Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Basics of Singing and Achieve Great Vocals!

There are 5 Basic Components of Singing:
1. Pitch
2. Rhythm
3. Breath
4. Voice
5. Diction

Let us take a brief look at each of these topics:

We all know how it feels like to listen to someone sing off-key or out of tune, especially if we are in a small confined space with nowhere else to go...

This is why pitch is absolutely essential for great singing. Pitch refers to the notes and sounds that we hear when someone sings, and it determines if the song is going to sound great or not. The singer will have to hit various pitches in a song with a relative amount of accuracy in order to be in tune with the overall music accompaniment and harmonies.

Training ourselves to recognize pitches and intervals, to vocalize various notes as well as to correct ourselves when we go off-key is absolutely essential to achieving an accurate pitch when singing.

Every song has a certain beat, and it is essential that we keep to the basic rhythm of the song, or else we might find that we are constantly trying to catch up with the lyrics or always lagging behind. Rhythm also determines the groove of the song, and this is what gets us on our feet and dancing when we listen to upbeat or fast tempo songs!

A great sense of rhythm begins with learning to recognize various beat durations, to vocalize notes with different beats, as well as to be able to keep to the basic tempo of a song!

Breathing is an essential component of singing, and is what most singing instructors would introduce to students during their first lesson for singing. It is also what most people would want to learn about and also ask questions about.

What most people don't realize is that breathing is actually a very natural process, and it is certainly not difficult to achieve better breath control for singing. Understanding how we breathe for singing will be of great aid to us in achieving a great breath foundation for singing!

Our voice is often taken for granted when we sing, and we usually focus too much attention on other components of singing, instead of seeking to strengthen our vocal apparatus in order to produce great sounds when singing.

Basic understanding of our voice and vocal cords is essential in order to guide us towards adopting beneficial singing habits, as well as producing sounds that are more relaxed and healthy for us to vocalize.

Learning how to produce sound with our voice is not enough. We still need to shape our voice, and form words in a language that our audience will understand.

This is why diction is also one of the vital basics of singing, because it determines whether our audience understands what we are singing, and whether we are able to connect with them through our song. Diction is also a key factor towards hitting the correct pitches, especially for the high notes, and this will be explained in detail in other sections of this website.

There are also other basic Musical Terms Used During Singing, and it would be good for us to understand these terms too, so as to get a more well-rounded learning experience, and also know how to communicate with fellow singers and musicians too!

(Source: www.your-personal-singing-guide.com)

Voice Type

Voice Types refers to the kinds of voices that singers may have, classified based on a number of important criteria.

You may already know about some of the types of singing voices, for example Soprano, Tenor, Bass and many more!

In this section, I will show you the various kinds of singing voices and how they are classified!

You will then be able to discover exactly what is your UNIQUE voice!

(I know you are curious to know what is your voice type.. So am I!)

With that knowledge about your voice, you will be able to structure your training better and know what vocal range you should focus on to achieve effective results!

There are basically 3 voice types for females and 4 voice types for males in the realm of classical singing, and they are as follows:

1) Male Voices - Countertenor, Tenor, Baritone, Bass

2) Female Voices - Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Contralto

Find out more about these voices and their vocal ranges by clicking on the relevant links provided.

Now, remember how I told you that you can know your UNIQUE voice type?

For those more interested in the classical singing realm, you can also learn more about some voices that are unique to the classical realm!

What about those of us who sing in choirs, you say?

There are usually 4 main voice types, and they are: Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass. Learn more about these voice types and why there are only 4 main types of voices!

Now now, calm down all you pop singers...

I know you may be thinking, this is all not very useful to me! After all, I am a pop singer, not a classical or chorale singer..

But we can still use the classical voice classification as a guideline to understand more about our voice, so that we know how to select songs and how to train our voices better!

Hmmm.. what about young children? What are their voices like?

Our voices clearly differ with age, and childrens' voices would be of a different quality as compared to adult voices.

Find out why this is so, and also discover a special voice classification that would only be applicable for children-like voices!

Now, if you are still reading, it shows that you are genuinely interested in voice types!

