How doing regular cardio makes you a better singer

cardio

A Brand New DayIf you’ve been a regular reader of this blog for any length of time you’ve no doubt seen me harping many times on the importance of improving your breathing technique for better singing. In fact Shena did a 3 part blog series dedicated to The fine art of proper breathing, which ended with a blog including 4 powerful exercises for great breath control. There’s no question then, that breathing exercises are an important tool for singers to add to your daily vocal workouts.

However there are a few other exercises that are equally as important and very effective for improving the singer’s over-all lung capacity and breathing. Adding them to your routine will not only make you a more powerful singer but a healthier person. I’m speaking about cardio exercises. Cardio exercises are not vocal exercises but physical exercise like the kind you get from walking, jogging or running, aerobic exercise, skating, cycling, skiing, dancing, swimming, rowing, tennis, basketball; you get the idea.

Cardio is short for Cardiovascular. These are exercises that raise the heart rate and keep it elevated for an extended period of time. Doing cardio regularly improves your breathing because it increases your lung capacity. Now, in my own research I saw a lot of people mentioning “lung capacity  as the main benefit of doing cardio for singers, but hardly anyone went on to explain what that is, exactly.

At first mention you might think that means that you’ll somehow increase the size of your lungs. That’s not really true. As far as I know there are no exercises you can do to actually increase how big your lungs are. So when we talk about lung capacity we’re talking about how much air you actually take into your lungs. Many of us don’t take in nearly as much air as we could or even should, simply because of shallow breathing. And honesly a lot of that comes from simply being out of shape. Regular cardio workouts dramatically improve your breathing by improving your lung capacity. Meaning you actually breathe deeper and fill your lungs with more air naturally.

We already know the endless list of benefits to your heart and overall stamina and energy that cardio workouts cause. But think about the effect having a surplus of energy and stamina can have on your singing. Remember singing is very much a physical thing that can be compared to any athletic event. So a stronger, healthier cardiovascular system has some very powerful benefits for the singer in regards to both performance and breathing.

However it’s important to also point out that for the purpose of improving your breathing for singing, cardio must be added and used along with breathing exercises. And all of it must be used in conjunction with actually practicing singing with better breath control; actual singing, not just holding notes longer, or singing scales. You may, for example, get to a point where you can hold one note for a very long time. But singing an actual phrase has many different vowels as well as fluctuations in pitch and volume. All of these have a very different effect on how much air you need to say, finish a long phrase vs. just holding one note. Even holding one note gets more difficult the higher the note is, because it requires a different amount of support. So in addition to cardio and a regimin of regular breathing exercise, you need to actually practice singing longer phrases. Not taking breaths as often. Things like that.

So don’t misunderstand me here. You should definitely start doing some cardio at least 3 times a week, and it will definitely yield some very noticeable benefits to your breathing. It will give you more stamina and make you a more powerful singer. But the maximum benefits come only if combined with regular singing-specific breathing exercises and actual practice singing longer notes and phrases.

Now go for a walk!

Need help with with your breathing? Running out of air? Screaming for high notes? Most breathing issues are the result of bad technique. Taking vocal lessons dramatically improves your vocal technique, so your breathing improves also!  If you’ve looked before and found lesson to be too expensive for you, take a look at my new home study vocal training course. Vocal Ministry Breakthrough.  .

The Resonators: Your Built-in P.A System

Electro VoiceHey gang,

Shena Crane here. I want to change gears for this blog and focus on how your body enhances the sound you produce when singing. There are seven resonators in singing, unfortunately only three of them are really effective. But first we need to know what resonation is; it is the process of phonation enhanced in timbre and/or intensity by the air-filled cavities through which it passes on its way out. Personally I think of resonators as an inside microphone. It is a proven fact that a singer’s voice can be heard over an unamplified orchestra. How is this done, you ask? Well with the three main resonators that we are about to talk about.

The first most important resonator is the pharynx, this resonator is effective simply because of its position. It is the first cavity that the vibrations from the vocal folds pass through, and the other cavities have to accept what the pharynx passes on to them. The pharynx is broken down into three parts; laryngopharynx, oropharynx nasopharynx. This resonator is the most flexible and can be adjusted in size vertically and horizontally. The laryngopharynx is the first space that the larynx opens into. The oropharynx acts as the primary resonator for the vocal folds. And the nasopharynx is the highest part of the pharynx.

