Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Belt is Legitimate Vocal Pedagogy and ALL Voice Training Should Develop Whole Voice in its Study

There is so much talk about 'belt' singing and all of the things that should go into developing a good 'belt' sound, many versions of 'belt' and many way ways to make sure it is healthy.  First and foremost, one must consider, "Are you using good technique and what is that technique?"

In an explosion of the may forms of popular vocal music, now termed CCM or Contemporary Commercial Music, there has been much study and development technique.  Sure, we are using the same instrument and muscles that we use for a more classical sound, but also using them slightly differently.  There is a different balance of how our muscles are used, but a balance nonetheless that is related to our more 'classical' voice.  For example, a lyric soprano has to be a lyric belter with thinner thyroarytenoid activity (TA) than a mezzo soprano/belter might use.



Let me back up and give a quick review of vocal muscles and how they work.  You have both thyroarytenoid muscles and cricothyroid muscles located in your larynx which with air help you to make sound or your vocal fold activity.  The thyroaryteniod muscles (TA) are responsible for shortening and thickening the vocal folds (a more chest voice sound) and the cricothyroid muscles (CT) are responsible for stretching and thinning the vocal folds (a more head voice or falsetto sound).  There are other helping muscles, but identifying these two will help you to understand how we create a more chest dominant sound versus head voice (falsetto in male).

When you are singing a lower chest/belt, your TA are more active and when you are singing in head voice/falsetto your CT are more active.  The opposing muscles are active to create a healthy and efficient sound.  It is keeping the TA-CT muscle interaction balanced which creates a healthy sound, whatever sound you are trying to create.

Vocal fold activity in combination with resonance create your overall phonation (what you sound like).  Your vocal folds are your sound source but do nothing without air.  Giving breath to your sound initiates it all and how your air resonates within the shape of your resonators (throat, mouth and nose) creates your unique sound and why no two voices are exactly alike.  When training singers, we teachers instruct you to think of taller, round vowels in classical singing and bright, narrow and more square vowels and often speech like sound in CCM singing.

"All voice training, Classical or CCM, should include the development of the entire vocal mechanism from the lowest TA- dominant sound to the highest CT-dominant sound, as well as he multitude of resonance options, so that the entire musculature gains strength, flexibility, coordination, and endurance"  Robert Edwin, Belt is Legit Journal of Singing November 2007

In other words, whatever area of singing you are working on, you should train your whole voice in that style, activating your CT dominant or TA dominant sound and its delicate balance.  Similar vocal exercises may be used to do this for both Classical and CCM, but with a belt voice versus a classical voice.  This concept of cross-training carries not only through your range, but through style transition, helps keep the voice healthy.  Imagine only ever using your quadracept muscles and not using your hamstrings.  Your legs would be out of balance.  Working both in balance, creates strong, sustainable legs.  Working both your TA and CT muscles in balance creates a solid and beautiful singing voice!

Stay tuned for more on Cross-Training the Voice!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Value of Learning to Sing in Other Languages

In last week's blog, I advocated singing in different languages, specifically Italian and Latin as being very valuable study.  I started with these as they have fewer individual pronunciation rules and less numbers of altered vowels.

The value of singing in many languages is immeasurable and so beneficial. So, I do not want to leave some of the others behind: German, French, and Spanish topping the list.  Each of these languages have their own challenges such as the consonant cluster and umlauts of German, the dark vowels and silent consonants of French, and the many dialects of the Spanish language.  All of these qualities are able to be mastered with the guidance of a teacher, diction coach, or the assistance of pronunciation guides (online or hard-copy).  They are also wonderful languages with a large variety of beautiful music.   As a voice major in college, you are required not only to sing in all of these languages, but at the very least take a diction class dealing with them all (and in some cases a year of each language).  Not all of us want to major in voice in college, but singing in a variety of language under the guidance of a singing teacher is valuable.

Why valuable?  

Enrich your cultural knowledge: You are exposed to many different styles of music:  the Italian Art Song is so different in quality than the German  Lied and the French Art Songs have distinct qualities as well.  If you only sample some of the different languages, it is like going to a breakfast buffet and not tasting all of the wonderful selections provided.  You will leave the restaurant not completely satisfied and possibly be cheated out of of a type of song that may show your voices truest light.  Of course not all styles of song suit all singers, however, you owe it to your voice to sample them (at the very least listen to a few of them).

Learn music history: Songs in different languages have distinct qualities, but certain characteristics exist across the languages through the various time periods.  Music didn't just develop in this century.  All music builds upon itself so it is important (and interesting) to learn the history and characteristics that have continued through history to today's music.

