Over the next few weeks we will hear from Brett Manning Associates around the globe as they share their perspective on common issues faced by singers, the consequences of the issues, and what can be done to address them. Look for features in our upcoming newsletters on this series of common habits and challenges.
Estelle Poots is a BMA vocal coach in Queensland, Australia. She has identified several key issues for singers. One of the most common problems or bad habits that she comes across in her students is the tendency to sing in a way that does not correspond with the natural speaking voice; especially the resonance that is natural to an individual’s speaking voice, as well as the way vowels are said.
To Be Believable
“For some reason we treat singing as an entirely different mechanism, and we end up not sounding believable,” Estelle said. “I often find that attached with this are learned postures and facial expressions such as raising your eyebrows, lifting your chin, rounding your mouth in unnatural ways, and so forth. These are not helpful or beneficial in any way and only contribute to you not communicating in a natural and genuine manner. You should be able to sing throughout your range with pure vowels, just the way that you speak them. Over narrowing or over broadening these vowels are used as crutches to compensate for good technique. This is again unnecessary and unhelpful.”
Teachers + Mirrors
She offers some simple advice that will help address this issue that has become both unconscious and second nature. It calls for identifying the problem, making the adjustment, and then making the correct way of singing like speaking become second nature.
“It requires you to focus on it with your teacher or in the mirror by yourself to first become aware of these tendencies and to then overcome them,” she said. “With your vowels, the simplest way is to speak the word, and then sing it without changing a thing. It’s a lot harder than it would seem.”
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Zuke Smith of Brett Manning Vocal Method: East Coast, U.S.A. sees tongue tension as one of the issues that many singers struggle with, limiting the full potential of their singing voice. She notes that any amount of tension at all in the tongue prevents freedom in the voice. That tension creates a ripple effect where you keep working harder and harder as the tension builds on itself with one area of tension triggering another area of tension and so forth throughout the body.
Tongue – Jaw – Neck
“There are three main areas of tension that will affect the voice – the tongue, the jaw and the neck – and these all are connected,” Zuke said. “But what is causing that tension in the first place? Perhaps the student had a lousy day at school or a fight with their best friend. I am careful not to cross the line into therapy, but sometimes just acknowledging that they had a lousy day will release some of the tension. Visually, I have them look in a mirror so they can see what tension looks like. Then I’ll have them roll their shoulders and neck and drop the jaw as if they’re drooling- simple relaxation techniques. The student can come in as one giant ball of tension, So I have to unravel them bit by bit. It’s never been a major challenge for me to break through for any student because I’m patient and tenacious.”
Depending on how the student is tensing the tongue, whether it’s at the root, tight at the tip, pulling the tip back, and forth, Zuke works with the student to help them rid those habits and work on developing new correct habits to replace them.
Your Voice = Your Instrument
From the Gold Coast of Australia, Sharon Rowntree has been involved in singing all her life. She has always searched for ways to improve her voice and extend her range; and in 2009, she became a Brett Manning Associate. One of the many areas for potential problems and bad habits comes because singers don’t know their voice. In other words, they don’t know it as an instrument. Instead many singers are convinced everything is fine because friends and loved ones tell them that they sound great or sing well.
“The voice that they have will change, it will get better and worse, feel great and tired and sore,” Sharon said. “Understanding the condition of your voice, knowing when you are singing well, and the state of vocal health is critical to using that instrument. Knowing when to sing, what to sing, and what not to sing based on your voice each day will help you avoid the consequences.”
Handle With Proper Care
Sharon points out that by looking at your voice as an instrument you’ll more readily make that connection that things can and do go wrong with any musical instrument. Guitar strings break and stretch and need constant tuning, woodwinds get blocked and need to be cleaned, plus reeds need to be replaced and then properly warmed before they can function, and pianos need tuning and repair and wear out.
“So, your voice too can suffer, from fatigue, get blockages and infections, and lead to lumps or nodules on the vocal chords. These little lumps are an inflammation caused by the chords rubbing together instead of closing properly. Singing with a bad technique, belting, tired voice, singing while infected with pharyngitis , strep throat, laryngitis, and other vocal infections can all lead to the instrument needing repair. Singing with associated problems can also effect the voice, such as acid reflux can send stomach acid up the wind pipe and burn the throat.”
Sharon advises that singers seek treatment from a Speech Pathologist or Voice Coach to assure proper maintenance and health of all parts that make up the vocal, musical instrument.
“Many pathologists will help you with how you speak, enunciate and place your voice,” she said. “How you speak may be an issue, or how much you speak. Your vocal coach can also offer advice on how to look after the vocal muscles with warm up and warm down exercises, much in the same way athletes look after their muscles. There are some great warm up and warm down exercises and advice from Brett available on Mastering Mix.”
More Bad Habits To Break
These are just three examples of many more common issues faced by singers that Brett Manning and his associates regularly address in a timely, effective fashion. Look for upcoming newsletters and blog entries on successfully correcting habits and challenges that compromise your voice, limit your potential, and if not corrected, can cause permanent, career-threatening damage.
Estelle has spent years studying with the most sought after singing teachers in the world. Because of Brett’s teaching, Estelle is confident that she now offers the answers to many issues that she has searched a lifetime to discover. She and husband, Mark, teach from their home studio in Ayr North Queensland Australia. She offers Skype lessons for all out of town students. For all those interested in booking a lesson with Estelle, send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call (615) 866-1030 or (888) 269-7758 for more information on bookings.
Sharon started her professional performing career at age 18. She has been teaching singing for over 10 years and also performs in her own tribute show around Australia. This busy mother and wife brings valuable experience and life lessons as a singer and performer to the students she teaches. Visit her on Facebook as well as www.singing-success.com.au and www.vocalsuccess.com.au.
Deborah “Zuke” Smith
Zuke is a renowned music copyist, piano teacher, songwriter, vocal coach, and self-proclaimed “East coast chick,” who credits Brett Manning’s Singing Success with not only saving her life but forever changing it for the very best it can be. In 2000 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and braved the brutal battery of tests, surgeries, chemotherapy, post chemo drug regimen and physical therapy. She believes that Brett Manning’s programs and method are absolutely essential to bringing out the full potential in any voice. You can find her on Facebook listed as Brett Manning Vocal Method: East Coast, U.S.A.