Singing for Health 5

Keep it Simple… make it easy on yourself

Hello again, vocal friends!

This time I want to talk about accessing your full range (I will talk about ranges, voice categories and registers in a future singing bulletin). Many singers get into the habit of putting all kinds of extra physical effort into finding their low and high notes. If you know Gerald Hoffnung’s cartoon The Hoffnung Festival Chorus, you will understand what I mean about the weird physical actions people make that they think might help. Have fun looking at that (and his other musical stuff) in his book The Hoffnung Music Festival:

I am the bringer of good news: to find your lowest notes no action is required! If you go digging for them, they just burrow away like the shyest of moles. Making faces, tensing anything, lowering your jaw to your chest, grimacing — or any of the other strange things people do actually work against them, so here is the one exercise that will always help you find your lowest notes: Relax!

It is as simple as that. I showed you how in a previous message. Look at yourself in a mirror and (having first warmed-up with humming and so on, see previous tips) quietly run down a scale to where you find the bottom of your voice. Observe yourself — what is going on? Are there habits you need to change?

Like so much else to do with singing, just don’t boss your voice around.

What about high notes, you ask?

There is more to do here, but, once again, none of the tension or grimacing or eyebrow twitching in the world is going to do it for you. Here is what you need:

  • • Loads of breath on board (see previous about breathing), concentrating on filling the lungs at the level of the diaphragm and filling up your lower back with air.
  • • An open throat (see previous).
  • • Stand in front of a mirror and (having first done plenty of warming-up with humming and so on, see previous tips) sing an arpeggio up and down. Pour the breath out like a sigh — don’t ever try to conserve breath. Do this a few times until fully relaxed. Take it up in pitch…
  • • As you approach the highest note in the middle, slightly and smoothly expand your diaphragm (you should know where it is by now but, if it needs waking-up, do those steam engine, candle, or feather exercises I gave you). Feel the extra ‘support’ — yes, folks, that is what we mean by that mysterious word.

Doing this may not work well at first but do persevere, concentrating on total relaxation until you ask for that bit of diaphragmatic ‘support’. Help this to become ‘muscle memory’ by practising it.

Apply this to real music — any arc-shaped phrase or one that require a bit of a leap upwards. Make friends with your diaphragm and use it!

Does your voice ever crack on a high note?

This is because you have

  1. 1. not completely relaxed,
  2. 2. have not taken enough breath on board,
  3. 3. have not first woken up your breathing muscle (diaphragm) and asked for its help (gently, of course, because we never achieve anything with violence),
  4. 4. have not opened your throat (see last my last tip).

A steady flow of air is vital!

You will have realised this already but strengthening your diaphragmatic response and discovering your full breathing capacity can be a great boon in case of pulmonary illness. From asthma to Covid-19 — this is real self-help. I got through my worst night with Covid-19 by visualising and concentrating on my singer’s breathing.

Stay well, dear friends, and keep on singing for all its health benefits: physical, mental, and spiritual.