The next resonator is the oral cavity, which is second most important. The size and shape of the oral cavity can be adjusted with the tongue, soft palate, jaws and lips. This is why it is vitally important for singers to have good diction. It is important to articulate words without altering the sound created by the larynx and resonated by the pharynx.

The third most important resonator is the nasal cavity. This cavity cannot be adjusted in size or shape, it is pretty much set in stone. In the English language there are three sounds that require nasal resonance (m, n, ng). This resonator has the capability to be switched on and off. And if you feel vibrations in your nose and roof of your mouth when you sing, then that is a sign of good vocal tone.

So looking back on what we have learned so far singing can seem a lot more difficult then we realized. We have to think about posture, breathing, diction and tone quality. My question to you is, can you feel the vibration? Which should be felt in what is referred to as your “mask”. The vibration is felt in the teeth, lips, cheekbone and nasal cavity. Feeling the vibration is the result of good tone quality. If you sing with a upside down smile it will force your larynx to stay low, which will place your tone in the right place to cause vibration. So the point is to keep your larynx low when you sing.

Until next time,

Shena

In The Dallas Ft. Worth Area? Why not Book Shena for a private lesson!

Using good Diction, part 2: Diphthongs

MicIn my last blog on diction I discussed the three rules for omitting r when singing. If you have been implementing the rules in your singing then you should notice a change in your sound and how clear your words are. In this blog I want to focus on diphthongs. This word is derived from the Greek di – twice and phthongs- sound. A diphthong is a word consisting of two consecutive vowels in the same syllable. An example of a diphthong is the word fight. You have the first vowel sound ah and then I as in it at the end. So the first vowel sound is sustained the second one follows at the end. In reading this keep in mind that we are talking about being understood clearly when you sing. As a singer it is your job to tell a story through your voice. In order for the story to be conveyed is has to be understood.
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How simply using good diction can make singing easier

Hello Mic...Many singers do not really understand diction and the affect it has on their singing. Have you ever heard someone sing and you question in your mind “ what did they say”? Or even “ why do they sound flat or sharp”? Well guess what? Diction plays apart in all of that. If you are a singer you have to put focus on the way you are saying your words. Diction is vitally important in large group settings such as choirs and praise teams. When you have several people singing the same words at the same time, everyone needs to be saying the words the same way.
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Why should a naturally gifted singer take vocal lessons?

question markI know from experience that people who are naturally gifted singers are often some of the most complacent people of all when it comes to fully understanding how precious that gift is. And to what lengths people all over the world are going to in order to learn how to do what you take for granted, simply because you woke up one day knowing how. I don’t say that to be mean though. It’s just natural to find it hard to really appreciate something that you’ve had all your life. So it stands to reason that often people born with a natural ability to sing will have a really hard time seeing the need for them to take vocal lessons. After all, vocal coaches teach people how to sing right? Often you hear things like “Well God blessed me with that naturally. I come from a long line of anointed singers so I just have it in my blood”.

I suggested to a friend of mine a few years ago that he take vocal lessons, and he took it as an insult. Mind you, I love this person’s voice! But I knew he struggled with certain notes that we find ourselves singing a lot in Gospel songs . And I knew that taking vocal lessons would make those notes much easier for him.

Although there are some people who can actually learn to sing by taking lessons, I believe some of the most dramatic improvements come to people who already have the gift of singing. But gifted singers still have a tough time wrapping their head around actually going somewhere and spending money to , in their opinion, learn how to do something they already know how to do. In another blog I explained in detail what I believe are 5 Tell-tale signs you need vocal lessons. But I want to give a couple of simple examples here, of things you may not be aware of. These are little things about the way even naturally gifted singers approach singing, that can cause strain and wear on your voice that will build up over time until your singing voice actually starts to deteriorate even sooner than it would over the natural course of time.

One thing that almost all of us do without being aware we’re doing it, is use muscles in our singing that aren’t designed or intended to use for singing. We engage these muscles sometimes even when we’re not singing in a way that feels particularly high or uncomfortable. Let’s feel one of those right now.

