Recently we’ve heard from several Brett Manning Associates around the globe as they share their perspective on common problems faced by singers. They looked at the potential consequences of taking no preventive measures or changing poor habits. They’ve also shared tips on what to do to achieve and maintain proper vocal health.
Our BMA coaches and a guest teacher now look at a few more issues that can drive a seemingly insurmountable wedge between your dreams of what you wish you could do and the reality of what you’re doing that keeps you from your dreams.
Listen Up + Listen Close
BMA vocal coach Sharon Rowntree feels that far too many singers need to learn to listen.
“Musicians get it so easy, they tighten a string, pluck it, and a digital device registers whether it is in key or not,” she pointed out. “We have to listen and judge this for ourselves. Unless you can afford the studio time to record and check your voice. So, for most of us, being able to discern those subtleties and nuances in the voice is all about training your ear.”
Hear What You Like
Sharon believes that discovering what you like and what you don’t like in terms of sound is an important skill to cultivate.
“Ear training, and being able to know what is on key, off key, under the note, sharp, flat, and so on, is critical to being able to sing,” she said. “You can do this by playing a note on the piano, and then, sing it back. You can record it, and then listen to it, to make sure the notes on the piano and from your voice sound the same. You must be able to mange your voice like any instrument, and the only tool you have is your ears. So learn to listen and hear how you are singing.”
She also has some sound advice for those that fear their voice may have suffered from or is experiencing some degree of damage.
“Medical treatment is critical because there are many stages of damage and an Ear Nose and Throat doctor (ENT) can diagnose and explain those stages to you them better than I, but here are the basics,” she said. “Treatment may start with prescription drugs to reduce swelling, or treatment can be as dramatic as surgical removal of the nodule from the chords. It will usually be diagnosed by a simple procedure, using a camera down the back of the throat to view the chords.”
Back To The Basics
Tricia Walker, director of the Delta Music Institute at Delta State University in Mississippi, is also a celebrated singer-songwriter. She is one of the original “women in the round” from the world famous Bluebird CafÃ© in Nashville.
Tricia sees three basic areas that are neglected by singers of all levels of experience. Many tend to focus on issues of technique, image, and interpretive skills and style, while neglecting to address some very basic behaviors and practices.
These basics are: no smoking, get more rest, and drink more water. Each of these has the potential to not only compromise technique, image, and interpretive skills and style, but can invite career-threatening damage over time.
Just Say No To Smoke
“As for smoking, don’t do it,” Tricia said. “Nuff said…it destroys the lungs. The body has an amazing ability to heal itself, so the sooner this habit is stopped, the better. There are multiple sources for smoking cessation help.”
She finds that many singers and students battle fatigue. One of the main culprits is staying up late and not getting enough rest. Many performers finish a performance and are still wired by the adrenaline rush of the evening. That temporary high often masks signals from the body telling you that you need to get some sleep.
Rest + Relax
But Tricia finds that many singers don’t even bother to rest the most important instrument in their possession: the voice.
“The voice needs rest, just like any other muscle,” she said. “It also needs a warm up rather than just jumping into singing or speaking cold.”
She advises singers to take advantage of proper exercises designed to promote and maintain optimum vocal health like those offered through Brett Manning’s programs such as Singing Success and Mastering Mix.
Proper hydration is another critical issue that is often neglected by many singers. We hear about it over and over, but it continues to be a very real problem with serious short term and long term effects that get overlooked or underplayed.
“Singers and speakers should drink plenty of water,” Tricia said. “Coffee and alcohol tend to dry out the throat; and milk or sugary drinks tend to coat the vocal cords. Good old H2O in large quantities…that’s the ticket.”
Water Works Wonders
In fact, according to experts at the renowned Mayo Clinic, the effects of insufficient hydration range in the short term from excessive thirst and headaches, continence problems and constipation to concerns of urinary tract infections, kidney stones and kidney disease in the longer term.
