Sunday Best wrap-up for the 8-19-12 airing; We’re down to the final 2!

In Sunday’s airing of BET’s hit Gospel talent competition Sunday Best the remaining 4 contestants were cut in half, leaving only two contestants to compete for the title of Sunday Best for 2012. Watch today’s episode of The 4th Judge Report below for all the details and to find out who went home…and who, in my humble opinion, got ROBBED.

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How to survive a mass choir rehearsal

How to survive a mass choir rehearsal

As I write this, we’re in the middle of rehearsals right now for our 13th annual Family & Friends Choir musical. This is the one time of year we open our choir up and allow anyone who has the desire to do so to come and join our ranks for one musical. We invite other church choirs we fellowship with, of course. But we also invite friends, family members and even members of our own congregation to come out and participate. Because we open the doors to our choir during this time of year without regard to any previous experience or knowledge of singing in the choir, it’s not uncommon to have members participating who have never sang in the choir before.

Even if you’ve done it for years though, these kinds of “mass choir rehearsals” tend to be very intense compared to your regular choir rehearsal at your own church. There is typically a large amount of material taught at a mass rehearsal. Depending on the instructor, the number of songs being taught and their level of difficulty, these rehearsals can be as long as 2 hours, even more in some cases. As the clinician for our annual musical for the entire 13 years I’ve seen some pretty common problems that almost everyone has at some point or another during these rehearsals. Today I’ll cover the 3 tips for dealing with the most common challenges of these grueling, mass-scale rehearsals.

1. Preserve your voice as much as possible

Choir rehearsals in general are some of the most stressful environments you can place your voice in. This is amplified in mass rehearsals where, again, there is just so much more material to cover. So you should go into these rehearsal with vocal preservation in mind. First, take some time to warm up on your way to rehearsal. If you don’t know any warm-up exercises, simple humming can be a great way to get your cords going and ready for intense use. I wrote about humming in another blog you can read here.

At the rehearsal, remember you seldom need as much effort or “air velocity” as you think. I have a tendency not to ask my choir members to sing hard or full voice while we’re learning the parts. There’s really no need to be hammering away when you’re just trying to get your key. However, many clinicians do want to hear that full, strong sound while they’re teaching the parts. If you can do light tone production while your part is being taught and then sing full voice when the instructor calls for everybody to sing, you’ll do strenuous singing only about half as often than you would normally.

Again, every instructor is different, so if you’re being pushed to sing louder go ahead and use full voice. Just keep the volume and air velocity to a minimum as much as possible. More about that in the next tip.

2. Don’t over-do it on modulations.

If you’re participating in a mass Gospel choir preparing for a musical, there WILL be at least one song that requires the choir to modulate. However most of us exert way more effort than we need, and way too early. For example, if you’re singing a song where you’ll be modulating by rising higher and higher in half-step increments (very common in gospel choir), many choir members will almost double the amount of air velocity or effort just going from the first key to the second key. By the time you get to the 3rd modulation you’re practically screaming on pitch.

Instead, try approaching the next key with no more pushing or volume than you used on the one before it. Depending on how many modulations you have to do, this could keep you singing comfortably all the way up to the last one or two keys. Most of us exert this extra effort not because we really need it, but simply because we automatically think we do whenever we know we’re going to a higher key. Try approaching each new key like the one before and you’ll be surprised at how much more comfortable you are.

3. Be smart with your lyric sheets- don’t lean on them too heavily

By far, the most challenging thing about these kinds of rehearsals for most people is the sheer amount of material that has to be memorized and the amount of time it has to be done in. To help with the process, many instructors provide lyric sheets for all the songs. However, if not used properly lyric sheets can and often do, become more of a hindrance than a help. If you want to read a deeper discussion about why and how they become a crutch that actually hampers the learning process, read about it here.

The short version though, is this: If you look at your lyric sheets the entire night, you will likely leave rehearsal having not retained anything at all. In fact it’s very common for people who do this to be still struggling with even the easiest songs after 3 rehearsals.

The smart way to use lyric sheets is as a guide only. Use them when your section’s part is being taught so you know what the instructor is saying and don’t have to stop him/her to ask. But that’s it. After your instructor has taught your section’s part you should begin making an effort not to look from then on. Remember the instructor will be repeating these lyrics again and again as all the section parts are taught. Take advantage of those repetitions by watching and listening to the other sections and NOT your lyric sheets. You’ll find that by the time the instructor is ready for everyone to sing together you’ll have just about memorized the passage from repetition. That’s a very general explanation though. I definitely encourage you to read the article I referenced earlier about lyric sheets; especially if you participate regularly in these kinds of rehearsals or you use lyric sheets in your own rehearsals.

Got a big event coming up for your choir? Let us help. Book Shena or myself as clinician for your next musical, annual or appreciation. We’ll come in and help prepare your choir for the big day.

 

 

The 4 Stages Of Breathing Explained, Pt. 2

Welcome back! In my last blog I gave you a detailed explaination of Inhalation and Suspension, the first 2 stages of proper breathing. Now I would like to break down the last two, Phonation and the Resting Period.

