This is a re-post of the first session I’ll be doing at the Idler Academy later today. Stay tuned for video recap on daily warm ups!
A quick word about talent and ability, or why it’s important to slay the inner Simon Cowell. The only capacity that it helps to have if you want to learn to sing, or improve your singing, is the ability to tell the difference between two notes of different pitches; i.e. to be able to hear which note is higher and which is lower. The vast majority of people can do this. True tone deafness -when, after a period of repeated ear-training, you can’t hear which note of two different notes is higher or lower-is very rare. As long as you are able to distinguish this, everything else can be learned and developed. The vocal cords are muscles and respond to training just as other muscles do. The volume, resonance and tonal quality of the sound you produce is a function of how you use your voice. If you start using it differently, the sound that you produce will change. All of which is to explicitly underline the fact that talent is not a useful concept when considering your potential as a singer. Anyone in the public eye that you may admire has spent years training their voice or developing their performance style.
In the same way that you don’t stop to consciously consider where to place your hands to catch (or in my case, miss) a ball that is thrown to you, you don’t deliberately ‘tell’ your diaphragm to send a certain volume of air up and your vocal chords to shorten or lengthen in a certain way. Your brain learns to co-ordinate it through practice. Another comparison would be driving a car. To start with, we do execute the desired sequence of movements very consciously. Then we repeat them enough times until hopefully by the time the licence is granted, the sequence of actions to start, go, turn etc runs automatically. I may seem to be labouring this point, but the reason for this is that lots of people really under-estimate how much they can enjoy singing from a feeling of inhibition that they aren’t very good, or very musical, or ‘talented’, which is a great shame! Music in general and singing in particular has all kinds of proven physical and emotional health benefits, which I may go into in more detail another time. Life is better with music, and we don’t need to kow-tow to self-appointed ‘experts’ to tell us what our entertainment should be and by whom it should be mediated.
Week 1: Importance of warming up; bringing the sound forward; resonating spaces.
Every time you prepare to sing, check your body for tension. It can be a good idea to do some stretches to release tension. When standing up to warm up, make sure your weight is comfortably balanced between ball and heel of foot and that your knees are relaxed.
Once you’re relaxed, do a couple of breathing exercises to shift from chest-breathing to abdominal breathing.
In the exercises we’re about to do, focus on developing an awareness of where the sound is travelling from and to. We’re aiming to get an awareness of placing the sound in the front of the face, and becoming familiar with how that feels. The voice is moving from a different position to the position it is in when we speak.
Warm up exercises.
- Mmm Nnnn Ng/Buzzing (2 mins)
-Encourages the sound on to the front resonators; builds the habit of bringing the sound out of the throat. Go up 5 notes from your starting point and down again. If you have never explored this part of your voice before, spend a few minutes doing some scales on one of these sounds. Spend enough time so that your awareness and the sound has migrated comfortably forwards. (eg 5 semitones – start Bb)
- Ma/mi/mo – waking up the diaphragm. Ideally you’re working towards completing a cycle of all three in a breath – up five notes and down, then moving up a semitone. (8 semitones-start Bb)
- Arpeggios-up 1,3,5 and down the scale. Keep the sound forward. Bb to Ab, 11 semitones.
- Diaphragm (rrr7r222, etc). On ‘ah’ (Bb and D)
- Vocal chords reaction-smooth out previous exercise ©
These are the kinds of exercises to do at home if your voice is coming out of a period of little use.
Diction – this is a great aspect to focus on right at the beginning as you will develop good habits. Good diction immediately lends an ensemble performance more conviction.
O what a geek am I
Johnny has a head like a ping pong ball / Merry Men