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Oversinging – Rein It In!

Today I want to write about the epidemic of oversinging that has overwhelmed the music industry in current times, and indeed, is also frequently displayed by amateur singers and beginners.

 

When we talk about ‘over-singing’, we can look at two different types:

 

1 – The tendency to over-embellish the melody, sometimes to the point at which it is no longer recognisable;

 

2 – The tendency to unhealthily force the voice through belting and sing at one volume – LOUD

 

Singers who only sing at full volume sacrifice so much of a performance. Beginners can mistake volume power as an adequate substitution for emotional power. It can sound less like singing and more like shouting in key. Just this week I read of two more young singers having nodule surgery – Jess Glynne and Meghan Trainor. Other recent casualties include Sam Smith and Adele.

 

There is no reason for this other than bad singing!

 

A singer with good technique, who knows when to rest, when to warm up, which keys are best, without being manipulated into using his or her voice in an unhealthy way has a long career ahead. A singer who gets pushed into using the voice in an unhealthy way, or chooses to forego vocal coaching has only him or herself to blame when said career is cut short.

 

However, even singers with good technique can suffer vocal damage from overuse; touring too much and for too extended a period, singing for too many hours at a time, not getting adequate rest between concerts. This is where you SHOULD be a diva. Don’t agree to any kind of schedule you think will be too taxing on your voice, and make sure to use equipment good enough to make your job a lot easier.

 

Vocal surgery can change the tone of the voice afterwards, sometimes resulting in the instrument being permanently damaged. There is no sense in risking your instrument when you can minimise risk by singing properly and getting a professional teacher to correct your bad habits as soon as they form. You cannot self-assess; none of us can. We need an impartial, knowledgeable third party ear to put us back on track.

 

Just as I suggest actors will benefit from taking singing lessons, singers can benefit from joining an acting group, or working with an acting coach in spoken word in order to improve their song delivery. Young singers growing up in the X Factor generation have little frame of reference to build their performance style on as so many of today’s known pop stars neglect the important tenets of being a well-rounded performer.

 

Watch some audition videos on YouTube from the current crop of popular ‘reality’ talent shows on TV. You will see a plethora of veiny-necked, screwed-up eyed hopefuls, belting out their chosen song with lashings of contrived emotion; as if the louder and more over the top the performance, the more realistic it is.

 

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

 

One thing singers who wish to be great MUST learn that actors are taught as a matter of course is:

 

You are not the focus, the SONG is.

 

The best acting performances are understated, with subtleties of emotion. As such, when the performance calls for a dramatic change in delivery, such as increased or decreased emotion, or drawing attention to a particular line or interaction, the actor has room to manoeuvre. If he is already delivering the part to the nth degree of emotion – where is left for him to go, other than shrieking into the rafters or bawling like a cartoon character?

 

A bad acting performance is easy to spot; a bad singing performance seems more accepted, due to the fact many famous singers permanently dwell in this place.

 

Here are two performances of a song by Etta James, ‘At Last’. First up is Christina Aguilera (singing starts at 2min42 if you want to skip the talking). Let’s focus on the song this time round. Close your eyes and listen.

 

Okay. How do you feel? What emotion did she convey to you with this performance? What is the song saying? (if you can even make out the lyrics).

 

Christina Aguilera has an excellent instrument but she often overblows, like a trumpet player playing a fortissimo fanfare. I know this song, but I found it hard to follow the melody and I couldn’t make out the lyrics.

 

Without these two things, how do I know what to feel?

 

There were no peaks and troughs, nowhere for me to catch my breath and FEEL what the singer was telling me. Afterwards, I just felt like I’d heard a powerful singer doing her exercises and vocal runs. Well done to Christina for fitting twenty million notes in one song, but as to selling it to me – FAIL.

 

Remember what I said earlier – THE SONG IS PARAMOUNT.

 

NOT YOU.

