Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog: September 2013

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Three Ways to Increase Your Vocal Range Safely and Practically - revised

... how low/high can you go?

NOTE: The audio player should appear below, if not, please click on the title of this post and go online to hear. 
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There are many vital reasons for singers to work on increasing vocal range. One is of course that you can sing wider range songs without straining and damaging your poor vocal cords! Another is that healthy vocal training for more range can help your vocal apparatus gain strength, stamina and flexibility. This improves your vocal ability in general, giving you richer resonance, more tonal options, better control of pitch and volume as well as more accuracy to execute vocal licks and style idiosyncrasies. If you do training for vocal range extension correctly, you can increase the ability of your voice to mix registers, creating a bigger, better middle voice which is where most contemporary singing occurs.  So increasing your range is about more than bragging rights!

Defining Vocal Range

Here are three ways to think about vocal range:

1. The distance between the lowest note you can sing in chest voice and the highest note you can sing in head voice or falsetto.
2. The distance between the lowest and highest notes you can sing without going all the way over to head voice.
3. The distance between the lowest and highest notes you can sing in both registers, blended so well you can cross registers without breaking or sounding extremely different, or straining, from bottom to top. This is your practical performance vocal range.

To define your vocal range, ask yourself these questions:
  • How many octaves can you sing between your lowest chest voice and your highest head voice notes?  

This is the definition of total vocal range that covers all your vocal registers. Expanding your total range is good exercise for your voice for many reasons, but understand you will be singing scales lower and much higher than will be practically be required for singing songs.
  • How high can you sing in 'full voice'? 

This definition of vocal range is very practical and applicable to contemporary singing requiring strong chest register sound. But it is vital to expand your full voice range without it becoming strained 'throat voice', typically evidenced by over-defined neck muscles when pushing/reaching for high notes. This is the bad way to 'belt'.
  • How well can you connect your vocal registers so it seems you have one smooth register without a discernible break (unless it's a little intentional yodel)? 

Expanding your vocal range by this definition is a very worthy and practical goal for jazz singing as well as many other contemporary and classical genres. This can give you a range that is quite wide but truly strain-free. For examples, listen to Mat Kearney, early Joni Mitchell, Philip Bailey of Earth Wind and Fire, Andrea Bocelli, Sara Bareilles, and of course, the inimitable Aretha Franklin. Smooth register transition is a worthy goal for any voice.

Training for more vocal range

There are different vocal exercises and training techniques for each of the above three goals. To maximize and protect your voice, my suggestion is to train for all three!

1. To increase your total vocal range through all registers:
  •  At the low end... I don't recommend creating vocal fry for the low end of your range; it's not a practical sound and if used habitually it can create vocal damage. Just sing as low as you can create tone with pitch. 
  • Try stretching your torso out instead of collapsing your chest to sound lower notes. 
  • For higher notes, practice carefully to lift your head voice range... don't push high notes up, intend them and let them float up. You might want to read other posts I wrote on what to do and what not to do for better high notes.
  • Challenge yourself by supporting your highest head voice range solidly from the pelvic floor, but never push or strain your voice to go up another step. Just pull it up there, intending it, supporting it and controlling it by lifting above and behind yourself.
2. To raise the range you can sing in full voice:
  • This is also known as 'mixed' or 'middle' voice, gradually changing the mix of chest and head register  involvement as you goes higher but not quite crossing into pure head voice. To do this, you must balance the strength in the two sets of muscles  (TA and CT) that work your vocal cords so they can coordinate their efforts efficiently. You must also allow your vocal cord vibration to access all resonation zones. In other words, allow the note to place itself where it resonates the most freely. To gain this continually adjusting balance, here are some tips:
    1. First, increase the amount of exercise you do with the vocal register you use the least (usually you'll need to work more in head voice for contemporary voice singers, chest voice for classical singers).
    2. Then learn to do some full voice vocal exercises (almost but not quite crossing into pure head voice) with absolutely correct form. I designed humming exercises with a loose jaw for this purpose, which I call 'middle voice circle stretches'. I have my student slur up on an 'm' sound, then slur down, creating a circular hum that is an octave apart at top and bottom.  Then I use an 'n' and 'ng', going up by half steps about 7 or 8 times until the singer must go over to pure head voice to avoid strain. You'll hear me demonstrate on my podcast version of this post.
    3. As you go higher in full voice, back off your air pressure so you don't have to go into head voice to avoid strain. Elongate and allow morphing (modification) of vowels for ease. Check my earlier blogpost for more tips on hitting full voice high notes.
  • If you are training correctly, you'll notice it gets easier and easier to sing higher in full voice than ever before. But note: this should NOT be a pushed, strained or tight sound, just rich and bright! Even metal rockers and r&b divas can learn to expand full voice ranges with no vocal strain.
3. To create more practical range with smooth vocal register transition:
  • Do lots of big range vocal exercises that cross your vocal registers; learn to blend and hide breaks at the transition areas and allow a mix to develop between registers. Hint: You do this by lifting up and back - pulling instead of pushing - as you cross your registers.
  • Lip and tongue trills, raspberries and sirens, also known as semi-occluded vocal tract (SOVT) exercises, that go across your whole range are just some of the great vocal exercises that can get you moving across and blending your registers smoothly. Again... pull up and back as you 
  • Try to make the top of your chest voice sound just like the bottom of your head voice. To do this (it may sound weird), pull your head voice notes through your mouth zone, pull your chest voice through your mask zone. Mix up where the bottom and top go!
  • Learn the "pull" method of sounding your voice, which will balance you breath support/control and give you just the right amount of breath to go across your registers without breaking. It will also open your throat and allow your notes to go where they resonate the best.

