My thoughts...Wisdom from over the years

THE ULTIMATE VOCALIST PART 2

Posted in: Blog, tip of the week ♦ Tuesday, April 30th, 2013, 6:53 pm ♦ 2 Comments on THE ULTIMATE VOCALIST PART 2

The Ultimate Vocalist PART 2

 Position

Position your larynx properly. Many are the problems associated with high larynx singing.  Make sure you learn how to relax the muscles in your throat and neck.  When the larynx rides up, it creates tension and also squeezes up against the trachea making the area you have for air and tone flow in the throat—much smaller.  The throat can be a great source of resonance leading right into the chest area, but not if the larynx rides high and cuts it off.  When that happens, you are relegated to only being able to sing with a resonance from the jaw upward.  Therefore you’re much more likely to have a thinner resonance (upper head register)   with a high larynx.  Most of us prefer the richer sound of a lower register (chest) or would at least like to have the option of choosing between the two. When you constantly sing with a high larynx you have fewer options.

Additionally, keeping the larynx low not only eliminates tension, but it paves the way for extending your range because of it. So learning how to relax and master this technique will really help you in your quest to deliver your songs with the tone quality that you want.

Perceive

The mind is an amazing thing. Scientists tell us that we only use about 10% of our brain; I can only imagine what capabilities lie locked inside.  I just know that I wish I could use what I have more effectively! When it comes to singing, there is much that we can do to get our mind working for us rather than against us.

Take stock of the many mental messages that play over and over again n your head with regard to your singing—or singing a particular song, or even a specific part of a song.  Often the messages coming from within are not always helpful or encouraging. We need to take hold of these thoughts (…taking every thought captive) and make a decision about whether or not they are helping us accomplish our goals.

I want to just look at one common thought process and it’s regarding pitch. Most of us think of pitch as something that goes “up” (or down).  We tend to envision the pitches we sing in this way. As we do so, oftentimes we begin to react physically to what’s going on mentally and we may tend to tense up. Perhaps we’ll raise our eyebrows, or stand on our toes in an effort to “reach” the pitch. All of this goes against what we should be doing; which is relaxing.

I try to think about pitch as rolling put in front of me on a slight decline. That way when I picture the pitch, I’m actually “stepping down” in my mind to scoop up the pitch: I’m not reaching up for it. This has a significant effect on my whole body—but it’s my mind that’s controlling it.

There are so many aspects to this particular application that there is no way to cover it in a small section here.  I do ask you to try and take an inventory of your personal thoughts with regard to your singing though and don’t let them get the better of you—take control and you that fabulous brain of yours! 

Present

Presenting your song is probably the most critical part of the whole process. Why? Because even if you have done everything else I’ve listed but fail to present your song well, it could be all for naught. On the other hand, even if some of the other things don’t get handled as well as you might have liked, there are certain things you can do with your presentation to help smooth over some bumps. . Because of the importance of this topic, I will deal it more fully in my next article.

See ya next time! Until then, keep on singing for Him!

 

MORE TIPS EACH WEEK and SUBSCRIBE TO MY RSS

THE ULTIMATE VOCALIST PART 1

Posted in: Blog, tip of the week ♦ Monday, April 22nd, 2013, 7:54 am ♦ No Comments on THE ULTIMATE VOCALIST PART 1

The Ultimate Vocalist

I have decided to put together a short list of what I consider to be some of the most important aspects of being a great vocalist. I have put them into a simple list of 5 words starting with “P”. These are simplified steps to becoming a great vocalist even without a lot of training. They are easy steps you can do on your own— even without the help of a coach (although the help of a coach is always better).  They are each distinct and yet all connected to each other. If there is even one of these aspects that we don’t get right, the whole “ship” can go down, so make sure you have a good grasp of these basics. Here’s the list:

Prepare

Being prepared means being vocally and musically prepared. It’s imperative to prepare your body, mind and spirit. Many an opportunity has been lost simply due to lack of preparation.

Vocally: warming up is essential for the vocal mechanism to work at its best and to avoid unnecessary stress/damage to the cords.  NEVER sing without warming up. You will not only sound a lot better, but you’ll save (and extend the life of) your cords.

But beyond simply warming up before your presentation, you need to be preparing your voice to sing whatever song(s) you’ve selected. Each song will present unique and different challenges so you may find the need to work on certain technical aspects of a song until you feel more confident.  This often means breaking the song down into smaller sections and isolating the specific areas that need work.  Oftentimes there are vocalises that are applicable for exactly the problem you’re facing in your song. Having mastered a few of these key exercises can prepare you long ahead of time to be able to apply the technique right where and when you want to.

Musically: It’s important to choose music that is well suited for you. This includes range, style and appropriateness for your event.  Just because you really like a song, doesn’t mean its right for you to sing. (Having said that, there are times when a song can be adapted for you) Having the right song, in the right key with the right accompaniment is a very important component of being prepared.

