Vocal Range Inhibitors & Exercises
As you begin utilizing your head voice and taking your voice to higher levels, you must remember to avoid vocal strain and tension. If you want to expand your range, you are going to have to do it carefully. Now, we are going to talk about how you should use your breath in a controlled manner so that you are not overburdening the amount of sound that you actually need to produce to reach different vocal ranges.
When you sing, air coming up over your vocal chords or vocal folds causes them to vibrate. While this is what causes sound, a controlled amount of air allows us to produce the harmonies that are associated with a singing voice and with music. Since we have already devoted a significant amount of time on breathing and exercises, you are ready to begin meshing and using all the concepts together. As you bring your air up and over your vocal chords, try to notice how much you can actually control coming up and over them. You can do so by humming, as you have done in the previous activities where you are lying on your back in order to have more control over airflow.
As you bring your voice to a higher range, you will reach a point where your voice no longer is constant or consistent. It is a point when your vocal chords will either give out or simply begin to release an unharmonious sound. At this point, you might have already figured out that the resonating air can be used as you begin to move into the upper ranges of your voice brought about by using your head voice.
In order to not use too much air that will cause an overabundance of vibration and power into your head voice, you will have to practice controlling what singing teachers call 'Air Over-Flow' (AOF). AOF is exactly what it sounds like and is a result of not properly employing breathing techniques in your singing. To prevent AOF, it is important to keep practicing your daily breathing exercises and not move too quickly between ranges. You should concentrate on not pushing in your stomach or forcing too much air out of your lungs at any given time. Anytime you place too much tension on your diaphragm, thorax, or lungs, then the result will be Air Over Flow.
Another reason many people do not reach their full potential with regard to their vocal range is that they overarticulate and cause hypertension in their vocal chords. Over articulation deals with the opening of your mouth cavity, the placement of your tongue, and the movement of the lips. Overusing your tongue and over articulating your lips are what will cause the back of your throat to tighten. This also affects the larynx (which encases your vocal chords), causing tightness and tension.
The best way to deal with the above scenario, which affects many singers, is to practice relaxing your jaw as you pronounce the words or melodies that you are singing. Once your jaw is relaxed, your lips and tongue will follow suit. It is also a good idea to practice all of this in front of a mirror. And, as you progress, you might want to record yourself in both audio and video so that you can monitor and assess your progress.
Overpronunciation affects even the best of artists. What they do not realize is that vowels are what make music. Consonants help us form and articulate words, but the vowels are the ones that give a song melody and harmony. If you overexaggerate the movement and pronunciation of the consonants of the words of any song that you are attempting to sing, you will take away from the vowels that actually give a song beauty. Vowels are what cause the music to reach new heights. As you practice your singing, be sure to keep this in mind. And, as you listen to your favorite artists, can you hear them overemphasizing the consonants more than the vowels in their music? Furthermore, as you sing along, try to concentrate on the vowel sounds and internal rhymes of their music more than the actual words themselves.
In a visual exercise, attempt the following in front of a mirror:
We are going to use the word 'loud' as our example. As you stand in front of the mirror, try to sing in your regular singing voice the word, 'loud'. First, use it a few times to warm up, then repeat the word in a singing voice, just a notch or two above your regular singing voice. Now, as you attempt this, concentrate only on the first letter 'L' and sing through the middle letters until you emphasize the second consonant 'D'. Repeat a few times. As you might have noticed, the word when sung like this has no melody. It probably came out sounding like 'Lud', which isn't a nice melodic sound at all.
For the second time that you do it, try to hold the vowel sound and use the consonants as the dam that holds back the extension of the sound. Can you see the difference? Practice it a few times. Vowels are what make the melody and consonants are what give it parameter. When you sing, no matter the range you are attempting to reach, try to keep this in mind. Your voice will sound more free, open, and relaxed.
