Singers are impatient. I understand, because I was impatient, too. Those people blessed with wonderful vocal instruments usually also have a strong impetus to want to sing and sing well. Alas, this impetus can lead singers to seek a magic wand or a quick fix that will make their voices perfect and ready to perform in just a few months. Without an understanding of the scope of the process and investment of time, energy and money, singers can become frustrated and disillusioned by having to wait many years to become the great singers they know instinctively know themselves to be.
The learning process for singing is rarely a quick one. A very small minority of young singers with good natural coordination and only a handful of technical issues can in 3 – 4 years of consistent study with a well-informed teacher manage to get the technical training and musical skills to start a career, but they are a tiny minority. For almost all singers, it is a gradual journey. This journey usually consists of learning bad habits and muddling along before finding a very good teacher who helps them build new muscle coordination to create a wonderful, healthy vocal technique.
Often times the impatience to sing well actually gets in the way of singers. I saw it in myself before doing my Alexander Technique training and have seen it in most dedicated students. It is important for singers to remain as relaxed as possible while energizing just what is needed for the best breath resistance and nothing else. Impatience turns into bodily tension and ends up getting in the way of singing coordination, which only frustrates singers more – a vicious cycle.
So, is there a magic wand for singing, something that helps singers automatically sing significantly better? The answer is two-fold – both no and a qualified yes. No, there is no magic wand that will make every beginning singer suddenly sound like a professional or free more advanced singers of bad habits and evoke the exact right coordination. But there are certain important exercises that, when practiced correctly over time, can make a significant difference to almost every singer. If a singer has many aspects of his/her technique working pretty well and is just missing the concepts taught by these exercises, then they might very well seem like a magic wand. These are very important concepts that I have discussed in previous articles, but deserve to be highlighted here as some of the best tools to help singers with very common problems. Coincidentally they are also concepts that are not always taught by the majority of teachers. The exercises teach the thin edge function of the vocal cords and vocal protection. Here is why these two concepts are so important and can make such an impact on singers.
The thin edge function means that just the top edges of the vocal cords approximate when singing instead of the whole mass of the vocal cords. That allows the vocal cords to move easily from chest voice to head voice and back again in a seamless and effortless manner. Without the thin edge function, too much of the mass of the cords is used in chest voice and the head-chest mix. If this weight is not dropped before the upper passaggio, head voice will feel stuck and heavy and for many men, will be difficult to access at all. Is it possible to learn how to access the top easily without the thin edge function? Yes, it is. There are professional singers now who use too much vocal mass in their chest and middle voices, but manage to learn to lighten up for the head voice. However, their tone quality in head voice and overall is usually not what it could and should be, because they are lacking this important function.
The thin edge function is like taking the highway versus secondary roads. The roads can get you to the same place eventually, but there is a lot of stopping and starting, changing of gears and the process is takes longer. The highway is a straight shot with minimal issues and no changing of gears once you are up to speed. It is by far the easier and more efficient way to travel, just like using the thin edge function is by far the easier and more efficient way to sing. Since the vocal cords are so delicate and excess work is the enemy of healthy singing, cultivating the thin edge function in your own voice is extremely important. Please see my previous articles on thin edge function, which include a description of the exercises.
Vocal protection, which can be broken down into correct nasal resonance and a high, released soft palate, offers the combination of ring and space that takes stress off of the vocal cords during phonation. Ring offers the guidance of a narrow, effortless thread that can easily be followed by the singer up and down the entire range. Just maintaining the ring consistently keeps the voice lined up and functioning more healthily. The higher, expanded soft palate is an important aspect of expanding the resonance spaces, creating more room for the voice to magnify and blossom in warmth and color, especially at the top.
