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FREE VOICE TIPS

WHAT I LEARNED from WORLD CLASS TEACHERS

(Healthy singing is healthy speaking.)

(Technique is the foundation for all of your artistic choices.)

 

We Control 4 Things

 

1. Vocal Cord Connection  ( Or also called Vocal Cord Closure.) Simply put, our vocal cords have to come together if we are to hear a vocal sound.

THREE SOUNDS:  CLEAR, BREATHY or RASPY (creaky door) sounds.   A crystal clear sound is the healthiest amount of vocal cord closure.  A breathy sound is partial vocal cord closure.  You'll hear a light, airy sound.  A creaky door sound is too much vocal cord closure, a tight strained sound.

Vocal Health: If we only use breathy and raspy sounds, eventually the voice tires and weakens and this can lead to vocal damage.  Warm-up with a clear sound to maintain your best vocal health. Caution: Use breathy and raspy or edgy sounds very sparingly, if you choose to use it for dramatic effect.  If raspy and edgy is all you ever use, you'll have vocal problems and ultimately, a shortened career.  It won't be long until you begin having trouble singing your upper notes. 

2. Airflow  Keep it steady. Don't blast air for top notes. Why? Because the vocal cords thin out as you go higher and higher.  They need less airflow to vibrate as they thin out.

3. Vowels. Think of vowels as being TALL and NARROW.  Don't let your mouth spread too much east and west because it will be harder to get out of your speaking range into your upper range. 

4. Air Compression. (Also known as engaging certain muscles of the body to support a sound). "Allowing" and not forcing is the key word.

Before you Breathe...

Establish Good Posture: Make sure you stand tall, with your sternum up, your shoulders down and relaxed. Think of your ribs as stable pillars.  That will help you from slouching. Think of the sternum as being comfortably high, as if chains or ribbons hold you up from your sternum.  Never let your sternum drop to the point that you are slouching.  Never raise the sternum so high that you can't raise it any higher.  Again, a sternum that is comfortably high is what we are going for.

Now you're ready to...

Allow the Air to Enter: When air enters you feel your pelvic floor go outwards (there will be a downward and outward feeling in the lower abdominal wall).  A world-class singer on youtube has students lie on the ground, put a weight on their pelvic floor and asks them to breathe in such a way that the weight lifts up.  So, again, when air enters you feel your pelvic floor expand.  When air enters you feel your ribs expand.  When air enters you feel your lower back expand.  When air enters you feel your solar plexus area expand or engage. Never push your stomach out when air is entering.  Never lift the shoulders when air is entering.  Never crowd your lungs with too much air, because if you do, the air will want to rush out.

Imagery exercise: IMAGINE an INNER TUBE around your waist that goes as high as your solar plexus and as low as your pelvic floor above the pubic bone. Imagine a comfortable expanded feeling as the air enters.  Maintain that expanded feeling as you sing, as if you're connected to that innertube.  Don't take in too much air.  Don't take in too little air.  Allowing too much air on the intake will make it more diffucult to let the air out gradually.   It takes practice to figure out how much air you need.  You figure it out by singing a phrase, by actually singing.

What to do as the air exits the lungs.

  • Keep the Air Even and Steady.  Consistent Airflow.  If the airflow isn't steady, we'll hear bumps in the voice.  It won't be as smoothe as it could be.
  • Some say "Don't worry, just sing." Some say the breath support (the body muscles in the abdomen and torso that help keep the air compressed) will take care of itself if there is a good balance of vocal cord closure (the vocal chords coming together) and airflow.  That may be true for some people who are good at singing, but others need to be reminded of keeping an expanded feeling as the air is released. 

Others say they never think about engaging their body muscles to keep their sound "supported".  That's probably because they are doing everything correctly, naturally, so they have no need to think about it.  OR they are so committed to the text and story telling that they do everything unconsciously. OR, their style of singing is never beyond their speaking range, and it's never too intense; it's very conversational in style and not a physical or vocal challenge.

