Tag: vocal coach

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.

WHO IS CONTROLLING YOUR VOICE?

Do you control your voice, or does it control you?

An odd question?  Perhaps, but I know many a singer who’s happiness with life is linked to whether their voice is working well, or not on any given day. And many of these same singers are doing absolutely nothing to build vocal foundations that result in a predictable, stable vocal experience.

In other words, they’re treating the voice as a mysterious, sometimes-it’s-there, sometimes-it’s-not instrument, and that never works. The fact is, what we call “the voice” can be as predictable and dependable as a carpenter’s saw or a professional baseball pitcher’s throwing arm.  Both the tool and the arm can have issues, of course, but with proper development and maintenance they tend to serve well for many years.

My advice is to be proactive with your voice. Identify your weaknesses as well as areas that you just don’t understand at all.  Be honest. Then, step-by-step, find ways to conquer each area, either with personal training, or with educational materials such and Vocal Coach CD’s that address your issues.  The important thing is that YOU be in charge of your voice. Don’t just LET things happen.  MAKE things happen!

Singing Turns Your Breath Into Music

There's a lot to a trumpet.I just saw a great cartoon from the old Family Circus series. The older brother is holding a trumpet and educating his younger sibling.  He says,

“When you blow through here it turns your breath into music.”  

That’s EXACTLY how a child would summarize the workings of a trumpet.  He doesn’t need to know all the details. Someone else has taken care of that, and it works.

Well, guess what? In many ways we should think of our voices the same way.  You move air from the lungs up through the mouth and it turns it into music. In fact, when performing, that’s about all you have room in your brain to think about.  The rest of your attention should be on being an expressive communicator to the listener.

Don’t get me wrong. I am fully aware of all the mechanical and acoustical events going on as well as the preparation it takes to become a good singer.  I’m just reminding us all that it’s easy to over-think the whole vocal process to the point of sounding and looking like a vocal robot.

 Learning the mechanics in order to not have to think about the mechanics is the goal, and it is a process.  But oh the joy of being able to just stand there and let your mind, body and spirit turn moving breath into a powerful and clear message.

Remember, it’s easy:

“When you blow through here it turns your breath into music.”

 Have an amazing week, and let me know how Vocal Coach can help you do what you do, better.

Is Singing In The Car Ok For The Voice?

WANT TO HEAR THE AUDIO VERSION OF THIS BLOG? Click here:  Blog-WarmingUpInCar_011612

Great Email Question

I got a great email question that asked this: “Chris, I bought the Vocal Coach series from you at a workshop you gave. You mention warming up while driving to rehearsal/gig. I thought I had heard not to do that. Is it ok to do that so long as posture is correct?”  This is a super question because it deals with real life for a singer.

Ideal vs Reality

Let’s start with this: The “ideal” warm-up/practice scenario would have you peaceful and quiet, undisturbed. You are rested, have eaten well and have just read something relaxing.  Maybe even had a string quartet playing during your meal. I’m not being sarcastic. Superstars like Luciano Pavarotti and Michael Jackson traveled with their own chef’s, food supply and, in the case of Pavarotti, entertainment.

Muscle Memory

Most singers who wait, and only warm-up and practice in perfect, ideal situations often just don’t do it. The result is that they don’t develop the muscle memory necessary for good singing.

Is Warming Up in the Car Ok?

I have sung all over the world and sometimes the only place I knew I could really “get away” to think and warm-up was in a rental car. Pavarotti and Jackson I am not, but I do know what my voice and mind and emotions feel like when I’m fully ready to perform and I’ll do about anything to make that happen. If you’re a choir or worship team member and the car is your only time to focus, put in a Vocal Coach Warm-Up or Daily Workout CD and go for it. The goal is to be ready.

If you do end up warming up in a car:

  1. Make sure the rear-view mirror is positioned comfortably high requiring you to sit tall to see out the back window.
  2. Keep your hands at the One and Three O’clock positions on the steerting wheel.  It will stabilize your chest and ribs in a comfortably expanded position.
  3. Have a goal of physically feeling a free, rich tone since road noise, air conditioning etc. may make accurate hearing challenging.
  4. Don’t try to out-sing the car noise. Instead, sing smart.  If you begin to strain, back off and recheck posture, breathing and tone. If you aren’t solid in those foundations make a plan, get some materials personal training and learn to do it right.