We discussed how important inhalation is to a singer. On the opposite hand we have exhalation, which is the usage of the air you inhaled. In normal breathing this process is called exhalation but in the singing world it should be referred to as Phonation. Phonation is simply the process by which the vocal folds vibrate and produce sound. To the average gospel singer we naturally have the gift to sing so we really do not focus on what is actually going on in our body when we sing. I believe that it is important for a singer to know how the body affects the sound we produce.
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Why you get dizzy when you sing and how to fix it

Today’s blog is a video where I discuss dizziness while singing. It’s very common among gospel singers. I’ll explain what causes this and give you a vocal exercise to help stop it. Enjoy!
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The 4 Stages Of Proper Breathing Explained

In my previous blog I started talking about the breathing process that a singer should go through. In that article I mentioned that there are four stages of proper breathing: Inhalation, Suspension, Phonation(exhalation) and the resting period. I thought it would be helpful to go into more detail about each one. Today I’ll cover the first two, Inhalation and Suspension.

First let’s talk about Inhalation.
During the inhalation stage of breathing it is critical for the singer to have a relaxed body so that the air can fill in where necessary. Referring back to a balloon analogy I used in the first blog , when air is blown into it the balloon expands all the way around. When inhaling air, as a singer the mid section of your body should expand just as that balloon does, freely allowing the air to fill the lungs from bottom to top. The average singer is prone to taking a shallow inhalation right before they sing. But I cannot tell you how imperative that intentional deep breath is every time you open your mouth to sing. The body should be erect in a natural stance. The shoulders are not in any way involved in the inhalation process. The only movement there should be is in the mid section of the body, from the air filling in.
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The fine art of proper breathing

Breathing is something we all do naturally. But in the singing world- more precisely the classical singing world- there is an art/technique to breathing. Singing gospel most of my life I was stuck in my ways as far as singing was concerned. I lost my voice often and I always felt like I was screaming to get certain notes out. It was not until I began studying classical music that I began to understand the technique.

The way you breathe not only produces the sound but it also controls the quality of the sound and the volume. Have you ever heard a singer and you could hardly hear what they were singing? Or maybe a singer who always sounds like they are afraid when they sing. There are even singers who do not fully understand how to preserve the air that they take in while singing. Breath control is a great way to assist the average singer with such issues.

The average singer is drawn to just taking air in right before they sing their first word. But I want you to think about not just taking air in, but letting the air fill up from the bottom to the top. This process involves the entire body and takes some extra thinking. As the air fills the lungs the stomach section and the back section should expand. During this time the singer should be thinking about what has to be sung and how it should be sang.Once the singer knows what is about to happen then the actual singing begins.

In normal everyday breathing there are three stages: inhalation, exhalation and a resting period. In singing there should be four stages: inhalation, suspension, exhalation and a resting period. It is vitally important that a singer consciously do these four stages until it is natural. The exhalation or phonation stage is typically the stage where most singers lose control of their breath. Phonation involves several areas of the mid section the abdominal, internal intercostal and the lower pelvic muscles. These muscles control the amount of air that is released while singing. They also support the sound and tone quality of the notes.

The entire process can be a lot to think about while one is trying to remember the words to a song or fight through nerves. But if you want your singing to improve and become much easier, it’s definitely worth the effort. Try thinking about breathing in a different way when it is time to sing. Practice letting the air fill from the bottom of your lungs to the top, then stop and think about what all you want to sing with that breath. Imagine you have a full balloon and you squeeze the top so the air will seep out. That balloon is your lungs. Once they are filled you want to strategically release the air, rather than just pushing or blowing as hard as you can.

We’ll be talking more about breathing in future blogs.

Shena Crane,

The Music Ministry Coach.com

Shena Crane is a Classically trained professional vocal coach. She graduated from University Of Texas At Arlington. Shena holds a Bachelors Degree in Music Education as well as an Associates Degree in Music/Performance.

Train this seldom-discussed body part for amazing breath control

BreatheToday we’re going to get pretty technical in our discussion of breath control. Odds are you’ve never heard it discussed from this angle, so let’s get into it.

First, a couple of questions.What controls your breathing? That is, how fast or slowly you can realease air? When you hold your breath, how do you do it? What do you use to stop the air flow? Chances are it’s not what you think.

Try this with me now: With your mouth open I want you to take a deep breath, hold it for about 3 seconds, then release it. …………
Did you do it? Ok. Now, the question again…how did you do that? How did you stop the air flow for those 3 seconds? Without fail, almost everybody responds to this little experiment with answers like “I held my stomach”. Or, if they’re a little more experienced they’ll say something about “squeezing the diaphragm”. Actually it’s neither.
The answer may surprise you, but the way you did it had nothing to do with either of those.You stopped the flow of air by pressing your vocal cords together so tightly that no air could come through. Yes, it’s the vocal cords that regulate the flow of air!