In that case, let me reward you with more information.. ;-p

The main classification criteria for determining our Voice Types are as follows:

1. Vocal Range

Vocal Range is one of the key indicators of what type of voice a singer may have.

For example, if a male singer has a relatively high voice, he would probably be classified as a Tenor or even a Counter Tenor, whereas if a female singer has a high voice, she would probably be classified as a Soprano.

Knowing our vocal range is vital because we would then know which notes we should train with when we do our vocal exercises or our vocal warmups before singing.

This will help us avoid unnecessary damage if we were to train with notes or pitches that are too high and beyond our respective vocal ranges.

It is generally more damaging to train with notes that are too high for our range, than to train with notes that are too low for our voice to pitch properly.

Try out some of these pitching exercises and see which range of notes your voice is most comfortable with!

2. Register Changes

Our voice goes through a number of changes in tone and quality as we move from low pitches to higher notes, and these changes are called vocal register changes.

Knowing where our registers change or 'shift gear' would be able to help us determine what Voice Type we would belong to, and also help us to direct our vocal exercises efficiently towards smoothening out our register changes!

3. Vocal Tone

Different singers have varying Vocal Tones, as some may have voices that are bright and ringing, whereas others may have voices that sound dark and heavy.

Knowing our Vocal Tone helps us to be able to know what kinds of songs we can perform, and what songs we should avoid when performing or auditioning.

For example, if we have a heavy and powerful voice, we would know that we can most probably do songs that require more belting or vocal projection!

Whereas if we have a lighter and more delicate voice, we would do more songs in the genre of Bossa Nova, or maybe more gentle love ballads that require a certain sensitivity and lightness in tone.

4. Tessitura or Voice Strength

Tessitura refers to the vocal range within which our voice is at its most comfortable and sounding its best.

Some vocal instructors call this our sweet voice...

Knowing where our Voice Strength lies is key to understanding what voice type we belong to. For example, a soprano would have a stronger head voice whereas a bass singer would have a stronger middle voice.

5. Speech Level Voice

Our speech level voice is usually the voice with which we are most comfortable using, and it is also the voice that we would use the most in our everyday conversation.

It gives us an important indication as to whether we are a tenor, baritone or bass singer, since we would most probably talk using our tessitura or most comfortable vocal range.

Ok, the above 5 criteria can be used to determine which Voice Type we belong to, and would be able to help us know how to train our voices better.

In order to prevent unnecessary vocal abuse, vocal instructors should assume a middle vocal range for students, before slowly moving upwards and downwards and finding the extremes of each student's voice.

Once we understand our voice type better, we would be able to train our voice more efficiently and also know how to select songs for auditions, competitions or performances!

Constant practice also will change our voice quality and type to a certain extent, for example a voice can become brighter than before, so do not fret if you feel stuck in a voice that you do not like!

Over time, you will be able to move towards your DREAM voice...

Bad Singing Foods

"Bad Singing Foods", as the name suggests, are foods that may be harmful to our vocal health and may also cause unnecessary damage to our singing voice and our vocal cords. Taking care of our voice involves avoiding some or most of these foods and taking more of the "Good Singing Foods" that I have listed elsewhere on this website.

Some of the more obviously bad singing foods are actually very common drinks: caffeinated drinks and alcohol.

These include coffee and tea and various popular soft drinks, which usually contain high levels of caffeine that can keep us awake at night or when we are tired!

Unforunately, these drinks also cause dryness in our throats as well as in our body, and this is not good for our singing voice.

Our vocal cords are very fragile, and they need to be moist in order to avoid the vocal damage that may occur with frequent singing, since the vocal cords vibrate at a very fast rate, and dryness may cause irritation to the cords!

Alcohol also causes constriction in the blood vessels in vocal tissue, causing a reduction in vocal control.

Drinking water with lemon mixed into it will also cause dryness in our throats and should also be avoided before a performance or singing practice.

We should also try to avoid overly salty foods, because these 'bad singing foods' draw water out from our body and cause dryness. Heavily peppered or spicy foods should also be avoided because these cause irritation to our throat as well as our vocal cords, and may cause us to clear our throats more often, creating more discomfort in our voice!

