What makes a song interesting?
In this video you will learn how to add style to your singing by developing dynamic and tempo contrast.
Learn the 5 Elements of Style in my X FACTOR VIDEO SERIES
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I Want A Bigger Range!
This statement is one that I have heard many times as a vocal coach. In this video you will learn how to increase your range safely.
Develop your range further by enrolling in my FREE MINI COURSE
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In this video you will learn how to add agility and flexibility in pitch and rythym. Flexibility is a vital ingredient when it comes to contemporary singing.
Access my FREE Mini Course HERE and receive 5 video lessons.
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The Secret to Singing With Power!
In this video you will learn how to use the cavities of your throat and head to add power to your voice. Are you sick of having a tired voice trying to belt the sound? Do you tire easily? Develop resonance to solve your problems.
Learn more about your voice by enrolling in my FREE Mini Course
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So, you have a solid technique, you have developed style to your singing. You have done everything ”vocally” to master your voice. There is however another aspect of singing that is overlooked. An aspect of singing that sets apart the amateur singer to the professional singer.
An energized body will lead to an energized voice!
Exercise: Walk into a room with your shoulders slumped, head down, yawning and feeling very lethargic. Notice your energy levels. Now sing. What do you notice? What is often lacking is certain “spark”. A singer may be technically great, but a technically great singer may sometimes appear robotic and lack intensity.
So how can we create energy?
- Light exercise before you sing
- Move while doing vocal exercises.
Motion leads to Emotion
This leads me to my next point, physiology. As a singer, your instrument is your body. By now you should realize that nearly every muscle in your body contributes to the way you sing. The way you present your instrument (body) can alter your energy levels and also the way people perceive you. Let’s take the first example again. Remember, lethargic, slumped….. Now walk into a room with energy and vitality. Chest high, head up, smiling. Now sing. Is there a difference to your voice? How differently will people perceive you? I can tell within seconds in my private coaching sessions how well a student will perform that day just by the way they walk into the room. Your physiology, the way you move, the way you hold yourself directly affects your state of mind, your Psychology.
Psychology and Singing
A singer can have the most talent in the world but unless they have the mindset to take full advantage of their talent, it will go to waste.
The mind has the ability to create or destroy.
3 examples of successful singers:
- Natural talent and positive mindset. This singer is very rare. They become the superstars we know today.
- Learned talent and positive mindset. This singer is very common in the classical world. A singer may spend 10 years studying and a couple of years trying to get a break. They never give up and eventually “make it”.
- No outstanding talent but a positive mindset. This singer probably won’t win any singing competitions yet somehow is able to make a living out of singing. I’m sure you can think of examples in today’s pop music.
3 examples of unsuccessful singers:
- Natural talent and no mindset. This singer has all the talent in the world. Unfortunately they are full of excuses as to why they haven’t “made it” as a singer. Confidence and self esteem issues are usually the problem.
- Learned talent and no mindset. This type of singer will give up easily. They often fear rejection.
- No talent and no mindset. Occasionally I come across a student who doesn’t possess any talent and who is hesitant to learn anything new. This singer is often under the illusion they are a good singer yet when they are told otherwise they become defensive and angry. I’m sure you will have seen this on a popular prime time singing competition.
Talent can only take you so far.
Technique can only take you so far
The singer’s mindset will determine how successful they will be.
Which category do you fit into?
The Learning Process
As a singing student you must realize that learning to sing is a lifetime of study. You cannot master singing in a month, a year, or even five years. Remember that your body is your instrument and it will change throughout your life. With that in mind, patience is the key. Build skills slowly and add to your technique on block at a time. The more time you spend laying the foundations, the more skills you will be able to add over time.
Don’t rush it!
Beliefs. Beliefs form a big part of the learning process. There are two types of beliefs:
- 1. Empowering Beliefs
- 2. Disempowering Beliefs
I CAN do it
I CAN’T do it
I AM a good singer
I am NOT a good singer
I LOVE singing high notes
I CAN’T sing high notes
Disempowering beliefs are dangerous when learning how to sing. If a student believes they can’t do something even before they have even attempted it, they will be in a constant battle with themselves. This will result in frustration. As a student you need to be open minded and free of any preconceived ideas and beliefs when learning how to sing.
