Three Common Singing Myths Debunked...
1) "I have a low voice therefore I will never be able to sing high"
A common singing myth!
Most singers feel uncomfortable at the top of their range at the beginning of their vocal journey so this idea that their voice is a too low is often used to let them off the hook! The truth is most voices are either sopranos or tenors so a low voice is rare (but beautiful all the same!)
Once you've worked on balancing your voice you will find you can 'reach' notes you previously didn't think possible! And if you in fact are an alto or baritone or bass and you do indeed have a low voice as you at first suspected your range will extend once you get rid of vocal tension and discover headier sensations.
2) "Can you teach me how to breathe? I don't seem to know how to breathe properly!"
A lot of singers overemphasise the importance of breathing. This to me is old school misguided teaching. I remember as a youngster lieing on the floor with a book on my belly hissing. Now how this helped my singing I have no idea (It didn't) It was only in my twenties when my teacher started using tools to get my vocal chords doing what they were supposed to that I heard and felt a difference. Makes sense right?!
As a general rule we breathe in a relaxed way when speaking without thinking about it so why should singing be any different? To me the only time breathing is relevant is when something is wrong. Are your shoulders lifting when you inhale? Try placing a hand on your stomach so you focus on breathing deeper.
Also remember if you sing in a breathy way you will run out of air faster. Makes sense to sing less breathily (more chest voice, adduction and restistance to the airflow) than adding more air. That way you are singing more efficiently!
3) "Singing is something either you can do or you can't!"
Now this is a really interesting one for me! I get all levels of singers coming into my studio. Sometimes I get someone who has a natural ability to sing BUT generally those who are at an advanced level have had training. Whether that be regular singing at church, singing in school or one to one lessons. One in one hundred and fifty students (one a year) sings with a perfect mix with no technical issues to work on. Zero (yes a big fat ZERO!) complete beginners have taken lessons with me and not been able to sing afterwards. I'm a firm believer that anyone (and I mean ANYONE!) can learn to sing with the right teacher and the right exercises to practice to get the mechanics of their voice working and their pitching improving. Pavorotti worked on his mix for TEN YEARS so keep going!
Ten Scary Monsters That Give Your Vocal Cords The Creeps!
As a Halloween treat here are a few scary monsters to avoid if you want to keep your vocal cords (and rest of your body) nice and healthy!
Difficult to avoid if you live in a hot climate or if you travel a lot. Air conditioning on planes is a particularly nasty monster as the pressurised cabin and the air con combination dries out your vocal folds. Drink litres of waters (and annoy fellow passengers by getting up to use the toilet every hour). Wear a scarf so your throat is warm and try not to drink too much of that free booze!
Alcohol sucks up water from cells and leaves your whole body dehydrated. Think of your poor vocal cords! If you need to booze up make sure it's not the night before you have to sing. Tired, dehydrated vocal cords are less flexible and more easily strained.
3) Cigarette smoke:
Whether you are passively smoking or the person lighting up cigarette smoke is a definite no no for singers. Sure, there are some singers that get away with it, but they are exceptions to the rule and not examples to live by! Cigarette smoke burns away mucous membranes in your larynx and stimulates your sinuses to produce more mucus than normal. You'll feel a bit phlegmy and will need to clear your throat or cough (your vocal cords will hate this) As a teacher I've found that singers post smoke are more likely to flip (their voices break abruptly and/or lighten to head voice in an uneven way). There is definite level of fatigue and instability through the passages that wouldn't be there on a non smoking week. Quit smoking to improve vocal cord adduction and overall physical health.
Coughing bangs your vocal cords together forcefully and is, I find, a monster that creeps up a lot in lessons during exercises. A lot of students will cough or throat clear when feeling phlegmy. The best way to get rid of phlegm is by....singing! The vibration of the vocal cords will get rid of the sticky stuff. Try not to judge the way your voice sounds for the first five to ten minutes of your vocal exercises and try not to cough or throat clear through the duration of that time.
A lot of students ask about dairy products and I steer clear of them for many reasons. Every singer is different but in most cases dairy irritates and creates a lot of extra mucus that we don't find useful when singing! Switch to soya or almond milk if you need a coffee (or better for you : tea!)
6) Dope smoke:
One joint equals one pack of cigarettes. Cannabis burns at a hotter temperature than tobacco so imagine how hot that feels to your vocal cords. The heat removes the lining of your vocal cords (kind of like removing a layer of skin when grazing your knee). and leaves them like an open wound. If that's not a scary story I don't know what is!
Mariah Carey sleeps fifteen hours before a tough vocal performance. If you have a busy day before an evening performance I would recommend clearing as much out of your schedule as possible. If this isn't on the cards try to leave a few hours for you to rest and de-stress before performing. An hour nap is amazing for the voice if you have the luxury!
