VOCALIZE: Before singing a song, give yourself a vocal workout. Get the blood flowing to the vocal cords by ‘warming up’. Using different tools or vocal exercises, vocalizing is a healthy way of preparing your vocal cords to sing a song. Spend at least 10-15 minutes doing continuous scales with different vowel consonant combinations. Start off with a lip trill exercises or “bubble”. Then move towards a “mum” or hooty “gee”. Refer back to your last recorded voice lesson for vocalizing ideas and try to sing along with the recording. Or download a trustworthy vocal app such as Voice Tutor. If you can get into a routine of vocalizing before a song, you will notice your voice will be much more prepared for those difficult notes located usually in the chorus of a song.
VOLUME: Volume in singing is the amount of air you decide to push through your windpipe or trachea to create sound. It’s always important to “check-in” with your volume and ask yourself “how loud am I singing?” Building awareness of how much volume you need to get the right vocal balance is key. Keep in mind if you are singing pop music, you will be using a microphone at times. So, if you’re singing too loudly and it’s amplified on a mic, you may get a few audience members covering their ears. At the same time, it’s important to have some intensity of air coming through in order to create sound.
VOWEL: Struggling on a particular phrase of a song? “It’s just this one part, I can’t seem to get”. I hear this quite frequently from singers. The solution might be to take note of the vowels in the phrase. Ask yourself “what vowel am I trying to sing”? “Am I pronouncing the vowel correctly?” “Am I widening the vowel or singing it in more of a ‘bratty’ smiling way”. If that’s the case, try doing the opposite. For example if you are trying to sing the word “love” and saying “LAAV” instead, chances are you are hiking up your larynx (the muscles surrounding the vocal cords) because you are widening the vowel unnecessarily. This can lead to vocal strain. Try pronouncing the vowel more like it’s written. “Luv” More often than not, if you’re pronouncing the vowel a little less wide, you will notice that you’ll not only get better tone, you’ll avoid straining.
VIBRATO: Vibrato is a tremolo or pitch oscillation sound effect that instruments can produce. In singing, it’s sort of that shaky sound a singer makes at the end of a phrase. In classical or opera repertoire, vibrato is used frequently. In contemporary music, vibrato is generally used at the end of a phrase here and there throughout the song. Vibrato is not just a styling effect, it also helps you to sing with more vocal balance of air and muscle. So it’s really good to make a habit of practicing it. How do you activate your vibrato? One way is to try gently pushing on your tummy when you sustain a note. Work with a vocal coach that can offer you some solutions to get a more even and consistent vibrato. You don’t have to saturate your songs with vibrato (that is, if you aren’t singing opera). But here and there, and especially when rehearsing a difficult high note. Try sustaining that particular note with vibrato. You may find it’s easier to dwell on that note a bit longer with the right muscle/air balance using vibrato.
Remember singing should be effortless, but you need healthy muscle memory to do that. Working with a voice teacher on a regular basis, combined with daily practice, will help you develop your voice healthily. Find a voice teacher that can help you access those areas of your voice that are the most challenging and that guides you to make the above ‘V words’ a priority.
Alida is a singer/songwriter/pianist and actor from Vancouver, BC Canada. She is also a certified Speech Level Singing teacher. Her vocal studio website is: www.singinglessonsinvancouver.com
Accepting Your Voice
by Alida Annicchiarico
Don’t try to make it sound “pretty” or what you think sounds “pretty”. Use your natural voice, you know, the one that you speak in all day. If you train it effectively, the results can be very rewarding. Let your vocal coach point you in the right direction and guide you towards healthy vocal development. Worrying about what you sound like will take the enjoyment out of singing.
“I want to sound like Chris Cornell or Adele immediately.” Trying to sound like anyone else is a long lost goal since no two voices are alike in timbre. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great impersonators out there who have mastered the art of mimicking. If you’d like to impersonate, then that’s a different path. But if you would like to develop your true voice, sing your own tunes, or even cover some oldies, Speech Level Singing vocal technique can help you maintain good healthy vocals and your style will develop through the technique. You will get to know your voice better and your unique tone shines through as a result, which becomes your “style.”
Trying to change your voice when you go to sing can sometimes do more harm than good. For example, we may try to force the sound through our nose, thinking that’s our “style”. When in fact, the singer’s true voice isn’t nasal naturally. Singing nasal is usually singing with a higher larynx which over time can cause vocal fatigue and may even lead to vocal health problems.
Your voice can and will get better with time and the practice of SLS technique. First off, it requires a lot of patience and acceptance. Secondly, rather than beating yourself up about not sounding “good enough”, go with what singing feels like. If it feels strained or requires a lot of effort, then chances are you’re headed in the wrong direction. You may need some more lessons or practice of the vocal exercises. Lastly, instead of expecting that your voice should automatically be at the same level as someone else’s, a more constructive approach is to focus on your own personal vocal development. Don’t compare your vocal progress to anyone else’s. Accept your voice and work with what you’ve got!
Check out this awesome video by VocalizeU. It breaks down exactly what I teach, having a low stable larynx and connection from your chest voice up into your head voice. They explain it in such a great way!
The fall season is upon us and with that comes the fear of colds and flus. That inevitable slight tickle in the throat is clearly a singer’s worst nightmare. Here are 5 hints on how to handle your vocal health in between your voice lessons, gigs and rehearsals:
Drink loads of water: Drinking water or warm clear liquids keeps the vocal cords hydrated and when they are hydrated they can adduct (come together) more easily. There is nothing worse than trying to produce a sound with dry vocal cords. It would be like driving a car without oil. Your vocal cords need lubrication in order for them to have enough agility to adduct and thus produce a sound. Besides, water flushes out toxins so that your body can get rid of the virus faster. “A hem”, stop clearing your throat! Compulsive clearing or grunting causes more irritation to the vocal tissue and can lead to hoarseness. Let water clear your throat for you. Remember it can take several hours before the water that you drink can have any affect on hydrating the cords. So be sure to drink well in advance of your gig.
R&R: Napping in between rehearsals and shows is a must if you feel a cold coming on. The voice is a muscle and it needs rest in order to bounce back again when you get back on that stage. A singer’s obscure schedule tends to make it impossible to get the recommended 8 hours of sleep per night. Therefore, short naps will give your body a chance to restore itself so that it can have enough strength to fight the germs.
Text or email: A scratchy or hoarse voice is your body’s way of telling you that your vocal cords need rest. Minimal talking in between gigs or rehearsals will contribute to vocal rest. Don’t whisper as this will dry out your vocal cords faster and may cause more stress to your larynx (the muscle that houses the vocal folds) If your voice just isn’t there try one complete day of total vocal rest (zero talking and zero singing) plus water and your voice will ‘thank you’ the following day.
Vocalize: Try a lip bubble every few hours or exercises like hooty ‘Wee’ or ‘Mum’. These are not abrasive and will keep your larynx stable and keep your voice feeling flexible and agile. A dancer stretches throughout the day to keep the blood flowing and their body flexible. “De-stiff” your vocal folds by vocalizing for 5-10 minutes 2-3 times per day on the days leading up to your gig. This will help keep your voice balanced and ready for combat.
Wear a scarf: Cover your instrument, after all, you wouldn’t walk out in the rain without your guitar in its case. If your neck is covered, your vocal cords are warm and they won’t take as long to ‘warm-up’.