 

You are a painter, an actor, a sculptor. What lives on in these three artisans? They don’t. Their art does. The song is the art, you deliver the goods. If your ego can’t handle that, then carry on as you are. If you want to be the best, hone your talent, step back and allow the song to take centre stage.

 

Now listen to this version by Beyonce. I’ll write my thoughts below. Again, close your eyes and listen to what the song is telling you via the singer. Make note of how you feel, how the singer feels when she’s telling the story, what type of character she is, etc. (singing starts at 1min28)

 

I have a love-hate relationship with Beyonce. On the one hand, she has a great instrument and a good deal of control over it, but chooses too often to sail down the stream of melisma (the gospel style licks added to the melody) as often as possible.

 

Note decoration should be done in moderation, like adding seasoning to a pot of chicken. Nowadays, there is too much seasoning and not enough meat. She says “At last, my love has come along.” I hear technique, and I’d like to hear more SOUL. Still, I find Beyonce’s version easier on the ear.

 

Remember, words matter.

 

Emotion matters.

 

Conveying the emotion of the song to the audience and making them feel the emotion – not your emotion, their own experience of what the song is saying – that is what will make you a great singer.

 

It doesn’t matter whether you are singing in a tiny wine bar or at the Super Bowl, your instrument should be used to the best of your ability, both physically and emotionally.

 

In terms of vocal delivery, being a great performer, LESS IS MORE.

 

If your eyes are darting all over the place, your brows about to vault off your face, your veins about to explode in your neck, or the audience can count your dental fillings and see whether you had your tonsils out as a child, you’re oversinging (and probably underselling).

 

Are you really singing, or just throwing a ball around your vocal range? When you’re all fanfare, you lose out on nuances such as intimacy and meaning. Be honest with yourself and improve all the time.

 

If you are a powerful singer, it doesn’t mean you should sing at full volume and intensity all the time; always leave room for more. Even waves crashing to the shore pull back before the next tidal surge. Does this mean the sea is weak in its retreat? No! It enhances the power of the next wave. When singing a modest song such as ‘At Last’, save your chops for the peak of the performance, which you want to reach near the end. Everyone oversings the first line. A little slide up is fine. A great big pirate ship of a slide is not.

 

Many singers want to be perceived as sexy when onstage, so bring the sex appeal. Less is more. Show a bit of vocal cleavage, don’t get your breasts out. Get someone to video you when you are singing, especially at live performances in front of an audience, and honestly critique yourself.

 

I’ll make a brief mention of the technical problems that arise from oversinging. Firstly, your vocal folds will get irritated and swell, which will lead to intonation problems, hoarseness, flipping into falsetto etc. It doesn’t take much to affect them and by the time you notice it, it’s usually too late to fix it (for that performance, anyway).

 

When you oversing (in terms of volume) your vocal folds swell because you’re forcing the air through instead of letting it come through in a controlled manner. Using too much air at too high a pressure results in loss of your upper mid range. You will find yourself having to sing notes above your passagio in falsetto instead of mixing your head voice qualities. Once you default to falsetto from lack of control makes it difficult to come back to singing with a connected voice. We always want falsetto to be a choice, not a safety net.

 

Ways to reduce this is to use glottal onset and not sing at a constantly high volume, use proper support and cut back on extending notes. Singing is not an Olympic sport. Our job as singers is to take the listener on an emotional journey; not only ours, but their own. The more they identify with the song, the better a singer you are becoming.

 

Last words from the original. Close your eyes and listen to the story she tells.

 

Copyright Emma L. M. Sweeney © 2015. All Rights Reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder, except as follows: You may repost this article on your website or blog, providing the articles and author are not depicted in a negative manner, and you have linked back to this original page.

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Voice Training for Business Success

Does your voice quiver when you have to deliver a public speech? Do nerves let you down when making a sale?

 

Voice training is not just for singers; find out how training your voice can help you become a more formidable business practitioner today.

