Well... A vocal coach worth their salt can of course help a student develop into their full vocal potential. But they can also help a speaker or singer conquer pesky vocal issues that come from bad habits, stressful career situations and harmful vocal mis-information. There are many things that can limit your voice, most are quickly fixable. Here's a list of vocal issues that you should expect to conquer when you work with a good vocal coach:
1. Vocal StrainThis cuts to the core of vocal ability. Vocal strain has cut many a star singer or speaker's career short due to the irritation and eventual damage that comes from repeatedly straining the voice. The first thing a good vocal coach should do is assess what is causing the strain. Then a corrective technique should be taught to counter whatever faulty habit, belief or fear - or combination thereof - is found. Almost always, breath control must be increased. Often, the throat is tight, too. If the student still feels vocal strain even when applying the technique change, the coach should suggest that an ENT (fellowship trained if possible) be consulted. In extreme cases vocal rest may be necessary, but only for a limited time. New vocal technique needs to be practiced into muscle memory as soon as possible to get the vocal apparatus stronger, more flexible and more coordinated in its many fine adjustments.
CAUTION... please know that a good vocal exercise correctly performed will NEVER strain your voice! If it does... it's either a bad exercise or you are doing it wrong... so don't do it!!
2. Limited Vocal RangeMost singers can sing higher and lower than they think... they just don't know how to get their voice into the best frequency resonance placement zones for extremes of their range. A coach should again watch the student sing and assess the reason(s) for the range limitation(s). For popular genres, training for higher notes almost always involves developing a better 'mix' of registers in the middle voice - specifically getting head voice register 'helping' chest voice lighten up as it goes up, so the singer can sing higher in full voice without straining, then seamlessly transition to head voice. Low notes can also be instantly more reachable and rich with corrective techniques that let the larynx settle but don't lower the larynx too much which causes dark hootiness down there. And as a bonus... extending the low range can also release freedom in the higher range, too - but only if good technique is used.
3. Weak VoiceThe voice can be strengthened in many ways. It's a huge and completely unnecessary mistake to try to get a stronger voice by pushing it in a way that leads to vocal strain! A good vocal coach will help you increase your vocal volume by teaching you to power your breath with a feeling of compression centered in the pelvic floor, by opening the throat so laryngeal vibration has access to all resonation zones, and by clarifying communicative focus. You can create a very powerful response to even soft verses with hushed intensity if you know how!
4. Numb or Emotionally Disconnected PerformanceEven a technically great performance is quite useless unless it is in the service of communicating a message. A good vocal coach will not just teach technique, they will teach the singer or speaker how to choose the 'point of the spear', using the voice to deliver a message so compelling it gets a response. Once again, the core cause(s) of performance numbness or disconnection must be assessed. Correcting mental focus... learning to think in such a way that the voice knows it's job... can breathe life instantly into a deadened voice - no matter how distracting or fear-provoking the performance situation is! A good coach should show you how to go there.
5. Chronic laryngitis from vocal abuseLaryngitis, for any serious voice, is not to be ignored. If the cause is viral or bacterial upper respiratory infection or other organic disease or condition, the cause should be assessed and treated by a physician. If, on the other hand, any degree of laryngitis is from over-blowing vocal cords, tightening the throat channel, tongue base and/or muscles in the neck, articulating from the wrong place in your mouth, or any other terrible vocal habit, a good vocal lesson can change your life. You should, by the end of the lesson, find immediate improvement in the feeling and sound of your voice. Then you need to learn how to create new habits of your corrected techniques. You may need more than one lesson to be sure you're practicing correctly, to create consistent new muscle memory for speaking and singing.
6. Unwanted Voice CracksNever yodel unless you mean to! Yodeling can be great fun... one of my students, Taylor Ware, won America's Got Talent with yodeling which she taught herself. Later, however, she came to me to help her mix her voice and NOT yodel for other kinds of singing she wanted to do. If you perform yodeling songs or use a crack or cry strategically here and there for stylized emotional effect when you sing, that's one thing. But unwanted voice breaks, surprise note cracks, big differences in the sound of upper chest and lower head voice, and straining when you sing full voice in your upper chest register are another. They are all evidence of a lack of mix in your middle voice. Good vocal coaching will help you change this by teaching you to approach your middle voice range with better breath control, and with subtle movements that allows different pitches to find their 'sweet spots' in your resonation zones, instead of being made to go where they don't want to go. (Trust me, they will complain!)