Ten Minutes Is Much Better Than Nothing

What it your schedule or situation doesn’t allow for a good warm-up?  That’s where muscle memory and experience kick in and get you through, but it’s not something to get comfortable with.  Those who do ultimately pay the price of sloppy, unpredictable performances. There is always some time to do humming and lip-trill exercises even if it’s while you’re in the shower and getting ready.

Summary

Do all you can to assure regular warm-up and practice times in ideal surrounding.  When that can’t happen, make sure to still prepare your voice and heart even if you need to hide in the janitor’s closet or a car to do it.

Got a Question You Would Like Answered?

Just email me at chris@vocalcoach.com and put “Question” in the subject.

WHAT IF YOU WERE ALWAYS BEING RECORDED?

24/7 RECORDING?
What if every word you spoke and sang at home, in the car, in rehearsal and in performance was recorded? Then, at the end of the day you would be given an evaluation of how you did in areas with your tone quality, appropriate volume, clarity of your words, use of breath and more. Would that change the way you use your voice?
For some, the very possibility of being recorded and evaluated would lead to paranoia, not to mention less speaking and singing. For most, however, it should give birth to a fun, challenging and very fulfilling game called, “I will prepare mentally and physically before I open my mouth.”

THINK ABOUT IT
Every time you make an audible sound you are reinforcing your physical process be it right or wrong. If you’re like most people you speak without ever thinking about the actual sound. Hopefully, that’s because you are focusing on the message.

The fact is, we have the mental capacity to think about content and voice at the same time, and that should be our goal. Even as we begin the process we can quadruple the power of our communications by matching content with appropriate tone, volume, diction and inflections. Any time we don’t have all these elements working in harmony we risk a partial disconnect between what we think we are saying and what actually gets heard.

MAKE A LIST

It begins with you actively listening to and defining your own voice. What does it sound like? Is it rough, smooth, pitched high or low or in between? Is it soothing or alarming, unnecessarily loud or too soft to be heard? Are the words clear and easy for others to understand, or are they mumbled, requiring repeats of what you’ve said? Write down these observations. If you have the courage, ask several others to give their feedback on the above list of possibilities. Keep this list handy as you begin the Exercise In Voice Awareness.

FOR SPEAKING

  • Using your new list begin to make the changes you are capable of.
  • If you are straining your throat while trying to speak at too low a pitch (you can put a hand there and feel it) stop it. Allow your speaking voice to be slightly higher.
  • If you are always hyper and loud when you speak, relax. Get softer. It will be easier on the listener and your voice. It will also give you room to build and grow your sound when that is appropriate.
  • If you mumble your words, slow down and use the lips, tongue and teeth. With a little listening and effort you can be clear.
  • Adjust other obvious areas, then begin “hearing” your tone and voice quality before it comes out, then speak.

FOR SINGING

  • Before you make a sung sound think about it. What should it feel like (posture, breathing, tone resonance, diction)? Then, consider what it should sound like. Mentally anticipate and “hear” the sound before it comes out. This is a skill that you can develop.
  • Whenever possible, record yourself speaking or singing, and be objective as you listen back. Ask yourself what areas met your goals and what didn’t? What can you do about it? Even many smart phones can record with surprisingly accurate quality.

REMEMBER THE GOAL

As you mentally record and evaluate your voice, you will grow in your vocal awareness. Your goal is to be “hearing” your voice even before the sound is produced. This will help the different parts of the vocal process (posture, breathing, tone, diction, and volume) deliver exactly what you want rather than whatever default sound happens to come out.

WHEN WILL YOU SEE THE FRUIT?

You can start benefiting almost immediately but it will take a little time before it happens automatically. In my own experience I began just thinking about and enjoying the sound and physical sensations of the voice. Before long it was always in the back of my mind. Now, it just happens and things adjust in milliseconds before sound comes out. Because it is on autopilot, I can put all my thought into content and delivering the message whether speaking or singing.

DO YOU HAVE QUESTIONS?

Let me know your thoughts and questions at chris@vocalcoach.com and be sure to visit our FaceBook page by clicking the icon in the upper, left-hand corner of this page. While on the FB page click the “Like” button at the top of the page.