Spiritually: Take time to pray about your upcoming event. Ask God to give you a clear vision of what He wants to do through you and you’ll have a much better chance of accomplishing more than just a “performance”.  You can actually touch people’s lives.

Practice

Practice may not make “perfect” but it will get us a lot closer.   We need to get really comfortable with whatever we’re singing if we’re going to be able to present our song in a manner that reaches people.  So we need to practice whatever song we’re singing until we not only get it right, but it’s like a second nature to us.

I like to quote my college vocal coach who once told me, “You can’t even START to work on a song until its memorized, and NEVER sing a song in public that you haven’t sung at least 100 times in private.” He was on to something.  Practicing well can truly help with so many things; including nerves. When you are confident that you know your song and that you can sing it effectively, you will be much less nervous. When you are less nervous and more relaxed, you can help your audience to be more relaxed and be able to enjoy your song and respond t the message instead of your nervousness.

 

MORE TIPS EACH WEEK and SUBSCRIBE TO MY RSS

ASK ME A QUESTION!

Posted in: Blog ♦ Tuesday, April 16th, 2013, 7:01 am ♦ No Comments on ASK ME A QUESTION!

Screen Shot 2013-04-16 at 9.58.41 AM

On Facebook Yesterday I opened up the doors to YOUR questions.
I want to answer them personally and maybe help target areas you have never heard me address. Feel free to comment here with a question or on my facebook page.

Vibrato

Posted in: Blog, tip of the week ♦ Tuesday, April 16th, 2013, 6:58 am ♦ No Comments on Vibrato

VIBRATO

Vibrato is often the subject of much speculation, misunderstanding and concern.  Why is this? How could something so innocuous be such a source of contention? I am going to venture onto this somewhat controversial subject and try to shed some light as well as clear up some commonly misunderstood ideas about vocal vibrato.

Why We Like It vs. Why We Don’t

We tend to like a natural vibrato because it’s, well, natural! When all things are working properly, without tension, a singer should naturally produce a vibrato in their tone. A naturally occurring vibrato is not overbearing or too prominent. It actually sounds good. It seems to be a natural part of the rhythm of nature and so we like the feel of it.

Conversely, when there is NO vibrato it is the result of tension.  Without tension, things would vibrate freely, but because there is a lack of control somewhere, tension often creeps in and kills any hope of a natural vibrato. When a singer has been properly trained, he or she can learn to relax in ways that will allow the various necessary parts of the body to vibrate.  A properly trained singer has learned to use the correct muscles for support and tone and therefore doesn’t inadvertently create unnecessary tension by using the wrong muscles. The end result is a naturally formed, comfortable to listen to –vibrato. Typically, we like it!

However, since so many people who venture into the world of singing are NOT properly trained, the tension that often ensues makes a natural vibrato elusive.  In part because of this, many resort to finding other ways to manufacture a vibrato. Others, though, are often simply impatient. Since vibrato tends to exemplify the mark of a trained voice, the average singer is of course looking for that vibrato in their own voice. When it doesn’t happen fast enough, many will begin to employ techniques to create a vibrato in a less natural way.  THIS type of vibrato is typically more noticeable, at an unnatural pace and generally more annoying to listen to. It takes over the voice as the most prominent feature instead of the tone itself and therefore we tend to react more negatively to the sound of the singer’s voice (even though we may not initially realize why).

Natural versus Unnatural

A natural vibrato should come about as the result of air pulsating from the diaphragm (a natural occurrence when there is no tension) and therefore causing a vibration as it strikes the vocal cords. This vibrato is “air generated”.  It is more subtle and does not change pitch (other than very slightly). It is more volume generated than pitch generated.  It is such a natural sound because it comes simply from the air striking the cords, not from a change in position in the vocal cords (which is how various pitches are attained).  A well played flute will exhibit a natural diaphragmatic vibrato.

Although there are many ways to manipulate the voice to create a vibrato, probably the most common is the simple process of bending the pitch. Since pretty much any singer-experienced or not-can change pitch, this puts vibrato within reach, of even the most amateur of singers, almost instantly. It can make a young singer sound instantly more “mature”.  This is a pitch generated vibrato and can be seen on a scope as oscillating between two pitches. For this reason it is much more prominent. Whereas a natural vibrato generated from air will vary in volume slightly, it will NOT vary radically in pitch. Because the pitch stays the same, the tone remains prominent. In the unnatural, pitch generated vibrato, the change in pitch become the most obvious feature on the voice, not the tone itself. Therefore we tend to find ourselves annoyed by the unending changes in pitch we find in this type of vibrato.

