Can Be A Bitch
(How to make a stubborn song behave)
Sit. Stay. Good voice. Don't you just love it when your voice
does exactly what you want it to do? Wouldn't it be
great if you could send your voice away to obedience school
just like a dog? The interesting thing to note about canine
classes is that they aren't just for our furry four-legged friends.
The owners are trained as well. There is a particular way to
address your pooch, or your voice, if you want it to do as told.
This may seem like a crazy perspective, but singing lessons
are really for the owner of that misbehaving voice. It turn's
out that it's not the old dog that has the problem learning
the new trick, it's the master!
step towards owning a well behaved voice is to erase old commands.
All instructions for the body are dispatched by the brain. Commands
are sent via conscious and unconscious pathways and have been
busy programming the body since birth. Like dogs, the muscles
responsible for singing work best when given a fresh slate.
Troubles occur when new commands conflict with old ones. For
instance, your jaw would be happy to release when singing if
it wasn't trained to do exactly the opposite when speaking.
Of course you didn't mean to teach the jaw to clench, that was
unconscious behavior. Nevertheless, there is an old program
which must be dealt with before the new behavior can take its
place. Jaw tension can be as stubborn as an old blood hound
to move but there's no singing freely until it's gone. It helps
to remember it's not the jaw's fault; it doesn't have a mind
of its own.
the problem between master and voice is communication. The word
"control" is often used but rarely does it create
the desired result. Usually what happens when we think about
it is we just tighten around a note to keep it in place. Imagine
a dog fighting and pulling at its leash. You wouldn't say that
the animal is under control, even though the dog isn't running
around causing trouble. It's really just restrained. The same
is true for the voice. If you have to strain and struggle in
order to make it through a song, it's time to clarify the message
you're sending to your body. Of course you want to sing in tune
but what good is the right note if it's accompanied by too much
effort? The goal is to have a show-dog of a voice that runs
freely through a song without once tugging at its leash. Now
and fuzzy language always transfer into the material we sing.
This is why the voice rarely improves just by singing lots of
songs. It takes an unemotional inventory of your mechanics to
make real foundational changes. Vocalizing (singing vocal exercises)
is as vital to your instrument as house breaking is to an owner
of a puppy. It's no fun, tedious, work but it will make your
life soooo much more enjoyable afterward. Without a simple set
of rules for the voice, we tend to invent tricks to steer around
problems when singing songs. These tricks get programmed into
the body and the song becomes nothing more than a learned obstacle
course. You can't effectively develop new behaviors and try
to sound good at the same time. So don't. Leave the performance
attitude for songs. Let yourself sound as bad as necessary when
vocalizing in order to experience released and efficient coordination.
Sometimes you have to be willing to howl like a dog in order
to sing like a bird. The sound of your voice will improve and
control will come the more you vocalize. The irony is: It takes
lots of practice to sound like you're a natural born singer.
way to erase unwanted behavior is to unleash the mind. As an
exercise, take a phrase from a stubborn song and sing its melody
using a single vowel and consonant. Think of Happy Birthday
sung as LA-LA-LA-LA. To further remove the melody from its old
program, sing it in a variety of keys until you have no tonal
home base. Distract your body while singing by moving arms and
legs randomly. Vocalize the melody while lying on your back,
while crawling, while shaking like a wet dog -- anything but
the way you usually sing. Make sure you are acting like a lunatic!
Finally, invent a new language for the words. The more outrageous
the gibberish the easier it will be to release ingrained behaviors.
If it seems
counterproductive to take a song you are struggling with and
make it sound even more ridiculous, try it twice. Experiment
with a song you already sing well and then try a difficult song.
You'll be amazed how easy it is to have fun with the song you
sing well and how stuck you'll become on the other tune. Which
song do you think illustrates free behavior? Why do you think
you sing that one well? Notice how calm your muscles are when
you're singing something well; it's not a coincidence. Just
as it's no surprise that people with well behaved dogs are calm
as well? If you continue to struggle with a particular song
it may be that it's not a good fit for your voice. It's best
to put it away for a while and wait for your skills to improve.
There's no shame in admitting you've been barking up the wrong
song. The bottom line is that true control does not require
sounds you can produce without effort when vocalizing, the more
you'll be able to play with the dynamics and timbres of a song.
You can always choose to sing a song hard, but it should never
be hard to sing. If you have to adjust your face in order to
secure a pitch, you'll reduce your options to express yourself
visually when in performance. Keep the commands simple when
vocalizing and things will progress nicely. Even if it takes
a year to reprogram your jaw, it's worth the time when you consider
the multiple years of freedom you'll enjoy thereafter. Stay
focused. Be patient and know that you're not alone in your frustration.
Anyone who's ever been dogged by a disobedient voice will tell
ya, "Singing can be a bitch!"
Baxter is a vocal therapist
who offers private and video lessons. To contact him, call:
(800)659-6002. Visit his website at: www.voicelesson.com
with the kind permission of Mark