7 Wrong Ideas About Singing - updated
Let's turn the wrong lightbulbs off!
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So you have a vocal issue... if you google it long enough, chances are good that you'll find vocal coaches that offer the total opposite advice for dealing with your issue. What's right? Well, there are two questions to ask to get to the best answer:
There is lively controversy in what is deemed good vocal training, and different teachers embrace differing viewpoints and pedagogic philosophies. There is more than one effective way to accomplish training a voice. However, there are some ideas and techniques taught that actually limit and sabotage vocal ability... and that can even create damage in the voice. An idea is only wrong when it doesn't work!! From my practical experience, I give you...
- Which one works?
- Which one works the best?
7 wrong ideas:
1. When phonating (making a vocal sound) the belly should go out.Not in my experience! Your breath support and control are enabled and balanced by the low belly coming in when sounding the voice. Belly out, your voice will feel less controlled, and then your voice strains trying to make it right. Try it... see? Note that I'm talking about the LOW belly, below the belt line.
2. A singer should inhale from the nose only.Aaahh... I have to come down on the side of NOPE. I have gotten a lot of work from singers in all kinds of vocal trouble from the chest breathing that comes from inhaling through the nose only. This notion comes from sports training where you inhale from the nose to moisten the breath, and from doctors who tell us it creates more nitric oxide which is good for the whole body. However, inhaling from both nose and mouth will result in much better results for singing and speaking. And it's not a good idea to sing anyway when you jog or lift weights.
3. You should never drink coffee if you want to sing.Uhhh... if this were true, I would not be able to sing. Is coffee dehydrating? Yes. Is it debilitating to all singers? In moderation (one morning cup), far enough away from performance time -- and if the singer is not overly sensitive to caffeine -- it's not a problem I've run into. NOTE: If you ARE sensitive to caffeine, stay completely away from it. In all cases don't drink it close to, or during, performance. That goes for alcohol, too. Alcohol in performance may mask anxiety but it will dehydrate your voice and unbeknownst to you, it will play havoc with your control and intonation.
4. It takes at least a month of breath training to prepare a vocal student to sing a song.Nope. When I can correct a singer's posture, breathing problems can instantly disappear. Do breathing exercises help? Sure, especially with certain singers, but in my experience, even simple rib stretching and flexing can help instantly improve the singing breath. Vocal exercises can and should be used to memorize better posture sensations and breath strategies so you don't have to think about them. But when they are employed, vocal improvement should be immediate.
5. Singers should sing with arms hanging limp and still at the sides.NO. Sadly, this is a common belief of choir directors, musical theater directors and recording artists that gets me a lot of work. Turning the arms into what I call 'rib anchors" is one of the worst things you can do to a singer or speaker, because it drops the ribcage and gives the diaphragm too much slack to work the inhale and control the exhale well. That sabotages everything the voice does. Instead, if arms are to be positioned at your sides for visual reasons, try hanging your arms down with your elbows a little farther back than usual. That should help stretch the ribcage.
6. The face should be quiet and still... too much facial expression detracts from the performance.Nada. I've actually heard this from misinformed engineers, performance coaches and choir directors. Without an active face, you will never sing as well as you could with communicative facial movement... especially the eyes and eyebrows. Try freezing your face and singing a short phrase. Then use over-active facial language and sing it again. The difference in both vocal sound and feel will be profound.
7. You can't learn to sing unless you were born a singer (aka 'You can't teach an old dog new tricks').
Au contraire mon cheri... If you can talk, you can learn to sing. In every instance of "tone deafness" I've encountered, all it took was some consistent target practice to train the ear-challenged singer to aim at pitch. The question isn't 'can you learn to sing?'... it's 'how bad do you want to?"
Want more bad vocal ideas to avoid?
Think you might be suffering from wrong thinking about your voice?
Want to watch this lesson? Here you go...
Labels: breathing, Judy Rodman, singing, vocal student, vocal training
19 Comments :
At April 2, 2011 at 6:39 PM , Claudia Friedlander said...
My favorite misconception is #2, "A singer should inhale from the nose only".
We're trying to communicate as fully and honestly as we can when we sing, right?
Well, in conversation, how do you breathe? If you're on some kind of passionate rant and you have to pause in between sentences, do you stop and snort through your nose? even if you're just reciting a grocery list, you're going to breathe through your mouth.
Singing and speaking are not the same thing but you need to maintain the illusion that you're saying something for the first time it occurred to you to do so. Breathe through your mouth. You can breathe through your nose at the same time, but don't close your mouth to inhale!
At April 3, 2011 at 6:42 PM , Anonymous said...
i teach voice and i have been teaching the same "wrong ideas" to my students even before stumbling upon your page...well, that is, i have taught 6 out of 7. the only one that i stay true to is the "no coffee" idea. i do agree that in the morning and well before the gig is acceptable, but i would sooner encourage my "caffeine loving" students to use a lightly caffeinated tea with honey and a small splash of lemon the day of the gig in place of their normal coffee. the reason i say this is not due to the jittery feeling or the dehydration, but more for the acidity of the beverage. for me, singing needs to be comfortable and enjoyable (i'm sure you would agree) and coffee can leave a very unpleasant taste in the mouth even hours after consumption that may distract the performer from their task. for instance, if i had to do a solo performance for an entire evening and the whole time i was performing i was thinking "man, everything is going great but i feel like i have camel breath...i wish i didn't drink that coffee this morning" it may or may not impair my focus on the task at hand...personally, i'd rather not take the risk of losing focus due to a mild case of halitosis. it's basically the same reason i tell my singers to avoid garlic and onions the day of a performance. anyway, good insight into the topic and i really enjoyed your article.
