Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Maximize Your Vocals

Sound Bodies....When your body is your instrument, fitness & nutrition should be combined with a well planned set of vocal exercises to keep it in top form.

Singing may well be the most physical demanding way to make music. But, while most serious singers perform vocal exercises to develop range, tone & articulation, they may not realize the benefits of working the entire body. Good general fitness, as well as a well-designed vocal training program, can increase range, improve pitch, & prevent injuries.

The voice is the only instrument that is has emotion, it has temperature, it has fluid. Because of that, singing is a physical, athletic experience. Voice teachers claim the physical part of a singer's training is 2/3 of their training....which means you have to be strong & flexible.

While you do not need to be training for a triathlon in order to belt out your favorite tunes, good general fitness & nutrition allow your vocals to reach their full potential.

Since singing uses the lungs, any form of aerobic exercise....including walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming, racket-ball, and useful because it can help develop heart and lung strength as well as physical endurance. Exercises like swimming and aerobics use the breath more than you would for other exercises. Swimming has the added benefit of lengthening the muscles. A singer needs muscles to in their longest form & in their most relaxed form.

Relax & Breathe....Yoga is another popular activity for singers: it relaxes & strengthens the muscles, improves balance, & posture & helps focus the mind on the singer's source of power: THE BREATH.

There are many different kinds of yoga, ranging from very low impact to the intense "power yoga" used by athletes. Kunddaline yoga, focuses on the whole body. It has chanting, it has posture, it has movement, stillness, singing, hand positions & more.

Not all exercises are good for singers....heavy weight lifting is not advisable because it forces muscles to compresses & contract. Lifting weights makes for shorter muscles....which is bad for singers. Developing a "six pack" of abs is not advisable either...singers need to strengthen their cores & Pilate's exercised is a better way to achieve that strength. If you tuck in you stomach really hard, you will feel the tightness in your throat. If singers hold their stomachs too tightly....particularly the upper stomach....they can easily develop vocal problems & stomach nodules & things like that. That area has to be open and expanded. The singer has to learn to use the muscles in the middle of the body in an outward position, not in a tucked-in (contracted) position.

Watch Your Posture....Good posture is important because it allows for the freest movement of air & the most relaxed use of singing muscles. Most voice instructors will tell you to keep your chin level, your knees loose & your shoulders & neck relaxed. Abdominal & back muscles should also be relaxed.

Untrained singers ten to jut their chins forward, which leaves the vocal muscles in a precarious position. They are not grounded or anchored to anything. We need the chin to be IN & the chest to be up, so that the muscles of the vocal instrument can function more correctly. It frees the sound & gives a lot more resonance with less effort & less push.

Many teachers use the Alexander Technique, a fitness regimen that focuses on posture, breathing, balance & coordination. Like yoga, the Alexander Technique involves relaxation to combat tension that causes us to haunch our shoulders, stiffen our necks, & to slouch. Tension in the jaw & tongue can cause singers to go flat, while pelvic & lower body tension can cause them to go sharp because they're "holding & gripping & pushing air." Some singers feel that tightening the muscles gives them power, but, it actually reduces control.

Break Down To The Basics....Some singers need to go back to the basics...take a step back in order to move forward. If you learn the proper use & alignment of the muscles through vocal exercises, your range will grow. If you're not using your muscles correctly, you might have the note in you, but you can't get it out because you're too tight. When you learn how to let the larynx move & tilt the way it is supposed to, you'll hit the notes with no problem.

Like a baseball pitcher has to take care of his arm, a singer has to take care of their voice. Also, like pitching, if you just rely on natural ability, you can get away with it for a while, but you'll never get to be as good as you can be & your risk of getting injured is much higher. If you get a little training, just like a little athletic coaching, you can do better than you every thought you would....& you can do it safer & longer.

Proper training helps prevent injury, too. Learn how to use the chest, abdomen & back muscles to create power, as well as the tissues of the throat, the larynx & muscles efficiently, thereby creating a unique & beautiful voice that carries. If any one of those parts fails to do its job, then singers struggle to compensate....people use delicate muscles in the neck, not designed for power function, & then tissues break down, they get injuries, & they end having to lay off work or even worse have surgery to correct the damage.

Practice Time

How long you practice depends on your level of training & experience. For a complete beginner, go for no more than 20 minutes / day at first & that amount should be gradually increased over a period of months. Never sing if you are ill or suffering with a sore throat or are sounding hoarse. When your voice is healed, start slowly to make sure you don't hurt your voice again.

Warm Up

Like any other muscles in the body, the vocal cords need to be warmed up with excises before asking them to perform. Teachers use different scales, anywhere from 2-note to 5-note scales up & down.

What do those exercises attempt to achieve? There are many muscles....but not all of them are supposed to be involved in singing. It's like playing pick-up sticks: You have to get just the correct muscles involved & eliminate the other ones.

Eat Well to Sing Well

Eat a light meal 2-3 hours before you start your practice or your performance. And drink plenty of water!!! Most vocal coaches recommend somewhere in the range of 8 glasses/day. Avoid caffeine, alcohol or acidic drinks like orange juice before you sing because they can dry out the throat or cause excess phlegm.

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