Although I plan to be concise and practical in all of my future posts, I am using this opportunity to kick off my weekly blog posts with an assessment of online, youtube, and website vocal instruction that you may have read or seen. The advice floating around the internet is a sad commentary on the vocal music profession. I am going to state some of the “advice” I have read and seen and explain why I agree or disagree and why.
“Scales are not at all useful; don’t do them.” It is true that merely attempting to sing scales mindlessly is a waste of time, scales have a very important function. Among many other benefits, scales teach good tonality. I have taught students who are in school chorus who have massive pitch problems. When I ask them if they do warm ups in class, most of them say they do not. They just “sing songs”.
Warming up on descending 5 tone scales while lifting the eyebrows, rising up on the toes, raising your fingers—doing WHATEVER it takes to help you think UP will keep you from singing flat, which is a common problem for most singers. We are fighting gravity all the time, so we must compensate for that.
Another benefit of scales is that it helps the singer understand and hear important intervals, which are the basis for every song we sing.
“Breathe through your nose when you sing”. This one was shocking to me. I even tried it and it does not work. When I inhaled through the nose, my soft palate tended to lower. Singers need to lift the soft palate in order to get a quality resonant sound and to prepare particularly on the mid to high notes. The palate can be set up most effectively on each breath if we think of yawning when we breathe.
Secondly, we need to take in a good quality full breath from the diaphragm and it is difficult to take in a lot of air quickly through the small openings in the nose. The mouth is a much larger opening than the nose.
“The louder, the better”. I was shocked when watching one of those “talent” shows on television when a contestant was literally screaming ½ step flat, pushing her chest voice too high and the judge praised her, saying, “Wow what a nice BIG voice!” The judge was actually serious. This is scary because if that young contestant continues singing that way, she will not have a voice at all in 10 years. Her placement was wrong, and, unlike other instruments, she can’t just go to a music store and order a new set of vocal chords.
What music stars don’t tell you is that many of them lose their voices often, get nodules on their vocal chords, have multiple surgeries, and have to get steroid shots before going on stage in order to sing. If they use correct, relaxed technique to begin with, singing will feel just like talking.
“Italian arias and classical art songs are the only kinds of songs that should be used in vocal training”. In universities, this is often the case. I know when I was studying in college, if I had brought a rock song to my voice lesson, I would have been booted out of the studio! I ask my students to bring in a song THEY choose to work on. I will often add another song I think they would benefit from, but voice students need to have a goal to work toward, or they will not stick with it. If that goal is to be able to sing well on Karaoke night at the bar, or if it is to work up a quality audition for college, my job is to help them meet their goals. The repertoire for each goal will be different. And believe it or not, they can learn good healthy technique on any kind of song.
“Opera style of singing has no value to me as a pop/rock singer”. There are countless techniques that singers need to learn from the classical genre. Healthy technique with control and power (without screaming) stems from practices that even opera stars use. I will highlight some of these practices.
First of all, breath control is learned from the opera singers of the past and present. Before microphones, they had to fill the theater with sound, and their method of breathing is essential.
Secondly, their resonance is important to emulate, even though the dark sound may be exchanged for a brighter vowel sound for pop, musical theater or country styling. The singer still needs to open the mouth and have a lot of space inside the mouth, much like the classical technique practices.
Another technique borrowed from classical voice is placement. Singing from the “mask” is important whether you are singing an Italian Aria or a rock song. Many of my younger students especially have placement that is in the nose or the throat. There is nothing more irritating than nasal singers sounding like they are honking rather than singing! The throaty singers will get hoarse before opening night. So we need to teach them to sing from the mask.
I have some simple, practical exercises that will immediately get a singer to sing with correct breath control, resonance and placement. Contact me on my website www.daytonavoicelessons.com for lessons or further online material.
These are just a few incorrect concepts floating out there. If you hear of some further statements wondering if they are true, contact me and I will sort it out for you on a future blog.
Daytona Voice Lessons