Now, be sure you understand what I’m saying here. You don’t breathe with your vocal cords, but they do regulate the flow of air through your trachia. When you cough, sneeze, hold your breath while you’re drinking a glass of water or anything along those lines, it’s your vocal cords that are coming into play.

Since we know that now, it becomes a pretty smart assumtion that vocal cords play a major role for the singer in improving breath control. In partiular, we are referring here to what we call “cord closure”.

When we sing, speak or make any kind of audible sound, our vocal cords come together and adduct, or “vibrate”. How good that connection is when they’re against each other has a lot to do with how efficiently they are using the air we send up when we’re singing.

Here’s an example: Let’s go back a few years when everybody had manual, roll-up windows in their cars. You’re driving down the highway. The windows are up. It’s raining outside. But you hear wind coming into the car from somwhere. You know the window is up because no rain is coming in, right?

You still hear wind coming in though, so you grab the handle and pull up on it to tighten the connection between the window and the frame. Suddenly the wind stops. Obviously, the window was up far enough to make a “decent” seal. It was enough to keep the rain out, but not enough to keep wind from escaping into the vehicle.

A very similar thing is happening when we sing. In most cases; particularly if you’ve never had lessons or done any excersises to develop them; your vocal cords are like the window. You have cord closure, but the seal is weak.

So what happens is much of the air you’re sending up is “going out the window”, so to speak. It’s escaping and not being used to make the note. The consequence, of course, is that you need and use more air to accomplish the task at hand.

Properly trained vocal cords have a tighter, stronger connection when they’re closed for singing. The result is that much of the air you send up to sing is actually used to make the note. Very little escapes unused.

As a result you need a lot less to do the same thing. So if you need less, you use less…which means you have more to spare and can sing longer without running out.

So, am I saying that better cord closure is the single, be-all solution to better breath control? No. Not cord closure alone. Better cord closure is just one of many elements that, when you take vocal lessons, begin to work together like a symphony to give you better breath control, more power with less work, and increased range without yelling. “Cord closure exercises” are just one of many beneficial vocal training tools a professional vocal coach uses to to get you there. I’ll teach you more about proper breathing and show you a great chord closure exercise in my free 5 day vocal training course. Get it free when you join my mailing list below.

 

 

What not to drink before a singing engagement

Beverages2_sfx1-2 In this, the 3rd and final installment in what I’ll call the “singer’s diet” series, we’ll focus on beverages. If you’ve been paying attention and playing along on your board games at home, you know that I’ve taken a rather general approach to these articles rather than give you a hard and fast list of food items to go by. Why, because everyone is different and different foods and beverages affect everyone different ways. No sooner than I tell you to absolutely avoid something, someone will come along and tell you they have it all the time with no problem.
So instead, let’s start with a short list of general guidelines to consider when choosing something to drink:

1. Anything really cold should be avoided. Constricts the throat muscles

2. Caffeine should generally be avoided. Caffeine is a diuretic, so caffeinated drinks will dry out your throat. These drinks also dehydrate you, and make you go more often; which you don’t want to be worried about when you’re on stage. Include in this category all of the artificial sugars and sweeteners. Avoid those as well.

3. Acidic drinks (anything high in acid) should generally be avoided for pretty-much the same reasons. Acid can sort of “burn off” some of the protective coatings that keep you cords lubricated. And yup, we’re talking about acidic juices like orange juice and lemon juice.

4. Carbonated drinks like sodas should be avoided . Aside from the caffeine, there’s the carbonate. Which tends to bloat you and make you gassy and belchy (yes, I made that up, lol). Not something you want to be doing on stage.

5. Alcohol should be avoided. Besides the fact that you don’t want to be toasted while you’re up trying to perform, alcohol has many of the same effects as caffeine. It will dehydrate you and dry you out.

So if you’re thinking “well geeze, what does that leave me?!” Well, pretty-much anything you want that’s not one of those things. And there are always exceptions. For example, some say lemmon juice is nice to drink when you have a lot of phlegm, because it helps cut through it. You may, however, be helping one problem and causing another one with that scenario.

If you really want to simplify your life, drink room temperature water. Simple as that. But in order for water to really benefit you, you have to be drinking it on a regular basis. DO NOT load up on a ton of water right before going on stage, unless you want to be running for the bathroom halfway through your second song. Rather, you should sip on it to keep your mouth from becoming dry.

But in order to reap all of the many benefits of drinking water, you must try to stay hydrated as a general rule. Drink water on a regular basis. Your vocal cords will be moist, excess mucus from colds will be much thinner, and your voice overall will be cleaner and more crisp.

At the end of the day though guys, you really do have to become a student of your own body and your own instrument here. There are hundreds of people who will disagree with every point in this blog simply because they personally have never had a problem with it. Use this as a general guideline of all the common things that are true for most people. Then tailor your routine to what works best for you. Don’t make it so strict that you don’t even enjoy singing anymore. Singing isn’t supposed to be that way.

Enjoy your life! Just remember, not only your voice but your whole body is your instrument. Try not to take it for granted.

Take care!

Ron