Practically Singing // The ABCs of Practical Vocal Technique
Singing is a very personal form of self-expression, regardless of how large or small the stage. And, in most contemporary genres of singing, there is less an idealized sound that is held as the ‘gold-standard’ for what constitutes great singing. Usually, the more unique sounding, heavily ‘stylized’ voices are what catches ears these days. And, technique is often considered secondary, or even optional, to having a great singing voice.
Of course, to the professionals who use their voices day in and day out and depend upon it to make a living, having a great vocal coach to teach them how to develop and maintain and care for their voices is tantamount to an extended singing career. Below are what I would list as the ‘ABCs’ of practical voice technique, regardless of voice type or musical style. Understanding and executing these 3 concepts will enable a singer to freely express themselves in the most emotive, communicative, and artistic manner possible.
Please note, this is merely a brief overview of what I will be taking a ‘deeper dive’ into with my next 3 blog posts. Also, the term ABCs of singing is one I'm co-opting from another outstanding vocal coach from Canada. His name is Brandon Brophy, and he knows his stuff! Check out his book, The Singer’s Instinct. I’ve read and re-read it multiple times, and I still find it extremely helpful and relevant in assisting my own vocal students to this day!
(A)mplifier Shape - The size and shape of your vocal tract (throat and mouth cavities) has a direct influence on the acoustic and harmonic resonances that affect the sound your voice produces. The size and shaping of your vocal tract also changes with each differing vowel and consonant shape. And different vowels, because of their affect on the shaping of the vocal tract which has a direct impact on the acoustic properties, may either be more helpful or less helpful at differing ranges in the voice and its registers. Not all vowels are equal at all times, and knowing how to modify vowels when pronouncing lyrics, and what their affect has on the size and shape of your vocal tract, at specific registers is foundational to things most singers crave: expanded vocal range, less strain (particularly on the high notes), and a seamless transition between low notes and high notes.
(B)reath Management - So many singers walk through my door wanting to learn how to ‘breathe better’ or wanting to learn how to ‘use’ their diaphragms (which is actually an involuntary muscle). When asked what they are experiencing that leads them to this conclusion, it’s usually that they feel like they are prematurely running out of breath when they sing, often on longer sustains or when a lyric is very ‘wordy’. Proper breathing as it pertains to singing has largely been over-complicated. Worse, the reasons for the why proper breathing is one of the pillars to good singing is often miscommunicated. For example, did you know that ‘breath support’ is actually a consequence of having the ABCs in alignment with one another? How many of us have been to a voice lesson and taught that our singing is flawed BECAUSE we lack this thing called breath support?
(C)ord Closure - Ah, yes, the ‘mysterious’ vocal cords. What are they? How do they work? What do we singers really need to know about it? All good questions in which we will take a closer examination in a follow up blog-post. But, for now, suffice it to say that we need to have a certain amount of tension, or compression, along the length of our vocal folds when they adduct (or, close together) when air passes through them to vibrate. This vibration is our initial sound that resonates in the cavities of our vocal tract (spaces in our throat and mouth). Having a cord-compression that is too light will make for a sound that is too breathy, almost pseudo-whisper like. Too much compression, and we risk engaging constrictor muscles around our throat that leads to vocal strain, limited range, or worse -- long-term over-compression can lead to developing vocal nodules on the cords themselves which severely hamper the sound-emitting process and can shorten or terminate a singing career if not corrected with professional treatment and care (If you have nodes see an ENT immediately).
Thank you for reading. Again, this is merely a brief overview, and I will be taking a ‘deeper dive’ into each specific concept with my next 3 blog posts. Stay tuned.