In this Blog you'll learn how to sing without strain and avoid damage caused by poor vocal technique.
More and more these days I’m hearing songs that use strained singing, screaming and very guttural sounds to try and achieve a contemporary sound – AKA Jimmy Barnes, who has made a lot of money from this style of ‘unhealthy’ singing. There are also a lot of reports of professional singers who are causeing a lot of damage to their vocal chords through inproper vocal technique. This damage will result in a sore throat, loss of vocal power and can cause other problems like nodules, swelling and bleeding. If you find that the veins in your kneck are popping out and you feel vocally exhausted after singing, it’s likely that you’re singing with ‘constriction’ Think of what a Boa Constrictor snake does to kill its prey it tightens and squeezes all the air out of its victim. Well a similar thing happens to a lot of singers, when they get up in front of a crowded room to speak or sing. The adrenaline kicks in together with a serving of nerves and you find yourself tightening up in the throat and its difficult to make clean, clear notes and you end up cracking or missing those top notes.
To understand what’s going on in your voice box, you need to understand a little about how your larynx makes those beautiful sounds and helps you produce great music. Most singers will know that it is the vocal cords which create the sounds we hear when we sing or talk, as air passes over the chords, they vibrate in waves to produce the tones we hear. In fact there are two types of ‘vocal folds’ and it’s a lucky thing there are, because one set creates the sounds of voice and speech (the True Vocal Folds, TVF’s) and the others spring into action when we cough, swallow and push. to protect the airways that lead to the lungs (the False vocal folds, FVF’s)
This is a little demo I do with my choir to help my singers visualize just what’s happening in their throats when they sing, you can easily have a go at this yourself. First clench your fists with your thumbs on the top like your going to play a game of thumb wars but make sure your fingers are not bent at the first knuckle. Then bring your pointer fingers together to meet each other. It’s a lot less gross that shoving a camera down your throat and showing you pictures of the real thing. So your thumbs represent the FVF’s (Thicker and just above the TVF’s) and your pointer fingers represent the TVF’S. There are three positions the FVFs can take:
So you can see in the first picture the FVF’s are in a neutral or mid position which is probably where most untrained people sing most of the time. The second picture is that “Boa Constrictor” voice I was talking about. The false vocal folds have closed over as if they’re protecting the airway. You can imagine that it’s going to be really difficult for air to move past the TVF’s in this configuration. This is a strained, uncomfortable and unhealthy way to sing that we can all fall into if we’re not careful, especially when nervous and tense. The third position is retracted FVF’s and this results in a clean, clear tone and is the most healthy way to sing.
I hope I’ve convinced you how important singing with retracted FVF’s is, it will save you a lot of pain – literally!
In the next blog I'm going to give you three easy to use techniques to retract your FVF's so you’ll be able to control them and move to a healthier singing voice and produce better tone that you ever imagined possible.
Melbourne Contemporary Choir
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This is the second in a series of Blogs on producing great vocal tone. In this edition I touch on pitch and how different pitching with voice is to so many other "instruments". Yes that's right I said "instrument" because your voice is an instrument and if your sing - your a musician. It just happens that as a singer your instrument in in your voice box. Your vocal anatomy is so complex - it might surprise your all of the small adjustments you can make to improve your vocal tone. Keep reading these blogs because I'm going to reveal some of my best tips to producing beautiful tone in your singing.
So let's get into this weeks topic VOICE101
Vocal sound is produced as air is exhaled causing the vocal chords (or true vocal folds) to vibrate. They lie across your throat and the pitch of a note sung is altered by the amount of tension of the vocal folds. The human voice is probably the most difficult instrument to pitch. When I’m singing the pitch of the note starts in my mind, you need to ‘hear’ the note in your head before you sing it. Dame Nellie Melba in the 'Melba Method' states that one should "never memorise anything by singing it repeatedly. Memorise silently, looking at the music and then repeat the phrase in your mind without looking at it" She goes on to explain the usefulness of silent singing - still taking breaths as if you were going to sing but without the sound and still forming the words with your mouth. This is really sound advice particularly if you have a cold when your throat is inflammed but and even if you don't have a cold you'll save your voice - after all it's got to last you a long time. Singers are doing 'silent singing' before every phrase they sing, hearing the note in the head and getting the right placement before producing the sound.
