Developing good singing technique is necessary for both artistic expression and vocal health.
Some of the concepts involved are outlined below.
Some of the terminology comes from the work of Jo Estill.
Often when we are working hard physically, we accidentally constrict our vocal folds.
We can learn to intentionally hold the false vocal folds away from the true vocal folds to allow them to vibrate freely.
Jo Estill calls this process ‘retraction’.
She has shown through micro-cameras that when we cry, laugh, yawn and feel really excited, this process of retraction happens.
Often singing teachers will tell students to ‘smile in their eyes’.
Laughing and crying when you sing is a great way to experience open throated singing and freely vibrating vocal folds.
Simply walking as we sing can greatly improve our singing, as can whirling, stretching, tossing a ball, lying, crawling. Being playful in our practise helps us to develop a helpful muscle memory for more formal situations.
By creating a situation where we take turns to speak, where we pay attention to staying present to each other, where we support without unnecessary advice, and where feelings can be processed and accepted, but not necessarily acted upon, we can experience a profound connection with each other, and a stronger sense of who we are.
Developing Rhythmic Skills
Through walking, body percussion, charts and games, we can learn to map out a song and find individual ways to remember, respond and create rhythm.
Some people feel like they want to cry when they start to sing.
This is great.
It is a natural way to move through some of the painful emotions that can hold a person back.
Other people may feel tense and find that singing brings up strong feelings of fear.
With patience, these feelings can be overcome.
They are probably left over from an experience that has now finished, but left a residue that doesn’t feel finished at all!
If you can set up a situation where you can sing and ‘feel’ those feelings, but instead of blocking them, allow yourself to cry, laugh, shake and tremble, you will be able to recover the confident singer that is hiding under the fears.
Like any instrument, flexibility can be developed through regular workouts.
Exercises should be designed to develop flexibility while also developing knowledge of scales and chords, and extending the repertoire of notes a singer has easy access to.
Learning To Sing In Tune
Some adults have trouble singing in tune.
Many things can contribute to this.
For many people growing up in Western European and British influenced culture, there aren’t many opportunities to sing.
Boys feel the pressure very early to steer away from activities that could be considered ‘feminine’.
Many people simply haven’t had enough practice.
Often people just think they can’t sing in tune, and when they start lessons, discover that they actually can.
In some cases however, the skill of learning to pitch match wasn’t developed as the person was growing up.
This can happen for a number of reasons.
These people can learn to sing in tune.
The first stage is to relax and start to use your voice.
Try to siren like a fire engine up to the highest and lowest notes you can find.
Go to a piano and play the notes at either end of the keyboard to become familiar with the sound of high and low notes.
Find a friend who has some knowledge of music.
They don’t have to be an expert, but it is helpful if they can sing accurately in tune, and that they are relaxed and kind in their manner.
When I began the work of helping people learn to ‘pitch match’ I was influenced by the work of Professor Dale Topp, of the Calvin College Department of Music in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I came across his ideas in the wonderful book, “Making Music For The Joy Of It” by Stephanie Judy. In it she has published his instructions on how to help develop pitch matching skills. I recommend this book as a starting place for anyone who has trouble with pitch matching, and the book is full of other wonderful gems for the beginning adult music student.
Onset of Tone
Do you have a breathy tone or a clear tone?
Is there a hard edge to your tone? Though many people think they can only sing in one voice, we actually have many choices about the sounds we make.
The onset of the tone can happen simultaneously with the breath, before or after the breath.
All these choices effect our sound.
For a glottal onset practise saying ‘egg’
For an aspirate onset, put an ‘h’ in front of your tone
For a simulataneous onset, sing ‘miaow’ like a cat.
Singing often brings us close to our feelings.
Many of us have had experiences in the past that contribute to feelings of inadequacy in the present.
By positive reinforcement, and a chance to process some of those old feelings, it is possible to ‘shake off’ what is getting between your voice and the world.
Connecting with the words of a song is important.
How do you feel about this song? Imagine you are the song writer.
What is the story behind the song?
Try speaking the song and see how convincing you can be.
Lots of musical concepts are expressed in daily life and often misunderstood, for instance the concept of flat and sharp. It is helpful for beginner singers to develop a basic understanding of the terms and concepts of European classical and pop music. Many people are told they are singing ‘flat’ but the speaker actually means with a non energetic tone, not that they are singing lower than the desired pitch.
Often it is helpful to have someone outside of us giving feedback about our pitch accuracy.
Singing jazz chords, scales and other exercises helps to develop our ear and our ability to reproduce what we hear.
Many people raised in a European context will greatly benefit from stretching their perception of pitch and tune by listening and attempting to sing music from other cultures.
Phrasing is the rhythm that we say our words with. It is great to surprise our audiences with new and interesting phrasing. It is also important sometimes not to surprise our audience!
Most people change the pitch in their voice when they talk.
If they didn’t they would sound like a robot, and talk in a monotone voice.
This condition is called ‘tone deaf’ and is very rare. Though many people are falsely accused of being tone deaf!
Pitch matching is the skill of reproducing a note that a person hears.
Children develop this skill at varying times, some before they can even speak fluently, and some just before adolescence.
Unfortunately, many of us have not experienced the ideal learning environments for developing these skills. Some people can remember events that made learning difficult. Others can’t, and there can be many factors involved in what has postponed the learning of these skills.
Many people who begin learning to sing in tune as adults must overcome some strong feelings of inadequacy and many other painful emotions.
Anyone who enjoys music is well on the way to singing in tune.
Through repetition in a relaxed environment, the student can learn to sing in tune, first with another voice, then with a pitched instrument and then unaccompanied.
If you are getting a sore throat after or during singing, chances are there is some constriction going on. The other cause can be too much unprocessed air passing over the folds. Changing the onset of your tone can help.
Vowels and Consonants
Developing an awareness of the vowel sounds we are choosing can greatly improve our sound.
Some vowels are easier for different singers.
Practicing a difficult phrase to a vowel sound that we are comfortable with first, before including the words is helpful to developing a free and easy sound. Then, singing with just the vowels of the words, leaving out the consonants. This is difficult but worth the effort.
If you are having trouble on a particular passage, chances are that the combination of melody and vowel sound required by the words is causing you to ‘close’ up your throat. Try an open vowel sound instead on the difficult word. Once you have achieved an open easy tone, try pretending to sing that sound, while singing the required vowel sound. Often a slight modification of a vowel will allow that difficult note to be sung beautifully.
We have a wide range of voice qualities that we can use.
Though many of us have formed strong habits in the way that we sing, we can develop a wide variety of voice qualities.