Additionally, there is the variable of rate with this type of vibrato, whereas with a naturally formed vibrato, the rate at which the air strikes the cords and causes a vibration doesn’t vary much from singer to singer. Most healthy diaphragms will pulsate air at approximately the same rate. This makes blending with others possible and easy.  However, when someone is contriving a vibrato through pitch change, the rate is up to the individual, and it often changes depending on circumstances. For example, when a person is young and has nice tight strong muscles, there might be a lot of control over the changing of pitch. This control may be such that the vibrato can easily imitate the rate of a natural vibrato. However, over time as the muscles weaken, that control wanes and thus we have the infamous “vibrato so big you can drive a truck through it”.

Regardless of the rate of vibration, a pitch generated vibrato also has the dubious quality of…well…changing pitch! That in itself is a problem if you are attempting any kind of blending with another person.  A pitch generated vibrato can be annoying to listen in a soloist, but it becomes menacing when in the context of a group. There is NO WAY to blend with a pitch generated vibrato because the singer is constantly changing pitch! Unless every singer in the group can learn to bend their own individual pitch at the same time, the one person with this strong, dominating type of vibrato will stick out. And can you imagine if everyone DID imitate the person with the pitch bending vibrato? What kind of group sound would that produce? The thought is a bit overwhelming.

Contemporary Styles of Singing with No Vibrato

One of the things I hear frequently is worship leaders, or producers asking their singers to “get rid” of their vibrato.  Some of the newer contemporary sounds are often reflective of an untrained youthful sounding voice (which might not have developed a healthy vibrato yet). There are certain styles where an over abundance of vibrato, and certainly a pitch generated vibrato, seem completely out of place.  But it’s important to bear in mind that where there is no vibrato—there is tension. Tension over the long haul wreaks havoc on the voice. A naturally occurring vibrato is not to be scorned, it is rarely offensive. Sure, a little straightening of the tone here and there for effect can be really nice. But a steady diet of a straight (tense) tone is a recipe for vocal disaster down the road. Whenever possible, allow the voice to do what it was intended to do-freely flow and vibrate!

 

MORE TIPS EACH WEEK and SUBSCRIBE TO MY RSS

PRE-ORDER SALE!!!

Posted in: Blog, SALE ♦ Monday, April 8th, 2013, 10:59 am ♦ No Comments on PRE-ORDER SALE!!!

pre-order

We are interrupting the tip of the week with a HUGE PRE-ORDER SALE!!!

Pre-Order the two Newest DVD’s at a price cut! 
normally $18 each grab these before they come out for only $30 for both and we will send them your way when they release APRIL 15th

Harmony and Improv 
Do you wish you could sing harmony? Do you wish you knew how to make up your own harmony? Do you wish you could teach others to sing harmony? If you answered yes to any of these questions then this is the video for you! Join veteran vocal coach Sheri Gould as she makes learning harmony simple and fun. In this fast paced interactive video you’ll get a basic understanding of harmonic structure as it applies to singing. You’ll learn some great exercises for improving intonation and learning how to create effective and beautiful harmonies. Next you’ll get the chance to try your hand at some improvisation as Sheri breaks it down to simple terms and helps give you the confidence you need. A great practical video for anyone looking to improve vocal skills for themselves or their teams!

For Women Only 
Are you looking to understand more about the female voice? This is the perfect video for you! Join Sheri as she explains the typical issues that affect the female voice and how to work effectively with them. This video includes straight talk about how hormones can affect female vocal cords from puberty though menopause and how to overcome problems associated with them. Sheri also discusses the female “break”, how to improve your speaking voice, how to achieve and maintain a healthy vibrato, the importance of getting and giving feedback and she even helps you find and understand your vocal range.
Are you a woman? Do you work with women on your vocal team? Do you lead or teach women? Then this video will be a helpful tool in helping you work with and train your women!

 

How to be an Effective Background Vocalist

Posted in: Blog, tip of the week ♦ Monday, March 18th, 2013, 1:24 pm ♦ No Comments on How to be an Effective Background Vocalist

HOW TO BE AN EFFECTIVE BACKGROUND VOCALIST

In this month’s column I would like to address a few key elements to becoming a truly effective background vocalist.  An effective background vocalist is a real asset, as well as a blessing, to not only the upfront singer/worship leader but to the audience/congregation as well.

Less Talented?

Oftentimes we think that a background vocalist is typically “less talented”. This could not be farther from the truth!  Many of the most celebrated singers of our time have found themselves in the position of singing backing vocals, from Whitney Houston, Carly Simon and Mariah Carey to Elton John, James Taylor and Michael McDonald! Truly singing background vocals is not (necessarily) an indicator of mediocre talent.  In fact, it takes a good deal of skill to be good at singing in the background without upstaging and demanding focus. A good background singer also needs to have the ability to blend in and be able to sing harmony parts. So let’s look at some of the aspects of what contributes to an effective background singer.

Essential Skills

There are a few really essential tools that every singer needs to have in their “toolbox”. Here is a suggested list (not exhaustive) of goals that every background singer might want to work toward:

Good Intonation

Flexible Tone Quality

Natural Vibrato

Sight-reading Skills

Ability to sing and Create Multiple Harmonies (and ability to switch parts if necessary)

Humble/Approachable Attitude

Commitment

Let’s have a look at each of these and assess their value to the platform while giving you some tips as to how to achieve them.