At April 3, 2011 at 10:16 PM , Unknown said...
Claudia... you make a lot of sense and I of course agree.
Anonymous... so happy to get your feedback; I really love networking and comparing notes with other voice teachers.
You bring up a very interesting point about the halitosis effect; that really can be an issue especially when singing in a group... especially recording in a small vocal booth. My fellow session singers and I always bring gum and try not to eat onions or garlic on break unless everyone does! Thanks so much for your comment.
At July 12, 2011 at 4:37 PM , Anonymous said...
You make a lot of good points, but i have a question: if it's bad to sing with your arms at your side, what should you do with them during your performance? I'm an avid performer, and i've always hated that we practice with arm movement, and then have to keep our arms still during the performance. It always makes me more nervous and annoyed.
At July 12, 2011 at 10:31 PM , Unknown said...
Dear Anon... I also hate not being able to use my arms in performance! If you are in a choir where it would look funny, at least make your arms weightless at your sides.. don't let them weigh your ribcage down.
As to what to do with your arms when performing regularly... it really depends on several things.. your style, your personality, your unique way of communicating. Try being as natural as possible and include your hands and arms in your body language of communication.
Whatever you do, don't sing stiff:)
At August 2, 2011 at 8:21 PM , MariFreakinA said...
Hey Judy, I just have one question. I know you said that changing a person's stance when singing will help them breathe better, I was just curious as to what the stance is? I know shoulders should be back and ribs should be expanded 3/4 of the way, but how should the back be? Is it curved slightly or is it like an athletic stance where the hips are right underneath the belly button?
At August 3, 2011 at 10:03 AM , Unknown said...
For best voice, your upper spine curve should be straightened so that your spine is tall but flexible. That's important. To keep you flexible, instead of thinking of where the belly button should be think rather that the head should be balanced over the tailbone or heel, instead of forward over the balls of the feet. This should keep the bottom of your ribcage flexibly open without you needing to do any pulling back of the shoulders. They will fall back of themselves, riding with the tall spine. Shoulder tension should be completely avoided. Thanks for the great question!
At August 6, 2011 at 12:51 AM , Out of Place in Texas said...
My choir teacher used to make us lie flat on the floor when we did our warmups. She said it was our natural posture, and so was where we would breathe our best. What do you think? Is this a good way to get a feel for your posture?
At August 7, 2011 at 7:57 PM , Unknown said...
Hi Texas... I sometimes have people lie on the floor, hands on lower back to feel breathing into belly and back instead of chest. However for warmups, I have vocalists stand against the wall to check posture. To me, this seems like a more practical way to warmup unless you're singing or speaking performance is lying down (not usual).
Try the wall... heel and head against it, hands above your waist.
At October 21, 2011 at 1:54 PM , Wegdan said...
Thanks so much Judy for the advice,
I'm very interested in singing and every now and again record (unprofessionally) songs and share then on Youtube
I havent recieved any professional training but i think my voice has potential
do tell me what you think of my voice, and what of things i could do at home to increase its strength
much much appreciated :)
At October 22, 2011 at 12:17 AM , Unknown said...
You have a beautiful, powerful, communicative voice and I can hear your heart. At some point you might want to do a more finished recording with a better track. You're just a tad sharp here and there, but other than that I think it's wonderful... Good job, girl!
At October 23, 2011 at 1:32 PM , Wegdan said...
Thank you Judy! you honestly made my day :)
I'm a giant fan of your blog, this is the kinda stuff i like. No one really believes that i'm serious about singing, they think its just some hobby that wont go any further than that (maybe thats because im a med student?)
anyhow, i really am thinking about vocal training, i feel that if i invest a bit more energy in my voice, it'll get better.
Your blog is awesome, thanks again!
At January 24, 2012 at 4:12 PM , Shane said...
I like the one about facial expressions especially. When I was in high school choir, I used to scrunch my face up trying to hit higher notes (I'm a bass/baritone) until my choir teacher told me to knock it off and raise my eyebrows and try to smile. Bingo! Semi-tenor notes were within my grasp.
At January 25, 2012 at 6:38 AM , Unknown said...
Shane... soooo glad you had a good teacher... those suggestions for your high notes were PERFECT!
At November 11, 2012 at 9:33 AM , Calogero Mira said...
At March 7, 2014 at 7:54 PM , Anonymous said...
I think that moving your face and arms are important according to what words you are singing and the power being put out. I like to hold my microphone stand to take weight off my arms. Holding long notes in multiple pitches, my jaws open and close according to the tone. I practice the doe,ray,me, from high to low and low to high. No coffee!! No beer! Water!!!Cold. Stretch and loosen up!
At March 8, 2014 at 8:31 AM , Judy Rodman said...
Holding a mic stand to take weight off arms... yes! And when just holding the mic, relaxing and dropping that arm tension whenever possible (careful not to point mic at a speaker). All great ideas Anonymous, Thx for commenting!
At April 30, 2021 at 8:55 PM , Elizabeth H. Cottrell said...
Judy, you have such a warm, entertaining style of writing. I always learn something valuable either for myself or my singer friends. Getting ready to share this right now. It's such a good reminder not to accept the old wives' tales about anything, even singing!
At April 30, 2021 at 10:50 PM , Judy Rodman said...
Elizabeth, thank you for your kind words and for sharing this! I'm so happy you see the value in these posts; coming from a great writer like you is high praise!
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