When acting a song, remember to SAY your words! This may sound silly or obvious, but try speaking the lyrics of a song you love to sing and you'll quickly notice how unnatural some of the speech patterns become. Every word is part of a sentence, even though this isn’t always obvious in the rhythms of a song. That’s why it can be easy to neglect these inflections and phrasings when we're caught up in a soaring melody or a fun groove. As you work through a new song, practice SPEAKING the lyrics. Really make sure that the meaning of your sentence remains honest even as you return to the rhythm of the song. Follow the WORDS to your destiny of beautifully acted songs!
Happy 4th of July to all of our USA singers! Did you know that the tune for the American National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was originally written for a British gentlemen’s club called the Anacreontic Society? The melody has a range of an octave and one fifth. That’s a pretty big range for many singers to navigate! If you're having trouble hitting those high notes at the end, be sure you're starting the first phrase in a very low range for your voice. There's a long way to go before you reach the top! But, never forget that all great nations and all great singers start in low and humble places before they reach their greatest heights! This Independence Day, let freedom (and your voice) RING!
Vocal PRACTICE. What does that really mean to you? Does it evoke feelings of something that’s a chore, a task, a necessity, or a duty? If so, maybe think of another example of PRACTICE - A Yoga Practice. A Yogi “practicing” Yoga doesn’t have a relationship of HARD WORK with their Practice. Instead, they enter into a sacred space. A space where they are FREE to move, play, breathe, explore, feel, experiment, fall down, lengthen, strengthen, tone, fail, succeed, and love. What if we saw our Vocal Practice this way as well? What if we saw our Practice as a very "imperfect," yet beautiful inner experience? If we did, we’d probably find a much greater Joy whenever practice time rolls around. In fact, we’d probably want to get to practicing right away! NAMASTE!
If you’re looking to get cast, sometimes it’s best to go right to the SOURCE! Casting Directors often teach and coach performers on the side. So, if you know anyone in the casting industry through previous work, you can often hire them as a private coach for especially important auditions. If you don’t know any Casting Directors, many of them offer classes so that you can get to know them. In addition to your vocal and acting training, booking a session with a professional Casting Director can give you an entirely new perspective on your work. It will also give you insights into the entertainment industry that you may not have thought of before. Not only will this provide inspiration for your upcoming auditions, but it will put you on the radar of another industry professional!
DIET can play a crucial role in the longevity of our vocal folds. Our eating habits may contribute to LaryngoPharyngeal Reflux (LPR), which is one of the worst problems for vocal health. LPR is often referred to as “silent reflux” because its symptoms are less conspicuous than traditional heartburn. LPR can have very damaging effects on the voice as it often goes undiagnosed. Tips to avoid LPR include staying well-hydrated and avoiding excess consumption of spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol, and extremely fatty foods that are unhealthy. While this may sound daunting, the key is MODERATION! Maintaining an intentional diet, workout plan, and positive lifestyle will not only promote physical and psychological well-being, but will foster freedom from LPR and a healthy voice as well!
When seeking new song material for your Repertoire, don’t just search based on your musical and stylistic preferences. Instead, search also by what stands out to you LYRICALLY. Songs can be altered to suit many different styles in more ways than are initially obvious. If you find songs with lyrics that are meaningful, powerful, and personal to you, then your chances of eventually creating a magical performance increase exponentially. So, in selecting new songs, don’t just consider the SOUND - consider the special part of yourself that you would like to share with us!
There’s nothing “FALSE” about Falsetto! Nope. It’s as real as can be! The term is derived from the Italian word for 'false'. Pitches in your Falsetto are usually above the range of your modal (or Chest) register. So, Falsetto often sounds thin, airy, and weaker than Chest Voice, giving Falsetto its “falseness”. Truthfully though, Falsetto vocal cords are just a bit more parted and less resistant to the breath flow than other registers. Try it! Slide with an "OO" vowel from Chest to Falsetto and feel the difference. Begin to master your Falsetto by adding legato, sustains, and slides from note to note. Embrace your Falsetto and all that this important register has to offer! May the TRUTH set your Falsetto free!
