Ease tension and improve vocal tone with one simple adjustment.

In Everyday UseMost people don’t realize it, but the vowels in the words we sing play an absolutely critical role in just about everything we feel and hear from our singing voices. How easy or difficult a particular word is to sing has everything to do with the vowel in that word and how it’s being pronounced by the singer.

Not only is strain and tension affected by vowels and the way they’re pronounced, but the actual tonal quality is affected as well. If pronounced incorrectly, certain vowels can cause your tone to take on a harsh quality that is a lot less melodic, lacking warmth and richness. Vocal coaches generally place vowels into two categories. We refer to those categories a couple of different ways. The first two should sound familiar to you from school:

1. Long vowels
2. Short vowels.

We refer to them more commonly in vocal training sessions as:

1. Wide vowels
2. Narrow vowels.

Most of us, especially in Gospel, have a tendency to pronounce almost all vowels-even narrow ones- in a very wide position. The position worsens as we sing higher and higher notes.
Pretty soon even narrow vowels like the “O” in God become something closer to “GAD” when sung on a high note.

Vowels like the “A” in Grace, Faith and Wait are all examples of a wide vowel. The vowel “E” is another example of a “Wide” or “Long” vowel. E is the hardest vowel to sing because of all the tension it causes in words like “me”.

This tension comes from the wide position of our mouth when we sing words like these that contain wide vowels. We often refer to them as “smiley” vowels for this reason.

To alleviate some of this strain and tension I teach students a simple technique called “narrowing” or “shortening” the vowel.
Here’s an example:

If we were singing Hezikiah’s song “Grateful”, at the vamp where the song gets really high and you have to keep singing that long, wide “A” in the word grateful, we would just “shorten” that vowel by pronouncing it differently.

So instead of a pronunciation that sounds more like this:

“Graayt-ful”

We shorten that long “A” by pronouncing it like a short “e”, so we end up with a pronunciation that sounds more like this:

“Greytful”.

That looks weird, I know. And your first thought is that it would sound weird too. But to the audience it sounds pretty-much like the first pronunciation.

Doing this however, does a couple of very cool things. First, it takes a great deal of tension off your vocal cords. A wide mouth causes the larynx to raise, which causes a great deal of strain and tension.
Shortening the vowel puts your mouth in a much more oval, narrow position so you larynx drops and you feel less tension and strain.
You also use less air because there is a smaller space for you to push it through.

But here’s the really cool thing. Shortening or narrowing these wide vowels has a dramatic affect on the tonal quality of the singer. It’s especially dramatic in choirs and other large groups, but it works the same way for everyone.

Singing with narrow vowels takes all the edgy, harshness from your vocal tone and replaces it with a warm, rich tone. Almost instantly!

Here’s a really neat way to try this easily. Put on a cd of a song you like that requires you to go pretty high. One where you find yourself straining a lot; screaming for the note.

Then sing that part with your hands pressed against your cheeks until your lips kinda pucker a little. You’ll sound funny and look even funnier (lol) but it’s a cool way to find the narrow pronunciation of a vowel quickly. It also helps you feel what it’s like to sing higher notes without all the tension or screaming. Chances are, if you do this correctly and keep your stomach relaxed, you’ll feel a pretty dramatic difference in those high notes.

So give it a try! To learn more about narrow vowels and get a “low larynx exercise you can do every day, sign up for my free 5 day vocal training course. Details at the bottom of the blog. Don’t forget to come to the Facebook page and tell me about it.

Want to learn even more vocal techniques free of charge? Sign up for my mailing list below and I’ll give you a 5 day video vocal training course. Just my way of saying thanks for reading and subscribing. See you in the course!

 

One simple mental adjustment that can change your whole attitude about singing

One simple mental adjustment that can change your whole attitude about singing

Most singers make a very distinct difference between what they do and what a piano player, saxophonist or guitarist does. ” I’m a singer, he’s a musician”. “I don’t play any instruments, I just sing”. However, the two are very much the same.

Let’s say I had two pieces of sheet music for “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. One is written for a saxophonist to play the melody line, the other for a vocalist to sing the melody. What would be the difference between the two pieces of music? Only one. The singer’s sheet music would have the words below the notes. Everything else would be exactly the same. The notes on the sax player’s music would look the same as the singer’s sheet music.
 
The difference is the instrument being used to create the notes. Why is that important for singers to understand? Very simple. If you as a vocalist can begin to really see your voice as a musical instrument, then it begins to change the way you think about what you do. Many singers are very passive about their craft. I suspect it’s because most singers are born with most of their talent. “I know how to sing, that’s all I need to know”.

A musician wasn’t born playing his instrument. Once he chooses one he likes he must begin studying his instrument. Soon he knows all of it’s parts and how they work. He knows how it produces tones and how to manipulate those tones. He knows how to take care of it, clean it, even take it apart and reassemble it in many cases.

He hones his craft constantly. The musicians who excel on their instruments ( over others who play the same instrument) are those who know the most about their instruments and have learned to master them by getting to know them inside and out. That and of course, lots of lessons and lots and lots of practice.

It should be the same with you if you’re a serious vocalist or hope to be someday. For example, you may be a soprano who leads that Yolanda Adams song with the church choir. But you really have to scream that high note to hit it, and once you’re done you’re wiped out. You’re hoarse for the rest of the day; sometimes several days.

Yet when Yolanda sings the same song she’s smiling the whole time. Then she goes on to sing for another 45 minutes straight after that! And that’s just that night. She has engagements every day for months lined up. Years for some artists when they’re out on tour.

How is this possible?! After all, you were both born with the gift to sing, right? There’s no denying different singers have different levels of God-given ability and range. And there are some people out there that defy logic. Some people are just flat-out anointed. But there is usually a much simpler explanation.

The simple answer is usually that these singers have learned some things about her voice, how it works and how to use it properly, that you don’t know. Recording artists are faced with a very stark reality once they get signed. They must either learn everything there is to know about their voice, how to master it, get the most out of it and most of all, protect it so it lasts them for many years- or be faced with a very short career.

So the big secret in the recording industry is that almost everybody takes lessons. Many don’t want the general public to know that, so you won’t often see the names of vocal coaches in the liner notes among the “thank-you’s”. But I digress (he says pouting).

So my “homework” for this week is to start thinking of yourself as a musician. You play an instrument, the instrument is your voice. Every musician should learn as much as they can about their instrument. Unless of course, your instrument is simply a hobby or something you do to relax.

If it’s more than that to you, stop accepting your limitations and start asking some questions about how to overcome them. You’ve seen people sing high notes effortlessly. You’ve seen recording artists sing for an hour straight. You know something’s going on, what is it? What do they know about their instrument that you don’t know about yours? What have they done to be able to do what they do, that you haven’t done?

As a singer, you are a musician. Every musician needs to study their instrument. My home study vocal training course will teach you how to use your voice properly. Get started free by signing up for my 5 day vocal training course below.