Acid reflux (when our stomach acids flow back up towards our throat) is also a cause of throat and voice irritation, and it may be caused by taking too much spicy food, as well as eating a lot of food very late at night just before sleep.

When the food is being digested at night and we are lying down on our bed, this increases the possibility of acid reflux, and in serious cases, it could cause damage to our vocal cords directly! Acidic fruit juices also increase the chances of acid reflux and should be avoided too, especially late at night before sleep.

Many singers usually would also avoid dairy products before a performance, for example cheese, yogurt, milk, ice cream and so on, or even common fruits like bananas. These 'bad singing foods' create excessive mucus production and may cause singers to have too much phlegm or mucus when they are singing.

Generally, we should also try to avoid taking too many cold drinks, for health reasons as well as for overall voice care too. Cold drinks cause our throats and our voices to contract and stiffen, and this is not good for singing because we need our vocal cords and throats to be warmed up and flexible in order to be able to hit the various pitches that we sing!

Other bad singing foods include nuts and snack foods. If taken just before a performance, these foods may leave bits and pieces of remnants in the voice or throat, and these bits of nuts or snack foods may cause excessive irritation to our vocal cords when singing! It will also cause us to clear our throats more often, which is another cause of vocal abuse or damage!

For general health of the body, we should avoid fast foods and overly fatty foods. These may cause us to become overweight, putting more strain on our bodies and on our voice. These foods are also high in salt content and cause dryness in our body and throat.

Avoiding these bad singing foods will certainly help us to take better care of our voice, and reduce the chances of damage to our singing voices, thus increasing our vocal health! Of course, we would still need to practise great breathing support when singing, as well as do proper vocal warmups each time before we sing, so that our voices are well supported and warmed up before each vocal performance or practice! This will go a long way towards preserving our wonderful singing voices!

(Source: www.your-personal-singing-guide.com)

Monday, July 13, 2009

How To Find A Voice Teacher?

From the amount of email I have received, it appears that many of you are interested in finding a voice teacher but don't know where to start. It can be difficult to find a good teacher since many voice teachers don't always advertise. Hopefully some of these ideas will set you on your way.

The very best way to find a voice teacher is by word of mouth. Ask singers, professional or aspiring, whom they study with. Most singers are more than happy to discuss their teachers. But what if you don't know anyone who studies voice? You may have to dig a little deeper, but there are still ways to find a personal recommendation.

Music teachers are often in contact with other music teachers, even if they teach different instruments. Call your local college or university music department and ask for referrals. Some college instructors take local students on the side, they may have students who teach or may know of other teachers in the area. Calling local music stores for referrals is also a good idea. Many stores offer lessons and some are actually schools of music. Even if they do not offer voice lessons through the store, voice teachers may have advertisements at the store. Any musical organization, including churches, may have contact with local voice teachers in the area. It just never hurts to ask.

Not all voice teachers use advertising, although some do. Look in the classifieds. Some larger metropolitan areas have music magazines targeted to the rock musician (like Seattle's, The Rocket). They often have musician's classifieds and can be the best places to find teachers who teach rock/pop vocal styles. Some teachers may even advertise in the yellow pages.

You can also do some searching on-line. The National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) has a website at http://www.nats.org. Although they don't publish listings of individual teachers, they do have contact information for the regional governors. You can contact the governor for your region requesting referrals for your area. Two other on-line resources are Privatelessons.com and Music World's Voice Teacher Directory. Both of these websites have search engines and/or listings of voice teachers.

Once you have a referral or two or three, go ahead and make some phone calls. If you are interested in singing non classical music, i.e. jazz, rock, gospel, etc., make sure that you discuss this with your potential teacher. Some teachers do not teach outside of the classical voice tradition, so make sure to ask if this is important to you. You will probably also discuss price, location and lesson times.