These ideas are more commonly known than the thin edge function, but there are problems with how they are taught by many teachers. First, they are often taught separately as two completely different concepts. This makes it much more difficult for a singer to seamlessly and successfully combine the two and truly create vocal protection in the voice. Second, they absolutely need to be trained into the voice in a relaxed manner. Too many singers try to force the ring or hold the soft palate in a higher position and end up creating more tension and new, bad habits. Without functioning vocal protection, a singer’s voice can sound diffused, wide, unfocussed and held in, as if there is no place for the sound to go. Both aspects of vocal protection can be trained with the right exercises when done without additional pushing or strain. See the link here for a previous article on ring, which gives an important exercise combining ring and an expanded soft palate to create vocal protection.
I have taught these two concepts to many singers. No singer has failed to improve technically from incorporating the thin edge function and vocal protection correctly in their voices. Here I would like to share a few of my experiences working with specific singers on these concepts and the amazing benefits they received from them.
High lyric-coloratura soprano
This soprano, 26, came to me with an unfocused quality to her voice, a tendency to straight tone and a lack of resonance, shutting down her already small instrument. We worked on the thin edge function, which she was able to perform well right away. Her tone began to be more focused and clear in just one lesson and gained more flexibility and ease. After several more lessons and practicing regularly, her voice gained in sheen and consistency. Three months later, her voice was consistent from top to bottom and her high notes had a lovely sparkle and shimmer.
We also addressed vocal protection at the first lesson. She could do nasal resonance quite well, but had more problems raising her soft palate. After three lessons, she was able to get a balance of ng ring and a relaxed, raised soft palate. Immediately, her vibrato became healthier-sounding and her voice grew significantly in size. She also had more warmth and color in her tone. She kept practicing and three months later was singing easily on the ng ring with a drastic increase in natural volume from the released soft palate.
This tenor, age 32, came to me with fatigue issues and a raspy, husky quality to his voice. He had difficulty getting into his top and felt discouraged. I taught him the thin edge function at his first lesson. Right away, the excess weight dropped off of his voice, making his top accessible for the first time. He felt an amazing sense of relief and had no fatigue after an hour of singing. After two months, the raspy quality was gone. Instead, he had a healthy, easily-produced tone with the ability to incorporate a head voice mix and access his top without fail.
Vocal protection helped him tremendously by trimming down his wide-open approach. After several lessons, his approach was lined up with the ng and he was working much less to create vocal sound. A high soft palate gave him access to additional resonance, added a wonderful, dark color and made his high notes open up. Two months later, the voice was significantly more polished-sounding and was functioning in a healthy way.
This soprano, 40, suffered from an underdeveloped, under-supported voice, due to a lack of knowledgeable training. She also had far too much vocal weight from singing as a mezzo-soprano. Working on her right away with the thin edge function helped her drop the excess weight and allowed her voice to function more efficiently. Her voice began to open up and a much healthier sound emerged. Over the next few lessons, the improvement continued and her top, previously very difficult for her, was finally accessible and easy and developed suppleness and sheen. After consistent thin edge function work, her voice became a unified, beautiful instrument.
Vocal protection also helped her tremendously. By following the ng thread, she narrowed her approach and sang with less unnecessary work. With a higher soft palate, the warmth and volume increased and her voice had the room to open up her high notes, giving them even more ease and fullness. It took well over a year to rehabilitate her voice, but the combination of the thin edge function and vocal protection, combined with other important concepts, opened this voice to its full potential.
This bass, 50, had a lovely instrument and good technique, but lacked clarity of tone and easy high notes. The thin edge function exercise was a little challenging for him at first, but he persevered and after a month, he had made significant improvements. The unnecessary weight dropped off and his entire range became easy for him to access. After three months, his voice was clear as a bell, seamless, gorgeous and functioning in a much healthier manner.
Vocal protection enhanced and refined his natural ring and opened additional resonance space for him, freeing his top. His voice became both ringy and spacious-sounding, as he developed a balance of chiaroscuro. With vocal protection incorporated into his technique, he never suffered from fatigue and was able to perform successfully and with great confidence.
These are only a few examples of singers who have benefitted from the “magic wand” effects of the thin edge function and vocal protection. While they certainly do not solve every vocal issue, these two concepts work so brilliantly to encourage the healthy functioning of the voice that they can help almost every singer.
For more articles and information, visit my website, http://www.thebricelandstudio.com