Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Vocal Secret Weapon #2

After reading about the first Vocal Secret Weapon, you're dying to know more, right? Ok, buckle your seat belt and get ready for this one. Again, this weapon is something we all have, but often don't think of how it can help us become a better singer. Actually this secret weapon is plural. Here goes...

Vocal Secret Weapon #2: The Articulators

The Ar-what-u-lators? you ask. The articulators are something you know all about but by different names.

The articulators include:
-soft palate
-hard palate

Tongue, teeth, cheeks, and mouth need no introduction, but just in case you're wondering, your hard palate is roof of your mouth and your soft palate is the soft part of the roof of your mouth as you get closer to the back of the throat. Go ahead and try to feel it with your tongue! No one's looking;)

Articulators are absolutely imperative to speaking because they help you articulate your words, but they are equally important to singing. You cannot sing and make any sense to anyone listening unless you use these tools to shape the sound.

Now here's where the articulators can sabotage your singing voice. When you take a deep breath, form a note, the vocal cords vibrate and force the sound upwards and out through your mouth. But if your soft palate and throat are not open enough the sound will come out squelched and strained. Or if your tongue carries tension as you're trying to form a word, it can stop the tone from sounding full. Likewise, each of your articulators will often try to "help the note", but are only adding additional stress to the sound because they carry tension.

So the first question to ask yourself when you're singing and having a difficult time is, Am I tense anywhere in my body, especially my articulators? When I was taking voice lessons regularly, I dealt with a lack of fulness to my chest range (more on ranges another time). I would be working so hard to produce a powerful tone, but the sound would come out all squeaky and weak. My voice teacher told me that my tongue was constantly tensing up, and sure enough, he was right. He told me to take a deep breath, relax, and then "pant like a dog" a few times, a trick I still use today for myself and my students. After I relaxed my tongue, the note came out the way it was supposed to sound, full and resonant.

Often the way you shape a sound with your tongue, cheeks, or lips can cause a strain to your tone. If any of these articulators carry unnecessary tension, then you will hear it and feel it in your sound. Try relaxing the part of you that is tense and even go back to some basic vocal warm-ups that use lip trills and buzz hums.

Also ask yourself if the vowel sound you're singing lends itself to tension in the articulators. Let's face it, some vowels were just not made for singing! Think of those vowel sounds that make the face spread, as in "eeeeeeeee" or "uuuuuuuuhhh", which causes the soft palate to drop lower than it should. If you are singing a difficult vowel sound, try changing it to something that allows the throat and other articulators to be free of stress. You will probably notice an immediate difference in your tone by making this simple change.

Sometimes a voice student of mine will have a wobble or shake in his or her tone when trying to sing a long, sustained note. Usually, this is because he or she is letting the mouth move way too much when singing. This movement suggests that the singer has no control over the sound that comes out, and that really is true if the articulator (in this case, the mouth) is not reigned in.

So why do I consider these articulators a secret weapon in singing? Just because, singers who learn to take control of them end up having incredible control over the total sound their singing voices produce. If you can control the articulators, you can sing it all, baby! The important part is recognizing that these parts of the body often carry tension and if not relieved, will continue to sabotage an unrestrained, pure tone.

My Vocal Secret Weapon series will be wrapping up next time and you don't want to miss the final secret weapon (it's the most important one!). Cheers and happy singing!

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