Singing for Health 7

I hope you’re all keeping well, dear singing friends, and that you’re finding that vocalising helps to keep your spirits up by accessing the ‘feel good’ factor of a jolly good sing, hum, or wordless noodling along with the radio — whatever you can find to release that voice. Don’t forget, the voice is an essential part of you.

Today I’d like to talk to you about the onset of sound. If you’re breathing efficiently (see previous tips about the diaphragm and letting the breath pour out without hindrance etc) and if your throat is nicely open (remember the ‘drink’ and the ‘egg’ from an earlier tip?) then how do you start the sound? Some of you may be saying ‘silly question’, but is it?

Let’s begin with vowels: if you see a word beginning with a vowel, let’s take ‘alleluia’ as an example, do you sometimes (or always!) begin with a bump and the feeling of a catch at the back of your throat? Do you know what I mean when I call it a ‘glottal stop’?

A glottal stop is what happens when you have a build-up of air that is suddenly released. The ‘glottal’ part tells you that this is formed by the glottis, also known as the vocal folds. In a glottal stop, the vocal cords close, air builds up behind them, then the cords open quickly, resulting in a burst of air. When you hear this from a singer, it often results in a small moment of the voice wandering around the note it is aiming for. It sounds harsh, ugly, and violent. Your vocal folds hate it and feel bullied by it!

Here’s how to avoid it:

When you have opened your throat to breath and sing, don’t let it close again before the onset of sound. When I spoke of ‘muscle memory’ before, I meant that the feeling of that openness should be practiced until it is habitual.

Take a big intake of breath from your diaphragm, filling your lower back with air, and prepare to sing ‘alleluia’ — with the throat still open start the freely release air flow ahead of the voice. Try it first just with ‘aaaaaah’.

If that bump is still there, and if you want a fool-proof method of avoiding it, then ‘stroke the cat’:

Imagine the cat is at shoulder height, facing away from you. You want to stroke it from the head to the tail, towards you. Place your hand in the air in front of you, ready to stroke. Breath in and let the air go in an ‘aaaah’ as you stroke that imaginary cat. Repeat several times, listening to the way your voice is released without that glottal stop ‘bump’.

Make sure that you truly release the breath with the voice — pour it out!

That is the vowels sorted. Starting with a consonant is easier but only if you produce it gently. I may say more about that later but, for now, look at the consonants at the start of something you’re singing and say to yourself: is that a sing-able consonant such as ‘l’, ‘m’, ‘n’, ‘v’, ‘f’ (even ‘s’) etc on which I can make a pitched sound? If so, you can anticipate that at the start and have the pitch in your head so that you gently form the consonant on that pitch. This makes for more beautiful singing!

Try humming on ‘l’, ‘m’, ‘n’, ‘-ng’, ‘f’ and ‘v’. Play with making those sounds with as little facial tension as possible. Then open each note up into an ‘aaaaah’. Make it gentle and lovely while at the same time fully releasing the breath.

I think that is all for now, folks, but I will maybe have something to say about hard consonants and plosives another time. I wish you all the very best of good health and happy singing!