Singing Technique

Practical A Cappella

If you resist learning the science of voice and singing healthy, kiss your cords goodbye and find a new silent hobby like basket weaving or snorkeling.

Warm-up like an athlete:

1. Waken up the 3 vocal channels: Jaw, Tongue and Palate. Flutter the tongue, lip buzzing, trills, stretch the mid/blade/back sections of tongue, yawn sighs, massage jaw, locate the masseter muscle and loosen up the face. The jaw must be relaxed to spit out that a cappella diction! If you have a tight jaw, sleep with a mouth guard to avoid grinding and clenching.

2. Add physicality and body motions to your scales.
3. Sing unusual scales. Get out of the boring major solfege scale routine. Try blues scales, minor scales, pentatonic scale, whole-tone scale, chromatic scale, Lydian scale, Dorian scale, Locrian scale…

Warm-up the 6 resonators:

A. CHEST
-Create a rumbling, grounded placement. Do Tarzan pounds. Let your voice fall into the chest, not push
-Warm up: LESSAC method. Say a sentence and channel the sound to vibrate from the chest
-Benefits: Talkative position, persuasive, depth, seriousness, bottom of range, compressed tone

B. HARD PALATE
-Creates a roof and expansion for sound. The sound is forward and booming
-Warm up: Let your breath drop in nice and low. Say “huh”. Imagine the sound coming up from belly, flying forward, bouncing off palate
-Benefits: Direct, outward, round sound, creates space, zing factor, easy projection

C. TEETH
-Creates emotional focus, buzz. This resonator is great when saying commands or demanding things
-Warm up: Say “eeeeee” or “cookie” or “Don’t touch that!”
-Benefits: Anger, forward, creates a painted conversation, naggy, easy acting

D. BACK OF HEAD (or the “ingénue” or “damsel in distress” voice)
-The vibration is coming from behind ears and back of neck. This region is where most Americans normally talk. It’s also shelled or a bit insecure. People that talk from the back of the head get quieter towards the end of their sentences
-Warm up: Say “aahhhh” and send sound backwards
-Benefits: Not in-your-face loud, more general or nonchalant, not direct, slyly persuasive

E. NOSE
-Massage your sinus, wiggle nose, visualize your forward frontal mask
-Warm up: Hum then slide into “Me, May, My, Mo, Moo”
-Benefits: Ping zingy tone, sharpness, aimed tone, funny, character role, youth tone, resonating bounce with little effort

F. TOP OF HEAD
-Mickey mouse voice, channel your whale blowhole, upper range
-Warm up: Say “rii” or “key” to make shooting sound. Get to know the roof of your sound
-Benefits: Round, full, sprays out of top, magically slaying notes, unique, beaming sound

Once warm ups are completed, does your throat hurt? The throat should not be hoarse after two hours of rehearsing. The cords are tiny short muscles that easily exhaust, but according to my throat doctor, “If a singer is properly accessing breath support and using the true vocal fold muscles, you could technically sing all day long.”

Do you sing properly and there is still soreness, ache and fatigue? The cords are quickly swelling and inflaming due to the vocal folds colliding or wrongly flapping. Do you also feel a throat itch, tickle or scratch? This is from the muscles overcompensating to push out sound; they easily dry out and weaken (cotton mouth). This is due to singing with the food-swallowing muscles and not using lower breath support. Another possible reason could be the over usage or forced drop of the larynx position (adam’s apple). If you rapidly have to sing a low note, avoid digging or jumping the larynx placement. Keep the larynx neutrally positioned. If your larynx slightly moves up or down, this is normal. On vowels like “ooh” and “ee” the larynx tends to rise. On vowels like “ah”, “uh”, “oh” the larynx slightly goes down. If the larynx is rising to reach a high note, this will cause the pitch to sound pulled instead of nailed. Raising the larynx higher actually means you are closing off the throat and the cords tense up. To hit a super high note, raise your soft palate and not the larynx.
The last reason you feel vocal lethargy is a physical throat unbalance (this is extremely common). Is your soft palate equally level? Try this: Look into a mirror and observe the back of the throat while singing a long sustained note. If you notice one side of the soft palate slightly quivering as the other side is steadily raised, this means you have an unsymmetrical soft palate. Correct this lopsided droop or else it will get worse overtime. Also, how is your gag reflux (the vagus nerves)? Try this: Test the gag sensitivity by sticking a toothbrush down your mouth on the back right and then back left of the tongue. Most people gag more drastically on one side. In order to even out the tongue reflux vagaltone and soft palate, get an Endo Nasal Balloon Inflation procedure. (A throat doctor will literally inflate a balloon in the nostril, which opens up passages. This allows the soft palate and gag reflux to equilibrate and lessen hypersensitivity. This procedure also helps with TMJ and headaches.)

What are the strengths in your singing toolbox? Can you easily slide between the chest, belt, mix, head and falsetto voice placement? A high note or Broadway belt is like an elevator; visualize a vocal pulley system. The weight goes down as the elevator cart rises up to a higher floor. When singing a high or loud note, there needs to be compression and balance on the lower end of your voice too. Try this: Put your finger on your larynx (adam’s apple) and yawn…notice that the larynx drops while the soft palate rises. If you are naturally a soft volume singer, do not over push your loud volume limit. When you force hard to project louder, it makes the throat smaller which sacrifices your lovely tone for a crappy strained volume. When a note is forced, the cords muffle and lock up which absorbs sound. Relax your throat so the sound waves beautifully reflect off the mouth and beam forward effortlessly.

Knowing the mechanics and physiology of singing is valuable for an a cappella group. We deal with hard rhythms, scatting, mimicking instruments, extreme dynamics, key changes, harmonizing…Please don’t overlook pitch agility, resonators and vocal health. Learning the mechanics of singing will change your a cappella life.