Intonation-is the ability to sing notes in tune at will. This may seem obvious, but many singers lack this important skill. Good intonation must be consistent.  I train singers to be able to sing simple half-steps and whole-steps without the aid of an instrument. This helps to tune up their ears. Singing a’cappella can also help to improve intonation by forcing singers to rely on their own internal sense of tonality rather than depending on an instrument. If you need more help, try some training software like Sing & See (http://www.singandsee.com/).

Flexible Tone Quality– is imperative for being able to blend with other singers. You do not have only one specific tone quality as a singer. This tool is invaluable as you need to be able to shade and color your tone to meet any need. If you have never learned how to affect your tone quality through different resonance then I suggest you buy my DVD called “Developing Style” (http://sherigould.bigcartel.com/ ) Please don’t resort to the unhealthy practice of adding air to your tone to be able to blend with others, there are so many other, healthy ways to blend with other singers.

Natural Vibrato-is a naturally occurring vibrato that is healthy and not over powering-it is air (volume) generated and not pitch generated.  There are times while blending that even a natural vibrato may need to be curbed, but overall a natural vibrato is an asset.  It is only the mechanically imposed vibratos that cause problems. These vibratos are too prominent, overwhelming the singer’s voice and every other singer’s voice as well. For a complete treatment on the subject of vibrato, please refer to the May/June issue of Worship Musician! Magazine (http://www.scribd.com/doc/92863896/Worship-Musician-Magazine-MayJun-2012 ) or write to me at sherigould1@aol.com and request your own personal copy.

Sight-reading Skills-are generally extinct in most church environments with today’s highly technological world of both large and small screen generated lyrics (sans music).  I will likely go to my grave still extolling the virtues of learning and being proficient at this long lost (and seemingly dying) art. The ability to read and understand (at least a rudimentary knowledge of) music should be an obvious requirement of any person who aligns him/herself as a musician. Sadly, most singers do NOT consider themselves musicians. This is likely because in the strictest sense of the word—they aren’t. But they should be and they need to be!

There were very good reasons that the original “writers” of the Gregorian Chant found it useful to write down the notes of the famous tune—none the least of which was so that they could remember it correctly in the future! How much time is wasted in our rehearsals today because our singers lack this skill?  Reading music is not a difficult thing to learn, try a little bit of reading each week as a team. Building this skill will improve multiple aspects of your team. Sadly, I find it more and more common that “musicians” are proud of the fact that they cannot read music. To me this is like living in a country for years and being proud of never having learned the language.

The Ability to sing and create Multiple Harmonies-although it may not be essential to being a background vocalist in the truest form of the word, is nonetheless a wonderful asset. I require ALL my background vocalists to be able to sing harmony, and not only ONE specific area of harmony, but to be flexible enough to be able to switch parts if necessary. Anyone who can sing and hold a tune can learn to sing harmony.  Next month I will devote my entire column to ways you can learn how to sing harmony. For now, start listening for the harmonies on the songs you currently enjoy listening to. They are there.  Start to tune into them and try to sing along with them. Stop yourself from only singing along with the melody, this will start you on the road to singing harmony yourself.

A Humble/Approachable Attitude and Commitment-are perhaps the two most important things a background singer can posses. With these two things in place, I can do miracles-even if some of the other skills are lacking. Being a background singer is all about supporting the lead singer and the team. This means not drawing attention to yourself or your own voice, but making the leader and the team “look good”.  No leader can function with a team that is inconsistent; therefore being confident that all the team members are on board and will be there for rehearsals/performances will allow a team leader to plan and move the team forward in every way. Humility in all the team members also allows the leader to do what’s best for the tam without worrying that one of the members will be offended.  All egos need to be checked at the door.

With these aspects in place, you’ll be well on your way to being an Effective Background Vocalist. God bless you and keep on singing for Him!

MORE TIPS EACH WEEK and SUBSCRIBE TO MY RSS

Tone Quality, Resonance and Style-Part 2

Posted in: Featured, tip of the week ♦ Monday, March 11th, 2013, 4:26 am ♦ No Comments on Tone Quality, Resonance and Style-Part 2

Tone Quality, Resonance and Style-Part 2

Last time I discussed various points of resonance and how to pinpoint a few.  (If you missed part one, or any other back article, please feel free to e-mail me –my e-mail address is at the end of this column–and I’ll be happy to send you any archived articles that might be of interest to you.) In this article we’ll continue the discussion of resonance and tone quality as it relates to style.

Head Voice/Chest Voice—EXPOSED!

I would like to help shed some light on what I believe is a pretty serious misunderstanding with regard to singing. What I’m about to say will likely fly in the face of most current, contemporary singing advice you’ve hear  heretofore.  I believe the current use of the phrases “Head Voice and Chest Voice” exists primarily because of a misunderstanding of many things.