It’s easy to learn to play notes on a keyboard and they will always be in pitch on a tuned instrument but it’s much more difficult to sing a particular note unless you hear it from another instrument.
So to get the right pitch a singer needs to use the right amount of breath pressure so that the vocal chords vibrate at just the right tension for a given pitch (a singer usually does this without thinking). Just remember like I mentioned in the last blog, it takes very little "breath" to get your vocal chords vibrating, in fact I believe that the less breath you use the better. Those tiny vocal chords have to hold all that breath back - so if your gulping it in, as so many teachers are recommending - you could do some real damage. Controlled breathing is so much healthier!
Pitch is different to tone, but you need to start with the right pitch or it won’t sound very pleasant at all. I truly believe that anyone can sing but so many have never flexed their vocal muscle and expect to be able to sing like a trained vocalist without putting the work in. It takes consistent effort and patience to improve your craft. Why not start with some regular breathing exercises, get some vocal coaching or join a singing group. You'll be amazed what you can achieve through regular consistent effort. Did you know that there are well over 1000 choirs in Australia, there may be several thousand with participants ranging from under 18 to over 65 - so there's something for everyone.
Subscribe to this blog and hear about a key to healthy and quality vocal tone – "Retraction" in the next one.
If you enjoyed this blog have a look at our recent blog on vocal tone and the role good breathing plays in it here or leave a comment below.
Melbourne Contemporary Choir
Ever wondered the best way to prepare for a concert with only a few rehearsals left before the big event? The final rehearsals before a gig are really important to ensure a successful event that your group has worked so hard to prepare for. Just like an athlete working to a specific training regime for a sporting event, a singer needs to prepare in the lead up to a concert.
At around five rehearsals out from your gig your singers should be ready to get stuck into the detailed work for as long as it takes to polish a piece. It’s time to start putting the songs together as part the overall performance, rather than stand alone pieces. So here’s my five rehearsal count down to concert day so your choir will be match ready on the day.
5 rehearsals out
Here’s where you should do a straight run-through the entire concert, in the format that you will use for the concert eg use risers and the actual performance space if possible. As a creative director, I find this gives me a good idea of the readiness of the music and how to best use the remaining 4 rehearsals. At Melbourne Contemporary Choir (MCCHOIR) I always record this rehearsal onto a computer program like Logic Pro X, so I can go back and nut out any trouble spots. We even upload recordings of the choir to our members-only website so that everyone can have a listen. It’s a great idea to sit down with the recording and the music and note any mistakes, balance problems or tuning issues.
4 rehearsals out
So now you’ve listened to the recording and made some notes – spend the entire rehearsal working on just those trouble spots. Now is not the time to be singing music the choir knows (I know that’s the temptation, because it’s fun to sing stuff that sounds great – but remember after today you have three rehearsals left). You can even play back sections of the recording in the rehearsal as a teaching tool to demonstrate things you want to work on. Don’t overdo using recordings that demonstrate flaws though – keep it positive and focused around things that the choir can do to improve their overall sound.
3 rehearsals out
This is what I like to call “spot rehearsal” – checking the spots that you worked on in the previous rehearsal and anything that you didn’t get a chance to rehearse last time. Spend time nutting out any problem sections that you feel need more work to give your singers confidence. Encourage your singers to put the music away for pieces you intend to do without copy (i.e. not looking at the printed music). This will ensure all your singers are looking at the director rather than having heads buried in music. It has the added benefit of requiring your singers to know their stuff which results in about a 40% improvement in the over all sound I’ve found.
2 rehearsals out
This is where you go back to rehearsing as much of the music as possible. Since you’ve worked on spots in the last couple of rehearsals, you want to put these back in the context of the whole song. This way your singers will be thinking about the musical effort needed for the whole concert not just the trouble spots. This is a good rehearsal to rehearse in the actual performance space with risers if you can.
