Singing as if you are someone else can help you get out of your way and take the pressure off. It can also help you escape your less productive singing habits and enjoy some already well tested good habits. Sing as an opera singer would. Just pretend, feel silly if you must. Start by first hearing the Opera Singer in your mind and then, without question or holding back, sing like them. Try on your favorite singers of all time, go directly to the top of the list. Take on the physical stance and confidence of your personal Singing Legend. You may notice that you have better tone and breath control. You may find that getting to the end of that line or singing that difficult passage is effortless. Beeeeee that other singer, the one you love.
Words are made up of a series of sounds rather than a solid square block of sound. When singing there is all sorts of room to play with the word; movable vowels and consonants. One word (or group of sounds) moves to the next group of sounds continuously.
The longer more expressive sounds are generally vowels. I like to think of the vowels as my “long tube of sound “ which I then shape with my tongue and lips slightly to make the consonant sounds.
To practice, start your first word of a line with its vowel-sound even if the word actually starts with a consonant. This will help you to start with an open throat. Begin by thinking of and shaping your throat with the vowel sound you are about to sing while breathing in. Then sing the first vowel sound, and without stopping that sound, shape the first consonant of the word.
Your sound should be continuous from sound shape to sound shape. The only time the sound will stop is when you take a breath.
aaa-th-aaa “the” aaathaaariiiiveeeerriiisswiiiide (the river is wide)
You can practice whole melodies on one vowel sound to help smooth out all kinds of difficulties. Slide from note to note to help maintain composure and relaxation between pitches.
Next you can practice the song using only the vowel sounds of each word (leaving out the consonants altogether). This takes a bit more work mostly because it is hard to think that way. You can write out the vowel sounds and then sing them (considerably easier). Sing continuously moving from one vowel to the next, only stopping to take breaths.
Try to remember it what this feels like. Change nothing, do nothing.
Add back in the consonants trying to maintain “your tube of sound”. Try not to pinch off “the tube” when you shape the consonants. Merely move your tongue or lips slightly (as little as possible) around the tube. There is no need for facial exaggeration when making consonants.
Check yourself out in the mirror to monitor. Happy tubing!
One of the things I love about singing is it’s meditative quality. It takes a deep inner focus to travel along the moving sound scape of a song. It is a landscape that changes with each passing even though you are walking along the same stepping-stones, (words and melody) the things you notice and the places you go will be different every time.
Singing is an opportunity to wake up and view your inner details with a powerful microscope. The song becomes a vehicle for traveling the inner spaces of your focus and intent. The more you discover the more you find there is to learn. I call it “The 3 Minute Lifetime”. (also known as a song)
Starting the Journey:
Body Awareness: Lining up the body and being centered before you begin. Placing your intent inward much the same as you do in yoga, martial arts, and meditation
First Breath: Taking in that first breath with intention and keeping it; not letting half of it out before the first word or expelling it during the first word
Being Present for the First Word: Really starting strongly on the very first sound instead of warming up through it
Pacing Your Breathing: Deciding before you begin where and how deeply you will inhale during the song. Choosing the logical lyrical breaks so that you have enough breath to sing each phrase with support. Take as many breaths as you need, never sing without your voice supported by breath.
The Last Word: State the last word of the phrase with intent, concretely, instead of disappearing or giving up at the end of the phase. The last sound of each phase is the most import because it is the last thing the listener hears, it leaves the biggest impression. (having enough breath really helps, so plan ahead)
Emphasize the Vowels: The vowels are your long sounds, shape them to express your emotions. This is where you can play with tone and phasing.
Staying Present: Being present and aware from the beginning to the end is your 3 minute challenge. Many things are there to distract you; your own mind telling you unkind things as you go, the laundry list, outside noise.
Flying Zone: When you are really in the singing zone everything else falls away, all your effort becomes a natural way of being, one process leads you to the next, you leap along the stepping-stones and take off into effortless flight.
think injection not projection
Imagine that you are an acoustic guitar. Your vocal folds are the strings. Your body is the body of a high-end, well used guitar.
If you pluck the strings they vibrate. The thicker or fatter strings vibrate slowly and make a lower pitched tone. The thinner strings vibrate quickly and create a higher pitch tone.
Although your vocal folds don’t resemble instrument strings they do work in a similar fashion. When lengthened and thinned they make a higher pitched sound. When they are shortened and fattened they vibrate more slowly and make a lower pitch sound. Try plucking a rubber band as you lengthen and shorten it between two fingers.
If you were to pluck a guitar string in mid-air away from the body of the instrument you would hear a dull thud or a very low volume tone. It is the air and space inside the body of the acoustic instrument that picks up the vibration and transfers it to the wood which gives the sound it’s volume and tone. The listener hears the sound coming off the entire body of the guitar. If you lay your hand on the instrument body you can feel it vibrate.
The older and more broken in instruments tend to sound better because the structure of the wood have been broken down and is much looser. The more receptive the wood, the more readily it vibrates, the greater the tone and volume. Different types of wood (or other materials) affect the sound. Certain woods are known for their warmth, clarity and/or brightness.
Your body functions in the same way. Your muscles and bones would be the top back and sides of the instrument. Your lungs would be the air chamber within (or open space). Each body sounds unique because of it’s inherent structure and it’s ability to vibrate.The looser and more relaxed you are the richer your voice will sound.