You might notice that Jazz singers often have a CONVERSATIONAL approach to their phrasing. This is a great starting point when learning to sing Jazz. Listen to the endless list of great Jazz artists (Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, etc.) and you’ll notice a "speech-like" tone accompanied by inflections, pauses, and emphases that are very specific to each singers’ conversational style. In Jazz, individuality, improvisation, and originality are favored over replicating every written note and rhythm. Learn the original music first as a road map. From there, you can begin to improvise notes and rhythms via your own conversational instincts. Ultimately, your improvisational choices should feel very similar to having a lively conversation on pitch!
Do you FEEL your voice? If so, you are experiencing Conductive Vibrations. Conductive Vibrations are the sensations that we feel in our chests, our heads, and in different parts of our faces. These vibrations help guide us as to what register we are singing in and what position our larynx is located. Chest vibrations usually correspond with Chest Voice and also lower larynx positions. Head vibrations usually correspond with Head Voice and higher larynx positions. What the audience hears is called Sympathetic Resonance. That happens when sound waves go zinging around inside your head. They can’t hear your Conductive Vibrations. But, you can use Conductive Vibrations to FEEL your way to your best singing!
Developing as a singer takes a lot of concentration on the intricate nuances of Vocal Technique. A great deal of mental focus is required for success. However, once in awhile, take a step back during your Technique practices. Let go of your conscious mind and any RIGID focus you've had. Practice SURRENDERING your voice. Feel the liberation as you lose yourself in the music. Enjoy the vibrations created by your own voice as you move from vowel to vowel. You might even try closing your eyes or moving your body ambiently in this process. You’ll be amazed at how some technical improvements can only be achieved by LETTING GO of focus and effort. Singing is a marvelous balance between thinking hard and not thinking at all!
Often we are told to practice our singing in rooms with excellent acoustics. Singing in the shower or in a "live" room is an empowering feeling! It feels as though we can create incredible sounds effortlessly. This is indeed a great strategy for gaining confidence and boldness. However, don’t overlook spending at least some of your time practicing in a "dead" space with poor acoustics. You can think of this as "high altitude training" in which you are putting yourself at a deliberate disadvantage. While it's important not to push too hard in this environment, it’s helpful to get your voice accustomed to different acoustic scenarios. This will benefit you greatly in the recording studio and also in audition rooms or performance spaces that muffle your best intentions. Practice in many different environments so you are ready for success in any situation!
There are FOUR important questions to ask yourself as you prepare to act your song or monologue. WHERE am I? WHO am I with? What do I WANT? What do I stand to GAIN and what do I stand to LOSE? We can’t know who we’re with until we know where we are. We can’t know what we want until we know who we’re in front of. We can’t know what to do unless we know what we want and how far we’re willing to go to get it. Ask yourself these questions right now, where you sit, about your own life. Now imagine your character is a living, breathing person just like you. This is the true path to every actor’s goal of “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” Want to revolutionize your Acting? ASK first. ACT second!
Overwhelmed by a song that's difficult to learn? Don’t get frustrated. Break it down! Here’s a 7-Step Guide! 1. Learn the melody and rhythms on a neutral word like MAY or MUM. 2. Read the lyrics aloud and look up any words you don’t know or can’t pronounce. 3. Try the melody with the words. 4. Sing the song once again, but this time only think about where and how you are breathing. 5. Find the technically tricky spots of the song and isolate them. 6. Sing through the song with all of the above skills intact. 7. Start to add in acting and performance choices. If you follow these 7 Steps, it’s likely that you’ll soon become friends with that very difficult song. Don’t get frustrated. Break it down!