If you are both interested in checking each other out, you may agree to meet for a trial lesson. It is only face to face that you can really see if this prospective teacher is a good match for you. Finding a good voice teacher is like finding a therapist or MD; you really need to find someone you are comfortable with. Learning to sing can be very intimate. Our singing voices can feel very delicate and people, especially beginners, can feel vulnerable and exposed. A good teacher should make you feel comfortable and safe yet challenge you to grow at the same time. It may take a couple a teachers to find a good fit or you might find the right one right away. In either case, you will have taken the first step to improving your voice and reaching your musical goals. Congratulations!

Head Voice or Chest Voice?

As an experienced vocal coach and perpetual student, I have spent twenty years studying and analyzing the singing voice. I often hear complaints from disciplined training students wondering why they are still faced with range limitations or undesirable tone quality changes after weeks, months or even years of diligent practice. Sometimes the answer lies in the much-overlooked vocal component, the pharynx, and the understanding of vocal registers.

The pharynx is simply a passageway from the nasal cavity down to the larynx (and then continuing into the esophagus). It is known to have three different regions: the naso-pharynx (located behind the nose), the oro-pharynx (located in the rear of the mouth), and the laryngo-pharynx (behind the throat). Understanding the pharynx and how it works with regard to singing can make a huge difference in a singer's voice .

Just like the pharynx is actually one component divided into three regions for easy reference, singing voices are often categorized in registers (chest voice, middle voice, head voice, falsetto). These regions/registers have assigned names which indicate the tonal quality changes that occur when moving from pitch range to pitch range.

The chest voice is often associated with deep, warm, rich, thick sounds.

The middle voice is generally associated with middle pitch ranges, and warm, rich tones. The middle voice also extends to the inclusion of the vocal mask and a warm, heady sound.

The head voice (women) and falsetto (men) are associated with light, bright singing tones that are higher in pitch and resonate within the upper sinus cavities. (Some singers consider warm, heady tones associated with the vocal mask as the head voice and never reach their range potential. )

When addressed with the question, "Should I sing this in my chest voice or head voice?" my answer is always the same: sing the note. My coaching goals include teaching the student to balance all of the vocal components to achieve the best sound. That requires blending, not separating. Each individual should listen to the note and decide, does it need more warmth or more brightness - and then adjust the vocal instrument to create that sound. Not sure how to do this? The pharynx, the available avenue between most of the resonating cavities, is a major part of the solution.

Review the diagram above (be sure to note the pharynx & resonating cavities) and consider the following analogy and theory: The vocal instrument, your body, is a multi-level building and the pharynx is the elevator inside running from top to bottom.

Sinus cavities are the penthouse and associated with the highest pitches.

The nasal cavity, naso-pharynx, and vocal mask represent the top floors.

The oral cavity, oro-pharynx, and soft palate represent the middle floors.

The upper chest cavity and laryngo-pharynx represent the first floors.

The lower chest cavity represents the building basement and associated with the lowest pitches.

Take a moment to really imagine it!

Many singers refuse to use the elevator which moves effortlessly to the next pitch. Instead they laboriously climb the building staircase, often taking mental note of each and every stair landing (register or note change). Instead of concentrating on one floor (or one note) at a time, learn to use the pharynx to your advantage and improve the overall tonality of your voice. This technique will also increase your range. Use the following glissando vocal exercise to test out the concept. Be sure your body and instrument are free of tension before beginning.

On the syllable "HEEE" we are going to start on a comfortable low note in our range and slide one pitch at a time to a comfortable high note in our range (from the bottom floor to the top floor of the building, currently ignore the basement and penthouse). Follow these exact instructions:

    1. Think about the comfortable low pitch you are going to start on – hear it in your head.

    2. As you initiate the pitch, actually create the mind picture of the elevator beginning in your chest.

    3. Begin to slide on the syllable "HEEE", pitch to pitch, up to the comfortable high note. With each note, picture the elevator on a steady, smooth and effortless rise to the top.

    4. You will need to gradually increase your airflow with each pitch.

    5. Know your top pitch. Hear the top note you wish to hit in your head. As the educated elevator doorman, make a definite yet easy stop once the destination is reached.