Your body has a myriad of sounding boards which can be opened, loosened, and hardened by a mere thought or emotion. The physical vibrations that you create by singing cannot only be HEARD by the listeners ears, they are FELT INSIDE the LISTENERS BODY, transferred from your sounding board to theirs. This is why listening to music is often a physically moving experience. You may hear a singer and notice that the hairs are standing up on your arms, you may experience a huge emotion or be taken back to a personal experience. This is not just from the sound of the melody or the language of the words. It is the physical reaction to a RECOGNIZED VIBRATION, a vibration that is experienced within your own body.
Volume and tone are not created by what you push out and away from you but rather by what you BRING INTO the reverberation chamber of your body. Allow the sound waves to fully move inside of you. The looser (but not collapsed) you are the better. Think injection rather than projection.
These exercises are as simple as imagining yourself larger than you are. Rather than asking your body to relax by pushing outward, try instead to believe that your outer edges have expanded. Try making a sound while imagining your body image changed. Place your hands on your body. You will eventually if not immediately feel the vibration.
Although you may not notice it right away the change in your voice will often be remarkable and dramatic. These are your tonal palettes to paint with in the future. (try this exercise with a friend listening and get their response)
These can be done one at a time or mixed and matched. You can make up your own body images. Think BIG!!
Your head is round and as wide as your shoulders. Your cheeks are soft and widen out between your ears.
Your upper teeth are huge and bucked out past your lower lip. They are the most beautiful white teeth and you are proud of them.
Your butt takes up at least two bus seats and your stomach is round and jolly. You are eating the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich ever.
Your chest is warm and open as the sunshine itself. You are floating on a soft rubber raft in the salt seas of the Bahamas with the clouds slowly moving above you.
Your rib cage and shoulder blades open sideways and you have huge white wings fanning behind you. Your back expands backwards and you are flying.
Your nose is like an elephant’s trunk and your enormous leathery ears flap in the Savannah breeze. You spay water across your back.
You are 3 years old and you are sitting in you favorite dirt pile or sandbox. You’re face is painted with a fudge bar. There is probably drool coming out of your mouth and other pleasantries happening. You are conscious of only one thing….. GETTING TO THAT FIRE!!. Your chubby little hand firmly grasps your fire truck and you are racing at breakneck speed down the winding dirt roads of your imaginary town, round and round your adorable little body AND your siren is roaring!!
Are you there, sitting in your sandbox? Is your hand tight around your imaginary fire truck? YES….REALLY, you have to hold the fire truck. Imagine the sound of the fire truck loud and clear in your head and then make that siren sound driving your fire truck fast to the fire.
If you have successfully imitated a siren to the best of your ability your voice probably was making a high-pitched sound, it probably modulated from low to high and back again several times.
THIS IS SINGING HIGH! It probably felt easy and unconscious. You, as a small child learned by imitation without the limitations of thinking this is hard, this is up, this is impossible. All you knew was that you were a fire truck so that’s the sound you made and you got to the fire and saved all those desperate people. Your head was probably ringing like a bell with the sound you were making, but you didn’t notice. You certainly weren’t thinking “man is this hard singing high”. All you knew was that you had a job to do and that you were probably a hero.
Many students come to me saying they can’t sing high, that they are baritones or altos and high notes are impossible. What makes singing high notes difficult is your understanding of what high notes are. High notes are not UP somewhere above your eyebrows. The vocal folds stay in the same place and move horizontally, not up and down. REACHING for a high note is counter productive because when you reach you strain and when you strain your tension makes the note unobtainable.
I think reading music on a page gives us the idea that those notes are up and of course calling them high doesn’t help either. What if we reverse the language and called high notes low instead. Would what we once called low notes, now the new high, be considered unreachable?
KEEP STILL WHILE YOU SING. This was probably one of the hardest things for me when I first started singing. I was full of energy and twitching everywhere. My voice teacher used to beg me to stop moving! It took me a long time to rein it in and calm my body down. I used to BELIEVE “I have so much to express, I feel so much, I can’t possibly hold still.”
Try putting your expressive energy into your VOICE instead of your facial expressions or other body movements. FEEL what you are singing about instead of acting like you feel it with you face. If you feel it, the voice will express it for you. You don’t have to DO anything.
When you watch the great singers of the world you will notice that their faces are very still. STILLNESS does not mean frozen or held. Their jaw is relaxed, their brow is soft, their lips hardly move (especially the upper lip), their throat muscles and veins are not popping out. They are in a state of utter presence and relaxed stillness.
A tense body will hinder your progress in generating volume and tone. (more on that in blogs to come in)
When a performer is tense or uncomfortable, then I (the listener), am also tense and uncomfortable.
Because sound is a vibration it actually enters the body of the listener. The audience feels what you feel because the sound you generate (from a tense or relaxed body) resonates inside of their body in the same way as it resonates in yours. It is the instant unconscious recognition of the human language.
HOW TO PRACTICE: this is good for singers, speakers and anyone who talks!
Stand in front of a mirror and try to keep still. A soft face and a quiet neck.
IMAGINE your face is bigger than it is, very big like a beach ball, and soft, lips numb like you were given a shot of Novocain. Take the time to really imagine it until you FEEL it.
Let your cheeks fatten, allow the space between your ears to widen sideways.
Let your tongue fall to the floor of your mouth.
Make a sound.
Keep your attention on your BROW. Don’t let your eyebrows move up and down when you change pitch.
Check out your NECK, can you see muscles sticking out or moving up and down? If so try to stop moving them (this can take a while). Trust me, they don’t have to move and are hindering your progress.
THIS IS REALLY HARD FOR SOME PEOPLE BECAUSE FORMER BEHAVIOR IS A LIFE LONG HABIT…. BUT…. IT IS WORTH THE EFFORT !!!!!
KEEP AT IT until you can maintain stillness while singing.