In years past when singers were primarily trained classically, they were taught about resonance and tone placement.  Through classical teaching methods, students were taught where and how to place their resonance.  As they moved through various parts of their range, they might become aware of the resonance reverberating more or less in specific areas. For example, as they moved into lower areas of the range, they might feel vibrations and resonance all the way into the chest. Therefore the term CHEST REGISTER developed.  This was a notation that a large portion of the vibrations of sounds were being directed to the chest cavity as a place to resound. Similarly, as notes got higher in pitch, a student might direct those vibrations higher into the head area, thus the term HEAD REGISTER developed.

As people moved further away from studying voice in any kind of classical way and moved toward the NON trained voice of a contemporary or folk singer, a whole different connotation began to arise.  Without proper training, control of the voice is lacking.  Because the vocal cords are primarily made up of muscle, if the cords are not prepared, strengthened and trained properly there will be weakness in certain areas. As the weaknesses in the vocal cord structure remain but yet are stretched to capacity many different configurations of the vocal cords may ensue—not all of which are desirable.

One of the common things that happen is that many singers lose control as they get higher in their range and therefore the vocal cords come apart and the singer ends up vibrating the cords together only partially. This naturally causes a thinner tone because there are less of the vocal cords being used. Additionally, the space created now between the cords allows for more air to escape causing the tone to be lighter and airier.  Some singers actually perfect this transition from the full cord adduction to a partial cord adduction and create almost a ‘pop’ causing the break to sound very distinct. In olden times (and other cultures) this technique is referred to as “yodeling”. Now some pop singers strive for this anomaly!

This break in the voice is a nuisance to most singers and can be rectified with proper training.  However, this process has become associated with the idea and subsequent misunderstanding of a head VOICE. Once a singer allows the cords to pop open, extra air flows and the tone can only register up in the head because the larynx is so high in the throat.  Therefore people have dubbed this now a head VOICE, and anything below the breaking area a “Chest VOICE”.  There are not, nor should there ever there ever be two distinct voices in a singer.  Many places to resonate perhaps, but not differently produced voices that are so very different in sound, strength and construction.

Having said this, I recognize that many contemporary singers have indeed capitalized on this untrained sound and incorporated it into their style.  If this is something that you LIKE and want to do then that is fine.   Many people however default to this style due to lack of training and it is an unwanted part of their repertoire.  With incorrect information, many have been led to believe that they are stuck with these two voices and just have to work with them. This is sad and such a shame.  Developing a style a one thing, feeling trapped is another.

I am frequently asked if the “break” is harmful for the vocal cords. The answer is no, not in the sense that it hurts the vocal cords by causing undo stress. However, the loss is in the training of the muscles to break. Muscle memory is a powerful thing and once they are trained to consistently break at a certain point, it is difficult to UN-train them.  This makes the job of learning to sing properly with a full voice and resonance wherever you choose—a near impossibility. So I don’t recommend developing that aspect of style, but I understand that it is popular and many, especially young girls and women, will be drawn to the style and sound that goes with it. Men generally do not experience the full popping and breaking of the cords mid range because they are aware of their falsetto and recognize that at THAT point the opening of the cords is necessary to hit the extra tones.

Think PRETTY

So much of what we hear today is really not much more than a lot of vocal gymnastics. The singer seems to be trying to see how many notes they can hit in one word! A lot of attention is given to a belt voice trying to yell higher and higher on stretched, fully adducted cords. But what I don’t see a lot of attention given to is: a pretty tone quality. Many of the tone qualities that we hear in contemporary music are very nasal. This nasality allows for a better maneuvering around the keyboard. A pretty tone allow fro greater enjoyment by your listening audience, So although its always great to pursue a certain amount of vocal gymnastics—I’d like to consider myself a proper vocal athlete, trilling about with the best of them—I’d also like to think that I can create a tone that reach into your heart and soul as well. I think we would do well as singers to venture into the area of resonance and tone quality more.  The result could be very…BEAUTIFUL!

MORE TIPS EACH WEEK and SUBSCRIBE TO MY RSS

Tone Quality, Resonance and Style-Part 1

Posted in: Featured, tip of the week ♦ Wednesday, March 6th, 2013, 8:29 am ♦ No Comments on Tone Quality, Resonance and Style-Part 1

Tone Quality, Resonance and Style-Part 1

Many singers today are particularly interested in style.  Specifically developing their own personal style. Those of us who are worship leaders or serving on worship teams may often wonder what kind of ‘style’ is appropriate for us to develop—if any at all. There are certainly different styles of leading worship and even different styles of worship music. So what’s involved and what’s a good frame of reference for wanting to develop a unique—but attractive—personal vocal style?