 

You don’t have to be nervous to have a voice wobble when speaking to an audience; excitement, too, can affect your voice. Also, lack of proper vocal control can lead to a less than confident-sounding voice when pitching to a client. Strength and endurance training can make the world of difference in the business world.

 

Every morning, start out with a few simple exercises to get you speech ready. Stand in front of the mirror while you do these exercises: when you breathe in, your shoulders should not come out, but your belly should. Many of us shallow breathe and waste our potential lung capacity. Focusing on filling the lungs with air starting by expanding the abdomen, then stomach, then chest regions, finishing in the throat will help you to breathe deeply and take advantage of all that useful extra oxygen.

 

If you find your shoulders are still coming up when you inhale, start even gentler. Stay in bed, lie on your back and put your hands on your belly. Feel it rise as you inhale; the prone position will stop your shoulders from coming up. This can also be a great exercise to relax you before going to sleep at night.

 

– Inhale deeply from the diaphragm for a slow count of 5, and then exhale for the same number of counts. Do this 5 to 10 times.

 

– As before, inhale deeply from the diaphragm for a slow count of 5, and when you exhale, make a ‘hsss’ sound through your teeth, like a balloon slowly deflating. This helps you to control your airflow with your diaphragm and abdominal muscles, and when you are speaking to someone it will enable you to have greater control over your voice and make you sound more confident. Repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times.

 

– Do the same exercise as above, but this time with an ‘mm’ sound, and then a ‘maaa’ sound. Repeat as above. When you do the ‘mm’ sound, you want to feel the vibration in your face, behind your nose and mouth. This is what we voice coaches call ‘mask resonance’, and it gives you a clearer and richer sound.

 

– Now for the sirens! Like a police car, siren up and down with your voice, either on an ‘mm’ or (my preferred sound) on a lip trill. A lip trill is produced by mm-ing through closed, relaxed lips, so they wobble in a very unbecoming way. Babies and horses are great at it. The lip trill helps you focus on mask resonance and warms up your mouth muscles. When you are speaking, you want to be as relaxed as possible, with no tightness in your mouth or face.

 

– Speaking of horses, let’s ‘neigh’. The ‘ney-ney-ney sound also helps put your voice into your mask. While you may be a public speaker and not a singer, you can sing a little now. Remember the notes to Doh-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol? Do a ‘ney’ on each one going up and then coming down again. If you are not sure of the notes, find ‘Doh-Re-Mi’ from the Sound Of Music on YouTube and join in. You can sing your Doh anywhere in your range (females will be more comfortable starting higher than males) and just keep the tune the same.

 

– Onto the face – surprised yawns! (Don’t worry, you can do these exercises in the privacy of your bathroom). Open your mouth wide as though you are yawning, and simultaneously raise your eyebrows and open your eyes in surprise. This silly-looking exercise warms up the facial muscles. You may find yourself actually yawning as a reflex.

 

– Now you can speak. Find some tongue twisters and say them several times. First, speak slowly in R.P. a la Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady. Roll the syllables around your mouth. Then get faster and faster to exercise the tongue.

 

Now, if you have prepared a speech or have a rehearsed pitch, practice it in front of the mirror, taking note of any oddities you do; in fact, it is better to record yourself on a smartphone or other video recording device. If you have a pet or willing partner or children, ask them to be your audience while you rehearse. It can be nerve-wracking speaking to an audience; the more practice you get, the better.

 

How do you stand? Do you look relaxed? Do you exhibit any tics or gestures that could be toned down? Are your eyes open and focused or do they dart about shiftily? How is your posture? Are your shoulders aligned and is your back straight. Improper posture can lead to tension in the body and voice, and make you feel sluggish.

 

I’m not going to give you a series of gestures and postures to adopt, as you won’t be authentic then. Work with who you are and better it; don’t become someone else.

 

If your job involves regularly using your voice, consider getting a voice coach to regularly work with. Teachers especially need to take care of their voices, and people working in noisy environments.