  • Engage the Pelvic Floor. Make it Go Outwards.  This works! Lots of master teachers talk about the lowest abdominal wall above the pubic bone, as the place that stays engaged - an outward feeling-- as you sing.  That is correct. Be sure the pelvic floor is in the outward position when you start to sing and not a second late.  If the outward feeling kicks in too late, we get an initial unsupported sound. As a result, the tone may be breathy, or even under pitch at the very beginning of the sound. Read above about the expanded feeling, the outward feeling you get when AIR enters.  Keep that athletic feeling as you sing. Don't let what you expanded during inhalation collapse. Be the athlete singer that you are.  Stay expanded as long as possible as you sing.
  • TUCKING:  Others talk about tucking in the lowest abdominal wall above the pubic bone just before making a sound, or even during a sound.  This works too!  The tucking-in needs to be practised at various speeds based on the demands of a particular phrase.  Start out by using the "tuck" sparingly.  By that, I mean, with little movement, not a massive, quick inward pull.

Practice Tucking in with an ssssss sound & at Various Speeds.

Make an ssssssssss sound (with relaxed tongue) and gradually tuck in your pelvic floor (your lower abdominal wall) at the same time.  Just think of what you'd do as you try to get into a pair of pants after a big TURKEY DINNER! lol  Tuck in gradually.  As you tuck-in you'll notice the solar plexus area feels a bit like a taut trampoline. Be aware of that as you practice tucking quickly, moderately fast, and slowly.  Again super important: Keep your tongue relaxed as you make the sssss sound.  Be able to tuck in gradually, but also be able to gradually release the tucking in feeling while still making the sssssss sound.  Important: as you begin to release the tucking-in feeling, you'll notice that the area around the solar plexus area begins to soften a bit.  It is no longer as taut in the release stage.  

When to Tuck:

Tuck in before a high note, so you have created enough support BEFORE you make your sound.  Tucking in puts the air under more pressure.  Tucking assists the sound, the quality of sound that you have already produced. If you don't have a good tone, a balance of Clear and Dark, tucking will just amplify the sound that isn't so good. Remember too, that you can make a perfectly good sound without tucking. Tucking is like the icing on the cake.  It takes skill to time it just right.  So, just have fun with it.  Don't take your singing too seriously.  Keep the fun in it!  :)

 

My tone quality needs to be incredible!

 

THEN YOU'LL LOVE THIS...

 

A Grrrrreat  tone is CLEAR & BRIGHT  and DARK at the same time.  Go for that balance and get ready for great feedback.

 

  • CLEARNESS= (bright, chiaro, pure, projected, not muddy, not throaty)

 

Let your vocal chords come together just enough, not too little, not too much. (Read "Consonants That Help Create a Clear Sound". The exercise is below.).

Front teeth and lipsImagine words as HORIZONTAL at the teeth and lip level. 

Jaw position: Sing with the same mouth position you use when speaking. If you were calling out to someone, you'd drop your jaw. Singing is the same. If you over open your jaw anywhere in your range you'll lose the clearness.  Your sound will become muddy and throaty, overly dark.

Imagery exercise: Imagine AIR comes in through EYES and sound goes OUT of your FOREHEAD. Visual imagery works for some people. This ensures you have a clear sound. 

Teeth:  Show some front teeth when you sing -- not always of course :) -- and you'll notice you project even more.  By project, I mean your voice carries farther across a room-- it has the ability to cut through an orchestra if well trained.  When people smile we naturally show teeth, so you'll find that in pieces like that, your sound will naturally project more.   Keep it natural though.  No funny faces!  lol 

  • Consonants that Help Create a Clear Sound: If you're not getting a clear sound, sing "nay, nay, nay" or "may, may, may". If you hear a crackle when you try this, it means you are using too much force and your vocal cords are coming together too much and not enough air is flowing.  In that case, try "shee, shee, shee" or "shay, shay, shay" which will relax the chords because "sh" releases air.  If now you find that the crackle is gone, but your sound is too airy, and light, lacking power, then switch to "gee, gee, gee" and "goo, goo, goo" (as in "goon" and "good").  Your chords will come together right away with the hard "G" consonant.  If your sound now feels too gripped, as if your making a crackly sound, switch to the consonant "K" and sing "Kee, Kee, Kee" or "koo, Koo, Koo".  The "K" will release more air through your vocal chords, and your chords won't feel like they are jamming up.  If you're back to a breathy, weak sound, try "Je, Je, Je"  (as in "Je m'appelle").  The "Je" will bring your chords together again.  "Je" is impossible to crackle through, so I love to use that consonant for voices that are too pressed and too strained. There's no short cut. Simply practice till you get it.  If you're feeling frustated, take a break and come back to it. Keep it fun. Move the exercise fast enough, so you don't have time to think about lots of other things.
  • Try to fix things on the fly.  If you're feeling like you have a tight throat, let out more air and see if that does the trick.  It often does.  If you're still having trouble your larynx is probably going too high, which never feels good. Dumb up your sound. Put a light (not airy and not breathy), slightly dopey sound into your vowels and that will correct the high larynx problem.  Do not use a loud "dopey" sound.  Start dopey and gradually make your sound less dopey, so your larynx will settle at speech level.  Be patient with yourself.  
  • Warm up your voice with a clear tone. Balance the right amount of vocal chord closure and airflow.  If you do, your singing will feel reeeeeeeeally easy! (Read above, "Consonants that Help Create a Clear Sound").  Do not warm up with a breathy, airy tone unless your teacher has specifically given you exercises to help you stop gripping and squeezing your vocal cords together.
  • What to do if you squeeze or yell through difficult parts of your vocal range.  Some singers squeeze their vocal cords together so much that their voice is very scratchy, with crackle sounds.  The voice sounds like a yell as they go higher and higher.  If you are one of those singers, don't worry.  There is a solution.   All you need is a few exercises with consonants that help you release air (sh,k,f). Exchange these consonants for the words you're singing, but keep the vowels.