So there’s also some things to consider in these last few rehearsals that you should address before the last one:
The last rehearsal
So the dress rehearsal has arrived, what do you do with these last precious moments you have with the choir or vocal group? This rehearsal needs to include all of the instruments you will use.
You should sing through each song fully but don’t worry if you need to work on particular sections. Start with a piece that needs the most work and keep the rehearsal to time (last thing your singers want is a long rehearsal before a performance).
At this stage if you’ve been working on pieces for some time, its easy for the choir to become a little too comfortable and a quick pep talk to keep the energy up can go a long way.
Keep positive, negative feedback at this point won’t bring out the best in your singers – usually the opposite is true. You want to build the confidence of your group and encourage them towards their best singing.
Ensure your singers get enough rest and drink plenty of water 24 hours before the performance so the vocal chords are well hydrated. Remind them of the warm-up times and give any final instructions and provide info sheets with the details of the event.
GET MY CONCERT CHECKLIST INFO GRAPHIC BY CLICKING BELOW:
Melbourne Contemporary Choir
This is the first in a series of blogs on producing great tone as a singer or in an ensemble group or band. Just like solo singing requires good tone – choirs sound great when there is good tone. In a group setting it’s difficult to teach every aspect of vocal technique, but there are some core vocal techniques that we include in our rehearsals at MCCHOIR very successfully. Just like your car needs a good tune and service – over the next few blogs you’ll get my my top tips to keep your choir humming along.
Proper breathing is essential to good singing. Shallow breathing is OK for talking but singing requires breathing from the diaphragm, rather than shallow clavicular breathing.
Good breathing means:
Correct breathing starts with good posture. Stand tall with your weight distributed evenly on both feet. Don’t hunch but keep the chest high. When your sitting down – sit forward on the chair and don’t lean back. I don’t over emphasize taking large volumes of air – just take as much air as you need to sing the phrase required no more. Good practice is to place one hand just above your belly button and one on the side rib cage and feel the expansion of the diaphragm as you breathe in.
In the next few blogs I will be looking at voice 101, retraction, resonance, tone, vibrato, warm-ups and tune-ups – all really important for producing great singing tone.
Melbourne Contemporary Choir
3 Practical Ways to Unlock an Amazing Choir/Vocal Sound
Ever feel like your performing to rows of empty seats? This Blog gives you some great tips to communicate with your audience and engage them in your performance. Choirs and singers are in the business of communicating text with an audience so it’s really important that your audience can understand the words you're singing. Two little tricks I’ve found to ensure that the message gets across is to:
A choir will never sing in tune or produce a convincing sound or tone until every member is singing the same vowel sound. The key to unlocking an amazing sounding choir is a unified vowel sound – this will produce great tone, good intonation (tuning) and amazing blend. The technical term for enunciation in singing is called ‘diction’ – where we get the word “dictionary” Funny that!
There’s a whole list of International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) Symbols for vowels and consonants. This list includes single vowels, two vowel sounds (diphthongs), three vowel sounds (triphongs) and consonants.
For example lets look at vowel ‘o’ and the different pronunciations we could use in different words: Go, Obey, Top, For, Lose, Took, Boot, Our, Boy or Now.
Wow! That’s 10 different ways of singing the vowel ‘o’. In contemporary singing like the sort we do with my choir ‘Melbourne Contemporary Choir’ we don’t want to produce a classical choir sound but it is still important that everyone is singing the same vowel sound.
So here are my top 3 ways to unlocking an amazing choir/vocal sound!
1. Keep the Jaw relaxed (think dental examination mouth opening)
Tension in mouth and jaw is no good for making a consistent, beautiful tone and it takes time and practice to perfect this. The reason is that when you talk normally you don’t need to make much room in the mouth. Typically Australians tend to use little or no mouth effort when talking and hence many of our words get shortened or are difficult for foreigners to understand. We tend to be pretty self conscious about opening our mouths during singing for fear of looking funny.