UNIQUELY YOU

God has made each of us in a unique and wonderful way (Psalm 139:14). This unique design gives you a specific template from which to start when developing your own style. The shape and structure of your face, neck, vocal cords, chest, etc, all contribute to your overall sound.  Recognizing the value in your particular gifts is an important place to start.  Although you may be able to imitate others and perhaps mimic many different styles, they will always contain an element that is undeniably YOU!

TONE QUALITY

Contrary to what you might think, based on the above paragraph, you are not relegated to one specific tone quality.  There may be some elements that are particularly fixed, but many can be affected to create the type of tone quality that you want. In order to affect this, you need to do some experimenting.  Much can be learned but simply ‘playing around’ with your voice.

For example, when I was in college we were required each year to participate in the annual community presentation of the Christmas portion of Handel’s “The Messiah”.  Although I truly appreciated and enjoyed singing in “The Messiah” what I did not particularly enjoy were the warbling voices of the many senior citizens that also participated annually. My girlfriend and I would roll out eyes and laugh with each other at the “weird, operatic” style voices that often surrounded us. One day, in a display of great teenage maturity, we decided to sing the entire rehearsal in a fake opera style-imitating those around us-just to see if anyone would notice. We had great fun that day and thought we were quite clever, and no…no one even noticed-much to our glee.  But I learned something that day.

At the end of the rehearsal, I had actually discovered some things about tone quality and resonance. Believe it or not, having never explored those particular areas of resonance necessary to imitate an operatic style, I became aware of a whole new aspect of my voice as I spent the hour and a half singing in a new a different way (albeit tongue in cheek). Periodically in my teaching practice throughout the years, I have often suggested to women, who have struggle to get out of a particular type of tone quality, to try imitating a opera singer-just for fun.  Invariably when they try this, certain area of resonance open up for them and it’s an eye-opening experience for them just as it was for me.

RESONATORS

We have lots of areas to resonate. Some of them are able to change shape and some are not.  When I teach vocal technique, I typically take a quick phrase (such as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star) and sing it with an emphasis in various difference resonant areas. For example, I will sing it with a very nasal sound, or a light, airy head type resonance, or with a throaty “belt” voice. Then I can demonstrate how to blend different areas of resonance or reshape them to get the different colors available to each person.  This is of course difficult to do in a magazine article!

What I CAN do is get you to feel some resonance in the nasal (sinus) cavity. Try placing your fingertips on either side of your nose and hum on an “N”. You should be able to feel (with your fingers) a buzzing in your nose.  This is an area of resonance that you can’t change the shape of but you can choose how much of your tone you’d like to resonate there.

Another thing I can try to get you to do is to try different shaping techniques with your mouth. Your mouth is a large resonator whose shape CAN be changed.  The main way to change the shape is by opening or closing the mouth by degree.  If you open by widening your mouth, our tone will tend to be forced more up into your head and/or nasal cavity. If you drop your jaw you will round and warm up the tone.  You actually change the SIZE, not just the SHAPE when you drop your jaw. You can transform your tone.  Think of the difference in tone quality from a Violin or a Cello. Even if they played the same note, they would sound different.  Opening up that area of resonance can give you some real flexibility with your tone quality.

You can even change the way a tone resonates by the way you shape your lips. Try to picture your lips like the bell of a trumpet. If you allow your lips to be loose and full, your ‘bell’ will help facilitate the best sound for you. If will help you to project as well (think megaphone!).  If there is tension in the lips it tightens the ‘bell’ and closes your ‘bell’ somewhat. So play around with the shape of your lips by relaxing them and shaping your vowels outward—a big ‘poofy’ lip feel is what you’re looking for.  Pushing your ‘poofy’ lips forward, I frequent joke and say “Think Angelina Jolie lips”. You may find that by doing a lip roll (blowing air through your lips while they vibrate—think like a horse) it will help to relax your lips and warm them up to stay relaxed.

By combining the resonating areas from the sinus cavity down through the mouth, you can find that area commonly called “the mask” area to resonate in. Different combinations of these resonant areas can provide many different colors for you as a singer. I suggest you spend some time “playing around” with this area. If you ALWAYS feel a buzz in your nose when you’re singing, you’re likely a bit a too nasal in your tone quality. If your singing sounds thin or airy, you’re most likely resonating in the upper part of your head-behind your sinus cavity.  This will tend you give you an immature sound. If you combine the nasal with the head, you tend to get a more “classical” type of resonant sound (not a real classical sound, but a type of one). This pseudo-classical sound doesn’t fit well at all with a contemporary style of music. If you resonate in the head and nasal cavity with a raised soft palate you will likely get a ‘hooty’ sound. This is unattractive in ANY style!

MORE

We’ll talk more next time about other areas of resonance and how to find the sound that best fits the style you’re hoping to develop or emulate. Style has a lot to do the type of music you’re singing, but also a great deal to do with your tone quality. Tone quality has a lot to do with where you’re resonating!!  So stayed tuned for more next time!!

