One of the most powerful tools I give my clients is the permission to exhale. Its sounds silly but words like ‘support’ and ‘diaphragm’ (among others) can lead to very stiff and unnatural breathing. I’ve seen many variations of the right idea gone wrong for breathing, so I keep it as simple as possible. First of all, if it aint broke, don’t fix it! I rarely do breathing work as its own thing unless it’s clearly a problem. The breaths are all a part of the exercises. They start with detached 1/4 notes, (with 1/4 rests) leaving time to take a short breath when needed. In other words it establishes a ‘take only what you need’ policy. That’s the most common breathing problem I see among singers, I call it the inflate/deflate syndrome. It starts with a giant breath regardless of the upcoming phrase of music. Long story short, what comes in has to come out or your gonna be in a hold for the remaining air. They never really deflate because they didn’t need all that air to begin with. Now they become what I call a ‘high breather’. They’re taking in more air on top of the air they never let out from the first breath. You’ve seen it. You’ve done it, we all have.
While no correction is easy when you’ve been doing something a long time, the correction for this and many other vocal issues is SIMPLIFY. Take a breath appropriate to the phrase you’re about to sing. If you’re singing a slow legato ballad with long sustained notes then by all means take that giant breath and enjoy. But if you’ve got short, quick phrases with plenty of opportunity to breath throughout then start with a more proportionate breath.
Now, you would think that once you unlock all that tension from holding and manipulating the air, you would just walk right into a new released, relaxed tone. Unfortunately, the opposite occurs. Once you let go of all the ‘holding’ there a feeling of breathlessness, and the inability to get control. It ‘s just the first part of the transition and very soon you start feeling the match of the breath to the demands of the music.
I am shocked that so much time has passed since my last post. ‘What have I been doing’ you ask? Singing!! I am performing so much more and teaching so much less that I haven’t been inspired to write anything. Its easier to talk about everyone else’s voice than my own.
I often say that we are vocal athletes and that the muscle has to facilitate the movement of choice. Like a dancer, or a swimmer, or a line backer,the musculature is developed according to the movements required. As far as my singing career goes, I am a marathoner. I sing for hours and hours at my jobs. When its rough and I’m not all lined up and ready, it can be a very long exhausting night, but when it’s good, it’s AMAZING!!
I had one of those amazing days this week. Everything was so effortless that I was able to try new things. New freedoms, new ways of letting go and painting with my voice. I have experienced that freedom in the studio when recording and certainly at my own piano at home but its not always an option when you’re singing live in a packed room. Someone requested a song I haven’t sung in decades but knew I could remember it. I decided to ‘paint’ first and let the sound be the result of my colors. It was the best singing I’ve done in years. Simple, un-selfconcious, emotionally connected and consequently a huge home run!! The night continued to be very satisfying musically right to the end. And just to add the icing to the cake, one of my co-workers (singer/actor), said he just couldn’t leave without telling me what a noticeable difference there is in my voice these days !! My secret ? I take a lesson – every week. And it just keeps getting better and better, it’s never done.
As I continue to work on my own voice I am constantly reminded that the real work is small, subtle, invisible. We do not embrace the simplicity very well. I know many of the blogs are about this very subject, but just like a good ballet class, the components remain the same as you develop your strength and artistry.
Tension in the upper lip can change the muscularity/sound dramatically. Next time you warm up make a conscious effort to keep the cheeks and lips relaxed. You’ll feel and hear and warmer richer resonance.
The last blog entry was about pressure, today’s is about tension. Similar, yes! The amount of tension in the body can completely change a singers ability level. Release and relaxation are essential elements in the technical pre-work and I’m finding it more and more beneficial to start without pitches. “Em’s ,”el”s and ah’s sliding through spoken voice intervals are better than a 5 pitch scale to get the face , jaw, tongue and articulators to relax. Moving shoulders, wrists and elbows also immediately help the singer find the magic release!! Everything improves when we get to the
Zero gravity state; tone, pitch, ring, vocal fold closure , and endurance and strength all benefit. Keep the lips lazy and full feeling and enjoy the opportunity to experience a finer level of control.
Revisit old lessons with a new focus on eliminating tension as you work and you’ll very quickly start hearing as well as feeling the difference.
First I will apologize for the long long delay in posting to this blog. No excuses for 2016 !
