Lakeland Voice - voice work and harmony singing
the Howgill Fells

 
 
         


Voice and Singing Tips

Extending the Range of Your Voice

If you want to extend your vocal range you may need to create a disciplined practice of the many exercises natural voice practitioners use in their work. Then practice them every day - even when you don't feel like it. Here are a few ideas from our workshops:

a) The lift Cage - using this image, as your voice ascends higher, think down and vice versa. Being aware of both the cage and the weight that makes the lift work. Using your arms and body to facilitate this.

b) Using alternatively fff fff ooo, fff fff ohh, fff fff aw, ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah and different scales to engage the diaphragm and to release the larynx and stetch the vocal cords. Add walking as you do it.

c) Using creative imagery to 'see' your voice extending while doing the voice exercises.

d) Sirens. Allow your voice to siren up and down on different vowels.

e) Smiling while you sing to lift the soft palate and the 'chubbies.'

f) Singing scales using words and phrases like Rimini, She sells sea shells on the sea shore, I rattled my bottles (rising a semitone each time), or Sandra Kerr's wonderful Everybody, verybody, erybody, rybody, ybody, body, ody, dy, y.

g) Practicing singing through the break in your voice so you lose the hesitation there.

h) Using different archetypes to access higher and lower voices - like the maiden, the child, the hermit, and the crone (although you may need to work with Frankie Armstrong on these for a clearer and more thorough exploration).

Beginning to Sing

If you're really motivated to free up your voice can I recommend a book by Kristin Linklater (a voice teacher living in the Orkneys) called Freeing the Natural Voice. She believes that the natural voice doesn't need to be trained, but released - often by releasing the physical blocks which inhibit free breathing - in other words, when the diaphragm moves freely downwards towards the abdomen and other muscles in the body are not holding, or inhibiting this free movement. Although she worked mostly with actors in universities in the USA and elsewhere before retiring, her understanding of the voice is fundamental to the natural voice as used in singing.

Another book on a similar theme which you might find useful is The Right To Speak by a UK voice teacher Patsy Rodenburg.

Why Do So Many People Not Sing

Personally I don't believe there is such a thing as 'tone deafness'. If it does exist it's very rare. The British voice teacher Frankie Armstrong believes that what many people suffer from is a translation problem - translating one timbre (the quality of sound or voice) into another.

Many kids in school are asked to sing what the teacher is singing - which if it is a man will be in a different octave - a much lower sound than they would be used to, certainly very different from the sound of the voice they hear in their own heads. Many singing teachers also use vibrato - where the voice vibrates around a note, again alien to most children. A piano or other instrument also sounds very unlike the human voice. Failing to match the pitch, they are then told that they can't sing and believing it, they stop even trying. Their vocal cords become partially atrophied, and losing their natural elasticity, are even more unable to stretch and move in the way a good singing voice needs to.

Belief is a very powerful too. Until Captain Webb swam the English Channel it was widely believed that it was impossible - that the human body was unable to withstand the strain. Now every year many adults and children do the swim - some of them even swim both ways - because they believe they can.

Maybe You Already Sing?

Likewise with singing. First of all know that you can sing. I suspect that you probably sing in the bath, or in the car, or along with football supporters, or in a church, or carols at christmas, or in the pub .... or wherever. Occasionally, maybe when others can't hear you.

Also I suspect it's highly unlikely that you talk in a monotone. There will be some modulation in your voice - it might get higher or lower when you are experiencing different emotions like anger or fear or love or excitement. Singing just takes those modulations and extends them - some people call it "joined up talking".

Learning Through Play

When people are learning to paint it's very common for them to play with paint in a non-critical environment. No one expects them to paint masterpieces the minute they pick up the brush. Likewise with singing - you might need to find a place where you can play with your voice in a non-critical place (shame is a powerful binding emotion which can stop you doing anything - another useful book: "Freeing the Shame that Binds" by John Bradshaw).

I find it helps to ask people in my voice groups to think of what comes out of their mouths as interesting rather than right or wrong. The Newcastle Jazz singer Katherine Zesserson says: "Every mistake is a new style".

Find out what your voice can do and what works for you before you do the more complicated business of making it do what other people want it to do. This is what happens when someone hands you a sheet of paper with dots all over it and expects your voice to conform to the composer's ideas (there are many political considerations here and we could - and I hope we shall - have some very interesting discussions). Being able to have a free voice and also one which is controlled is a real balancing act!

