This section was written for the serious singer who wants to become the best he or she can be. It is for the singer who wants to be a great live performer as well as a recording artist.
Every singer must work to protect and enhance their vocal ability. God has blessed many singers with natural ability and talent, while others must achieve their goals by working a little harder.
TAKING CARE OF YOUR VOICE
THE MOST COMMON PROBLEMS OF SINGERS
All singers are different and their problems vary, however the most common problems are (in alphabetical order):
1. ARTICULATION: As it pertains to singing, it is the ability to communicate the song in a technically correct, yet natural manner. Various things affect the articulation of singers, the primary culprits being tension and natural physical problems.
Tension affects every vocal performance. The vocal chords, which are muscles and the muscles of the jaw, lips, inner mouth etc. tighten resulting in poor tonal quality and articulation. Certain speech habits also affect articulation.
One common problem involves singers dropping or not emphasizing certain letters at the end of certain lines. They may, for example, not emphasize a “V” when singing the word “love” or the “T” sound on the word “didn’t.” These are only two of thousands of possibilities. Another articulation problem may be substituting and “H” in words with soft vowel sounds – for example, the word “you” will become “you hoo hoo,” or the word “me” may become “me hee hee,” or the “fly” becomes “fly hi hi.” You must learn to power through these words keeping the integrity of the vowel in tact and not using the “H” sound as a power crutch.
These are just a couple of examples of poor articulation. There may be a physical problem which would cause poor articulation as well. A lisp is a major problem for a singer, especially in the recording studio where sensitive microphones pick up every nuance.
2. ATTACK: This problem presents itself in two forms – too much attack or not enough attack. Too much attack is simply singing too hard. It happens when singers begin to sing and “try too hard” and push and force notes through the vocal chords. Too much attack can result in the formation of vocal cord nodules which are one of the singer’s greatest fears. The opposite problem is when excessive air is released prior to singing. While this soft attack rarely has an adverse effect on the vocal cords, it does causes a breathy sound, which may be used in certain situations. It may also be utilized to help correct a hard attack.
3. BREATHING: One of the most common problems for singers is breathing and breath support. Singers who "gasp" for air, and exhibit shallow breathing patterns are not and cannot sing effectively. Professional singers primarily use diaphragmatic breath support. The muscles of the diaphragm, lower back and abdomen are consciously used. Breath should be used to support the vocal performance and there should be little tension on the vocal chords or larynx. There may be too much breath support or not enough breath support and each individual singer must find their own niche.
4. CONFIDENCE: Singing with confidence may be the singers greatest tool. Having the confidence that what they sing will always come out the way they intend makes a good singer into a great one. Many times the slightest deviation in the vocal chords can result in momentary loss of vocal control, and singers hold back in order to maintain control and relieve that anxiety. If everyone sang with the same confidence as their “shower vocal” they would soon find their level of expertise would increase dramatically. Despite the anxiety, singers do gain confidence through regular performance and rehearsing difficult songs until they are able to sing them. It is better to “go for it.”
5. DISCIPLINE: The professional singer is, in a sense, an athlete and as any athlete knows, daily practice is imperative to compete at the professional level. Most singers do not believe daily training, exercise and diet are important in their careers. Some singers are reluctant to accept the advice of others, especially when that advice may be contrary to the singer’s personal beliefs and work ethic. The singer's practice and performance regimen must be both sensible and productive. Working too hard can be as damaging as not working hard enough, but daily practice will produce results.
6. ENDURANCE: Vocal training in the 1700’s and 1800’s placed much emphasis on vocal endurance. Part of that training required a singer to perform rapid scales. The use of these rapid scales helps to develop a relaxed, yet strong vocal performance, and that contributes to the development of increased vocal endurance. Vocal endurance allows the singer to sing for long periods without tiring, and is part of the daily routine of practice. A tired vocal will always show in the recording studio and singers tend to sing off pitch when tired vocally and physically.
7. HEALTH: The very nature that singing is entertaining creates many situations which are unhealthy for the singer. The physical demands placed on a singer require the singer to get adequate rest, perform effective aerobic exercise, eat a proper diet (including an understanding of the effects of alcohol consumption), learn proper use of over-the-counter and prescription medications, and abstinence from smoking. By the nature of some singing environments, singers test the limits of their vocal health by overindulging in "partying", alcohol or drugs, and yelling. Some singers are aware of the care of their singing voice, but abuse their speaking voice.
Professional singers who travel are frequently confronted with changes in climate, allergens, sleep habits, and eating patterns. Traveling singers should avoid talking excessively, especially on airplanes that are both noisy and dry. Performing in dry, dusty, smoke-filled venues increases the chances of vocal fatigue and infection. A minor cold or allergy can be devastating to a professional singer, who is has to perform with swollen vocal cords. Every singer should practice good vocal hygiene, exercise good travel habits and good judgment.