As a society we have been conditioned to believe that mistakes are bad. In the schooling system a student is punished for making a mistake. Mistakes = Failure. It is no wonder that when a student of mine makes a mistake, their first reaction is one of anger and frustration.
Mistakes are a singer’s best friend.
Mistakes are the quickest way to learn. Mistakes do not equal failure.
Mistakes = opportunity to learn and grow.
When you hit a “wrong” note or have a moment of “cracking”, have a laugh about it and don’t take it to heart or get embarrassed. The more mistakes you make, the more you will learn.
As a student it is often hard to gauge how much you have improved. There are certain things you can do to keep track of your progress.
- Keep a journal and take it to your lessons. Write down anything you are struggling with, and any small breakthroughs you have.
- If possible arrange to have your lessons video recorded. You will be able to view your progress over weeks, months and years.
- Set yourself goals and evaluate yourself monthly. I have included a handy chart which will aid you in this area.
A well rounded Voice. Equally developed in all areas.
A Poorly Trained Voice
Strong in some areas, but weak in others.
Imagine that this is a wheel on your car. How smooth would your car feel when driving? How efficient would it be? How long would it last? Your voice will behave in the same way. Singing will seem hard, frustrating, and unpredictable. Your voice will tire easily. The truth is most singers start out like this. By evaluating what your strengths and weaknesses are you will know which areas of your voice to focus on.
Aim to be equally strong in all of the areas.
I hope this article has been useful to you.
Ian CastleShare on Facebook
Having the most unique instrument in the world requires certain discipline to ensure it is kept in pristine condition. Unlike other instruments you can’t go out and buy a new one if something happens to your voice.
Some key areas that we as singers can control are:
- Smoking and Alcohol
Our bodies react to extreme changes in temperature and humidity. It is important to try and keep your body at a regulated temperature when possible. Avoid breathing in cold air.
Avoid speaking at high levels over a prolonged period of time. The most common occurrences are sport carnivals and trying to speak over loud music at parties and clubs.
Smoking and Alcohol
Everyone is aware of the dangers that smoking poses to your health. It is not my intention to push these points as everyone has the right to make their own choices in life. However if you are serious about singing it is wise to know how smoke affects the voice.
Smoking causes trauma to the delicate membrane of the throat and vocal chords. The heat causes irritation and the membrane secretes to counter the effects of dryness. This is why smokers constantly have to “clear” their voice. To the trained singer, the effect of passive smoke can cause temporary irritation which will be serious enough to cause discomfort.
Would a brass player leave their instrument out it the rain?
Would a singer knowingly inhale smoke?
It’s your decision
Alcohol dehydrates the body. Your voice needs hydration to function properly. I’m not saying that you should never drink alcohol, but certainly not on the day that you have to sing and preferably not the night before. If you do get into a situation where you feel obliged to have a drink make sure you have a glass of water for every glass of alcohol. This will keep you hydrated.
The Triple Whammy
The effects of these “voice killers” in isolation have a negative effect on your instrument. When combined they cause “Vocal Suicide”.
- The Party. Passive smoke, alcohol, speaking over loud music, cold night.
It can take days for your voice to recover, after a triple whammy, to the point where you can sing at your best.
Does this mean parties are off limits?
No, but you must be in control of your environment as much as possible. Make the decision not to stand near smokers, find a quite place to speak, drink water to combat the dehydrating affects of alcohol.
Avoid the triple whammy at all costs! Disciple yourself, your voice will thank you for it!
There is no “set in stone” diet for a singer. There are some foods which a serious singer should avoid on performance day, and some that should only be taken in moderation.
High Fat Food
Non citrus fruit
The best diet for a singer is a balanced diet for general living. On performance day avoid all the foods in the bad column. Preferably have an early dinner to allow food to digest. If the stomach is full the diaphragm cannot descend to its flat position.