Put your thumb, face up, underneath your chin. Rest it gently against that soft fleshy area under there. Now, just sing a little. Sing something simple. You don’t even need words. Try singing “MM-MMM-MMMM-MMM-MMM” on a simple scale. Can you feel that area under your chin pressing against your thumb? Now sing notes a little higher. You’ll see that the higher you go the harder those muscles push against your thumb. This is a muscle used primarily when we swallow. Go ahead and swallow with your thumb right there and you’ll feel the same muscle.

This muscle is NOT needed at all for singing! It is what we call an “outer-larynx” muscle. In other words, it one of many muscles located outside of the larynx that have nothing to do with singing. These muscles add strain to the singing process.

Here’s another example of something very common many singers do that causes tension to build up. I heard one vocal coach on American Idol call it “Gospel Jaw”; that thing you see some singers doing where they move their jaw up and down in cadence with their vibrato? Completely un-necessary to produce vibrato and adds nothing at all to the singing process but tension.

Of course we’ve talked at length in several other blogs about all of the ways improper breathing affects your vocal cords in a very bad way. This topic is broad and includes everything from tightening your stomach when going for high notes to how you hold your mouth for certain vowels. Not to mention the actual process of breathing in and out, which believe it or not, most of us do incorrectly just walking around in every day life, let alone singing.

These and many, many other issues are things you learn how to overcome and correct when you take vocal lessons. When you do, some pretty amazing changes start to take place in your singing. Not only does your overall tonal quality and warmth improve, but your entire ministry becomes more effective, more powerful and more anointed. Taking vocal lessons eliminates all physical and mental distractions every singer feels at some point when they’re up before God’s people. Imagine that for a moment. How would that kind of complete and total freedom change your ministry?

So if you’ve thought about taking lessons before but just didn’t feel like you would benefit that much from them, I urge you to take my free 5 day video vocal training course. It’s an easy, risk-free to really see for once and for all if you can really benefit from vocal training. Hundreds of Gospel singers all over the world have already done just that, and as simple as this little mini-course is, many of them have reported some pretty amazing changes.

Have you ever taken voice lessons? Please share your experience by commenting about it below.

If you haven’t, why not schedule a session today! You can Book Shena or Book Ron at the top of the page by clicking on the Book Private Sessions page.

4 powerful exercises for great breath control

In in my recent blog series, The Fine Art Of Proper Breathing, I explained the four stages of breathing and how they can affect your singing. Just to refresh your memory the stages are: inhalation, suspension, exhalation and resting period. We came to the conclusion that this process is something that needs to be purposely done until it becomes natural to the singer. There are several exercises that can help you in reaching this goal.

I would like to share with you some of the exercises that I use to help me personally with breath control. The whole concept of breath control is a mental and physical thing and involves the entire body.
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How to increase your vocal range, pt. 3

EscadaWell gang, my intent was to finish this series on increasing your vocal range with a video blog. But after trying unsuccessfully all night to get it to load to YouTube I’ve decided to just write my thoughts down for you rather than miss my deadline.

We’ve talked a lot about breathing in the last two installments. In part one I drove home the point that simply pushing and singing harder to “reach” for high notes is NOT the way to increase your range. In fact it’s a pretty sure way of losing what you do have.

But as I stated before, many people still don’t understand the importance of learning to breathe properly for singing as it relates to your range. Most of us think the only think about breathing when we’re running out of air for notes and phrases. However, the way we breathe, or more specifically the way we use our air to reach high notes has everything to do with almost all of the most common issues that plague us as singers.

In part 2 of the series I wanted to show you just how critical it is that we as singers learn how to use less air to sing and STOP the hard pushing. Again, not just for the sake of increasing how long you can hold a note. But the fact is, pushing hard for the high notes is really tough on your vocal cords and can cause significant damage over time.

I talked about how the vocal cords work to produce sound and how they use the air we send up so we really understand how pushing for the note affects your vocal cords in a very bad way.

So that leads us to today’s installment (video still stuck at 93%), lol). Hopefully if you haven’t understood anything else from the series so far, you understand that you can’t increase your range by continuing to do what you’re doing now. So no matter where you are with your talent; no matter how anointed or naturally gifted you are; if you’ve never had any kind of vocal training it’s imperative that you do so.

I made a very important point in one of the other blogs, that before you can increase your range by adding notes to the total number you can reach, you must first get to a place where you can reach all of the notes you can sing currently without yelling, screaming or pushing for them. If you do that, then you’ve dramatically increased what I call your “usable” range.