8. LIMITATIONS: All singers have limitations. The boundaries on limits such as range can be stretched with practice, however the secret to avoiding damage is in knowing those limitations and not exceeding them. Typically, the untrained singer has a much narrower pitch range than the trained singer, and it is mainly due to lack of both high and low register development.
9. POSTURE: Good posture is imperative to a good strong vocal performance. The biggest problem faced by singers is the collapse of the chest and rib cage that affects breathing and vocal power. There may also be a corresponding downward fall of the head and neck or a hyper-extended, "stiff" posture that results in tension throughout the entire body.
10. TASTE: Knowing what to sing and when to sing it is a major problem for singers, especially if they have copied their favorite singers all their lives. When you copy a successful singer, there are pros and cons. A singer learns a lot of great vocal tricks, but they usually have a problem developing their own style. They sing each song the way the original singer does, but when given an original song with no vocal blueprint they have a problem knowing what to sing and when to use the tools they have developed vocally. Knowing what to sing, how hard or soft to sing, what vocal tone to use, whether or not to use vibrato or other “trills” is called “singing with taste.” It is imperative to learn to sing with taste before going into the recording studio with original material. A good producer or vocal coach is recommended.
11. TIMING: Since singing is normally accompanied by music, timing is very important. The impact of a song is sometimes determined by the placement of certain words on certain beats with the music and “working with the band” vocally. A singer with poor timing ultimately loses the ability to be effective with regard to certain songs. Singing out of time can also be an effective tool with some songs, however an understanding of the timing is imperative to making this skill work as well. Working with a metronome on a daily basis will help set your “internal clock” and make you more aware of the importance of timing when singing.
12. TONE: A singer’s tone may be described in many ways. It may be “rich,” “resonant,” “gravelly,” “breathy,” or even “nasal.” Tone is a highly subjective term with relation to singers, as it becomes a matter of taste. Some people like “gravelly” voices, some people like “breathy” voices. It is all according to the singer, the style of the song and the personal preference of the listener. The problem with tone becomes apparent when the singer is not using tone tastefully. For example, a guitarist would not use a heavy metal distorted tone on a soft ballad. Singers should sing songs that compliment their natural singing voice and develop the ability to change their tone just as a guitarist would. A breathy tone, for example, may be used to perform an "intimate" or "sexy" song. Other tones may be used as a trademark by a singer such as the "gravelly " sound of Michael Bolton or the “nasal” sound of Willie Nelson.
THINGS THAT HURT YOUR VOICE AND PERFORMANCE
· SMOKING in any form (tobacco, marijuana, or any other form)
· RECREATIONAL DRUGS
· ALCOHOL in any form the day before or the day of a performance
· COFFEE before a performance
· STRESS avoid it
· SHOUTING, SCREAMING, CRYING
· TALKING TOO MUCH on the day of performance
· TALKING TOO LOUD AND HARD over loud music or environmental noises like buses, airplanes, jack hammers etc.
· TALKING IN AN UNNATURAL VOICE The "hmmm" pitch (expressing mild surprise) is the pitch at which you should be speaking!
WITH SOUND or vocalizing a sneeze
Note: This does not mean you should stifle a sneeze -- never do that! Go ahead and sneeze, just don't make a noise other than the natural passage of air while doing so.
· YAWNING WITH SOUND
· OVER EATING OR EATING DAIRY PRODUCTS before a performance
· LACK OF REST
· OUTDOOR SINGING especially in poor air quality and / or high allergy conditions
· COUGHING or CONSTANTLY CLEARING THE THROAT
· SINGING WHEN THE THROAT IS SORE
· SINGING WHILE DEALING WITH A COLD OR LARYNGITIS
· SINGING BEYOND YOUR RANGE LIMITATIONS
· OVER-SINGING (if you are hoarse after singing, something is wrong)
· WHISPERING LOUDLY OR FOR LONG PERIODS
· VOCAL ABUSE - Abusing your voice in a rock band without vocal training to do so
· EAT RIGHT
· TREAT YOUR VOCAL CHORDS AND BODY AS AN INSTRUMENT
· HUMIDIFY THE BEDROOM ESPECIALLY IN WINTER MONTHS
· DRINK WATER - 8 glasses a day
· PEE CLEAR – SING CLEAR -- your urine should be clear -- yellowness means you are dehydrated unless caused by vitamins (the more yellow it is, the worse)
· SURGERY NOTE – If undergoing surgery insist that intubations be performed by someone well acquainted with the risk to the voice
· SUPPORT YOUR SPEAKING VOICE just as when singing
THE VALUE OF WATER
8. Drinking 5 glasses of water daily decreases the risk of colon cancer by 45%, plus it can slash the risk of breast cancer by 79%, and one is 50% less likely to develop bladder cancer.
Judy has a vocal instruction CD series complete with vocal exercises that can be done daily. Very important tools for the professional singer.