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a beginner - or even an intermediate vocalist – attends their
first professional voice lesson, one of their main concerns is
usually “the assessment”.
coach’s job #1 is to determine what the vocalist is doing well,
what they need to do to improve, how to help them achieve their
goals, and of course, the student wants to know “how long until
I usually say, upon how much they practice, and what are their
goals. Results are guaranteed, but of course a student who, for
example, plays bass in a punk band and would like to sing his/her
own compositions may reach their goals more swiftly than a gentleman
who would like to sing his favorite female diva’s passionate love
songs. They will be working on differing technical requirements.
Music is a
beautiful thing – its purpose is to share emotions, and convey
thoughts and ideas. If one is singing from the heart, especially
if the song is good, it is rather difficult to go wrong. The mistake
I would warn against is just singing out of your caliber pending
further improvement. Strain all you like at practice, but when
in public stick to your comfort range.
We can all
easily name five rich and famous singing stars that are very successful,
but not at all accomplished technically. Why? We love to listen
to a good story teller, and a good song.
So that said,
if you’d like to reach the full limits of your own potential,
(and why not?) there are six basic talents of music to work upon:
Pitch, dynamics, melody, timing, tonality, and authenticity.
Pitch = hitting
notes with accuracy
Dynamics = adjusting the volume levels in the music for texture
Melody = flowing from one note to another skillfully and gracefully
Timing = one must be in “in the pocket” grooving with the rhythm
of the music
Tonality = the quality and the timbre of the sound you’re creating
Authenticity = the thoughts should be clear, your emotion authentic
To be a complete
singer, one requires a complete program.
My words of
advice regarding potential:
- Beware of
vocal coaches who don’t want to work with you unless you’re already
pretty good. Afraid of a challenge are we?
- The difficult
parts are only difficult because you’re not good at them yet.
is an illusion. Practice a lot (correctly!!!) and you will be
LeGault is President of “A Sharp” School of Music and the
creator of the Song
Savvy Vocal Instruction Program.
FREE SINGING TIPS
By Nicole LeGault
the voice correctly is an exercise in coordination that requires
practice. You must relax most muscles, while strenuously exerting
others. Stand up straight with your feet shoulder width apart,
arms hanging at your sides. Your shoulders, throat, tongue,
and jaw should all be relaxed. Focus all physical exertion upon
the diaphragm for power (straining your throat or pushing your
shoulders forward will not help), and use the facial muscles
for pronunciation and shaping of the vowels.
Contrary to what most people would assume, releasing more air
while using your voice causes the sound to become softer, and
using less air makes your voice louder. This is because the
volume in your voice comes from resonating the sound - via the
air - through your sinus cavities, not from pushing harder.
If you release all the air out of your mouth before it can reach
your sinuses, you will soften your voice, as you do when whispering.
If you're in the habit of restricting your voice into a thin
sound and would like a more open throat voice, try this: Stick
your tongue all the way out as far as it will go, and sing the
alphabet song all the way through like that (supporting your
breath with your diaphragm of course). Then, put your tongue
back in your mouth and sing with the same relaxed tongue and
may have heard before: "You must sing from the diaphragm".
To locate your diaphragm, put one hand on your solar plexus
- that's right where you get your "gut feelings" -
above your stomach and between your rib cages, but below where
the two cages connect. Now, blow all the air out of your lungs
until there is nothing left, just keep pushing and pushing.
Feel that? If not - push harder! That's your diaphragm muscle
The vocal cords are not really cords at all, they're more like
flaps - also called vocal folds - which stick out horizontally
from the sides of your windpipe. The vocal cords vibrate in
accordance to their length, mass and tension. If you are going
hoarse or losing your voice, what's happening is your delicate
vocal folds are hitting each other, causing them to become bruised
and swollen - losing their elasticity. You must learn to support
the air flow with your diaphragm and direct the air into the
sinus cavities where it resonates to achieve good tonality and
volume with ease.
As you warm up your voice, you will find that your range increases
gradually allowing you to hit notes much higher from when you
started. If you don't warm up and then go trying to hit notes
that you can only hit once you've warmed, they will not only
sound bad, but you stand a very good chance of causing damage
to your vocal cords. Many little muscles in your throat are
working very hard to create your singing voice and they need
to be stretched slowly before you push them to their limits.
Would a gymnast go flipping around without stretching first?
To gradually increase your range, warm up first and then keep
attempting to reach notes that you cannot hit - high and low.
Use the proper techniques described in this program, and if
you begin to go hoarse, STOP. Your upper range and quality of
tone will temporarily suffer if you damage your voice. A muscular
"pulling" sensation in your throat when stretching
your range is harmless and quite normal. If you have an instrument
like a keyboard or a pitch pipe handy, you can keep track of
the new notes you are acquiring. Be sure to use your new notes
regularly - if you don't use your entire range for a while,
it will shrink back.
Sometimes I get recognized in public as a vocal coach people
have seen on TV. Why is it that untrained vocalists always
ask me: "What should I drink?" I tell them that
if they're singing properly, it doesn't really matter very
much what they drink. I personally like to avoid caffeine
because I don't like the crash that follows the artificial
high (you wind up below where you started, and if you're still
singing, then uh-oh.) I like to remain hydrated and fueled,
so spring water and fruit juice are very nice. Hard liquor
will burn going down, and the fumes on your breath will be
hitting your vocal cords. Dairy products may produce phlegm.
I'm afraid there is NOT a magic drink that will allow a vocalist
who is losing his/her voice to repair it. That is a problem
with technique, you must LEARN how to use your voice safely.
You may also want to avoid carbonated beverages unless you
can keep your burping under control. It can be embarrassing
- especially during ballads.
Confidence in your voice will come when you have improved your
ability. To improve your ability, you need to have confidence
in your voice. See the catch 22? Many (but not all) beginners
are afraid to attempt any high loud notes because they are self
conscious and afraid of how it will sound. They won't project
forward, and they stop as soon as they begin - usually while
making a funny face. But if you're not producing tones, even
if they are foul, you have nothing with which to work on your
Using dynamics is the art of raising an lowering the volume
of music or our speaking voice to give it texture and expression.
Also know as "colour". When singing popular music,
you know that the higher the note, the louder it will usually
sound. When switching from one pitch to another, it is important
to remember to alter your volume accordingly. I like to compare
the changing of high notes to low notes with taking an off ramp
to an ordinary street after driving 100 km/h on the highway.
It really takes some effort to lay off on that gas pedal because
in comparison 50 km/h seems so slow. Likewise, going from low
notes to high notes is like hitting the gas on the on ramp.
Singing high notes softly requires as much as or more abdominal
support than singing them at full volume. Quiet notes in your
upper range will require more air - meaning you can't hold them
as long and they are more difficult to keep off the throat and
resonating within the sinus cavities. Gradually fading out the
volume of a note requires gradually increasing the support and
the flow of air simultaneously.