When singing the mouth needs to be open approximately twice as much as for normal talking!
So in choirs we ask singers to “drop the jaw” so that it’s free of tension. Make sure your face muscles are loose and lips relaxed. Obviously the jaw will change to make various vowels but it should be kept open as much as each vowel will allow. The bonus with using a more open mouth is that the choir will produce more volume without having to yell or strain!
2. Relax your tongue
A great default position for the tongue in singing is to rest the tip of the tongue so that it touches the back of your bottom front teeth. As you experiment more with tongue position you will find that as you raise or lower the back part of the tongue you will produce different tones. This is because the mouth is a resonating chamber and repositioning your tongue affects this resonance. For a contemporary sound you don’t want the tongue pulled back low into the mouth or the tone will be throaty and muddy.
For a contemporary sound lift the tongue and sing with a smile and cheeks lifted – this brightens the sound.
3. Make Room In Your Mouth
There’s a difference between relaxing your jaw when singing and making sure there is enough room in the mouth to make a great vowel sound. For example when you sing the word “Me” you need the least amount of room in your mouth but sing the word “Father” and you need a lot more room. Try it! Where is your jaw position when you sing these words?
The answer is for “Father” the jaw is low and the tongue is at the bottom of the mouth and the soft part of the back of your mouth is lifted.
For “Me” the jaw is high but not too high – practice putting your pointer in between your teeth when your singing “Me” I bet if you’re like most people your mouth isn’t open enough! There’s still no tension in the jaw but the back of the tongue is high with the tip of the tongue touching the bottom teeth. The edge of your tongue should touch the upper teeth.
So I’ve only touched the surface of producing an amazing sound with your choir or when singing to engage your audience, but these tips should really make a difference and help you produce electrifying performances at your next gig. Good luck.
Melbourne Contemporary Choir
At Melbourne Contemporary Choir one of our core values is COMMUNITY – we are active in our community and seek opportunities to give something back. In our last blog we shared how the choir performed at the Wesson’s 40th Anniversary Fashion Show alongside Rhonda Burchmore to raise awareness and funds for a great cause, beyondblue.
We love to get involved in our local community and with our relocation to our new rehearsal venue in Macleod this week, MCCHOIR couldn’t pass up an opportunity to perform alongside Harrison Craig, from ‘The Voice’ TV program at the ‘Macleod Christmas Fair’. It was a sweltering hot day, but the choir put on our Christmas hats and pumped out some great carols set to contemporary arrangements as well as a fantastic version of ‘Joy To The World’ originally performed by Whitney Houston.
The choir had an information stall at the fair which was a great chance to talk to some locals who are interested in singing with the choir.
This week we have our first rehearsal at the Macleod Community Hall, 7 Birdwood Avenue and you’re invited to join us. We have a special VIP event planned which is an open event and would be a great opportunity to see MCCHOIR behind the scenes. There will be ample opportunity to sing, socialize and eat. We will be learning a brand new original song written just for MCCHOIR which we plan to record in the new year.
We also had a great time performing at the Bianca Fenn School of Music Christmas Event with the acting class and backing some great soloists from the school. The production was awesome and everyone had a great time.
Next week we will also be participating at the ‘Encompass Church’ Twilight Festival which is a FREE event for the whole family, where we will be Christmas Caroling and singing a beautiful song called ‘The Heart of Christmas’. We’re really passionate about giving back to our community and love partnering with charities and organisations that make a difference.
Something unique you may not know about MCCHOIR is that our ‘members only’ page has ‘demonstration guides’ for each individual part for all the songs we perform. So even if you don’t read music, you can learn your part with the click of a button. All these resources are provided to our members so that we can produce quality musical experiences which are enjoyed by a wide range of audiences. You can register your interest to join MCCHOIR for our 2016 season here.
Jason or (Jase) as he likes to be called is Founder & Creative Director of Melbourne Contemporary Choir (MCCHOIR) and is a passionate musician who wants to bring his love for music to a broader audience.
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