You will notice that in all our discussions about vocal range, we have talked about keeping your voice healthy and happy. This should be your first focus. Next, we talked about how you can use your head voice to help you reach different levels of pitch and tone that you might not thought about trying to reach before. Even if you do not have a 'high' singing voice, you should practice and test the waters of your voice to see how much you can actually extend your vocal capabilities. You might be surprised. Finally, we focused on proper relaxation of the singing organs and how you must use vowels to make your melody and consonants to give the melody meaning. As you progress, feel free to extend your vowel sounds, bring them to new levels, and always see what works best with your own style of expression.
In our next lesson, we are going to talk about practicing singing and this is the key ingredient practicing in how a voice is able to reach a level of expression that touches the soul.
Step 12: Practicing to Sing & Perform, Tools to Use
We have all seen great performers on stage. Dancers who can move, bend, and shake like the music is coming from some greater power. We have also seen singers who do not put on such a 'performance', but whose music reaches such a level that any type of movement would not really add to it at. Both these types of artists, performers, or singers have their own style and presence in front of an audience.
While not all of us aspire or wish to perform in front of an audience, the art of performing and the art of singing are two separate realms. During practice sessions, singers who perform and dance on stage probably do not do so when they are practicing their singing. While it might be fun and exciting to sing and move about as we sing our hearts out, it is not something that is going to actually help your voice.
Practicing to sing requires much more discipline. As you get better with a song and as you learn to sing, you might want to add performance into your art, but for right now, as you are learning, it is best that you maintain a quiet demeanor that will allow you to concentrate fully on all the elements that makes your voice what it is - the parts of your vocal organs that help your controlled breath produce melodies.
The best way to practice, as we have stated, is in front of a large mirror. You'll want to be sure, that at least for this lesson, you can see your entire body closely. And, if you are taking lessons from anyone, they should probably want to see your entire body as well. This will enable you or your mentor to properly judge your movements and how they are affecting your overall singing voice.
Therefore, when you begin practicing to sing, try to stand up when doing so. Additionally, you should always be hydrated and not full from a meal. This will give you the ability to fully breathe inward using your diaphragm to its fullest potential. This also allows you to use your entire chest cavity to control the breath that is released over your singing organs.
Before you begin doing any of this, you might try the breathing and relaxing exercises that we talked about in previous lessons. This will help you bring your body under its fullest composure and help you to become aware of all the parts associated with your voice. As you breathe, concentrate on your diaphragm, your chest cavity, and the air as it moves over your larynx, through the throat, over your tongue and out your lips.
As you stand and begin practicing to sing, be sure that you stand straight, with good posture. Be sure your feet are not too far apart and that your hands are either at your sides or resting on something. You do not want your hands moving about nervously as this could develop into a habit.
As you practice, the first most important factor is that you be able to hear yourself. You might want to attempt reaching a certain key by listening to it played. If you don't hear your own voice without the aid of a musical instrument, then you will not truly be able to 'hear' yourself nor what you really sound like. While practicing, attempt to strike a certain key with your voice without the aid of musical accompaniment. You'll be surprised at how fast you'll begin to 'hear' and thereby control what sounds at what pitches are a result of your doing so.
So, not only should you stand and monitor your entire body while fully concentrating on the key, tone, and pitch at hand, but you should also not practice to the point that you or your voice becomes weary. When you first begin practicing to sing, be sure you only do so for intervals of ten to fifteen minutes. Then, give yourself at least four to five minutes to rest. After several weeks, you might attempt extending this to intervals of thirty minutes, with at least ten minutes in between for a break. Therefore, out of every hour of practice, you should be resting for up to twenty minutes. A good piece of advice to keep in mind while taking a break is to drink water that is not cold but room temperature. During this time, it is best if you do not sit down, as this will signal your body to cool down; your stomach muscles, lungs, and throat, which you have warmed up, will stiffen once you have sat down. If your voice feels scratchy or hoarse, do not push yourself past any limits. Developing your voice is a game of maintenance, building, rest and regrowth. It will not happen overnight, nor should it. And, remember that you should rest at least one day per week from all the singing. Yelling and coughing should be avoided as much as possible.