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!
Singing and weight lifting - what’s the connection? Weight lifting is great for the body. It can build strength, coordination, and improve overall health. Yet, it can be tough on the voice without proper breathing technique. Holding your breath as you lift is known as the VALSALVA Maneuver. This turns the body into a lever, helping you to lift heavy weight. However, it also increases subglottic pressure (breath pressure below the vocal cords) to excess. It can also lead to neck tension, very squeezed vocal cords, and even exertion headaches in some cases. To avoid the Valsalva Maneuver, consciously EXHALE during physical exertion. Try a SS, SH, or FF sound to keep the breath flowing as you push through your workout. Swell your muscles and not your vocal cords!
Studies have shown that it takes professional sight-singers approximately TWELVE times singing through a new song before their breathing functions optimally. This means that the mind focuses first on learning the notes and only later can vocal technique be added. What can we learn from this? First, give yourself TIME to familiarize yourself with the notes, rhythms, and lyrics of a song. Don’t be too hard on yourself about technique initially. PLAN your breaths ahead of time. Mark them on your music with a dash. Take many breaths at first. Breathe at any punctuation marks or ends of ideas. In the initial stages of learning, give yourself the best chance by approaching a song step-by-step. Don’t get immediately frustrated with learning new music. Breathe. Plan. Practice. Succeed. Repeat.
“Resonant Voice” is a term used by many voice practitioners, teachers, and pathologists. This term refers to “sound that is easy to produce and vibrant in the facial tissues”. The concept can be applied across any vocal register - Head, Chest, and Mix. One way to experience Resonant Voice is to hum gently. As you hum, try to get vibrations to occur in the front of your face. You might experience the sound in the lips, teeth, nose, cheekbones, and forehead. The buzzy vibrations should not feel forced in any way. Once you've found it, try to sing your vowels right after humming in this fashion. The sympathetic vibrations sensed in the front of the face will act as a sign of efficient breath energy, vocal fold vibration, and resonance. So get BUZZY! And find your Resonant Voice!
Feeling BAD? Take a break from your hard work practicing vocal exercises and mastering difficult techniques to remember one of the greatest and simplest things about singing: it FEELS good! We are inspired to sing for many reasons, but one of the primary reasons is that we love how it makes us feel - physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Next time you sing your latest song, enjoy how it changes your body, your mood, and even your outlook on life! If you’ve got a big performance coming up, focus on the power that you have to uplift others with your gift of song. Practice this and it won’t be long before you are… feeling GOOD!
Are you having difficulty developing a free Vibrato? There are a few factors that might be contributing to this. Using too much breath to force the sound out might slow the rate of the Vibrato down. Having too much compression or squeezing the vocalfolds too tightly also might slow the Vibrato or potentially even stop it all together. Lastly, any larynx, neck, and jaw tension can contribute to the vocal folds not being able to make the quick and free pitch changes that Vibrato requires. Focus on keeping your breath controlled, your vocal folds gently compressed, and your larynx and related muscles free of tension. If you do, you might be amazed at the movin’ and shakin’ you can accomplish!
Sustaining beautiful and powerful notes in the MIX can be quite a challenge for many singers. This is mainly because this coordination requires a very delicate combination of Compression and Airflow. It’s helpful to ease your way into this skill through effective vocal exercises. Begin by using sounds that promote light Compression such as “GUUG” on a 5-3-1 interval. Once you’re comfortable with this exercise, try repeating the top note multiple times, such as 5-5-5-5-5-3-1 to develop sustains. Ensure that you’re using proper Breath Support techniques that promote a gentle flow of air and minimal physical tension. Practicing with the right exercises creates the circumstances for being able to hold and sustain glorious high notes in your Mix!
Do you ever find that transitioning from Chest Voice to Head Voice can feel out of control? Then, how about a quick TUNE-UP? The voice works somewhat like a car with manual transmission. Vocal registers are like the gears in the car. As singers, we strive to navigate between gear switches with ease, so that the voice (car) doesn't become jerky through the transitions. One of the best ways to assist the transitions is to use Nasal Resonance in both the register you start in and the one you are transitioning to. The continuity of Nasal Resonance provides consistent vocal timbre, which helps minimize the aural perception that a “gear switch” is taking place. Nasal Resonance also helps to reduce the tendency to PUSH, which minimizes cracking and straining. Mastering Nasal Resonance will take your voice from manual to AUTOMATIC!
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!
Having trouble RELAXING while singing? Use your IMAGINATION! Mental imagery is often very effective in ridding the body of unwanted tension. Imagine a large body of water - calm and smooth - as you sing your most difficult passages. Try not to ripple the surface. Or imagine a tree - its canopy growing upwards as its roots lengthen deeper into the ground - while you glide, firmly grounded, through your high notes. Use these images or invent your own! Focusing your energy on an evocative image can often unlock body tension better than anything else. Your voice... free from tension... Imagine THAT!
Singing Country music is much more than just TWANGING things up with a southern accent! Country singers are some of the most versatile singers in today’s music industry. Some stylistic elements that can help you master your Country sound are the use of vocal fry, registrational agility (switching quickly between head/mix/chest), compression control (breathy/clean/raspy), scoops, riffs, falloffs, high mixed belting, straight tone, and vibrato. Country music is also very lyric-driven and often emotional and theatrical. So, be sure to really connect on a deep level to your songs. Then, you’ll be ready for “three chords and the truth”... and some mighty fine singin’...
