In all my years of singing and teaching, the most important single concept I have come to understand is that singing sounds and feels a whole lot better when the singer trusts that their body already knows how to make a resonant sound. This trust has come from the knowledge that as humans, our bodies are one of the most efficient mechanisms for making sound that exists in nature. We are all born with the ability to make an incredibly resonant sound and the majority of us have no problem trusting that idea when we talk. Yet when we sing, all of a sudden that trust goes out the window and we think we need to control, force, push, or help the voice come out a certain way to ensure we sound good. In an effort to sound good, our best intentions sabotage the efficiency and resonance that we already have, and we end up with a less resonant, less efficient, and less “good” sound.
So what to do? Stop “singing” and start “talking on pitch.”
This may sound simplistic and like mere semantics to you, but the moment you switch the script inside your head to stop singing and start talking on pitch instead, you take the pressure off of needing to sound “good,” the habits of control loosen their grip, and the voice will start to align more freely with the efficiency and resonance your body is innately built to produce.
Here is an exercise to get in touch with what it feels like to “talk on pitch.”
1. Begin with a simple breathing exercise. Focus on releasing the belly and releasing the ribs to allow the breath to come in freely. Be careful not to suck air in or pull the shoulders upwards in an effort to get more air. Rather, as you inhale, visualize sending the breath on an imaginary journey down through your body, through your feet, and into the floor as though you were growing roots with this breath beneath your feet. Then, exhale on a hiss, being sure to engage the support in your lower abdomen and oblique muscles. Place the palm of your hand over your lower abdomen (very low, just above your pelvic bone), and what you should feel when you hiss is that these muscles go from being soft to being taut, and they stay taut without pushing inwards throughout the duration of the hiss. If you feel these muscles shoving inwards towards your spine as you hiss, you are doing too much. You do not need to push them inwards to move your air, rather just engage them and keep them taut as you hiss, then release them on the next inhale. Do several hisses this way to get in touch with solid support.
2. Now, allow a nice free breath to come in and instead of hissing, say the word “hey” in a drawn out fashion over two or three beats as though you were trying to get the attention of someone across the room. Keep the same solid breath support you had while hissing, the only difference here being that you are adding a vibration in the form of the word “hey.” Do this “hey” a few times, playing with duration of time you draw it out. Then play with talking it in different pitch centers in your voice (head voice, chest voice, mix, etc.). But no matter what you are experimenting with, keep to the intention of talking. Do not “sing” in any way because thinking, “sing” will put you right back in your old technique habit.
3. Now find a comfortable pitch center in your range and talk the numbers one through five slowly on one pitch, lengthening the vowels of each number so they are nice and long, and the numbers sound drawn out. Stay on your breath support.
4. Now talk the numbers one through five rising in pitch up a five-note major scale continuing to lengthen the vowels of the numbers to be long and drawn out.
By the end of this exercise you should have some idea of what it feels like to “talk on pitch.” Talking on pitch is really singing, and singing is really just talking on pitch. The way we frame it in our consciousness is important because it has an effect on the attachments we have to the action, which makes the outgoing sound more or less resonant and free depending on how our body reacts to the instructions our brain has been giving.
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