Is there a difference between Listening and Hearing? Absolutely! Hearing is the PASSIVE way we listen to a sound, while Listening is the ACTIVE way. Both skills are needed in order to master our singing. When we work on our vocal technique or perform, it’s actually important to NOT listen to ourselves too carefully. To do so often tightens the body and the breathing system and causes us to be overly critical of ourselves. Instead we want to FEEL the sound while Hearing ourselves more ambiently. The time to Listen is after the fact. Play back recordings of your lessons, practices, and performances. This is the best time to analyze and understand if your technique is translating. Your ears are an amazing tool! Just understand when it’s time to Hear and when it's time to Listen!
Every singer works on improving their RESONANCE. The Pharynx is the voice’s primary resonator. It’s divided into 3 sections. There’s the LaryngoPharynx (Larynx space), OroPharynx (Mouth space), and NasoPharynx (Nasal space). Lowering the LARYNX increases the darker Resonances of the voice. Raising the Larynx makes the sound brighter. Opening the MOUTH makes the sound appear stronger. A narrow or neutral mouth position increases Head Resonance and often the beauty of the tone. NASAL Resonance is added when the soft palate is lowered. This provides flexibility to the voice and assists with vocal “placement”. All of these important Resonance adjustments take place in the 3 sections of the Pharynx. There’s so much great singing going on in the back of your mouth!
Keep your vowels HONEST! Vowels are formed and changed by the shape of your throat, mouth, tongue, and nasal cavity. Sometimes it's desirable to modify the shape of a vowel to hit specific higher notes. Usually, though, we want our vowels to stay the SAME. Nevertheless, vowels often change when we don’t mean for them to! Try singing a descending scale on an “AH” vowel. When you get to the bottom, are you still singing AH? Or has it changed to UH? Next, try singing an ascending scale on an “UH” vowel. When you reach the top, is it still UH? Or has it changed to AH? These kinds of vowel shifts mean that you're cheating your resonance chambers instead of honoring the resonance of the vowel you're singing. So, listen closely and make sure your vowels stay the same as you move up and down the scale. Keep your vowels HONEST!
Style vs. Technique. What’s the difference? STYLE is the distinctive musical, dramatic, and emotional choices used to express a song or phrase. TECHNIQUE is the practiced muscular coordinations, physical control, and vocal skill-sets that free singers to express themselves in one or many Styles. So why do we separate them? Focusing on Style without awareness of Technique is like an athlete focusing on game strategy without working on the fitness and athleticism needed to compete. Ignoring Style, though, is like an athlete who never leaves the gym to actually play the sport. When practicing, consciously link the Technique you are working on to the stylistic effects you want to produce. This winning strategy is what makes the most difficult singing look and feel easy!
When you're learning a song you've heard other artists sing before, challenge yourself to make NEW choices! First, try stripping the song down to its bare elements. Take away as much Style as you can and sing it through plainly a couple times. Then, as you add Style back into the song, consider how the stylistic choices feel in your voice. Why do you think the original artist made their choices? Is there a choice that feels better for you? Challenge yourself to try something different. Even if you end up sticking with many of the original artist's choices, your performance will be stronger once you're conscious, engaged, and intentional in every musical moment!
An “ONSET” is a vocal term that refers to the beginning of a vocal phrase or sung sound. A common habit of singers is to start vowels with a harsh Onset, known as a “glottal onset” or “glottal attack”. This is not wrong or harmful in itself. The problem is doing it too often or too harshly. The first step in changing this is to become aware that it’s a habit. Record yourself and listen to your phrases that begin with vowels. If harsh Onsets are a problem, try placing a gentle inaudible “H” in front of the word or phrase. This begins your vocalization in a much smoother way. There are times when you might choose a harsh glottal attack as a stylistic device, like in a rock song where you’re seeking an edgier sound. Even still, you’ll benefit from knowing how to do a balanced Onset, as you’ll be able to finely tune your vocal fold compression and breath!