Remember that one and a half octave range I said most people have naturally? And the point I made about how it’s usually those last 4 notes that give most singers the biggest problems? Well in Gospel music, most songs written for choirs and even praise teams put us in keys that force us to sing those notes a LOT. We’re usually singing somewhere in the highest part of our chest voice by the time we reach that “vamp” of the song.

Imagine now a song you sing with the choir that’s really high toward the end. Think about the part that’s really high. Think about the words you’re singing there. What if that note (and it’s usually one, isn’t it?) were easy for you? How much of a profound difference in the singing experience would that make for you?

But think about this: Most Gospel songs are only written in an area that includes about 5 notes. That’s because that’s where choirs and praise teams sound their best. So songs like “Grateful” By Hezekiah Walker represent the upper end of where most Gospel songs end up. “Miracles” by Beverly Crawford, for example, is in the same key as Grateful and basically requires you to sing the same notes in the vamp.

So what if those notes were not comfortable for you? If those notes were comfortable for you then 80 to 90% of the songs you encounter in Gospel music would be comfortable too, because the vast majority of it would be right around that key or below it.

So how to you get to a place where you can sing those notes comfortably? By learning simple vocal exercises and techniques. Vocal training teaches you how to use your voice safely and with much less effort. You learn that you don’t need even a fraction of the air you normally use to hit those high notes. You learn vocal exercises that strengthen your vocal cords and lower your larynx. You learn how to approach the notes at the upper end of your range with much less strain and force, but without losing any of the power and fullness we love as Gospel singers.

Believe it or not, some of the most important vocal exercises we use to help our students achieve these things have been included in my home study vocal training course, Vocal Ministry Breakthrough. If you haven’t done so already I highly recommend starting there.

The bottom line is, your voice is your instrument and you’re the musician that plays it. And like every musician, you need to learn everything you can about your instrument in order to be the best musician you can be.

 

How to increase your range pt. 2

Ladder to SunWe’re back for the second installment in my series on increasing your range. In the first installment of How to increase your vocal range I told you that like every musician, a singer needs to learn as much as possible about their instrument and how it works.

So today we’re going to talk a bit about how your vocal cords work. Specifically, how they work to produce higher notes for you. Once you understand that you’ll really understand what all the fuss is from us vocal coaches about breathing properly and not pushing. I’m going to explain the process here as much as I can without getting all technical and boring.

Your vocal cords, as you know, produce all sound we make. As you’re sitting there breathing right now, reading in your head, your vocal cords are in an “open” position. If you were to start humming right now, they would come together and start to “adduct”, which is really just a fancy word for the vibrating that happens as they’re opening and closing really fast.

To put it simply, they take the flow of air moving up from your lungs through your trachia and they kinda cut it off until it builds up, then they open again and release that little build-up of air. That little “puff” of air becomes the sound waves that eventually reach our ears. Now, imagine that process happening at about 200 times a second .

So we have a general idea (and that’s very general, it’s much more complex than that) of how they create the sound we hear using the air we send up. How do they change that sound to different notes? In particular, how do they create higher and higher notes? The easiest way to illustrate this is to think about the strings on a guitar.

Looking at a guitar you notice that the strings at the top are thick. Then they gradually get thinner and longer as you go down to the string on the bottom. The thicker strings produce lower notes, while the thinner, longer strings produces the highest notes.

Your vocal cords make a similar adjustment as you move toward higher and higher notes in your range. At your most comfortable range, which is right around the level of your speaking voice, your cords are short and thick. As you start to graduate higher, your cords start to stretch and thin. As they do this they get tighter. Remember, their job is to close long enough to let that puff of air build up and release it so it becomes sound. Are you with me so far? :O) Take about 5 minutes to watch this amazing footage of this.

 

Ok, so we’re moving towards a high part in our song, and our vocal cords are stretching and thinning and creating tension. But then something happens they didn’t expect. “Wait, what’s going on here?!! There’s a LOT more air coming through here now! This is much more than what was happening on the lower end of our range,” they say. ” He’s pushing too hard! We’d better tighten up or we’re gonna get blown apart”. And so they do. And they get tighter and tigher, trying to continue doing their job of holding back air long enough to get that little build-up. “Oh, man, looks like he’s pushing even MORE now. I think we’re gonna have to give up, it’s too much for us!”