 

For more information or to book a one-to-one voice coaching session with me in Palma de Mallorca or London (Autumn & Winter dates TBC), please message me at lessons@voicecoachworld.com. I am also available for Skype sessions (Mon-Thurs).

 

Don’t forget to join the conversation on Facebook!

 

Happy speaking and singing,

 

Emma

 

Copyright Emma L. M. Sweeney © 2015. All Rights Reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder, except as follows: You may repost this article on your website or blog, providing the articles and author are not depicted in a negative manner, and you have linked back to this original page.

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In The Mix – Blending Your Voice

When you sing melodies of more than one octave, you may notice a number of things happening to your voice.

 

If you are tired or haven’t warmed up adequately, your voice might ‘crack’ on certain notes, or you may go into falsetto, either accidentally or on purpose, thinking the notes are too high and that’s the only way to achieve them.

 

Even if you don’t flip into falsetto when you reach for the high notes, your vocal tone may sound thinner and it can become more difficult to modify the volume of your voice. This is because your larynx is repositioning and without knowing how to work with it, you are pushing your chest voice. Aside from sounding forced, or like the song is too high for you, singing like this can make you feel tired when performing certain song keys.

 

It’s what’s known as ‘belting’ – pushing your chest voice higher than it should go. A lot of musical theatre performers use this technique, but it can be damaging for the voice. We all have a natural break mid-range, known as the passagio, and singers who belt maintain the same contraction above the break as below. This results in pushing the larynx higher, straining the muscles in the vocal folds, throat and neck, and creating a harsher sound. It also leads to vocal fatigue.

 

Chest voice is the tone we use to sing in our lower range, to speak and to shout, which is why many musical theatre singers push this voice above the passagio to achieve the desired lyrical style. Other voice coaches may disagree with me, but I maintain belting is needless, unnecessary and can shorten the lifespan of your singing career.

 

I am an instructor of ‘mix’ singing. I tell my students the basis of studying the technique I give them is making singing as easy and as healthy as possible. There are voice coaches who teach belting. It’s up to the student to decide which technique is best for them and to find a knowledgeable coach who understands the technique they are teaching.

 

We’ve talked about chest voice; let’s move to head voice. Head voice is the sound you hear from Classical singers. It’s a strong, clear, resonant sound with a lot of power, yet with less strain on the larynx and vocal folds. It is the high notes that are not forced or sung in falsetto.

 

But this sound is undesirable to Contemporary singers, so what does it have to do with Pop/Rock etc?

 

Where belt is force, mix is release. We have several ‘bridges’ in the voice, where the vocal folds adjust the pitch, but let’s think of three definite ranges- chest, passagio, and head. The passagio can be akin to walking the tightrope when not fully warmed up – you’ve all sung ‘that’ song that throws you off key, or has a note that’s always hit and miss because it’s right on your bridge (usually around A above Middle C on the piano).

 

Once you navigate those treacherous waters, you reach your head range and can relax again. Think of each range as a resonance area: you feel your lowest notes in your chest, your middle notes in your throat, and your highest notes in the top of your head.

 

When we mix, we want to feel our notes vibrating in our facial mask – the nose and mouth area – and bring each range to mix with it. This helps us to keep some of the bottom tonal quality in our higher notes that we would normally lose singing in clean head voice.

 

I have only touched on the basics here. Bottom line is, chest, middle, and head tones are the ingredients; a balanced tone is the sound achieved when you mix them all together. It’s about singing through your bridges without breaks in the voice or changes in tonal quality.

 

To book a one-to-one voice coaching session with me in Palma de Mallorca or London (Autumn & Winter dates TBC), please message me at lessons@voicecoachworld.com. I am also available for Skype sessions (Mon-Thurs).

 

Don’t forget to join the conversation on Facebook!

 

Happy singing!

 

Emma

 

Copyright Emma L. M. Sweeney © 2015. All Rights Reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder, except as follows: You may repost this article on your website or blog, providing the articles and author are not depicted in a negative manner, and you have linked back to this original page.