You can also do the WEE WEE exercise. 

Guys:  start with a falsetto exercise at the C5 (one octave higher than middle C).  Do it like this: Wee (C5), Wee (G4), Wee (E4), Wee (C4= middle C).  Sing falsetto for the top notes and as you come down let your speaking voice eventually come in.  Don't try to force the speaking voice too soon. Let it come in easily and naturally as you descend the 4-note arpeggio.  Gradually you'll find that you don't press or lean into your vocal chords so much and you'll discover the mix, a blend of head voice and chest voice.  With practice, you'll find that you no longer yell certain notes.  They'll feel easy and they won't flip into a falsetto sound.  You'll know how to keep them from flipping into falsetto. But if you're into pop and RnB or any style that uses falsetto, you'll also be able slip in and out of it easily.

Ladies: Start on a G5 (two G's above Middle C). Use this progression of pitches: G5, D5, B4, G4.  If that feels impossible, try starting on an Eb5.  Do it like this: Eb5, Bb4, G4, Eb4. Sing lightly for the top note and as you come down let your speaking voice eventually come in.  Don't try to force the speaking voice too soon. Let it come in easily and naturally as you descend the 4-note arpeggio.  Gradually you'll find that you don't press or lean into your vocal chords so much and you'll discover the mix, a blend of head voice and chest voice.  With practice, you'll find that you no longer yell certain notes.  They'll feel easy and they will sound clear, not breathy. You'll know how to keep them from flipping into a yodel sound. But if you're into pop and RnB or any style that uses a yodel, you'll also be able slip in and out of it easily.
 

 

Now Your Voice is Clear!!

But, we're not done yet!

At the very same time you need to ADD this...

 

  • DARKNESS= (beautiful, round, warm, rich, full, scuro, not tinny, not thin, not a woofy sound, not a yawn)
  • Super, Super, Super Important: Relax Your Tongue. If you do, the front and back of your neck, lips and jaw will stay relaxed.  If the tongue tenses, everything tenses and your tone will become too dark and throaty.  Don't over sing either.  By over singing, I mean singing too loudly.  You can have a perfect balance between dark and clear, but if you over sing, you'll lose the balance. Under singing is just as bad. You know your tongue is relaxed if the area under your chin is soft when you touch it.
  • Imagine Tall Vowels, space inside of your mouth even when your lips are together.  If you do, your sound will be naturally beautiful and you'll easily move from one part of your voice to the next. Imagine a cool refreshing mint on the back of your tongue.  Can you imagine that feeling?
  • Think of biting into a peach. Not a crazy monster peach though. You don't want your jaw to tighten by over opening.  Think of fruit, a ball, maybe even a ping pong ball bouncing around inside of your mouth.   Put some fun into your singing and get creative in thinking of ideas, especially if you hear that your sound is too thin and lacks what you think is a beautiful tone.
  • The inside of your mouth should feel relaxed. Many people talk about a cool "air" feeling.   Sniff through your nose as if you're smelling a flower.  Do you feel cool air at the back roof of your mouth when you do that?
  • Imagine an Ecstatic emotion to trigger the sensations!!  It doesn't matter what emotion you are expresssing.  Simply let it be intensified.  If it's boredom, let it be intensely bored.  When the mind is highly alert it triggers a natural space inside of the mouth. It's true that all songs aren't joyous, but if there is a lot of enthusiasm for the emotion you are expressing, you'll trigger the space inside your mouth you need for beautiful, round warm singing.
  • It feels like the sound travels to the back upper molars, behind the soft palate (the upper back soft roof of the mouth) and the higher you sing, the more it feels like the sound is going out the back of your head up to the crown of your head, and then higher (up up up up up up) than you can imagine.

