Category: Duets to Groups

ask the vocal coach

How do I encourage my team to use the resources I gave them?

Meggan leads her praise team at church and she has given them Vocal Coach CDs to work with. But she is having trouble getting them to do their homework! Believe me when I say I’ve been there.

Your Question

Hi. I recently purchased the complete vocal coach package. I am having trouble with my praise team at church… getting them to use it. Where is the best place to start? Are the vocal exercises intended to be done all of them in one go? Or should one select a few to use at the time? I guess I just need a game plan to get them excited and started using the program. At a loss. Thanks!

Answer

I think all of it at once can be overwhelming and that may be part of the problem right now. I’m curious about what makes up your team. The ages, skill levels, experience, etc may affect the following advice. But generally, it would be great to just use some of the Group Warm-ups from the Choir warm up or a favorite or two from the Warm-Up CD to start. Make it a part of the weekly routine and then slowly start integrating some of the others.

Breathing is a great one to help build stamina, control, and really challenge each other on making strides. Each week members could try to go a bit longer in breathing exercises than the past week. Members can begin to notice some gains in just a few session.

Tone would be a great one to introduce in a month or two. Also – since you have the Daily Workout you could opt to have members borrow a copy each week or buy their own and report back to the group anything they may have learned.

As a fellow worship leader I have found that it’s important to challenge the team and to give small goals and have some expectations. Once they start to hear improvements in their own voice and in the group, this will hopefully give them the motivation to dig deeper on their own. I applaud you in your effort. Let me know if you have any other questions.

p.s. We offer bulk discounts if you would like to buy copies of our CDs for you group members. Email contact@vocalcoach.com for more info.

larynx

Had A Conversation With Your Larynx Lately?

Had A Conversation With Your Larynx Lately?

Maybe it’s time you did.  Why?  Because many of us forget that there are a number of physical and acoustical processes that make singing possible.  One the the key players is the larynx, and the closer you two become the better, and more consistent your singing will be.

Why, just the other day I listened in to a singer-larynx conversation that went like this:

Singer: I just want to sing.

Singer: I just want to survive your singing, and sometimes you make that tough.

Singer: Sorry about that. I get so stressed and distracted I don’t even know what I’m doing until it’s all over, and by then I’ve abused you.  You actually hurt and get rough sounding.

Larynx: You got that right.  But, if you’ll stop physically stressing me, I’ll stop emotionally stressing you.

Singer: Sounds like a plan.  Where do we start?

Larynx: Well, since we’re kind of stuck with each other for the rest of our lives, with no replacement parts available, maybe we should get to know each other.  You know, abilities, expectations etc.

Singer: I’m game.  Why don’t you start.

Larynx: Well, to start with, I was designed by the greatest inventor of all time.  He created the entire universe and everything and everyone in it.  He also figured out the mechanics and acoustics of making sound.  He’s really good!  Here are some things you should know:

The vocal folds (sometimes called vocal cords) are designed to protect the lungs from foreign objects.  When something heads that way, like food or liquid, the vocal folds close to protect the lungs. They can also become a one-way valve allowing you to cough the threat away.  Rather clever if you ask me.

The cool thing, of course, is that these same vocal folds can vibrate as air from the lungs passes between them.  And, depending on the length and thickness of their leading edge, they can produce hundreds of different pitches.

Singer: Very cool, but why can some people sing the big high notes so easily and others look and sound like they’re screaming? And it doesn’t seem to matter if they’re male or female.

Larynx: You’re right about range not being gender-specific.  Most men, of course have lower voices than most women, but there are thousands of exceptions to that. If a woman has thicker and longer vocal folds she may be a natural tenor.  If a man has shorter, thinner folds he may be an outstanding high tenor or even alto.  The Creator gave everyone a potentially wide range, but not all the same range.  Kind of like the string family in the orchestra: Violin, viola, cello and double bass.  All have wide ranges, but all have different ranges.

The important thing is to discover how we were made and maximize that range. Then, to choose song arrangements that fit into our range.  And, remember: No matter what our range you need to develop the skills and habits that will make us the most consistent and flexible singer we can be.

Singer: But, what if I don’t like our range?  What if I’m really a bass and would prefer to be a tenor?

Larynx: You’ll have to talk to the Creator about that one.  I once overheard a cello asking the Creator if he could play a violin concerto. The Creator didn’t even bother to respond.

Note to self: Stay in touch with the larynx.  It’s good for both of us as well as our listeners.

Singing to the Back Row

This weeks question comes from Eli, who is wondering about the concept of “singing to the balcony” and how that might affect a singer’s posture. Naturally, I have some thoughts on that. Read on to see what they are.

Your Question

Chris, In your teaching about singing posture, you teach that the back of the neck should feel longer while the front of the neck should feel shorter. Lately I’ve read and have watched operatic tenors who do the opposite. Italian tenors, in particular, seem to raise the front of their necks (chins) upward, particularly when singing high notes. I heard some other operatic singers say to always sing to the second balcony which would mean raising the chin upward. What’s your opinion of their thoughts? Thank you very much.