MORE TIPS EACH WEEK and SUBSCRIBE TO MY RSS

Commitment… The scary word

Posted in: Blog, tip of the week ♦ Monday, February 25th, 2013, 11:32 am ♦ No Comments on Commitment… The scary word

Commitment.

Seems to be a scary word these days doesn’t it?  It kind of appears to me like commitment, or lack thereof, is a very common thread of discussion in the church today.  I work with hundreds of worship leaders every year and this theme—lack of commitment– is prevalent among those who serve in the local church. I would like to venture into this territory and make a case for why we need to be committed not just as people, but as singers.

Committed to the Cause

Most of you who are reading this article are serving in the trenches of your local church. When I was in college so many years ago, I remember hearing it said that ANY gig was better than a ‘church’ gig. Why? Because it was all volunteer.  The term volunteer implied—less than committed. Moreover, there’s the underlying, unspoken aspect of no enforcement. Even if you got the always dreaded junior high school gig, you could at least punish your less than committed student through a variety of means-a flunking grade being one of them.  Pretty much any musical venture you might choose to get involved with will require some sort of real commitment. If you break your commitment, there will be some sort of retribution.

Except in the church

With church involvement, we tend to feel we have no “right” to require any kind of real commitment. We feel ecstatic just to have warm bodies most of the time.  Well, I propose that there is an error in that kind of thinking.  We need to realize that what we do in the music ministry at church has less to do with people and more to do with God. In other words, our commitment is to GOD more than it is just our fellow man.  Scripture has much to say about honoring the commitments we make to God.

Committed to Each Other

Although our primary commitment is to our Lord when we make a decision to get involved with our music ministry at church, we are also making a commitment to our brothers and sisters in Christ. If you are involved in any kind of a team, you know that when one part of the team is missing, the team doesn’t function as well—sometimes it can’t function at all! When we have any kind of a vocal group, the focus on getting our parts right, balanced, blended and tight requires all members to be present. It’s impossible otherwise to achieve those objectives.

Time is of the essence in most of our busy lives. This is all the more reason why we need to be committed to our teams. When 4 out of 5 people show up for a rehearsal, it ends up costing those 4 people a lot of wasted time. Invariably, things that are learned will have to be re-learned once the missing party does show up, to take his or her part into consideration now. This is so inconsiderate toward your leader and team members.  No one has time to waste.

I like to encourage worship leaders to strive for excellence in all they do.  I’d like to encourage you as a singer to do so as well.  I like to encourage worship leaders to require commitment of their team members. I even suggest a covenant agreement between all team members, renewable each year. I also suggest to team leaders to audition for their worship teams every year. This helps to keep people on their toes. There are far too many people on worship teams today who feel they have a “right” to be there. They’ve forgotten that it’s a privilege to serve. An audition each year would help to remind them. It also gives others in the congregation the opportunity to serve. Too many churches have given off the persona that the worship team is a private club or clique that is nearly impossible to break into.  This would help to alleviate that problem.

 

Committed to Your Voice

I also find that many members of worship teams don’t take the development of their own voice, or their musicianship very seriously either.  I think this is another waste.  We have so much to gain personally from personal growth of any kind, but in this case we can positively affect so many people by getting committed to being a better singer or a better musician in general.

One of the benefits of learning more about one’s own voice is the health and longevity of your voice. There are many “dangers” lurking out there in the world of singing, many of them wanting to steal your beautiful voice and make it raspy, hurting and no longer useful for the kingdom of God!  But this need not be the case. With a little of the right information and application, many of those dangers are easily averted.  Additionally, with a little commitment to working out, your voice can become stronger, more beautiful and gain an increase in range.  If every singer on your team took the time to personally work on their own voice and their own musicianship (not to mention their own parts!) the team as a whole would grow and benefit.  In turn, your congregation would feel the benefit as well.

The Price of Commitment

Being committed to anything requires paying a price of some sort. When I committed my life to my husband I paid the price of “forsaking all others” and so did he.  Not a bad deal at all for me actually, I’m so glad we did. We could never have the level of intimacy we have in our marriage if we hadn’t. It’s a price that many people today aren’t willing to make.  Committing to a worship team (or bettering your voice) will undoubtedly mean forsaking other activities and this may be too high a price for some.  Many blessings await those who are willing. Those are the ones I want on my team, how about you?

MORE TIPS EACH WEEK and SUBSCRIBE TO MY RSS

How do you find the RIGHT vocal coach?

Posted in: Blog, tip of the week ♦ Monday, February 18th, 2013, 12:34 pm ♦ 2 Comments on How do you find the RIGHT vocal coach?

Finding the Right Vocal Coach

So many folks I meet on worship teams would love to get better at singing. They’d love to have some vocal training. The problems are often multiple though and may seem insurmountable.  Time, money, a lack of contemporary and/or Christian coaches, distance, etc are just a few of the problems that seem to overwhelm many to the point where they simply give up. Let me try to give you some suggestions that may prove helpful for you.