Stress tightens up the muscles in your neck and shoulders so this isn't great for a relaxed vocal performance. Try to feed any anger or worry into your performance and this will be a real cathartic release! Avoid confrontation and wow that audience!
9) Loud Noise:
If you are watching live music always wear ear plugs. You need your ears to pitch and sing accurately. If you can't hear correctly you are likely to shout and therefore sing too chesty and strain or damage your voice.
10) Shouting / Overuse:
I've taught many students who work in bars and clubs and suffer from voice loss from time to time. This is an occupational hazard - but not a necessary one. Try using your body more when speaking to people and move in close so you can hear them and they you. If you feel your voice is tired and overused go on vocal rest and use your voice rarely if at all.
If you are worried about anything to do with your vocal health visit your Ear Nose and Throat Doctor. (I can recommend an amazing one).
This info is merely general advise - a trip to a doctor is always worth it if discomfort happens on a regular basis or for a prolonged amount of time.
How To Get The Most Out Of Your Singing Lessons
I get a lot of students asking what they should practise and how often. Here's a snippet from my latest blog entry to answer all your questions!
1. Book in regular lessons in advance and stick to an organised schedule with your lessons. I see the best improvements in those students who have regular weekly or bi-weekly lessons. Regularity is key to improving fast.
2. Vocalise EVERY DAY. OK so you might think this sounds impossible but one of the best teachers in the world, Seth Riggs, recommends daily vocal exercise. 'Regular vocal practice keeps your voice aligned for efficient coordination, so that any temporary diversion from good technique can be recognized easily and corrected quickly.' If you are tired just do ten minutes of your last lesson recording. Then the next day extend to fifteen or twenty minutes. Invest in a paper diary and tick off every day you practise. Your vocal cords are muscles so build them up and make them strong!
3. Practise efficiently. There is no point in singing through a song in your practice time without working on getting your vocal cords functioning correctly and your voice in balance first. Song work is important but only if you focus on songs that you struggle with and go over those tricky bits slowly, ironing out the problem areas (like we do in a lesson)
4. Practise without distractions. We are always rushing from one place to another. Sit quietly and dedicate time to your voice and focus only on your voice. You'll feel better for it.
5. Stay positive. If you are getting frustrated with an exercise or part of a song move on and come back to it.
6. Set singing goals in lessons. Write down a list of songs you'd like to master then work through each one in your lessons. Tick them off as you advance and add new songs to your list. Particularly important if you are a Musical Theatre singer building and changing your repertoire. Work on three contrasting songs and move between them so you don't get frustrated or bored.
7. Be inspired by other voices! There is no such thing as a naturally talented singer or 'god given' vocal talent. Every singer I have ever met needs to work to find vocal balance and to strengthen their instrument. Listen to singers you love and emulate them and let them be the motivation to put the hours of hard work in.
8. Like everything the payoffs are worth the effort put in! Enjoy your journey. Happy singing!
Feel Confused, Frustrated and Lack Confidence in Your Singing Ability?
One of the things that struck me most when I first started teaching other people to sing was that every student I encountered, no matter their level of experience, was unsure about their voice and their ability to sing. For years as a singer I'd always wondered whether it was just me feeling confused and frustrated with my voice. But actually everyone learning to sing and improving their voice feels the exact same way.
This is a freeing fact! All that worry and uncertainty about your voice and singing is not actually anything to do with you and your singing ability but is completely normal. I noticed that no matter what level the singer is at there is always insecurity when singing.
Fear is Part Of Singing: Embrace It!
'I am always afraid...the only way to be continually successful is to be a little bit scared all the time. If you are not scared, it means you think something is easy...Fear is healthy as long as it doesn't cripple you." Pavarotti
Singing is very exposing and makes even the most confident person feel vulnerable. I have advanced singers who have been singing professionally for years and still feel hesitant in certain areas of their voice.
Once you realise that every singer deep down feels like they aren't good enough you can stop limiting the opportunities available to you. Is there an audition coming up with time to prepare? Go for it! Think the song you want to sing is too hard? Try it anyway! Be proud of your journey and the progress you are making without limiting your next steps.
No one is ever 'good enough' in their own mind. They just go for it; work towards a goal and try their hardest to pull it off.
Knowledge Is Confidence!
The more you know about the mechanics of your voice and how to achieve a certain sound the more confident you will feel. Learning to sing is based on fact and scientific study. It's not as confusing and mysterious as some people might have you believe! Learn how your vocal cords function and you'll see there is a systematic approach to learning to sing that isn't scary at all.