My Answer

Thanks so much for your thoughtful question, Eli. Here are my thoughts:

Operatic singers can afford to be a bit stiffer than pop or Broadway singers. But, even so, lifting the head for higher notes and lowering it for lower notes doesn’t offer any physiological benefit. In fact, in my studies, it interferes. But more to the point, here is what I teach. And in considering my answer please remember that my background includes extensive classical experience in many languages as well as in oratorio and opera. Carole and I have traveled the world as I taught and sang. Admittedly, however, I do live more in the contemporary world these days. So…

  1. The “Long back of neck and shorter front of neck” is intended to prevent the Goose-necking that so many singers do. They stick the chin out (forward) and up—inhibiting air flow and a free larynx. By eliminating this dangerous position it opens the doors to complete freedom. When the head is balanced back over the shoulders it can ultimately be rotated up, down, left or right still with complete “freedom.”
  2. Tying a fixed posture to a certain range is limiting.
  3. The best opera singers I know can sing the same note looking at the sky or the floor and still get the job done.
  4. “Sing to the 2nd balcony” is the same concept as “sing to the guy in the last row.” That’s fine as long as you don’t push, unnaturally, or skip connecting with row 1 and all the way back. The idea is to get singers to think out beyond themselves, which I get, but the fact is we need to connect to every person from row 1 to 99. Every row needs to feel we are looking at and singing to them. And to that end, I include performance coaching as integral to any complete voice training.

There is a lot of information out there about how to sing. Sometimes it conflicts, and then sometimes it seems to conflict, but actually doesn’t. This is a case of the latter where on the surface, “Singing to the Back Row” seems to be addressing Posture, but is really a performance issue. If any of you get some confusing information on your journey to become a better singer, I’d be glad to clear it up for you. Just ask!

Six Steps to One Voice as a Group

Just as it is important to hone your tone and sing with your best voice as an individual. A singing group must also sing with it’s best voice. achieving that one voice sound can be a challenge for duets and choirs alike. I have helped countless groups do just that and I continue to do so every week. I’d like to share with you a 6 step exercise that I have found to be effective in making singers mindful of what it means to sing with one voice, and then own that skill through practical application.

Singing in a Circle – With Styles

Becoming Mindful of One Voice

  1. Give up individuality, in favor of becoming many-singers-with-one-sound.
  2. Do some general warm ups, standing backed up against a wall to remind you of upright, aligned posture.
  3. Move into a circle (limit circles to no more than 8–10) and hold hands and continue to warm up.
  4. Keeping the circle, turn and face away from each other. Join hands again and continue to warm up, this time having to listen much harder.

Getting Practical With One Voice

  1. Choose music with four different leaders and teams singing in four different styles including traditional, contemporary, gospel and pop. Still in a circle holding hands and facing each other, work on matching and blending with group’s style and voice quality.
  2. Now, quickly move randomly from track to track requiring the singers to listen, adjust and yield to that singer and each other. Your group will quickly start to own your new skills of listening and flexibility.

Keep Working at It

Using this exercise, I have seen large groups with singer from different backgrounds and ranged in age from 25 to 66 quickly begin to have a single sound just by being “in touch” and listening. It is a wonderful thing to see and hear as singers give up their unique sounds and yield to a common sound.

If you use this exercise with your group, encourage your singers to practice these flexibility and blending skills on their own, then bring those skills to the next class, rehearsal or service. The same principles work for choirs, choruses, bands, duos, trios, quartets etc.

Remember: Practice Makes Permanent, and Muscles Have Memory. Practice and memorize the right skills and you’ll own them.

Vocal Coach Tools to Help

I developed a few audio training materials to help groups achieve one voice. Vocal Coach Blend is a teaching CD that lays a foundation of blending skills. Then our 2 Ultimate Choir Warm-Up CDs are great for practicing your blending skill alone or with your group. These 3 CDs are included in our Vocal Coach Blend Series along with a fun style exercise CD.

Visit our Store and start improving your groups voice right away.

Question about Controlling Vibrato

Tracy recently asked me about controlling vibrato via my Ask the Vocal Coach form. It’s a great question, and many of you have asked this question over the years. Vibrato is natural, but it stumps many of us. Read on to learn more.

Your Question

I’ve always been a choral/background singer type. Recently I’ve been working to be able to lead more songs in my worship team. While doing this, I’ve noticed (it’s been pointed out) I have a vibrato. Sometimes it’s pretty, but I have trouble controlling it to use as an accent instead of it taking over a song. How would you suggest I train myself to control it?

My Answer

First, the good news: Vibrato is natural in the voice. Now, the bad news: Many singers don’t know how to allow a gentle vibrato that easily blends. Instead, the vibrato gets too wide or too fast, conflicting with other voices.

Start by getting your larynx, ear and brain working together as you sing a single note with NO vibrato. Absolute straight tone. Then, and this is a mental effort, allow just a bit of vibrato to enter. Then back to straight, vibrato, straight, vibrato etc. The goal is to let the vocal mechanism know there are options and that you want “it” to give you what you want.

The next step is really listening to those you are singing with. What we do with groups is get them to stand in a circle so all can see each other. Then, while looking at each other, hum a note until it sounds like one voice. Then open to an AH vowel. Then move on to simple 5-tone scales on easy vowels really listening so that noticeable vibrato is brought under control (straighter).

We have some really good tools to help with all of this. The following CD’s/downloads would be of great help:

Vibrato can be a powerful tool of expression for a singer, but can also ruin expression and derail a group. You need to master vibrato before it master you!