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How NOT to Become a Singer

How NOT to Become a Singer (And Work Harder at Doing It)

I thought that in this chapter I would vent a little of my frustration and have some fun while sharing some of the insights I've gained over the years regarding myths about learning to sing.)

Since everyone knows it takes years of arduous work to become even a moderately good singer (myth #1), for once I'll go with the status quo and add what I know to it, so as to assist people in working harder at taking even longer at it. Most people have this under control, so this article is to keep it that way and is also for those few who may be breaking this long tradition (like myself) and doing it faster, easier and more naturally.

The first point is to be sure and drop your jaw while singing (a little is good but more is better) because it traps the sound in the throat preventing it from being lifted off the larynx to the upper palate, thru the four main vocal chambers or cavities and outward with anything close to your maximum power.

The second, and equally important point, is to sing from your diaphragm and push your stomach out. This prevents the upper diaphragm from expanding fully, therefore limiting your air supply and increasing the likelihood that you'll run out of air depending on the length of the note or phrase you're singing. An excellent way to train yourself for this is to lay on the floor and find yourself a nice thick book to place on your abdomen (the Toronto yellow pages works great) and "pump paper" up and down until you can stick that stomach out so that even a punch won't phase you. Then you'll be sure that the upper diaphragm will never open fully.

Next you should sing with your speaking voice i.e. sing each syllable of your lyrics using your vocal cords with your chin down and without any support or structure to it ("closing" each syllable) which characteristically produces a "pear" shaped opening inside the mouth and cuts the sound short making it less than truly sing-able. This will help avoid lifting the sound off of the vocal cords, bouncing the sound off the upper palate ("opening" the syllable) and projecting the properly structured sound outward which produces a round "apple" shaped sound inside the mouth and making the sound, unfortunately, more sing-able. (This is also, by the way, why people with accents tend to lose them while singing. More about this in future issues.)

While we're on the subject of the shape of things, be sure and breath only through the nose because it tends to make the shape inside the mouth more elongated or banana shaped and the sound more nasal. Great eh!

Another way to make more work for yourself singing (and have less as a singer) is to make certain that as far as your head goes, you sing only with your jaw and mouth including your tongue and lips. This excludes the use of your facial muscles and reduces the likelihood that any resonance in those nasty head cavities I mentioned earlier will take place causing your sound to be amplified (God forbid) and unavoidably reflected off the upper palate and projected outward to the audience.

Tilting the head back is very important since it directs the trajectory of the sound away from the audience. This is particularly useful in bands because it not only means that you will have to put more energy into getting the sound out to the audience but it also means that you will be directing some of the sound back behind you to set a proper example for any of your band members that might be developing a "natural" singing voice.

Bending your knees is a great technique for limiting your power as a singer. Since sound is a physical thing, bending your knees changes the ratios relating to your height and the arc of the trajectory for the sound will cover much less distance , which is what you want right?

Another very relevant issue that I would like to cover in detail in the future and that I'll just touch on here is diet. One of the single most important causes of throat problems with singing is mucous. Sound can't lift off of thin air, it lifts off the vocal chords. Dancers don't dance on carpet, they dance on hardwood floors. This is so they can get a proper lift. In the same way, you can prevent a really sharp "lift" with each and every note you're singing if you have lots of mucous and phlegm on your cords and in your system. The best foods to eat to get this way are animal products especially beef, pork, milk, eggs and cheese, although all dairy products will do a really great job of getting you there. Foods to avoid would be mucous burning foods and herbs (cayenne tops the list) or fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes and anything else whole and unprocessed that doesn't have a face.

One of the best ways to practice not becoming a singer that I personally know of is to sing scales. If you look even superficially at the songs you're singing, you'll see that they are composed of a certain finite number of specific combinations of sounds, durations and pitch. Singing scales has nothing whatsoever to do with developing yourself to be able to vocally anticipate these in any song. So sing lots of scales and don't worry, no one either in Russia (my teachers were the best available) or here in the west has ever made any connection between scales and training the voice to do what's needed to sing properly to me ever. So there's no danger of you becoming accomplished fast with this approach. (Personally, I developed my own set of exercises based on this subset of sounds, durations and pitch that train the voice to anticipate any part of any song of any style easily but you don't want to hear about it.)

Finally, be sure and spend time working each of these exercises individually and never collectively because even the thought of integrating or harmonizing the various aspects of your singing might slow you down in your efforts to slow down your singing progress, and that would never do.

So, until next time, work long and hard, and whatever you do, if you want to avoid rapid easy vocal development at any level, stay as far away as you can from me and the Royans School. Or turn the page and learn "how to become a singer".