Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Watch How You Talk!!

Let's clear up a few things, why don't we. The speaking and singing voices are not two separate instruments!! We do not possess two sets of true vocal folds with one controlling talking and the other singing. The vocal folds, or cords, function to form speech AND sung sounds. They are one!! Singing differs from speech in that pitches are created over a wider range of notes and tones are held out for a longer duration.

Because speaking and singing come form the same source, it is important to know how much influence they have on one another. Particularly, the way we speak can have a huge impact on the quality of our singing. It is quite common to find that a singer's issues with the a run-down voice come from their speech habits. We generally will do more talking than singing on a given day, so we must be careful to monitor how we handle speaking chores.

Here are some helpful hints for healthy daily vocal use:

- Don't speak on pitches too low for your voice. Men tend to be big offenders here, but women have the issue as well. This habit tires the voice out quickly. If you were to say "mm-hmm", you should get a sense for where you average spoken pitch should be.

- Breathe!!! Too many people actually hold their breath as they speak. This will fatigue the voice and cause excess tension in the larynx. Remember, it takes a steady stream of air to the vocal folds to create a healthy sound!

- Don't scream!! As a school teacher, I know first hand the tiring effects of this habit!! The cords will get slammed together and will likely swell as a result.

- Stay hydrated. The vocal fold shave to be well lubricated to function at their best. Dry cords can become irritated easily and are more susceptible to injury. Drink plenty of water during the course of the day.

If you are a professional speaker, you may find that vocal training will reap the great benefits for your voice even if you're not a singer. The techniques taught at Harville Vocal Studio serve to develop healthy vocal function, for singing or speaking.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What a night!!!

WOW!!! Last night's show was incredible!!! OMG!!! I had such a great time. The energy was so beautiful. It was an art show presented at the Catalyst Space, a community center for the non profit Catalyst Community. This great organization is the brainchild of my roommate and great friend Eric Leocadio. The gathering was in conjunction with the 2nd Saturday Art Walk that happens every month here in Long Beach. Wonderful work was on display in addition to phenomenal performances from spoken word artist such as MsT Muze and HustleDiva. I was the featured musical artist for this first time event.

In my last blog entry, I told you that I had come down with a cold and mentioned what I was doing to stay vocally healthy. Well, it worked!! Saturday morning, I took a long hot shower to steam the cords before a lengthy warm-up. I then started running the songs for the show. I was pleased to see my voice working well. I ate lunch and then tried to get a bit more sleep. I took another hot shower and starting warming up again. I had to do soundcheck before I was done warming up so I was a little worried at my sound for a few minutes. But then I headed to the basement of the Catalyst Space and took my time doing a thorough vocalization until the instrument felt really free and flexible.

My set consisted of four of my original songs plus some songs from my major inspirations- Prince and Janet. I did "Thieves In the Temple" which was very well received. "Controversy" came at the end of the set and was cause for much dancing. It was sooo much fun!! I added "Kiss" as an encore. Good times!! A song that came out well but that almost didn't make it into the set list is Miss Jackson's "Come Back to Me". By Saturday morning, I had decided I would wait on this one. But right before the start of my second set, my gut said to perform it anyway. I'm glad I listened- it was a hit with the crowd!!! I also did an a cappella version of Lalah Hathaway's "Learning to Swim". I am very thankful for the positive response to my original songs. It has been a journey getting back to revealing my own work to people after years of feeling unworthy to have my own tunes be heard.

This gig led to some great networking. It seems I may be getting some new students out of it. A local writer/producer was present and was impressed with my writing and like my playing as well. He wants me to work with him on some music of his and wants to help get some of my stuff recorded as well. I am grateful for Eric getting me hooked up for my recent performances. He's damn near becoming my new agent!!!

I was exhausted by the end of the night. Being sick helped with that. I made sure I started to warm down after the show was over so that I would have voice left for the next day. A bunch of us involved went out to Roscoe's for dinner afterwards, so I talked alot when I probably should have started shutting up. But it was a celebration, you know?

Here's a clip from the performance:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Cold.......EEEK!!

It's the day before only my third performance since arriving in Long Beach and what should I discover? I find that a cold is trying to sneak up on me. DRAT!!! Not a happy camper. At least I discovered it really early on. I don't actually have symptoms yet. The giveaway was how tired I was last night and upon rising this morning. I mean I was so drained! By this afternoon, I knew the horrible truth.

Well, what steps am I taking to be fully functional for the gig and beat the cold into submission? I'm glad you asked.