So does this mean that to be a singer you have to give up all of your favourite foods and alcohol?
I absolutely love sitting down to a beautiful thai dinner with a glass of red wine. I just make sure I don’t have to sing the next day!
Make sure you get enough sleep. The voice is one of the first muscles to tire. A solid 8 hours per night is recommended.
What to do when you have a sore throat.
Avoid lozenges as they tend to dry the throat, especially if they contain alcohol, methol or antiseptic. Chewing and swallowing a piece of apple will promote saliva. There are also some vocal sprays which create saliva and can be used as a “direct hit” of moisture. Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated.
Above all, the best way to promote vocal health is to condition yourself for performance. Follow a specific vocal regime daily. Get into the habit of being a healthy singer.
You are a vocal athlete. Every athlete follows a training regime.
How Is Sound Produced?
Sound is produced by the vocal folds which are two matched folds of tissue positioned on the right and left sides of your larynx. Your larynx is the “Bump” you can see and feel in the lower part of your neck. When the vocal chords are at rest they form a “V” shape.
When inhaling they expand to allow air in. They remain open when exhaling.
When making sound, the chords are drawn together. Pressurized air flows up from your lungs creating a ripple effect on the chords that travels through your vocal tract (throat) and out through your mouth.
In my article on breathing I discussed the use of the silent breath. The way you breathe has an impact on your vocal chords. If you take a loud audible breath, the sound that you are hearing is the air rushing past your vocal chords creating unnecessary tension. If your vocal chords are tense during the inhalation process, they will be in a tense position when you vocalize. The use of a silent breath eliminates this unnecessary tension. The vocal chords remain in a relaxed state during inhalation and therefore are in a relaxed state to vocalize.
Think of the relationship between your breathing technique and vocal chords as a garden hose! Let me explain:
- Pressurized water is pumped through a garden hose to an adjustable nozzle. The nozzle can determine how much water to let through. It controls the pressure.
- Pressurized air is pumped (by the diaphragm) through our windpipe to our vocal chords. The vocal chords determine how much air to let through. They control the pressure.
Now that you know the role of the vocal chords in producing sound, let’s discuss the onset of sound.
A good beginning to the tone is vital to the rest of the phrase that you sing.
There are 3 ways we can position our vocal chords to make sound:
- The Hard Onset
- The Soft Onset
- The Balanced Onset
The Hard Onset
During the hard onset, the vocal chords close fully after the inhalation of air. This creates a large build up of pressure. When the chords are open, the air rushes though causing an exploding sound. This sound is quite harsh and not very pleasant on the ears or the vocal chords!
AH AH AH AH AH
The Soft Onset
During the soft onset, the vocal chords remain partially open after the inhalation of air. There is a lack of pressure because the air is flowing before the chords come together. This will result in a “breathy” sound. Some artists use this sound for stylized purposes, but generally it is not an efficient way to produce a decent tone. During the exercise add a “H” before you vocalize the “AH”
HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH
The hard onset and soft onset should not be used for skilled singing. They are demonstrated here to give you an understanding of how sounds are created. There is a more efficient way to make sound.
The Balanced Onset
The problem with the hard onset is too much pressure, and the problem with the soft onset is not enough pressure. The balanced onset is somewhere between the two. The vocal chords remain relaxed in a partially closed position. There is still enough pressure to project the sound, but unlike the hard onset the sound will not explode. It is a more gradual release of the pressure.
AH AH AH AH AH
It is useful to practice this exercise with the use of vocal fry at the start of each “AH”. Vocal fry is the vibration of the vocal chords at their slowest vibrating rate. It is very easy on the voice. If you are having trouble with the sound try and imitate the “creepy sound” in the movie “The Grudge”, or the sound cartoon character “Elmer Fudd” makes when talking.
The balanced onset is vital to the development of your tone. It is important that you take the time to get comfortable with vocal fry. You can download an exercise to develop vocal fry in my article How To Develop Your Tone.
I hope you have learned something about your voice from this article.