TIME 

Sorry, can’t help you with this one… (just kidding).  Here’s the truth: yes it will take some time. However, it might not be as much time as you might think. You need the time it takes to get to and from the lesson (unless you try Skype), the lesson itself, and some time to practice what you’ve learned.  In a perfect world, you could find someone close by making travel time manageable. Perhaps you could take lessons on a bi-monthly basis rather than weekly, thus cutting down the travel time.  Lessons are often able to be taken by the half-hour or hour (sometimes even an hour and a half). Instead of taking a weekly half hour lesson (which would be great-a weekly hour lesson would be even better!) try taking an hour lesson every other week if the distance is great.

Find some time during your daily routine that you can use to sing and work on some of the things you’ll learn.  Some of the things you’ll learn will require your undivided attention to practice, but others could be done while you are engaged in a relatively “brainless” activity (like taking a shower or washing dishes).  For those other things, try to schedule a little vocal workout time at the time you might usually do something else that is fun but time consuming—like Facebook, TV, web-surfing, etc. Take a 15 min to a half hour to do some work on your singing before you do the other fun/relaxing thing that you might normally do in the evenings. Don’t schedule yourself for the WHOLE time you’d normally do something else—just part of it. That way you won’t feel like you’re giving something up, you’ll just be splitting the time and in the end you’ll accomplish a great deal, even in 15 min.

MONEY

Many people are concerned about the amount of money that voice lessons can cost—for good reason.  Depending on where you live they can be very pricey. In some parts of the country lessons with a decent vocal coach can easily hit the $250 per/hr mark! However, I know folks who are getting quality lessons for $40-$50 an hour.  There are lots of ways to find reasonable prices if you do your homework.  Some teachers will do a lesson via Skype for cheaper than an “in person” lesson.  Some teachers charge less for a full hour than for a half hour and so taking a full hour every other week might work out well for time and money.

Local community colleges often offer voice lessons as a class offering.  Sometime they offer a voice class as well, which is group instruction and can be MUCH cheaper and a great alternative especially for a beginner. A voice class can be a bit intimidating at first because you have to sing in front of others, but it’s a great way to get over the jitters that often accompany singing in front of a crowd.  Lastly, if you can’t actually enroll in the school, you can try contacting the voice teachers directly. Often they give private lesson as well, at reasonable prices.

BUT I WANT A CONTEMPORARY COACH!

I know, I know…if you go to a college for a coach, you’re going to invariably end up with some classical training.  This does not actually scare me as much as it might you. I know that in a perfect world; you would prefer to find a contemporary, Christian vocal coach. They are out there, but they are few and far between so you may have to make some choices for the overall goal.  A little bit of classical training won’t kill you  in fact; you will learn some really valuable tools. The important thing is to make sure you communicate to your teacher what your goals are.  If you do get “stuck” with a classical teacher, ask if you can study “Broadway Musical” type songs. They are typically delivered in a way that is much less classical and will more easily transfer to your contemporary style.

The more important thing in my opinion is that a teacher is qualified.  I think a student can work with a teacher that may not be the exact perfect fit stylistically as long as the teaching is solid. Too often we opt for the “church organist” who has set up shop in her home because she’s convenient and very cheap. Or, perhaps the guy down the street at the local music store because he’s available (and cheap), but he most likely is really a guitar player who is self taught vocally or has listened to a few instructional CDs and also teaches drums, keyboard and ukulele! Look for someone who truly has a background in voice—hopefully a college education.

 

CONNECTING

When all is said and done, you need to truly connect with your teacher. You need to find someone who genuinely sees great potential in you. Someone who, in fact, you actually enjoy being with. That personal connection can make all the difference. I had an amazing teacher in college. I feel that I owe everything I am as a singer to him. He believed in me when no one else did. He gave me confidence and great instruction and I just loved him. I even named my firstborn after him! Recently I ran into an old college friend and found out that she had the same guy for a vocal coach.  She did not share the same incredible feelings that I have for this wonderful man.  She thought he was “okay”. It was very interesting to me. She also LOVED another teacher that we both had earlier on and I felt that teacher was very rudimentary, at best, in her teaching style. So a lot of times it just might be “personal”. Much as I hate to think it, I might not be the best vocal coach for everyone!

MORE IDEAS

There are many great coaches that offer online lessons via “Skype”.  Chris Beatty with vocalcoach.com, Brett Manning and Associates with singingsuccess.com are two that I know of-both out of Nashville.  Brett Manning and Seth Riggs (speechlevelsinging.com) also certify teachers and may have one in your area. These are all well qualified and teach in a contemporary style. I’m sure there are many more as well. These are ones I’m familiar with and can whole-heartedly endorse.  I have not found Skype to be as effective as I’d like, so I don’t personally offer it, but if you’re in the New York/New Jersey/Eastern PA area and looking for a good vocal coach—give me a holler!

MORE TIPS EACH WEEK and SUBSCRIBE TO MY RSS