Ok then, I did more singing and worked with more singers in 2015 than I have in many many years. Voices fascinate me, singers fascinate me, so its been anything but boring to witness. In particular I have heard a lot of mezzo belters all doing the contemporary Broadway repertoire (Wicked, Les Miz, etc). Long story short on who’s A team and who’s not ? — How much pressure is used to execute the sound.
In my technical work (and on line lessons) I talk about the exchange of pressure and release. The more release, the more ring. Once you start using too much pressure the sound gets tight and thin and you start losing cushion. Its like banging on the piano and the hammers hit the strings too hard. Its shrill and amateurish even though it doesn’t feel that way to the singer. Pushing the envelope and experimenting with pressure and color is definitely part of the game, but we learn quickly what the price is for yelling! 😉 One dead give away that you’re in need of more release is when everything starts to sound the same. If the minute you open your mouth you are engaged muscularly in the jaw, shoulders, chest and neck….well…..its gonna be a stiff rough ride. My piano teacher used to tell me I had to listen to myself with someone else’s ears. Not so easy to do! But thats the key, a chef needs to taste his food and musicians need to listen to themselves. Luckily almost every device we have can record and even video record, so , get cracking! Give a listen and give yourself a report card from someone else’s ears.
lesson 1 and G-Gotta get Warmed Up address release and cushion.
Whether or not you’re a fan, you will have to admit the style and musicianship is extraordinary. We’ve all heard the song a million times and yet, she delivers something completely new. Thats the part that can’t be taught.
Ok, first of all I am very late in writing this entry and ironically I’m calling it “In Real Time”. That about says it! Real time is often a lot slower than ‘ideal’ time or ‘hoped for’ time.
The last entry was about colleagues going through medical problems and I can tell you it is taking real time to get through them. First come the tests, then the diagnosis, then the treatment and then the errors in all the previously mentioned. Sad , but true of almost all medical issues. Then comes the rehab and since we are dealing with muscle, it will also take real time to get the desired results. Good news: It all fixable!!!
The voice is a never ending instrument. It doesn’t go back into a case when we’re done making music. It doesn’t sit in the closet till we’re ready to play it. We’re using it all day. It is the communication center of our body and is subject to every emotional and physical change that occurs. It’s so versatile and so expressive it is like no other instrument to play or maintain. (That’s why everybody wants to sing!)
The reason I’m writing about these issues is that I want you to understand that as complicated and as frustrating it may be, the end result is often better than ever! Just because you hit some trouble doesn’t mean the game is over.
I can tell you from my own experience that I have had 3 vocal “nightmares” in my career, and I was happier with my voice coming out of them than I was with my voice going into them. Good news indeed! There is much value in understanding the recovery and repair of any muscle. It gives much needed information and usually leads to a much more sophisticated usage!!
This year I am looking at two remarkable vocal changes due to damaged vocal folds. One is a former colleague and the other a current client. I’ve know both of these voices for decades and as a technician I am always aware of the current and past sounds they’ve been able to make. Both are pop/rock/blues singers who are known for aggressive and rough sounds but both have been able to maintain a certain level of consistency to keep their careers going.
Now, however, there are problems at vocal fold level which are bringing them to a crossroads in their singing choices. Without getting too medical, lets just say that vocal fold closure is impaired and they are not able to execute the higher belt pitches the way they used to. Time has taken its toll and now its time for a new chapter of vocal technique.
To make a very long story short it’s about even distribution of weight and pressure, AKA- alignment! Obviously if you do the same movements everyday you will have the strength that goes with those muscles. If you don’t address the rest of the musculature, there are going to be problems. In other words, even a belter with a lower registration has to exercise the head voice and smaller supporting muscles or the system will be uneven at best. Then factor in the speaking voice registration that gets used all day, and you can easily see, if there is no technical program that addresses the entire voice, you’re gonna be in trouble.
The former colleague is currently on Broadway and is trying to work through this as he performs. A rough journey to say the least. He is not my client although I would welcome the opportunity to offer some exercises I am sure would lighten the load for him. My client is taking time off to seek some medical advice and start on a new technical path to get back on his ‘feet’. There isn’t much medical treatment available for the possible scaring on one fold so rehabilitation is recommended. This is good news since medical treatment is terrifying and never guaranteed. I have no doubt that we will correct the closure issue and in the bigger picture his voice will be more satisfying than ever. It’s muscle work, we are vocal athletes. And any athlete will tell you that although indestructible youth has its charm, it’s nothing compared to the sophistication of solid technique and years of experience.
check out MIX IT UP and FALSETTO FIX for advanced alignment exercises.