Studies have shown that breathing through the NOSE has many benefits - it FILTERS bacteria from the air, ASSISTS with good circulation, SLOWS the breathing rate, and IMPROVES overall lung volume. In addition, inhalations through the nose before vocalizing usually encourage Nasal Resonance to be maintained throughout the sung phrase. The only downside to Nasal Breathing is that sometimes the breaths are too slow for inhales during songs that contain quick phrases. In these instances, a DUAL nose and mouth breath is optimal. So, go ahead and take a nice, clean, and smooth breath in through the nose before you sing... whenever you've got the time!
Understanding Vocal Resonance is one of the best ways to create smooth transitions in our voices. The way we shape our resonators can either encourage smooth transitions (called “Passaggi") or hinder them. Transitioning successfully across various Passaggi requires a change in the way the vocal folds vibrate as well as a change in the way resonators are shaped. In fact, the secret is that both of these things influence the other. Rounding the lips and narrowing the mouth is often the first step to navigating a passaggio. Try gliding through transitional parts of your range while singing an “OO” vowel. This encourages flexibility and ease in your sound. Next, try the same slides with an “AH” vowel. This encourages more strength in the voice. Alternate between these sensations, compare them, and explore them. The better the resonance, the better the singer!
As singers, we stand as BEACONS of terrific Posture! And yet, you may find yourself slumping at your day job or hunching during your daily commutes. It’s actually quite easy for poor Posture to turn into a habit. Not only does this affect long-term health, but it also has negative effects on singing. So, it’s imperative to PRACTICE good Posture! Practice becomes easier if we think of Posture as BALANCE. We should balance our weight from front to back and from side to side. Typically, imbalanced Posture takes the form of leaning too far forward with the head jutting ahead of the body. To easily attain balance, practice lifting your sternum as though it was being pulled from above. It’s less likely that you will jut the head forward with a slightly lifted sternum. Simple mindfulness like this will cause your posture to remain tall (and balanced) everyday!
One of the most important aspects of being an Artist is LISTENING. First, you must listen to your OWN voice - not just your singing voice, but your INNER voice. The voice that guides your taste, choices, decisions, and, ultimately, your path. Second, you must listen to the voices of your TEACHERS and mentors. It’s unwise to try to tackle singing completely alone. It’s a communal art, and you should find a set of ears that you can trust to help you grow. Lastly, you must listen to the voices that DISAGREE with you - those that give thoughtful (not mean, negative, or hurtful) critique. Have the toughness to listen objectively. True critique can be difficult to hear, but it’s crucial to growth. Be willing to listen to yourself, your mentors, and your critics - you’ll have no choice but to become a True Artist!
One of the most important vocal skill-sets is Vowel CLARITY. It’s sometimes okay to change Vowels in singing. This is called “Vowel Modification”. However, our first goal must be to sing our vowels as accurately as possible before modifying them. For example, is your EE vowel as BRIGHT as it should be? Or is it slipping into something like an IH sound? Or, what about the OH vowel? Are you using your lips to form the vowel or is the tongue retracting backwards instead? The concept of Vowel Clarity has been around since the foundations of Vocal Technique and applies to all musical styles. If your vowels can all be sung accurately, then your voice is going to find a great balance of resonance, breath, registration, control, and CLARITY!
Keeping a healthy and POSITIVE perspective before performing or auditioning is critical to success. While we should always strive to do our very best, it can be tempting to exaggerate the STAKES in our minds. One helpful strategy for combating performance anxiety is to recall some of your favorite memories - a late night laughing with friends, a favorite vacation, or maybe your very first concert. Be as specific as possible and take yourself to this Joyous place before taking the stage for your performance. Summoning imagery that fills your body and Spirit with positivity and peace can help alleviate pressure and nerves. Always remember that there’s MORE to your blessed Vocal Journey than any ONE single performance!
Do you ever feel uninspired, not in the mood for practicing, and discouraged about your vocal abilities? Not to worry! Every singer goes through these emotions at one time or another. It is very normal to feel this way when you are passionate and eager to develop your instrument. If you feel this way, try practicing the MENTAL elements of singing instead of the technical elements. Take 5-10 minutes to execute this very different kind of vocal goal. Take calm, slow breaths. Let your mind become clear and settled. Then, MEDITATE on your voice. What does a great high note feel like? What is your favorite memory as a singer? Why do you love singing and practicing? What will it feel like to accomplish your dreams? What tensions in your jaw, larynx, tongue, or soul need to be released? Sometimes the best vocal practice is SILENT.
Experiment with the BRIGHT and DARK acoustic qualities of your voice! It’s an exercise in balancing the Formants (resonances) of your vocal tract. By lowering your LARYNX, you will notice some darker sounds and by raising it you will hear brighter sounds. The TONGUE is another aspect to play with. Raising it like in the EE Vowel will brighten your sound and lowering it like in the AH vowel will darken it. Finally, the LIPS play a role as well. Puckered lips darken your tone, whereas spread lips brighten it. All of these elements happen very rapidly when we sing. So, it's important to take some time to explore each of these sonic ingredients to master your acoustic possibilities!
Have you ever been asked to ACT your song more? Perhaps you resisted this because you didn’t want to come across in a phony way. If so, you were right to not want to “overact”. So much of the emotion is already taken care of by the music when we sing. So, the best way to ACT often doesn’t feel like “'acting” at all. In fact, the most truthful performances come from deep within ourselves. Find something in the song that relates directly to you. Then deliver the lyrics in a way that resonates with your life, your experiences, and your unique view of the world. Not only will this give you an irresistible authenticity, but it also will instantly make any song your OWN.