Simply accept this feeling!  Expect the feeling, but don't direct it. 

  • Caution: Singers who direct their sound, trying too hard to make space inside of their mouth, wind up sounding like they have a "yawn" in their sound. It becomes too muddy sounding!  It's no longer natural. It's artificial. 
  • Put your finger tips on your cheeks as you sing and you'll notice that you relax more and your vowels will be tall. Above all, Keep your Tongue Relaxed.  If the Tongue is relaxed your tone won't be muddy or too dark.  Try it! :) 
  • Imagine singing out of a box.  By that, I mean don't sing with your mouth too spread east and west.  For example, the "ee" vowel as in "eat" can be too thin and too whiny sounding if the mouth is spread too east/west.  Let your mouth shape be more vertical and rounded than horizontal, but as you do this always remember that extremes are unnatural.  Use a mirror, keep your finger tips on your cheeks and that usually does the trick for warming up overly bright sounds.  Have some fun!  Practice an east west "ee" vowel and record it and then compare that to bringing in the corners of your mouth (the box) which will give you a rounder, more beautiful sound.
  • Record your voice and you'll hear the difference! :)

 

 

Help My High Notes!!

 

Is your THROAT getting Tight and Closing?

Does it feel like you're Reaching Up for High Notes?

Have you heard about the MIX (a blend of your chest voice and head voice), that you don't have to scream or yell your high notes!!

Have you heard of Split Resonance? You'll feel like part of your sound is at your lips and front teeth & at the same time it will feel like your sound is going up to your upper back molars, up behind your soft palate, then to the back of your head, then higher and higher, to the crown of your head and still yet higher

If this doesn't make sense, you've probably not experienced it.  Singers who do it correctly, wind up pointing to these spots and say, "I felt that!"  They look at me with happy confusion saying, "That felt weird-- my sound kinda went up and back behind my head!"  They then say, "That note was sooooo easy!" They can't believe it was the same note that a few minutes ago was difficult to sing.  Just know it's going to go in those two places, but don't force it to go there. 

Just expect it to go there by using the tips from Clear & Bright above. 

If your sound stays only at your front teeth and lips as you sing high, you'll get a yell and take your chest voice too high. It will just be bright and brassy, too thin sounding. 

If your sound stays only at your upper back molars, behind the soft palate, your sound will be too dark and woofy, like a yawn. 

It's about balancing Clear and Dark tones at the same time.  

Does your throat feel tight? Do you strain your voice by raising your chin and tightening your neck muscles when you sing high notes? 

Watch yourself.  If you're not working with a teacher, be sure to watch yourself in a mirror.  If anything extreme or odd is happening, you'll see it for yourself and correct bad habits quickly.  Singing should look natural.  

How to know if your throat is tight or closing? Put your hand on your throat and swallow.  Which direction does your throat (larynx) move?  Up!  Can you breathe in or out at the same time as you swallow?  No!  Air can't get through when you swallow or when you feel that upward movement of the throat!!  So, guess what?  If your larynx goes up when you sing, it means your throat is starting to close on you.  Yikes!  Not good because we need air to flow through our vocal cords. 

What to do if throat is closing? When you sing you shouldn't have that upper/rising feeling in the throat. If you do, just think of a yawn without yawning. It will help relax your throat, so your larynx will stay stable just as you speak.  Thinking of a yawn will keep your larynx from going up! 

What to think before a big jump up to a high note?  There are many things you can do. I'll now list concepts.   Think of a yawn, without yawning.  Balance Clear and Dark.  Balance Airflow & Cord Closure. Feel like the sound is at your lips and teeth & upper back molars behind the soft palate at the same time.  Support your sound. Think Tall Round vowels. Think down when you sing up.  Don't let lips go east west.  I've described above how to do all of this, so simply review the concepts well enough so you can explain them. 

Jaw Position. It naturallly opens for high notes and naturally closes for low notes. You must sing to know how much or how little the mouth opening needs to be. If over closed or over opened, you'll not have the best possible tone.  Again, think of good speaking and keep it natural.

