vocal folds FLEXIBLE. Step 5: After the performance, journal about what caused the tension and make improvements for next time! Even elite PROS have onstage tension. But, navigating it in the moment sets the best apart!