Category: Vocal Technique

The Singer – A Musician’s Curse?!

A Quote by Patrick Rothfus.

A Quote by Patrick Rothfus.

Let’s get one thing straight before I get loads of complaints. Singers ARE musicians. We do a very good job at being musicians. The title is a bit pedantic, but I am trying to make a point here. I think it is about time that those of you who are not singers, need to understand our “ways”. Yes I know some of us throw tantrums, lash expensive mic’s to the floor, kick speakers, and walk out of rehearsals in disgust-never to be seen again, or in the nearest bar drowning our sorrows and saluting Freddy Mecury, et al: “why can’t I sing like them?”.

The first thing you need to remember my friends-is that the singers ego ,I am afraid, is pretty big.In fact it is huge. But I am going to tell you why this is so, and how to deal, in fact, help your singer friends make themselves work better at their ‘art’ for the sake of the band. Oh yes-in my 24 years in teaching and performing I have seen them all.I have witnessed the tantrums, and seen bands fall apart. Very good bands at that, splitting up because of heads being the size of Jupiter! ALL musicians have big ego’s, but the singers have the biggest, and occasionally they need a very good rubbing (if you get my meaning!). To be honest-the ego is always going to be there, and not going to go away, so, you just have to deal with it.  Read more… »

Some Thoughts on the Nature of Stage Fright, a.k.a. How to Stand and Deliver

“WSUK… All day talk radio in my head… I suck!

For the many ways that the Matrix movies do not bear repeated viewings a decade on, their ability to distill eternal wisdom into whoa-esque one liners remains untarnished. Most issues related to technique and performance are solved when we step back from the actual point of struggle and frame the question correctly.  (Yes Neo, when you are ready, you won’t have to dodge the bullets.)  Stage fright is just such an issue. Debilitating and confusing, yes. Can we fight it in the moment?

There are tricks that calm the body and mind, but it is difficult to rationalize your way past the bio-chemical experience of The Fear.

The Fear laughs and sends another cold shot of cortisol through your tummy.   However, change your thinking toward the act of performance and the roles that both you and the audience play in that extended series of present moments, and the brain’s natural defense mechanisms will have no need to kick in.  In this article, I will unpack this idea and offer a few real world techniques for de-energizing the thought patterns that elicit the stage fright reaction.  Read more… »

Vocal Technique: An Organizing Principle for Singers, Part 1

He is totally thinking about his soft palate right now...

He is totally thinking about his soft palate right now…

What is the optimal approach to training the singing voice?

Right at the root of it, what are the ideal conditions for optimal tone production and what thought patterns best exploit the physiological strengths of the voice while de-emphasizing (or at least respecting) the inherent limitations?

Your Bandwidth is Too Narrow and Other Issues

Branches of the vagus nerve innervate the larynx. I am far from an expert in neurology, however, I feel comfortable pointing out that this nerve originates in the brain stem. This is an older part of the brain (evolutionarily speaking) responsible for a number of subconscious motor and sensory functions throughout the body (in the heart, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract, for example), in addition to controlling and providing sensory feedback from the pharynx and larynx. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that vocal function falls below the level of conscious thought. Animals with no (or little) neocortical brain structures (think an alligator or similar reptile that exhibits little capacity to ‘think’ in the human sense) are able to make sounds that serve to warn, encourage, define territory, etc. Read more… »

A Case Study: 28 Days to a Better Singing Technique

Practice makes perfect. In exactly 28 days...

Practice makes perfect. In exactly 28 days…

I am always looking for new exercises and technical warm-ups to include in my daily practice routine, so I decided to try the 28-day challenge of isotonic and isometric exercises as discussed in last month’s article by Ian Howell: Vocal Technique: Boring Exercises That Will Make You a Better Singer. Over the past four weeks, I have noticed an improvement in my breath control, developed a greater sense of my intercostal muscles and the role they play in breathing for singing, and have strengthened the lower part of my range (B3-D4). I did the exercises every day and timed myself once a week.  Read more… »

Vocal Technique: Boring Exercises That Will Make You a Better Singer

But... I always have it with isoTonic... Just read the article, you will get it...

But… I always have it with isoTonic… Just read the article, you will get it…

In my article How to Best Practice Practicing Singing, I allude to the fact that good technical exercises are often non-musical by design:

#11: Practice non-attachment/your voice is not an expression of your soul. With practice you may develop an instrument capable of expressing something your soul feels, but you are going to have to make some amazingly ugly and non-musical sounds to develop that solid technique.

That exercises are non-musical/non-expressive could be obvious. How can one compare the expressive potential of a Bach Passion aria with an ascending and descending major triad? Dig a little deeper, though, and I hope that you will apprehend my point: It is technically valuable to exercise the voice without the imposed layer of an expressive construct specifically because the desire to express something often engenders unnecessary layers of muscular tension.  Read more… »

Vocal Technique: The Flex

flex-pic11N.B. Throughout this article I use specific terminology (such as full fold {FF}, partial fold {PF} [1], and optimal antagonism [2]) that is more thoroughly explained in my article, Countertenor Technique: An Introduction to Concepts. You may find it helpful to read that article as a primer for understanding this article. Throughout this article, C4 indicates middle C. C3-B3 is the octave below, C5 is an octave higher than middle C, etc…

Since my previous articles in this series on countertenor relevant singing technique have been rather general in nature, I wanted to write this month about a specific exercise. Building on the information introduced in April’s article Countertenor Technique: An Introduction to Concepts, the exercise I outline here, called the flex, is one that reveals hidden mental prejudices that work against countertenors, builds stability and an authentic sound into the lower range of the countertenor voice, and eventually helps to bridge the transition (a shortening of the vibrating portion of the folds even as the folds remain stretched) that should take place between Bb4 and B4. My hope is that the inclusion of audio examples in this article will help to explain any questions that arise, and spark a conversation about what the countertenor voice is capable of and how it might be trained. This article is written for a student working with a teacher able to diagnose any basic technical problems that might arise.  Read more… »

Vocal Technique: How to Best Practice Practicing Singing

I have been through six years of music school (and about eighteen years off and on of private study), and I find it curious that the one thing that is rarely systematically addressed is how to practice.

Especially when the quality of one’s practice habits, not necessarily how well one currently performs, is one of the best indicators of one’s long-term professional viability.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” ~ Calvin Coolidge
“For all things difficult to acquire, the intelligent man works with perseverance.” ~ Lao Tzu

I was educated at fine institutions; I do not think that their curriculum committees were negligent in their duties. They, like most of us in this industry, simply failed to question the conventional wisdom that a performance should be judged by and crafted according to a set of communal standards, while a practice routine is personal and not subject to a ‘best practices’ approach. Read more… »

Countertenor Technique: An Introduction to Concepts

Mamma Said There'd be Days Like This

Mamma Said There’d be Days Like This

Note: Throughout this article the designation C4 is used to indicate middle C. D4 is a whole step higher, B3 a half step lower, C3 and C5 an octave lower and higher respectively. Serious voice scientists/pedagogues might be slightly annoyed by my over-simplification of some of the muscular actions of the voice. My intent with this article is to introduce some large concepts that might begin to change people’s thinking about what the human voice is capable of – without overwhemling them with information.

***Update July 5th, 2011: After you read this article, read Vocal Technique: The Flex for a step by step introduction to a specific exercise that is particularly useful for countertenors.***

Is countertenor technique different from standard classical vocal technique? Should a countertenor train like a male or female voice, and what pedagogical approach and conceptual model best elicits a healthy countertenor sound? Is a countertenor merely the intersection of gender and tessitura, or is there something specific to the technical approach and musical context that limits the definition?  Read more… »