And eventually that’s what they do, and that’s when your voice fails. Now, as primitive as that little “dramatization” was, it’s a pretty good representation of what’s happening to your vocal cords when you use what I call “air velocity” to reach high notes. Basically you’re just sending up way more air than your vocal cords can handle. So they try to compensate by tightening and becoming even more tense, but eventually they’re just no match and they get blown apart.

So you can see how critical it is to learn how to control your breathing. Not just for holding notes longer, or even increasing range. It’s critical for the health of your voice over the long haul. And hopefully, you understand better why pushing won’t get you more range; at least not safely, and not for long. I told you in the first installment that even though most people have about an octave and a half naturally, those last 4 are usually very uncomfortable. Now you know why!

How how to we make these note comfortable? How do we learn to use less air so we put less strain on our vocal cords when their elongating and thinning to create high notes for us? That’s what we’ll be talking about in our next installment of the series.

See you soon!

 

How to increase your vocal range (first in a series)

Fly like a BirdEvery singer wants to add more notes to their range, and for good reason. Even though most of us don’t need nearly as many octaves as we think, the more notes we have easy access to the more flexibility we have. The key here is the word “easy”. Most singers have about one and a half octaves of range naturally, without any vocal training. That’s actually enough for many songs, to be honest. But the problem is, only the first 8 notes of that one and a half octaves is really comfortable enough to use for any length of time for most singers. The last 4 notes most people can reach are pretty uncomfortable, to the point of yelling.

So the first step to increasing your range is getting full control of all the notes in your range currently. Any note you’re screaming for is technically not in your range when you think about it. If you’re screaming to reach it, you can’t stay there very long or hit it very many times. So even though these notes are “technically” in your range, they’re not very usable for you in most songs.

Your first priority then should be learning to reach that last 4 notes past one octave comfortably. To do that requires some “unlearning” of the typical ways most of us reach those notes. For most people when we think about reaching higher notes we think about using more air. Pushing harder. In fact as Gospel singers, more air is the way we accomplish almost everything we want. More range, more air velocity. More volume, more air velocity. More power– you get the idea. The irony of it all is that the very things we do to try to help our voices accomplish these things are the very things that hinder us from accomplishing them.

It’s going to sound strange when I say this, but the real way to accomplish more than you ever wanted to accomplish with your voice is to do less than you ever have before. Like every musician, a singer needs to learn all he can about his instrument. When you really understand how the voice works you’ll understand why pushing hard to hit those high notes is NOT the way to increase your range.

Despite what you may have heard, simply pushing harder until you can gradually sing higher is NOT the way to increase your range safely. It is however the fastest way to start losing what you already have. While it’s true that some people do add a couple of notes to their range by using this “brute force” method of pushing and muscling your way up to higher notes, this is a very unhealthy way to increase your range. When you do it this way you’re really just back to square one. Higher notes that are really not very usable to you for any length of time because you’re screaming to reach them.

In order to properly and safely increase your range; meaning you now easily reach and sustain notes you had to yell to reach before; you must seek a deeper understanding of your instrument and how it works.

For example you always hear people talking about the importance of learning how to breathe properly for singers. But most singers think that’s mainly for the purpose of being able to hold notes longer. That’s part of it, but the real reason to learn how to breathe properly and not push so hard is that doing so causes a chain reaction series of events inside your body.

These things all conspire together to cause all of the strain, tightness, dizziness, coughing, hoarseness and pretty-much every other negative or bad thing you experience when you’re singing toward the very top end of your range. In my home study course Vocal Ministry Breakthrough I teach you vocal exercises and techniques that help you overcome and eliminate all of these common issues so you can sing at the top of your current range easily. And that’s the key to adding more notes.

So I’m going to start a series of blogs to discuss this in great detail. We’ll learn how the voice works by taking a close, detailed look at exactly what happens when you push and yell for those high notes. We’ll learn how the vocal cords produce higher notes and how pushing for those notes HINDERS the vocal cords’ ability to produce them for you. All that and more will be discussed in this blog series on increasing your range.

Stay tuned and keep reading!

Video blog: How to measure your vocal range (and how much you really need)