Saturday, March 31, 2012

My "Refresher" Singing Lesson

Music has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. Although I have experimented with piano and guitar, my voice was the instrument I always felt like I could rely on, and could use based on feel rather than technique. Singing came quite naturally to me. I think it had to do with me bumpin' Destiny's Child and Aaliyah tapes and trying to copy their style :)

When I got to high-school I started performing and singing a lot more frequently and was commended for my abilities, but it wasn't until I got to university that I really learned that there is a whole world of knowledge on vocal technique beyond "sounding good".

I joined a vocal guild that focused on operatic singing. I love singing opera although that is not my favorite genre and where I see myself as an artist. However, learning opera has taught me a lot of things about vocal technique, as it is one of the most demanding genres for the voice.

I encourage all singers from all backgrounds and levels of experience to see a trusted vocal coach from time to time. Some people think it's more valuable to say that they learned singing "all on their own" without the help of any coach or training. However, singing is not just about sounding good and beautiful. It is also about creating the right habits that will protect your vocal cords from harm, using the right facial/throat muscles to maximize resonance and sound, the right posture and breathing technique, and getting a clearer sound. Think of it as personal training - anyone can benefit from personal training when it comes to fitness regardless of your fitness levels. An experienced and certified trainer can help you correct bad habits that you never thought might be harmful, and push you to greater heights that you never thought existed.

Yesterday I went for a "refresher" lesson after 2 years of no vocal coaching. I saw my old opera coach, Emily, who used to train me when I was in university. She is getting her PhD in voice! How awesome is that? It just goes to show that there is so much more to singing that meets the eye (or the ear, should I say!). She was very supportive and made me feel really good. She was happily surprised that my voice was still in shape and supple after 2 years of no training, and I told her that I still do vocal exercises as often as I can, sometimes everyday. She was happy because most people don't keep that up. Also, she finally identified my voice type: soprano dramatic coloratura. Sounds pretty dope, right? According to my teacher this is an extremely rare voice type, but its a very lucky one to have because I am able to hit very high notes (I can go up to a high F6) while still maintaining power (I'm still working on how to do this in 'real songs' rather than just in warm up exercises). So hopefully with continued practice I can maximize the potential of this voice type!

Some things we covered:

  • The right posture. This was the most difficult for me to master. I had to keep my head lifted so I don't stifle the vocal cords, but not too lifted. Stretching my neck and shoulders helped me be in a more relaxed position. One of the first things she mentioned was that I have a long neck which shows that I can sing high notes... and then she also mentioned that I also have a really wide neck which is where the power of the voice comes from (I felt a little bit self-conscious about my neck after that! LOL)
  • She told me that when I sing, the right facial structure matters. She told me to imagine a pencil between my teeth (keep a gap between my teeth), raise my cheeks as if I'm smiling, and keep my tongue flat. My top teeth should always be showing while I'm singing as if I'm "smiling", unless I'm singing an "o" or "oo" sound, then I have to kind of "raise the roof of my mouth" without really dropping my jaw open to do it. This position allows maximum resonance and the fullest/clearest sound as it creates more space inside your mouth. If you master the right singing positions/technique you don't even need a microphone if you sing in a relatively small venue. 
  • Eliminate any "hhhh" sound from my singing, as in any breathy-ness. So when I do my vocal exercises, instead of singing "ha ha ha" or "hee hee hee" it has to be just "aaa aaa aa" and "eee eee eee"
The first two points is what I really struggled with. I know she comes from a very operatic background so I was scared that these techniques are reserved for opera only, and wouldn't really work in contemporary styles, but thats when she explained to me that these exercises only strengthen the voice and then you can do whatever style you want. Right now I'm finding it hard -- I know this is the right technique but its really hard to apply this when it comes to R&B and contemporary singing, and realizing that I've been doing it wrong all these years! So I'm just trying to find a balance between the two, really. Sometimes too much perfect technique takes away from the character/persona of the song and singer... especially when it comes to soul music which has a lot to do with feel and sometimes I feel like technique gets in the way of that. I guess what I have to do is practice the technique until it becomes second nature to me and then introduce the whole feel aspect to it. I can apply these learnings much easier to opera singing than contemporary, so I need to get my "contemporary" singing levels up to par with my opera singing levels. 

Next week I have my 2nd refresher lesson so we'll see how that goes :) Meanwhile I will keep practicing. 

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