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!

 

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.

 

 

4 steps to gaining more confidence about your singing

Doppia IdentitàOne of the most common issues that plague Gospel singers is simply lack of confidence. Many singers struggle with fear and doubt at the very thought of getting up singing in front of people. Oddly enough, a great number of people struggle with this lack of confidence even in the midst of constant encouragement and complements about their singing. A lack of confidence is very much rooted in fear. And, since we already know that God didn’t give us the spirit of fear, it might help to first define what confidence is. Then we can deal with where the lack of confidence comes from.

Dictionary.com defines confidence this way:

 

 con·fi·dence

kon-fi-duhns]  

noun

1. full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing: We have every confidence in their ability to succeed.

2. belief in one’s self and one’s powers or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance; assurance:  His lack of confidence defeated him.

3. certitude; assurance: He described the situation with such confidence that the audience believed him completely.

 In other words- and regular students hear me say this all the time- confidence comes from what you know. Or, as my pastor often explains it when he talks about salvation- what you “know that you know”. As believers we all know that we often don’t feel Saved. But no matter how we feel from day to day, our assurance- or, “confidence” comes in knowing that we know that we know we are saved.
Singers who struggle with their confidence level are people who are not yet convinced of their own ability. You don’t fully trust and believe in your singing ability. You aren’t self assured.  Here are 4 steps beginners and experienced singers alike can take to start gaining more confidence.
 
1. Embrace and learn to like your own voice.
One of the biggest reasons people don’t like their own singing is because they’re comparing it to someone else’s. You MUST stop doing that if you ever hope to get to a place of confidence in your own voice. Every singer is different. Everyone has a different style, tone, vibrato; any number of things that make every person unique. And the thing is, no matter how popular and well loved someone is, you can be sure of two things:
a) there are people who like that style of singing
b) there are people who don’t.
The same is true of your own singing voice. Even if not everything you hear about your singing is positive, there are certainly just as many people who are blessed by your singing. That’s God’s design. There are different styles because there are different people. One sound, one style won’t reach them all. There are people assigned and earmarked to be blessed by YOUR gift specifically. So you need to get to a place where you can appreciate your own voice for everything that is is, and more importantly everything it’s not. Your gift is yours alone, and the Bible says it is good and perfect.
To start embracing your own voice you’re going to need to hear it a lot more. Become used to it. Learn what you do well and do it a lot. In other words:
2. Do a lot more singing
Remember, confidence comes from what you know. And knowing something comes from repetition. So even if you’re not singing in public, you need to make a habit of singing a lot. On a daily basis. I don’t mean some huge production. I’m just talking about the process of singing out loud so you can hear yourself doing it. Just around the house. In the car. Running errands along with the radio. Do it. Not only does this help you really get to a place of enjoying singing, but it will help you start to enjoy your own voice.
3. Start singing in public
If you’re not already a member, join the choir. The choir is a very forgiving, no-pressure place to start singing. You’re not asked for perfection. you’re not forced to come up front normally. You can blend in with others. Singing in the choir gets you used to being in front of people singing. It also teaches you more and more about singing and harmony.
4. Invest in vocal lessons
It’s one of the least discussed benefits of vocal lessons, but one of the biggest benefits.  Anyone who has taken them will tell you that taking vocal lessons gives you a huge boost of confidence. Why? Again, it goes back to knowing what you know. Nothing makes you more certain of your own vocal ability than taking voice lessons. Your vocal coach will help you and guide you through every issue you’re struggling with as a singer, and train you how to do it correctly. When you hear those things rapidly improving you can’t help but feel more confident. For the more experienced singer who is already singing in front of people on a regular basis but still struggling with confidence issues, vocal lessons are often the one missing link to sending your confidence levels through the roof.
Why? Again,  it goes back to knowing what you know. Less experienced singers worry about their ability to sing well. More experienced singers worry about much different things, like hitting the high note, not cracking, not losing their voice during the song, running out of breath, being able to truly minister to the audience, etc. All of these thing are easily fixed by studying with a good vocal coach. Live lessons with a trained vocal coach can be costly enough for most people to discourage them from doing it. Home study courses are always a viable option to get professional training at a fraction of the cost of live lessons with a coach.
So when you can walk up to the front, knowing that you’re going to hit every note in the song, that you won’t crack or “mess up”, and most importantly that every person in that audience that God put there specifically to hear YOU will receive exactly what God sent them there to get from you; then that’s a great sense of knowing. Assurance. That’s confidence. Get started building the confidence you need today by joining my own home study vocal training program, Vocal Ministry Breakthrough.

If it’s Ad-libbing that scares you, check out Ad-lib Like A Pro.

Are you a one-dimensional singer? Here’s how to break free

I’m about to state the obvious here, but I don’t say everything the same way when I’m speaking. The tone, volume, emotion, even pitch of my speaking voice changes depending on what I’m talking about. My voice doesn’t sound the same when I’m talking to my boys as it does when I’m talking to my girlfriend. I speak much differently when I’m angry than I do when I’m sad. We all do.

And yet isn’t it amazing that many of us do exactly the opposite when we’re singing? I think most would agree that our singing voice is really just an extension of our speaking voice. Yet many singers;-especially in Gospel- approach every song the same way. “POWERFULLY.” Singing with power and strength and conviction is important in Gospel style singing. But it has become so important for many singers that it’s the only way they approach a song, no matter what it is. Ever heard a singer do a fast, energetic foot-stomping Old 100 Gospel song, then come back and sing a worship song the same way?

