Weekly Teaching Tip – Dec. 5, 2016
by Earl Harville
We all know that balance is the name of the game when it comes to good vocal production. We are aware that yelling is not optimal to the health of the instrument. Neither is an anemic, unenergized way of singing. Both can lead to undue tensions in the throat and be evidenced by a high larynx. I find that clients can achieve a good sense of vocal equilibrium by becoming more aware of how they use their voices when they speak or call out (not yelling) and how healthy chest voice is important for the voice as a whole. Let’s face it- when people think about singing, they often screw things up by trying too hard to make it sound one way or another. Approaching vocalizing from a place of just making sound can keep the student from overthinking and, perhaps, let their production become more reflexive.
Here are some exercises that I am using more often to help students make the mental and physical connections between speech and singing functions. I find them helpful for pullers and timid singers alike.
1) ‘POW’- It’s very natural for a student to make a very energized, physically engaged sound with this one. I have the singer to speak the word several times as if they were mimicking the sound of an explosion or a punch (think the old “Batman” TV series). I find it helpful to have the client place their fists in their sides or two fingers at the solar plexus to get an awareness of how the body supports itself naturally when making an energetic declamatory sound. After saying the word a few times, we move on to singing it in a comfortable pitch range. I tell them not to actually think singing at this point, however, because it tends to take them out of a strong but unforced sound. I want them to focus on ‘sounding’ and not ‘singing’ yet. Depending on the singer’s tendencies, I either take them up in range by half steps on single notes with a short sustain, or go with either a 1-3-5-3-1 pattern or a five note scale. They are not allowed to increase volume as they ascend. I remind them that the sound will thin a bit as they travel from chest into middle voice. For the hard core pullers, I have them to monitor the movement of the larynx and the base of the tongue with their thumbs.
2) ‘BAM’- The approach with this one is largely the same as the previous word. I will sometimes start the singer in middle or head voice, with a child-like pharyngeal production (think Bam Bam Rubble from “The Flintstones”). We then work downwards towards chest voice then ascend again. When I ask students to rate the difficulty of this sound ( On the ‘Dial of Difficulty, 1 is super easy and 5 is ‘call an ambulance- I think I tore something), they seem surprised that they don’t have to go past a ‘3’ for a very solid but free sound.
3) ‘HI’- I user single tones almost exclusively with this sound. I have the client to speak ‘HI!’ then immediately sing it on an assigned pitch. Again, I like for them to think that even the sung tone is really just elongated speech. I take them up by whole or half steps from near the top of their speaking range through their middle voice, at least. They are reminded to let the pitch of the spoken ‘HI!’ start to rise as if they are increasingly excited. For some, it helps to have them think child-like if they feel like effort is increasing. Some of my strongest chest pullers are noticing less strain getting through the first bridge.