Have you ever played an instrument you could see? Did that make it easier to play? The voice is an instrument inside our bodies that we never get to see or touch. This is why voice scientists have been doing research to help explain how the voice works and to help us make the sounds and music we want to make.
There's so much to know! Let's start with just start with a Top 10 List of important facts that will help us understand singing better right away~
1. When we’re BALANCED, it’s easier to sing
When we’re about to fall over, or even leaning a little, lots of muscles have to grip to keep us upright. When these muscles grip, it makes it harder to breathe and harder to sing.
How can you feel balanced and centered?
--Pretend to dribble a basketball out in front of you
Notice where you feel your center
--Stand up and lean all the way forwards, then all the way backwards, then see if you can find what centered feels like
--Walk across the room
Notice: Is your head jetting forward? Are your hips leaning back?
2. To sing, we have to exhale – release air OUT
There are so many muscles in our body that keep breath from moving in and out (and many of them we can’t even feel!) We have to ask these muscles to help us release air during singing, like during an easy exhale or a sigh.
To feel like you’re releasing air:
--Frisbee on a ZZZZZZ
Imagine you’re releasing a Frisbee, and watch it fly across the room – follow it with a ZZZZZZ sound. To make a longer a ZZZZ sound, imagine you’re watching the Frisbee fly farther and farther away.
First just sigh out air and then gradually add sound
--"Well, Well, Well"
"Wwwwwwait a minute"
Notice how easy the 'w' sound is. The tiny muscles that grip and stop air from flowing at the beginning of the word aren’t engaged
3. Singing is just long talking
Do singing and talking feel similar to you? Some people say they have a ‘singing voice’ and a ‘speaking voice’ – but we actually use the exact same muscles and air pipe for both! Singing can be thought of as loooonng talking.
5. All muscles want to play
There are so many muscles in our neck, throat, tongue, head and jaw that are not necessary for singing, but insist on taking control anyways. It takes a lot of practice to ask these muscles to release and get out of the way – they are not in charge of your sound!
How can I ask these muscles to release?
Swallow and notice what happens to your larynx – it raises up and the area around it gets small and tight. This is opposite of what makes singing feel easy. Are any of these swallowing muscles trying to be a part of your singing?
Look in a mirror. If someone looks tight and tense, they probably sound tight and tense. Notice, is anything gripping or clenching in your face or neck when you breathe or sing?
Give your jaw and neck some rubs as part of your warm up
3. Visualization (there are many)
The Silent Snore: Snore as loud as you can – notice what happens to your jaw and the back of the throat. Now do a silent snore. When you breathe in to sing can you feel this same sense of release and drop?
Feeling of nothingness – many singers know that they have stopped pushing or gripping their sound when they feel ‘nothing’ in their throat, neck and head – it doesn’t feel like those areas have to work hard or expel any effort at all.
6. The tongue is huge!
Check out the picture, the tongue actually goes all the way back almost down the throat. Feel under your chin, those are all tongue muscles (some of the strongest muscles in the body).
It’s hard for us to perceive how big our tongue is and where it is in our mouths, but the tongue has a huuugge effect on our sound. If the tongue pulls back even just a little, it can get in the way of the sound vibrations we create in the larynx. Comparable to a giant pillow sitting on a guitar string you’re trying to pluck.
How can we get the tongue forward and out of the way?
--Say EEEEEEEEE- where do you feel your tongue?
Now say AAAAAA-do you feel it move somewhere else?
EEEEEEEE actually creates the most forward tongue.
Can you now go back and forth EEEE AAAA EEE AAA and make your AAAAA feel similar to your EEEEE?
Get your tongue all the way out of your mouth like a yawning lion
Now move it in and out
Can you make sound with your tongue all the way out?
What happens when you sing a whole phrase? Are there moments where your tongue wants to pull back?
Check out this very simplified chart-
Let’s try it - match the vowels with pitches they like.
Start on a low note with a low pitch vowel and slide like a siren up in your range
(lower pitch vowel to higher pitch vowel)
Now if you try the opposite, it will feel much more difficult. Still slide up in your range, but start with the higher pitch vowel on the bottom note
(higher pitch vowel to lower pitch vowel)
When you line a vowel up with a pitch that it likes, you get a boost in volume, and singing feels much easier.
8. There are strategies when we want to be loud - Heeeyyy! & Whooop!
At a sports game, there are two main tools people use to make volume with their voices – HEY! or YEA! (sounds more like a yell or a call) or WOOOHOOOO (sounds more like a siren).
In singing we can use these strategies for volume, and can choose between them depending on the range and style of the song.
Finding your “Hey” sound (ideal for lower parts of the range, Broadway and pop songs)
--Call out ‘Hey’ to get someone’s attention
--Call out ‘Hey’ as if annoyed
--Slide up and down on Hey
Finding your “Whoop” sound (ideal for higher parts of the range, operatic and choral songs)
--Slide on a Cop Car sound - whoop WHOOP
--Slide on an Ambulence Siren sound WeeeUUUeeUUU
--Slide on WeeeEEEEEEEEEEEEEE like you're on a swing
--Slide on a ghost sound hoooOOOO
9. There are ways to ease into singing – Sing through a Straw!
When you put a straw in your mouth and sing through it, it takes less effort to sing. It’s like doing stretches in a pool, your muscles still stretch, but feels easier.
How do I use the straw?
Put the straw in your mouth and sing like you normally would! Pretend your lips now end at the edge of the straw.
Make sure no air is escaping around the lips or through the nose.
Try different sized straws, Put 2 straws together lengthwise or side by side!
Try slides, leaps, scales and full songs.
When do I use the straw?
First sound of the day, last sound of the day, warm up, cool down, or reset button.
Feeling tired but want to keep singing? Sing through a straw! It can be much less tiring.
10. Singing is all about brain and muscle coordination – it just takes target practice!
Voice scientists don't just study the voice, they also study the brain and the easiest ways we can learn cool and complicated skills like singing.
Have you ever tried throwing a piece of trash in a waste basket and missed? Did you make it the second time, or the third?
That's what singing is like. Every time we try something with our voice, it's like target practice. Eventually, we get so good at it, that we can hit the target nearly all the time, but usually not at first.
First, choose your target: What sensation do you want to be aware of? What sound would you like to hear? What notes would you like to sing?
Second, give it a go: Try the experiment, and remember to have fun!
Third, ask yourself what you noticed: Did you make your target, or did something else happen? What did you feel, hear, or experience? How can you use the results of your assessment to make the target the next time, or to create a new target?
Then, try it again! There's no problem with repetition, in fact, repetition is what helps us learn to love what we're doing.