Build your instrument and tone quality:  Singing in different languages strengthens your overall instrument and makes your voice more versatile.  Studying the pure vowels of Italian and other languages actually enhance your English singing!  So often we sing modifying our vowels or put 2 to 3 vowels into one which affect the resonance and overall sound quality.  Learning to sing in a different language heightens the vowels in our vocal tract biologically and we often then carry it over to singing in our native tongue!!

Make yourself more hire-able in the work force /desirable to a voice program:  The time you take now to learn to sing in a variety of languages makes you more diversified to perform in the work force or be accepted into a college voice program.

Explore all of the beautiful music composed for the voice!

What if you are taking voice lessons just for fun? It is fun to play with our own language and how we change is slightly when we sing to maximize our vocal quality.  How much more fun would it be to do in a few languages?  Even if you just dabble in it briefly, give it a try.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Why Should You Learn to Sing in a Different Language? Why Italian?

I very often am asked the question, "Why should I learn to sing in a different language like Italian?"  As Americans, we think everybody speaks English and we listen to most of our music in English, so why should we bother to learn to sing in another language?

Backtrack a minute- what were the first languages of the world?  Latin, Italian, French, German, Hebrew, there are so many.  Therefore a large bulk of music written to date has been in a different language.  I am not speaking of pop music and musical theater, but many other styles of music that seem to be tossed aside.  Why SHOULDN'T you learn to sing in a different language?  Why should you rule it out simply because it is not your first language?  Singing is a form of communication in addition to being a think of beauty.  If we want to be able to communicate our song, we should learn to sing in more than one language.

Why Should You Sing in Italian or Latin?  A short list:

- Italian/Latin have PURE vowels that make it easier to sing than English once you are familiar with the language.  This can carry over to our singing in English since it enhances the resonance and overtones.

-  Because we do not generally speak it, we do not inflect our accent upon it.  (Southern, Mid-western, or Northeastern).

The beauty of the music itself!  There is a variety of beautiful songs for all ability levels available to study

- Studying music in another language broadens your horizons and exposes you to music you may not even know exists.

-  It increases your historical knowledge of music how we got to the music of today
   Most Italian art songs use the following:
     - Sequence
     - Verse and Chorus
     - Embellishing (adding notes to) a basic melody

- Creating artistic licence through embellishing a melody.
*Think about it -When was the last time you heard the National Anthem sung without added notes or     looked at sheet music for a pop song that is written differently from how you hear the artist perform it? This concept did not develop in the 21st century, but is centuries old.  When songs were performed as entertainment in parlors for guests, singers added notes and embellishments to the melody as personal artistry.

- Learning a little bit about other cultures helps us to appreciate differences and understand our own.

- When you then go and sing English, your singing of English is improved because of your mastery of pure vowels which CARRY the sound.  This is not to say we do not stylistically need to alter vowels, but it helps you to find your true sound first.

What if people don't understand the language or what I am saying?

Few people in your audience would actually claim to know word for word what you are saying. However, if you have researched the meaning of the words, you are able to sing the piece in a way that communicates the MEANING of the song.  Most recitals also provide a translation or opera's have subtitles.

Why not give it a try and see not only if you like it, but what it can do for your singing voice?  It is great to explore singing in many languages.  Some may be more comfortable for you then others, but expose you to so much beautiful music!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Break it Down Part 5: Share How Practicing Voice has helped YOUR stress, academics. How did you get it all in?

As I encouraged you to keep a journal and track your practice and progress in the series, "Breaking It Down",  I wanted to share about how I "Practiced What I Preach".  I have been working on a regular practice schedule and noting what changes it has made in my overall demeanor as well as the progress I have made.  Here is a quick summary of thoughts:

1.  Overall I notice I am happier when I have made the time to practice.  I feel good when singing even if I face challenges in my practice session.  I got something done on my list and it lifts my mood!  The more often I practice, the less challenges I face because my body remembers the good techniques through more frequent practice.

2.  I am feeling great because I am perfecting more and more repertoire and researching more repertoire for my students.

3.  I get more accomplished after practice sessions because my brain is motivated.  It helps me to organize my thoughts to carry forward in my days.

4.  I am less stressed because I feel good when singing.

Now, it's your turn to share:  What did you notice?  What has become easier or harder?  How is your mood?  Motivation?

Let me know how this has helped you!!


Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Break it Down Part 4: Which learning style are you? How do you use this knowledge in learning to sing?


We all learn in a different way, which one are you?



We all have different strengths that best guide our learning. Are you primarily a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learner?  How does this knowledge help you?  It can help you to learn a song faster and more effectively!

Each of us use a different combination of these skills to learn something new, but take a moment and ask yourself:
1.  Do I learn things the best by listening (auditory)?

      ** Do I remember what my teachers say the most?
      **Can I think back to remember exactly what was said?
      **Can I produce singing best by listening and then trying to recreate the sound?