Ian CastleShare on Facebook
How is sound produced?
In this video you will learn how sound is produced, what your vocal chords are, and the most efficient way to coordinate your vocal chords to produce a great sound. You will also learn about the improper ways that singers create sound.
Ian CastleShare on Facebook
What does breathing and posture have to do with the way you sing?
Your breathing muscles are attached to your skeletal frame. If your body is out of balance or alignment you cannot perform skilled breathing which is necessary for singing. It makes sense to create a balanced body before learning anything else.
What is the difference between breathing and skilled breathing?
You already know how to breathe, it is one very important element of sustaining life! The way we are taught to breathe from an early age is adequate to oxygenate our bodies and to support everyday speech. This type of breathing is called “tidal” breathing. It is very shallow and high in the lungs. It isn’t adequate however to sustain skilled singing.
There are 4 types of breathing co-ordinations.
- 1. Ceiling Breathing
This is another way to describe “tidal” breathing. It is called ceiling breathing because the air fills up in the top half of the lungs. This causes the chest and shoulders to move vertically when breathing. This type of breathing causes unnecessary muscles in your throat to contract, affecting vocal efficiency.
Pretend you have just gone for a quick run (or actually do it!). Notice what happens to your chest and shoulders. Are you using any neck and throat muscles?
- 2. Floor Breathing
You may have heard the expression “breathe from the diaphragm”. This is a very common phrase used by many vocal coaches. It is slightly misleading to use this phrase when learning how to sing because you can’t actually “fill” your diaphragm with air. It is quite common for a singer (and sometimes teacher!) to take a breath in and say “that’s my diaphragm” while pointing to their expanded abdominal area. This is untrue because you can’t actually see or even sense your diaphragm. So what is this “mysterious” muscle?
The diaphragm is a domed shaped muscle that is attached to the bottom of your lungs. As you breathe in, the diaphragm descends so that it “flattens out” at the bottom of your rib cage. It is this action that terms “floor breathing”, as the air is sent to the bottom of your lungs. As the diaphragm returns to its resting position air is exhaled.
When the diaphragm “flattens out” it pushes the contents of your abdomen down and out. This expansion of the abdomen gives the effect of the stomach filling up with air.
Stand with proper posture. Put your hand over your stomach. Do a series of short “sh” sounds. The goal is to make your stomach move your hand. See if you can now do the same exercise doing a pant. Gradually increase the speed of the pant. It is important that you relax your abdominal muscles. If you tighten these muscles the diaphragm cannot descend and flatten out. This is a very common reason students struggle to develop floor breathing. As a result ceiling and wall breathing will occur.
- 3. Wall Breathing
As the diaphragm flattens out it shifts the abdominal contents. It also forces the lower ribs to expand. This expansion and contraction of the rib cage is termed wall breathing.
Place your hands under the bottom of your ribs. Experiment by taking a couple of normal breaths, and then larger breaths. During the larger breaths you should feel the lower ribs move out slightly.
So what breathing co-ordination is the best for singing?
- 4. A combination of floor and wall breathing.
Sit on a chair or on the floor. Pull your knees up to your chest and wrap your arms around your legs for support. Take a couple of normal breaths. Focus the air to your pelvic area making sure that you relax your abs. As the air fills up from the “floor” notice your lower ribs engage and expand. You should also feel the muscles in your lower back stretch as well. Now take a more energized breath. As you exhale make a “sh” sound. Repeat this process 3 times.
Return to a standing position. Adopt your correct posture and try to emulate the combination breath while standing. It is important to maintain a high sternum on the exhale. Collapsing will force the air out. Controlling the breath is the key to skilled breathing.
How did you go?
If you are having trouble, go back and repeat the other exercises. Remember muscles have memory and if repeated enough the co-ordination will become automatic. You don’t want to be thinking “what are my abs doing right now” in the middle of a performance!
Now is a great time to talk about breath inhalation. Have you taken notice of how a singer breathes? Hearing the breath can destroy a musical phrase. Some singers use an audible breath to add an effect to their sound. That is fine if it is used for style purposes, but generally it is pretty annoying.