7. Lack of Vocal ControlYou must be able to control your voice to allow the fine movements necessary for precision pitch, even rhythm, smooth vocal licks and volume levels that are not extreme even when dynamics change and notes in the extremes of your range are sung. Control of your voice also enables you to make more nuanced choices in vocal tone colors, articulation, scoops and other stylistic choices. These nuances enable you to communicate more powerfully. because they are more 'human' sounding. A good vocal coach will help improve all of these things - mainly by improving the balance between your breath support/control. When you get breath right, your vocal apparatus is able to operate with much more efficiency and effectiveness.
8. Pitch InaccuracyBeing able to sing in tune is, as mentioned above, heavily dependent on good breath technique. It is also of course dependent on the ability of your ears, brain and vocal cords to coordinate in the act of aiming at pitch. A good coach will give you exercises for pitch practice to educate and coordinate your neural pathways from ear to brain to vocal apparatus. Be assured, I've witnessed it - even people who believe or have been told they are 'tone deaf' can almost always learn to aim at pitch if they are willing to work at it.
Because you will need to practice your aim on your own a lot, a good coach needs to make sure you know how to do the suggested routines. This can involve showing you notes on the real or virtual piano or guitar to use in your practice, and if you can't tell if you're on the note or not, brainstorming who you know with a good ear that would be willing to assess your aim between lessons. For those who hear it but can't hit it, your coach should be very specific about HOW you practice corrective techniques to free your voice to move more precisely.
9. Style ConcernsI think of genres of music as languages. Many things are involved in differentiating these languages, including where the rhythm falls in relation to the pocket, articulation clarity, typical vocal licks or the lack thereof, types and usages of vibrato, scoops and slurs or the lack thereof, throat configurations creating vocal tone choices. If you sing a type of song with the wrong style language, it will not translate the message very well to the listeners of that genre. If you want to improve your ability to sing in a particular style, make sure the vocal coach you are considering is familiar with and teaches that style. A good teacher will be able to help you transition from one style of singing to another... and back again for songs you want to sing in your former genre. Don't be afraid to learn different languages. Just make sure you're using the right one for the right song!
10. Lack of WarmupNot warming up before any significant vocal performance is like a serious athlete not warming up before the game. Crazy. There are different ways to warm up your voice, and the benefits of doing so include both sounding better and protecting your instrument. A good vocal coach will teach you not only vocal exercises but more importantly, how to DO them properly!! Please know this: At no time should a properly executed vocal exercise cause you vocal strain! If it does, don't do it... it's either a bad exercise or you you're not doing it right. You should also be encouraged to cool down your voice, too.
BONUS (aahhh... I couldn't stop at 10!):
11. Mysterious vocal issuesThere are many other vocal limitations that vocal training with a good coach can address and conquer. But most are offshoots of breath, open throat or performance focus mistakes. But some can come from other physical or neurological issues.
- Strange 'h' breaks in your singing? It can be caused by a lack of breath control or a hidden condition of acid reflux.
- Articulation sluggishness? It can come from the habit of forming syllables with a tight jaw and tongue or a stroke.
- Inability to sustain tone evenly? It's almost always a breath balance issue, but can come from fear-caused tightness in the chest and diaphragm.
- A strange catch, uncontrolled or irregular vibrato in your voice combined with shortened vocal range? It could be a combination of breath and tight throat conditions or a neurological isssue - anything from Muscle Tension Dysphonia to Spasmodic Dysphonia or a partially or fully paralyzed vocal cord.
- Breath doesn't last long enough for phrases? Could be a bad phrasing strategy, bad strategy limiting inhales or COPD or other lung disorder.
- Chronic breathiness? It can be a false assumption about necessary air flow, swollen vocal cords from abuse or cancer.
The main thing to know is that a mysterious vocal issue is NOT OK. The cause(s) MUST be discovered. Any mystery a good vocal coach can't make better immediately should be investigated by a doctor... a fellowship trained ENT if possible. Then, with good advice, you can know the best plan of attack for the issue.
Your team of expert help should include an intuitive vocal coach. It may also need to include a doctor, chiropractor, masseuse, nutritionist and/or psychologist! Don't put up with vocal issues. Get the help you need for your precious voice. You only get one!
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