The transition between one registers often produces a vocal tone that breaks and cracks, or experiences a great change in quality. The first goal is to sing the "HEEE" syllable strongly over each note; even through a break or tone change should one occur. Repeating this exercise over time will help you gain the necessary strength and coordination to negotiate pitch changes without cracks or breaks. It will also help you develop a full and natural singing voice, with an enviable singing range. This brings us to our next step:

So you want a higher range?

Developing a higher range can be a daunting task and is an eluding goal to many singers. Many students are taught to focus primarily in the vocal mask. As a result, even after years of training, some singers sing up to a certain note and get stuck as if they were hitting their head on the ceiling. Returning to our analogy, it is as if the elevator is reaching the top of the building, or nasal cavity ceiling, and is permitted to go no further. The sound created using this type of focus is often a bit heady or even covered sounding. In order to increase your singing range past this point, we need to access the penthouse, the frontal sinus cavities and cavities in the top and back of the head. The tonal sound created will be light and bright, without the headiness associated with the vocal mask.

For those of you familiar with the fictional character, Willy Wonka, and the famous glass elevator shooting through the roof of the building, this concept may be easier for you because you have a true mind picture of what needs to happen. That's right; to increase your singing range you need to shoot the elevator through the roof. This requires a minor increase in air flow and a change in focus. Move your focus from behind the bridge of your nose/eyebrow area and turn it to the top of the head. Float the notes easily. You may need to drop your jaw to add space. Don't search for volume or strength too soon. Sing easily. Repeating this exercise often will help to develop strength, dexterity and stamina within this pitch range.

Follow the steps listed above and do the vocal sirens again, only this time allow the elevator (and focus) to access the Penthouse. Shoot your focus through the roof and sing higher than you ever have before. Use the elevator theory and related mind pictures to help you understand where the tone is focused for every pitch. Remember that the resulting tone should be light and bright, but with a sense of warmth and richness. Although the sensation may seem uncomfortable at first, there is no vocal straining involved. In fact, when done properly, singing very high notes is quite easy.

Remember to drink room temperature water every few exercises to prevent dehydration of your voice instrument.

So you want a lower range?

Now that we have discussed the penthouse portion of the elevator theory, you probably have a notion of where we are going with the basement idea. Let's call again upon the training exercise vocal sirens to demonstrate the idea, this time beginning on a high note.

    1. Think about the comfortable high pitch to start on – hear it in your head first.

    2. Initiate the pitch with the mind picture of the elevator starting in the Penthouse.

    3. Begin to slide on the syllable "HEEE", pitch to pitch, down to the lowest note of your singing range. With each note, picture the elevator on a steady, smooth and effortless ride to the bottom.

    4. As you reach the bottom of your range it is important to balance the decrease in airflow, the amount of resonating space in the chest cavity, and the amount of muscular control used. As the doorman, experiment with access to these areas. The ability to negotiate the space in the "basement" is directly related to how low you can sing and how warm your tone sounds.

NOTE: Do not "push" the voice in this range at all. It is much better to relax and decrease your airflow, while continuing to support with the diaphragm. With productive vocal practice and repetition the strength of that vocal range will increase. Pushing the voice in this range will only result in stress/damage to the voice organ and delayed vocal development.

(Source: singsmart.com)

Breathing Exercises

One of the cornerstones of learning to sing is knowing how to breathe correctly and learn to control your breathing so that it is used to optimum effect when you sing.

When we are born our breathing is naturally correct, babies can breathe, yell and scream with optimum effect because they use their lungs without conscious thought. As we grow older, some people become lazy in their habits only using the upper part of the lungs, taking a shallow breath instead of a normal one.

To understand how correct breathing and breath control works, first you need to understand the process that it uses to operate.

Ribs, Lungs and OrgansSurrounding your lungs is a muscle system called the diaphragm which is attached to the lower ribs on the sides, bottom and to the back acting as an inhalation device. When you breathe in the muscle lowers displacing the stomach and intestines. When you breathe out the diaphragm helps to manage the muscles around the lungs (abdominal muscles) control how quickly the breath is exhaled.

