Staying on “the level”

Weekly Teaching Tip – Aug. 29, 2011

Something that is very important for singers is to not allow themselves to “chase pitches” or in other words not to “follow the pitches” as they feel the resonation going up and down inside their body. Another way to say this is that singers must “stay on their level”. If you ask the student to count to ten you will notice that their head remains relatively stationary as they speak. They don’t move their head up or down and their larynx remains relatively stable no matter what word they are saying. However, if you ask a student to count to ten singing up a scale most likely their head will go up (and usually the larynx as well) as the pitch ascends. It is very important that singers learn to “stay on their level” as they sing no matter what the pitch is they are trying to sing. They should not reach up for high notes or push down for low notes. I am constantly reminding students that “sound goes up, but the body stays down”.

An image that seems to be particularly helpful to singers is the visualization of a teeter- totter or a seesaw. In order for the seesaw to stay in balance as one side goes up the other one must go down. If both sides try to go up the seesaw would break and would no longer work. Since the desire to follow the pitches or to “help” the pitches go up and down the body is so great in most of us, it is often helpful for the student to visualize this teeter-totter. When the note goes up a little bit, they think down a little bit. If the note goes up a lot, they think down a lot thus always keeping the body in balance and “on the level”. They don’t need to actually bend their knees and go down, just thinking of the teeter-totter and visualizing that feeling is all they need to do.

As the desire to “chase the pitches” diminishes I move to having the singers add a little feeling of “cry” or whimper as the pitches go up. This also helps the singer to stay on their level and helps them stay in balance, but in a much more subtle way then the teeter-totter feeling. This feeling of “cry” helps them stay down as the sound goes up, and it also gives the added benefit of adding a bit more emotion to the song as the vocal folds are drawn together a bit more which is usually helpful for most styles of music.

However we do it, it is very important that our students lock in to the concept that the “sound will go up, but the body must stay down”.

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