A singer does both himself and the song a disservice when he allows himself to be one-dimensional in his approach to singing. Every song deserves all of the different degrees of emotion that we use in our own speaking. Years ago I sang a song at our church called “I Believe”, by John P Kee. If you’re familiar with the song you know it’s one of those foot-stomping , hand-clapping churchy songs he’s known for. Every time we did the song the church would be rocking. Years later, just recently in fact, I was blessed to sing a song by Fred Hammond called “Take My Hand”. The members of the congregation, many of whom have been knowing me since I was a child, absolutely went nuts. People were coming up to me acting as if it was the first time they’d ever heard me sing. Several people told me they knew I could sing, just not like “THAT”, lol.

What they were reacting to of course was hearing my voice a totally different way, because I was singing a song that evokes a totally different emotion. Just like I do when I’m speaking, I changed my vocal style and delivery to match the emotion and the feel of the song. One person that comes to mind right now who is a master at this very thing is Jill Scott. Listen to her sing “Hate On Me” and compare it to the beautiful balad “He Loves Me”, the way she purrs on the song “Not Like Crazy”. Ask Jill about that and she’ll tell you that’s no accident. It’s something she does very deliberately. And something we all should do.

Start spending some time with songs you sing, just listening to the words. Try to tap into the emotion of that song and then start experimenting with your voice. Try different degrees of softness, edginess, and volume to make your voice express the emotion in that song. And don’t be afraid to allow your voice to sound completely different if that’s what the song needs. When Jill sings the song “Golden” you can hear the happiness in her voice, can’t you? Work on making that happen in your own vocal interpretations. The more you do so the more you’ll discover about your own voice that you never even knew you had.

 

Take care!

Ron

5 tell-tale signs you need vocal lessons

The great majority of people who have the gift of singing were born with it to some degree. It is a special gift, to be sure. But that special privilege tends to make most naturally talented signers take their gift for granted. Most are under the impression that because they are naturally gifted to sing, there is simply no need to do anything beyond just that. In fact, many singers are down-right offended by the suggestion they take vocal training.

I suspect though, that has a lot to do with singing lessons being mentioned in conjunction with bad singing. It’s often the first thing people say when they hear someone singing poorly; “oh man, she needs some singing lessons!” So in the minds of many accomplished singers, vocal training is for people who can’t sing. Naturally gifted singers often feel so strongly about this that they accept even the most obvious signs they need some training as “normal”.
Here then, is a short list of things that are strong clues you need a vocal coach.

1. I get hoarse after performances regularly.

Contrary to popular belief in the Gospel community, getting hoarse is not normal and it’s not ok. It’s not some badge of honor you wear proudly as proof you gave it your all. Hoarseness is really an injury. There are other causes that can bring on hoarseness, but if you’re getting hoarse after singing, then the way you’re singing is causing the hoarseness. It’s mostly caused by common bad vocal techniques that are easily corrected with vocal lessons.

2. High notes are tough for me.. I really have to push hard to reach them. I feel like I’m screaming to get them.

Well, you feel that way because you are. But that’s the only way most of us know how to reach them. This yelling we do to reach high notes has a lot to do with the hoarseness. Vocal training teaches you how to access higher notes in your range in a safe way that eliminates all of the strain and pushing.

3. I’m always pretty comfortable. I seldom have to strain for high notes. I know they keys I’m comfortable in so I just stay in those keys.

Then that means you have limited range and you’re simply compensating for it by always playing it safe. It may sound great but you’re severely limited. Chances are you either pass on a lot of songs because the key is too high, or you’re lowering the song key until it fits in the limited area you’re comfortable in. Vocal training increases your range and allows you much more freedom of expression. Many singer/songwriters unwittingly write around their own vocal limitations. After a while their songs take on similarities and start to sound alike because there are only 2 or 3 keys they feel comfortable in.

4. I’m always out of breath. I can’t finish phrases without having to breathe in the middle. I can’t hold notes very long at all either.

Improper breathing is the problem there. Most people just breathe incorrectly for singing. This is totally reversible and easily corrected with vocal lessons.

5. My voice gets tired quickly. I can’t sing very long before it starts to give out on me.

Lack of vocal stamina is a very common issue and, a very important one if you plan on taking your ministry to the next level. Yet many people would have a hard time lasting through even 3 or 4 songs. Increased vocal stamina is another benefit of taking vocal lessons.

 

This is not an exhaustive list by far. These 5 are simply some of the most common challenges many very talented, gifted signers have going on a regular basis. The truth is, I could double it to 10 easily right now, and still not come close to listing all the benefits of taking vocal lessons for an accomplished singer who has never had them.

The bottom line though, is that even the most gifted of singers should invest in vocal training. And certainly every professional that is serious about doing this for a living. Find a vocal coach you like and click with well, then take 2 to 3 months of weekly lessons. After that maintain your new skills by going back for a tune up about once a month or whenever you’re preparing for a new engagement or performance.

Most people don’t know it but pretty-much every signed artist takes lessons and has a certain vocal coach they go to on a regular basis. You should too! You can take professional lessons in the comfort of your home, on your own schedule and for a fraction of what it would cost to take lessons with a live vocal coach. But many people won’t do that either because they feel they can’t really learn that way. Well here’s your opportunity to prove it to yourself free.

Subscribe to my mailing list below and get a free 5 day vocal training course. What can possibly happen in just 5 lessons at home on your own? Take the course and find out!

 

 

Are celebrity Vocal Coaches really that much better?

Today’s post is a video blog where I’ll discuss vocal coaches who list celebrities among their list of clients. Often these vocal coaches are quite a bit more expensive to study with than many others. In this video I’ll tell you about a student of mine who went to see one and the conversation we had afterward.

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