Large audible breaths tend to activate “ceiling” breathing. That breathy sound that you hear is air rushing through your vocal folds. I will discuss the vocal folds in more depth in the next lesson. This rush of air puts the folds under pressure. Too much pressure and the use of unnecessary muscles in the throat will create tension. Tension is the singer’s biggest enemy.
Learn to take a silent breath when singing. Breathe in a relaxed and open manner. This will:
- Feel better
- Sound better
Take 3 large audible breaths. Notice the feeling and the sound.
Now take 3 natural silent breaths. Notice the sense of ease and openness.
This time inhale over a 5 second period. You can choose to breathe through the nose or mouth or both. It doesn’t matter which option you choose, just make sure it is silent and free. Be aware that you are “filling up” from the floor first, and then your ribs will engage.
You can control the amount of air you exhale while singing. It is commonly called “breath control”.
So far you have learnt how to co-ordinate your body to breathe, you have learnt to take a silent breath. To complete the cycle you need to learn how to control the amount of air that is leaving your lungs. You don’t have to push the air out. Your body is already accustomed to exhaling air so no added force is needed to “push” it out.
Adopt your correct posture. Take a silent breath in over 5 seconds. On the exhale, make a “shh” sound. Make the exhale last as long as the inhale. A common mistake that singers make is collapsing the sternum on the exhale. This will force the air out quickly resulting in lack of breath. Keep the sternum and chest high and resist the urge to collapse.
There are muscles that control the exhale. They are located in the abdominal wall and rib cage. You can condition these muscles to enhance your breath control by including stretching into your daily vocal regime. A full vocal warm will be the topic in another article.
There is an exercise to develop breath control that has been used for centuries by famous classical singers. I will refer to this exercise as “Breath Pacing”. It is very similar to the exercise you have just learnt, but with a small addition.
Inhale on a silent breath for 5 seconds.
Suspend the breath for 5 seconds. When I say “suspend” I mean hold the breath with your mouth open.
Exhale using a “shh” for 5 seconds.
Repeat this cycle 3 times.
When you get comfortable with 5 seconds do the cycle with 10 second sections. Over time you will be able to increase this up to 30 seconds and above.
I hope you enjoyed this Interactive Article on breathing. I encourage you to invest your time mastering breathing and breath pacing.
To access my Free Vocal Course and learn more about breathing for singing click here.Share on Facebook
What does your body have to do with singing?
Posture is one of the foundation skills that you will need to master before you even make a sound. The way you hold your body will affect everything from your breathing to vocal flexibility. Most people realise that as a singer your voice is your instrument. This is only partly correct. As a singer your entire body is your instrument.
View this article as a video.
Let’s take a look at how the body in its most basic form is made up. If we divide the body into 3 separate areas we have:
- The lower body. This is your feet to your hips.
- The torso. This is your waist to your shoulders.
- The neck and head.
If we were to draw two lines from the thinnest point to the widest point on each of these 3 areas we would find that we are made up of 3 “upside down” pyramids.
Let’s just consider the properties of a pyramid in its “correct” form.
As you know the widest, heaviest and most stable part of a pyramid is the base. When the pyramid is inverted the widest part becomes the top. If you were to try and balance an inverted pyramid what would happen? It would fall over of course.
Our bodies are made up of not one, but three of these inverted pyramids. To make matters worse gravity is continually pulling us down. So why don’t we just collapse in a heap?
Our bodies continually use muscles to adjust body alignment. The body contracts and expands muscle to make tiny adjustments to stop us from falling over.
So what has this got to do with singing? How can this possibly affect the sounds I make in my throat?
If your muscles are continually tense they will not function in the necessary way they need to for skilled speaking and singing.
Stand with your feet together, so that your body’s weight is focused and greatest at that point. Now, get someone to push you from your shoulder to one side. Do not resist and notice what happens. Basically you will fall over if your body doesn’t “adjust” itself.