Not drinking enough water can quickly leave the skin dry and hair dry and brittle. So, by neglecting hydration you not only run the risk of harming your voice because the vocal chords get irritated and the throat gets dry and scratchy, but you can cause serious damage to bodily function, age more quickly, and harm your physical appearance.
No One Spot – No One Note
BMA vocal coach Shelby Rollins feels that variety is a key factor in terms of strengthening the voice.
“A lot of people have deficiencies in their head voice because they’re belting in their chest voice too much,” she said. “Pushing too hard in one spot weakens the rest of your voice. Living in a really heavy belting range will strain your chords in a way that will cause damage; and ultimately, it causes deficiencies in other places.”
Mental Block Parties
She cites using the wrong muscles to smooth out the break in the voice as a source for causing problems down the road. She feels that such physical problems can also create mental blocks for singers, thus making a problem seem insurmountable.
“Sometimes you’re just thinking too much, and you simply need to just let go,” she said.
She has a number of exercises she enjoys for her personal use as a singer but also as tools to help her students.
“Lip rolls are a great way to warm up,” she said. “They also gently help you to bridge the transitions because you’re not thinking about your sound. So it sneaks you into higher parts of your range. Vocal fry cures a multitude of woes and ills in the voice. Not only is it therapeutic, but I think it helps people find their legitimate head voice, and find their mix. It’s the most unsung hero of singing resources because it has so much bearing on a lot of things a singer uses to realize their full potential.”
She also likes the use of the “Woh-woh-woh” sound for finding a pathway of resonance and getting the air out.
“Because of its long narrow shape, it helps people’s chords to stay connected,” she said.
Stick To The Mix
She also has some advice for being patient once you find your mix.
“Initially when you find your mix, what happens in your voice is kind of like when you lift weights that are a little too heavy for you, and your muscles shake a little bit,” she said. “Because you’re using new muscles, it will be shaky and wobbly at first. You’re probably not going to use it in performance until you’ve got it ingrained in your voice, and you have control of it. Until then, you might default to belting. But for me, I found my mix in every coordination that I needed to have, but it still took time even after my certification before I felt I could use it in performance and not embarrass myself.”
She advises singers to not lose heart. You must be patient in the practice and pursuit of mastering your mix. She assures that the time will come when you will be able to count on it and have control over it. Then, with proper self-care and consistent commitment, you’ll keep getting better as the years go by.
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.
The 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.
To learn more about Brett Manning Associate and vocal coach Shelby Rollins, visit http://www.brettmanningstudios.com/coaches. Shelby Rollins is now available for vocal lessons either in-person in Nashville, TN, over the phone or via SKYPE. Please email [email protected] or call 615.866.1099 to inquire about or schedule a lesson!
A native of Mississippi, Tricia Walker earned a bachelor’s degree from Delta State University and a Master’s degree from Mississippi College before moving to Nashville in 1980 to pursue a music career. As a staff writer, Ms. Walker wrote for Word Music and PolyGram music, where she had songs recorded by Faith Hill, Patty Loveless, Kathy Troccoli and Allison Krauss, who won a GrammyTM for her version of the song, “Looking In The Eyes Of Love,” co-written by Ms. Walker. She worked as a vocalist and instrumentalist with award-winning artists Shania Twain and Paul Overstreet, along with Grand Ole Opry star Connie Smith. Ms. Walker served as Creative Director for Crossfield Music Publishing where she developed a staff of five writers and produced company demos and masters. She was the founder of the Bluebird CafÃ©’s legendary Women in the Round, a writer’s show featuring singer/songwriters Ashley Cleveland, Karen Staley, Pam Tillis and Ms. Walker. As proprietor of Big Front Porch Productions, Ms. Walker has produced five of her own CD projects and continues to perform her one-woman show, “The Heart of Dixie,” throughout the region. She returned to Mississippi in August of 2006 and now serves as the Director of the Delta Music Institute. For more information visit www.bigfrontporch.com.