*Drink water.....drink water...drink water....drink water...drink water. Do you see where I'm going here? The body is trying to detox when we get colds so help out by flushing out your system with lots of H2O. Dryness in the throat comes with along this bug, and dry vocal folds are not what we want for good singing. We have to get plenty of water into bodies so that the cords- which are low on the body's priority list- get some needed lubrication.

*Herbal teas can be soothing to the throat area. Black tea has tanic acid in it which can actually dry out the throat, so bypass it. Throat Coat Tea is highly recommended. Remember- nothing you drink will touch the vocal folds themselves so they aren't magic elixirs!

*SLEEP!! The body needs to be rested in order to fight off the invaders. I took a couple of naps today to replenish my energy.

*Since the cords are not infected (laryngitis), I'm fine to sing. But a really thorough warm-up is a must!! Don't push the voice too soon. I vocalized for almost a half hour before I started to sing through my set list.

*Inhaling steam is a great way to get moisture to the vocal folds immediately. I have my facial sauna running. I steam between 10 and 15 minutes at a time.

*Since I was feeling so tired, I knew when to stop singing. Not because my cords were irritated, but because I felt my lack of energy could lead to underenergized and faulty singing. So I listened to recordings of my last minute cover song addition and spent time playing through my piano parts.

Well, I need to be turning in soon. I need my 8 hours of sleep. I just finished some great tea and I'm going to steam again for a bit. Here's to a great performance!!!


Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Vocal Athlete

Singing......it's one of the most powerful means of human communication. It is wonderful to listen to- it can take us away from our worries and concerns. It inspires. Opening up our mouths to do the singing can be even more powerful. It can be so much fun!! We can release things that we have inside of us that we may not be able to get out any other way. What a blessing to have it in our lives!!

Some people would believe that singing is reserved for only those born with significant vocal gifts. I believe that singing is for everyone!! In general, ANYONE CAN LEARN TO SING!!! When we understand that singing is a psychomotor skill- a task that is controlled by certain muscular patterns- we may realize that a usable, consistent voice can be developed through proper training. This is why I like for singers to view themselves as athletes. The mastery of their instrument should be approached in a similar fashion to runners, ball players, tennis pros, and gymnasts. A regimen that teaches the muscles proper coordination so that they remember what to do is a necessity. It is only with this building of muscle memory that the singer will be able to have the freedom to perform with ease of production with a wide range of pitches and command of tone colors and textures. This allows them to be free to serve the art- to communicate with audiences.

At Harville Vocal Studio, students are viewed as elite singing athletes. They train with a growing knowledge of how the voice actually function and are given the tools for developing it to its fullest.

If you learn to sing it the classical way.................

When I was in college, I would often hear and read that if a singer was to learn to sing based on the classical vocal model, then he could sing anything after that. Well I can tell you that is NOT TRUE!!! Yes, you heard me- NOT TRUE!!!! Though there are many elements taught in classical singing that apply to all singers, there are some major issues that are not addressed. This misguided notion brings many pop, rock, R&B, and country singers to major college music departments for study, only to find themselves ill-equipped for the demands that their styles demand.

In my own experience, I found that my chest voice developed well with my classical training. It became very rich and strong. But I still struggled as tried to sing gospel and R&B without being taught an easy, efficient means of developing my mix or middle voice. It seems as if that part of my voice didn't need much attention because the view was from a purely classical lens. The truth is that I never set out to be a classical singer!! I love singing that repertoire and am grateful to discover that I could sing it. But it didn't help me to sing everything I wanted to sing.

Female singer have it rougher many times. In a lot classical teaching, a woman is discouraged from developing and using her chest voice. It is seen as crude and unfeminine. Ladies are even told that it is dangerous to use!!! This betrays what modern science tells us about how the vocal instrument works. For a woman who wants to sing Broadway, gospel, or rock, having a strong chest voice is a must. In order to sing with a strong, commercially appropriate sound, she must develop her chest voice so that she can then develop a sturdy mix as she climbs in her vocal range. Imagine what Celine or Beyonce would sound like if they resorted to a purely classical sound. Much of the power and passion would be lost.

Voice teachers should be concerned with teaching a technique that can be used for a variety of styles. Our job should not be to push students into singing the styles we prefer. We should train our clients to sing efficiently across a wide range of pitches in a connected manner. They can then apply that healthy production to jazz, blues, metal, soul, pop, and yes, classical singing.