Find Your Own Voice

First things first - find your own voice, let it be free, before bending to the dictates of others.

Some children do seem to find it easier to sing than others - often because they have parents who sing, or they're used to making those translations in the home from an instrument. But they learnt somewhere and so can anyone.

Practice

Training the ear to notice the difference between a high note and a low note is not difficult, though may take a little time and practice (you'll appreciate the rewards more if you give something of yourself).

Nobody who was learning to play the violin would think twice about the need to practice their instrument - your voice is your instrument, the more you practice with it the better it will play.

When in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland cycling and walking through the mountains and wild landscape I was reminded of Goethe's saying: "The outward form of the mountain can be seen by anyone, but it's inner beauty can only be appreciated by those who have contributed a part of themselves". Singing is like that too - what you give of yourself will dictate how much you get out of it.

Also learning to 'pitch match' - where someone makes one or more notes with their voice and you match it - is not hard to do with practice.

Body based singing

Frankie Armstrong - with whom I was apprenticed when I first started working with the voice, and who has inspired thousands of people to find their voice and enjoy singing - often gets people to move while they mirror back sounds.

Her 'lief motif' as a voice worker is where a group will pretend to be hoeing, swinging back and forth at the same time. She will call something out in time to the hoeing and everyone calls back; then others do the same.

Incidently, Frankie often points out that the demise of singing in our culture may have something to do with the lack of rhythmic work - sailors, farmers, marching soldiers, women in Barra dunking their tweed in huge vats, all used the rhythm of their work to help their singing (and vice versa). Also post-industrial society believes in specialisation - we have one person driving the fork lift truck, another working the lathe etc. So we get into the mindset where some people are singers and others not.

OK - there'll always be some great singers (in Stornaway at the end of May there's a singing competition in Gaelic where some will sound better than others) - but everyone can sing, it is our birthright.

I hope your journey into singing is a pleasurable one - don't let the dreadful musac which blares out of every shop and station and cafe drown you out. Add your voice to the millions around the world who let singing be their celebration of life, and their release for everyday emotion, and a catharsis for those times of crises.

I don't know where you live but if you are in the North of England you are very welcome to join one of my classes at the Brewery Arts Centre in Kendal or my harmony singing group in Sedbergh. I also run weekend groups for people like yourself who want to free their voices.

Breathing for Singers

In Kristin Linklater's book, Freeing the Natural Voice there is a chapter called "Breathing - the source of sound". In it she says: "the involuntary nervous system does it best". The main controls of the breath are thoughts and feelings - so she says that instead of sending active messages to yourself such as 'breathe in' and 'breathe out' you should send passive messages such as 'allow the breath to replace' and 'let the breath release' and 'let the breath drop in'. She's big on physical relaxation and awareness and exploring the spine and developing the ability to observe the breath without controlling it.

Patsy Rodenburg in The Right to Speak also writes about breath and the voice. In her section on breathing exercises she lists five principles of breath for voice work:

1. To place the breath, and allow it to find its natural position.

2. To open the entire ribcage around the centre of the body - and especially the back.

3. To allow the diaphragm to move freely up and down, creating a release of muscles above the waist and into the abdommen.

4. To activiate all the muscles that support the outward breath.

5. To build breath capacity.

Finally the Cumbrian dancer and Alexander teacher Miranda Tufnell says "The breath is the means by which the inside of the body knows the outside". Her book Body Space Image is full of similar gems and good pictures too.


Join a Choir

Many community choirs around the country do not stop people who have never sung before from joining and this could be a good way for you to try out your voice. Singing alongside someone who is more confident can be a great help - like the way some toddlers learn to walk by being held by a parent until they can do it themselves. To find one near you visit the Natural Voice Practitioners' Network www.naturalvoice.net and click on choirs. Close the NaturalVoice window when you have finished to return to this page.

Until then can I please encourage you to sing as much as you can - on the hills, on your bike, in your car, on the bus, in bed, making food, in places where there is echo (like corridors and caves - our voice group loves the Rydal Caves in the Lake District) or where your voice adds the best of what is human to the nature around us. There is a poem by the Australian cartoonist Michale Lunig on this theme.


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