How much range is enough? 

The answer can depend on genre-specific norms. The better question is... what should your USABLE vocal range be?

Here is the way I like to answer... As big as is necessary to singing what you wish to sing without strain. Your lowest notes can be confident and rich, not hooty or muddy, and the top of your range will never have to hurt! (What a concept!)

Need help? Book a lesson or buy a course in Power, Path and Performance vocal training. Then practice your vocal exercises!

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Busy Voices: Quick Tabata Exercise for Physical Stamina

Tabata timer stays readily accessable bookmarked in my internet favorites

Your voice needs not only vocal strength and stamina, it needs the rest of your body to be in shape, too. But we are SO BUSY... it's so easy to neglect or put off physical exercise due to time constraints. I've used the excuse a ton of well-intentioned mornings myself! But what if you could do a 4 minute workout that could rival your 30 min routine? Or a 23 minute routine that would top the fat-burning, cardiovascular, muscular-skeletal, endorphine-creating results of a much longer hour or more exercise session?

CAUTION: My heart feels like it's beating out of my chest when I'm finished working this intently for just 4 min, 10sec! If you are possibly prone to heart attack, stroke, pregnant, etc... consult with your doctor before starting this or any other exercise.

That said, my guest poster today is my own amazing and trusted chiropractor:

Tabata Exercise Protocol 

by Dr. Dwaine Allison DC, Wellness Center of Franklin

Use Tabata timers for computer and smart phone apps to provide 20 sec/10 sec. cycles while you work out.  An entire Tabata workout might go like this:
1 to 3 minute warm up:
•    On a Rebounder,
•    or doing Jumping Jacks 

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Then 8 sets of a whole body workout - something that uses as many muscle groups as possible, like
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4 Different, Staggered Movements
Another method, still only 4 minutes would be to pick 4 different movements that use 4 different body areas, and stagger them; e.g. 

(after warmup)
•    Sets 1 & 3 Pushups,
•    Sets 2 & 4  Jack Knife Sit Ups
•    Sets 5 & 7 Squat and Jump w/arms to sky,
•    Sets 6 & 8 Using Dumb Bells, Lean & Row

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Want To Do More Sets? 
with 3 minute warmup this takes 23 minute total:
•    8 sets of one particular exercise,  rest 60 sec,
•    then 8 sets of 3 other exercises – with a 60 sec rest between each of the sets of 8.

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Other Exercises that can be used Tabata – style:

•    Lunges of all kinds
•    Situps of all kinds
•    Weight lifting (light weights always using good form, because they must be done at fast, high intensity pace)
•    Jumping Rope
•    Swimming
•    Stationary bicycle (just stop pedaling at the rests)

NOTES:
•    The 20/10 cycle is important, and also doing the max you can in each. 
•    It's a good idea to journal how many reps you were able to do on the last (8th set), and watch it improve with time.  Example, push ups- you might be able to do 20 or so on set one, but by the 8th it might be 6.  That 6 might improve to 10 or more with time.  That's an important indicator, plus you'll feel great.

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