2.  Do I learn things the best by seeing it (visual)?

      **Do I remember best by looking at the board or my notes?
      **Do I think back to remember and visualize what was written down on the page?
      **Do I want to see the notes and rhythms or vizualize a concept and then sing to
            understand/remember or recreate the sound?

3. Do I learn things the best by doing (kinesthetic)?

      **Do I remember something the best if I have actively moved while learning?
      **Do I think back to remember and need to do the action?
      **Do I repeat a physical action or practice, practice, practice to physically recreate the sound?

You may find that you answered yes to many of these questions and under each category.  Since we all learn with a combination of the above, that makes sense.  But, which one do you lean on the most?  It may be helpful to think about when you are studying for or taking a history test.  Which resource do you use the most?  Do you write to study?  Do you talk through it?  Do you study the page and then close your eyes to see where the information was on the page?

We learn and process information in the different areas of our lives in a similar fashion.  Especially if you are new to musical study (voice lessons), determine which of the 3 learning styles you lean on the most in your academics and then try to use that element more in learning to improve your singing.  Your singing teacher most likely uses a combination of elements to help you to learn, but by identifying your DOMINANT learning style and sharing it with your teacher and remembering it, you can facilitate (and speed up) your learning better technique!  In teaching singing we are dealing with an instrument that we cannot see and which our brain has a lot of control over.  If we help classify how that brain processes information best, we speed up the learning process!

Lean on your dominant learning style when you practice.  How did this help your singing this week?  Happy Singing!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Break it Down Part 3: STRESS- how will practicing my singing more help me?

STRESS- It is all around us.   We have so much homework to do, tests to study for, sports practices to attend, rehearsals, family obligations, and don't forget, sleep!  How can it possibly help us to squeeze in practicing singing??  It's one more thing on the list.  YES, it is, but it will help your overall self in so many ways!!

1. Music reduces stress and anxiety.  It releases endorphins which make you feel good.    It relaxes you and builds your self-esteem. Overall, music improves your mental health.

2. Creating music makes your brain process things better.  It helps the right and left side of your brain communicate better. It helps you think!

3. Making music helps your brain to organize its thought processing better thus enhancing your IQ.

4. Music improves your verbal memory and verbal skills. (Helps with English class)

5. Music makes you more empathetic.  We work on communicating the words of our songs, this enhances our abilities to relate to others and their situations.  It makes you a better friend and member of society.

6. Music helps brain development and maintaining that sharp edge no matter your age.

7. Music enhances your math and science skills and reasoning. In addition to your English skills. It helps to make you smart!

8. Music improves your motor skills.  (Makes you more coordinated and better at dance for all of you Musical Theater lovers, and sports)

Many studies have shown these benefits and more from studying music! Go try it now!  Take the time out and practice your singing (or instrument)!  It really will improve your mood and help you academically!

Read more details for these: https://www.mnn.com/leaderboard/stories/10-reasons-why-making-music-is-good-for-your-brain.  Give it a week or two and write down how practicing helps YOUR brain.  How do you feel afterwards?  Keep a journal of how it makes you feel after you practice.  How is the homework going when you do get it in?  Share it here now or on week 5 for an overall check in on how practice is going, your mood, and other things you noticed.





Sunday, September 22, 2019

Break it Down Part 2: How to Get in Singing Practice Time While Adjusting to Your FALL Schedule


How do you find time to practice now that you are in the full swing of things?  There are exams to study for, homework to do, other activities, sleep and work or school classes.  Scheduling practice time is essential to quality practice and to actually doing it!  You will notice your progress faster.

-So, MAKE the time!  Schedule it into your planner.  Put it in your mental and physical to do lists!


-WRITE DOWN what you need to accomplish EVERYDAY. Add PRACTICE TIME as a priority on that list and know that it is something you will enjoy.

- Make PRACTICE a BREAK from other things.

        ** If you know you want to study for your math test for 2 hours, schedule a 1 hour study
             session. PRACTICE as a BREAK and then go back to your homework.

        ** Do your English homework and then PRACTICE before going to soccer.

        ** PRACTICE while you are waiting for mom to take you to an activity

        ** Mentally PRACTICE on the long bus ride or before you go to sleep
        (this helps with MEMORIZING music)

Figure out how it works best into your schedule and your lifestyle.  Does it relax you and serve as a wind down to the day? Does it get your brain working better and spawn good studying?  This will tell you when it will be the most productive for you.  Then schedule it at the SAME TIME and SAME LOCATION.  Using practice sessions in this way help you to manage your time.

Scheduling practice time gives you the MOTIVATION to do it.  Set GOALS and a plan of action for each practice session to maximize your practice time.  Now that you have time blocked out to practice, find out how to make the MOST of that PRACTICE time in next week's blog and  in "Practice Makes Perfect" by Michelle Latour in Classical Singer September 2013.

**Keep a log of how and when you get practice in to share next week!