Dumb up your Vowels.  By that I mean, don't over pronounce your words. You need to be in your optimal singing zone, your optimal place of resonance, that place of equal balance of Clear and Dark. When you're singing really high with your full sound remember the jaw does need to drop to make singing easier.  As you do this, be sure your tongue isn't pulling back unnaturally.  If you're singing your fullest sounds at the top of your range, but are having trouble, try singing "uh" as in "Mother" on the note that is difficult. Does that feel better?  If it does, ask youself what you felt.  Then go back and try to sing the correct word and put it in the same "resonant place" that felt good on "uh". 

 

Go for Smooth and Easy First!  Strength will Come.  Be Patient.  Think of Power as Good Coordination, a good balance between Airflow and Vocal Cord Closure.

 

 

 

Trouble singing these vowels?  Then.....................  Try these ones

 

ee (as in “see”).......................................................ih (as in “sit”)

 

ih (as in “sit”)...........................................................ee (as in “see”)

 

   ay (as in “say)........................................................ee (as in “see”)

 

eh (as in “let”)..........................................................ih (as in “sit”)

 

a (as in “can”)..........................................................eh (as in “let)

 

aw (as in “father”)................................................uh (as in “mother”)

 

uh (as in “mother”).................................................ou (as in “would”)

 

oh (as in hope).....................................................ou (as in “would”)

 

ou (as in “would”)...................................................oo (as in “tool”)

 

  • Think of Vowels as Cousins.  Some are more closely related than others.  The above paired vowels are closely related.  As you sing these above vowels, think of them as TALL and ROUND inside of your mouth.  Vowels are bright and dark at the same time, but some will feel more bright than others. See if you can figure out which ones feel darker and which ones feel more forward or more back in the mouth. 
  • Which Vowels do you Sing Best? Anyone out there like cats?  Say the word "Meow".   The beginning of the word has a bright, forward feeling vowel.  The end of the word has a back, dark feeling vowel.  For now, just be aware of that and when you sing, be True to the Word; say the word like you would speak it. 

Are you better with bright, forward feeling vowels or with back, dark feeling vowels?

Here's how to find out.

Sing "woo, wou (as in "would") woh. Then sing "wee, wih (like "win") way".  Which group of words feels easier to sing?  If they feel equally easy, congrats.  If one group feels better, start with the easiest group and begin to take those sounds higher and higher.

Men start on a G below middle C and work up to the G above middle C.   Sing your chosen group of words fairly quickly, not too slowly, otherwise you may overthink what you are doing.

Women begin on a Bb3 below middle C4 and work up to a Bflat4 or even the C5 above middle C4.

Women, if it feels ok at the C5, keep going till you get to about an E5 (the second E above Middle C).

As you do that, think of space inside of your mouth...tall vowels.  Keep your finger tips on your cheeks as you do this and you'll notice that your sound stays warm.  Don't let your mouth spread too far side to side, east/west.  Think of a "roundish" or oval mouth opening, that is really, really relaxed and natural looking. Watch yourself in front of a mirror, so nothing looks extreme.

If you feel your throat tightening and your tone thinning out, stop.  This means your layrnx has gone too high.  Just think a yawn, without yawning and your layrnx will drop down to it's speech level position.  Stop, rather than force your sound if you can't do this.

If you hear scratchy or crackle sounds in your voice, add more airflow and they'll go away.
 

  • Move seamlessly from one vowel to the next, one word to the next, without the tone changing drastically.  Sing as if you have one voice from top to bottom.  However, from time to time you may want to intentionally change the tone of a word or two for dramatic effect. But keep it honest and sincere.  A great master teacher said, "If we only just think a new thought, we'll get a new color in our voice."  That's worth remembering.  You are the artist. You are the interpreter of your songs.  Take time to think things through.

Final Thoughts

Practice in front of a mirror to avoid exaggerated unnatural looking facial expressions...

 because on your own, what you don't see, you can't fix.

Record your voice.  Listen back every 10 - 30 seconds...

because on your own, what you don't hear, you can't fix.

Pick one phrase at a time. Practice Slowly.

Know exactly what you're doing & why!

You'll improve dramatically!

Be your own best teacher!

Expect great results!

 

Another tip: Learn how to do a trill if you're a classical singer.  Click here

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To Your Success!

Paul Ouellette
lessons[at]paulouellette[dot]com

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