Do the exercise again. This time when you are pushed see if you can resist falling over without moving your feet. What happened? What muscles did you need to contract and tense in order to keep from falling over?
- Lower body muscles
- Abdominal muscles
- Muscles in your neck and throat
It will become very clear in the next article on breathing that tension in the abdomen and neck will make it nearly impossible to develop breath control, a vital aspect of singing.
Have you ever seen a singer stand with their feet together? Choir singers are notorious for doing this. Next time you watch someone sing check what they are doing with their feet!
So how can we correct this “inverted pyramid” problem? We need to lower our centre of gravity by standing with our feet a shoulder width apart. The shoulders are the widest part of our skeletal frame, so it makes sense to widen our stance to match the shoulders. We are now balanced from feet to shoulders. Or are we?
Stand with your feet in the wide balanced stance. Get someone to again push your shoulder sideways. Notice anything different this time? You are much more balanced.
Now get someone to push you backward. Do not resist. What happens? Unless your body “adjusts” you will fall backward.
Do the exercise again. This time when you are pushed try and keep yourself from falling without moving your feet. What muscles did you have to contract in order not to fall?
- Abdominal Muscles
- Lower back muscles
- Neck muscles
As you are already aware, tension in the middle and upper part of your body will lead to inefficient breathing and vocal coordination.
So how can we correct this balance problem? Our feet are already a shoulder width apart. Put one foot slightly in front of the other. It doesn’t matter which foot you choose. Maintain an equal distribution of weight between your feet. With this stance you are now balanced.
Test it. Have someone push you from the sides and from the front and back. Your lower body completely controls your stability, leaving the middle and upper body to remain relaxed and ready to handle the demands of skilled breathing and vocalizing.
This new stance is a huge improvement over the “choir stance” however there are a couple of small adjustments that can be made for even greater stability.
- Keep the weight of your body slightly on the balls of your feet. There is a slight tightening of the abdominal and neck muscles if the weight is on the heels.
- Avoid “locking” your knees, as this will tilt your lower pelvis backward and upper pelvis forward. This will emphasise the curve in your lower back. In effect this will alter your breathing muscles. Soft knees, slightly bent, will maintain proper pelvic position and movement.
Now that we have sorted out the lower part of our body, attention can shift to our torso. It is important to adopt a high sternum and chest position as this will aid in the coordination of skilled breathing. The shoulders must remain low and relaxed. Greater understanding of the importance of the ribs, chest, and shoulders will be examined in the next chapter.
So we have sorted out the lower and middle parts of our body, but what about the third “inverted pyramid”, our neck and head? It is impossible to widen the base of our neck to support the head, so what is the solution? We want to create a feeling of lift, a sensation that our head is “floating” on top of our neck. As if our head is defying the gravitational pull.
Stand in the correct stance you have just learned. Imagine someone attaching a piece of string to the crown of your head and gently pulling up. Feel the back of your neck lengthen. Make sure there is no unnecessary tension in the neck and face when you do this exercise.
From this position tilt your head forward and backward while vocalizing an “ah”. What do you notice?
- In the “chin down” position the sound will appear “squeezed”
- In the “chin up” position the sound will appear “strangled”
This should give you a clue as to the optimal “tilt” of your head.
Lengthen the back of your neck with the “piece of string” exercise. Put your hand behind your head and try and push your head forward. Resist the pressure that is being created and maintain equilibrium. Slowly release the pressure and eventually take the hand away maintaining the exact head position. This exercise will help to align your neck and head to the rest of your body and center your head on your spine.
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- Feet should be a shoulder width apart with one foot slightly in front of the other. Maintain equal weight distribution with weight slightly on the balls of the feet. Relaxed Knees.
- Adopt a high sternum/chest position but keep shoulders relaxed and low.
- Lengthen the back of your neck and maintain a centered position of the head.
It is important that you condition yourself to adopt the proper posture every time you sing, whether it is in practice or performance. The key to learning is to condition the body and mind so that the skill becomes automatic. Once this occurs you can focus on building a new skill.
I hope you gained something from this Interactive Article on posture and body alignment.