If you breathe out quickly, the diaphram does nothing but when you breathe out very slowly the diaphragm resists the action of the abdominal muscles. A singer learns to use this muscle system to control the breath as it is being exhaled.

Hold a finger close to your lips and breathe out slowly, the breath should be warm and moist and you should notice the action of the diaphram as you exhale. This is the correct amount of breath used when singing normally. A singer does not need to 'force' or 'push' air through the vocal chords to produce a good strong sound, doing so creates too much pressure against the chords, preventing them from operating correctly which can cause damage to the voice.

The stomach area should move naturally inward toward the end of the breath, the stomach should not be 'sucked in' as it prevents the diaphram from working effectively. Instead the abdominal area should remain expanded to the level it was when you inhaled and allowed to gradually decrease naturally at the end of the breath.

This is where the 'control' comes into play - the singer expands the lungs by inhaling and 'controls' the amount of air expelled when singing a note by allowing the muscle support system to remain expanded - this doesn't mean the stomach is pushed out, rather that it is blown up like a balloon when the air goes in and the singer slows down the natural rate at which it goes down. In most people the breathing is shallow and only the top half of the lungs are used - breathing correctly uses the whole of the lungs so that more air is available, the singer then uses the natural action of the muscles (diaphragm and abdominals) surrounding the lungs to control the amount of air that is exhaled when singing a note.

Good breath support during singing and speech requires, good posture, abdominal breathing and breathing during natural pauses. Breathing and correct support does not require great physical strength - although having toned abdominal muscles helps, even a child can learn how to breath and support their voice correctly. Remember....the diaphragm doesn't exhale for you - just helps to control the amount of air exhaled.

(Source: www.vocalist.org.uk)

Vocal Singing Exercises & Scales

When you have mastered your breathing, the following free singing exercises will help you on the path to improving and understanding your voice.

The key to a good rehearsal is to ensure that you achieve the following before starting:
Abdominal breathing
Good posture
Breath during natural pauses
Keep your chin level
Keep your knees loose
Keep your head up
Keep your shoulders sloping and relaxed
Keep your toes pointed forward with your weight on heels and soles
Keep the front of your neck loose - don't stretch it
Keep abdominal muscles relaxed
Keep your back muscles relaxed
Avoid holding your shoulders lifted and puffed out
Relax and SMILE.
If your having a bad day or feel tense and stressed, this can affect your practices and performance. To help achieve consistancy do a few Relaxation Exercises before your rehearsal. If it all starts going horribly wrong, take a break, relax or do something else and try again later.

Stand with your shoulders relaxed, arms by your side.

Breath in slowly.

Sing one note, holding the note for as long as you can without becoming short of breath.

Do NOT suck in your stomach!

Repeat the exercise with different notes using doh, ray, me, far, so, la, te, doh.

Use different mouth shapes and vowels like "ooh", "ee", "a" and "aah"

Try singing up and down a scale (called an arpeggio).

Sing short notes (known as Staccato) as well as long ones.

Practice along with our free online midi scales!!

animated mouth Sing phrases to improve diction: Examples:-
'I really love to sing' (going up the scale)
'La, Lo, Le, Lo'
'Ma, Mo, Me, Mo'
'Ta, To, Te, To'
'Hi, He, Ha, Ho, Hu'
'Qua, Quo, Que, Quo'
'Fluffy Floppy Puppy'
'Lolli, lolli, lolli, lolli pop'
'Bring back the boys big brown blue baseball bats'
'Sally saw silvester stacking silver saucers side by side'
(c-e-d-f-e-g-f-a-g-b-a-c--b-d-c up the scale then down the opposite way)
(suggested by Erica Zweig posted to Vocalist Newsgroup.

To feel the difference between raised and normal positioning of the larynx, place your fingers gently on your throat and try to talk as if you were a child or use 'baby talk'.

Record your efforts, notice the notes that do not sound right and concentrate on those until they do! Listen to the difference in your recordings over the next few weeks practice sessions to hear the improvement in your voice.

(Source: www.vocalist.org.uk)