Saturday, May 5, 2007

Recording "Studio Hands"

I just got back from 3ABN studio in West Frankfort, Illinois. I had the pleasure of working with the awesome husband and wife team Reggie and Ladye Love Smith. During the sessions, I shared a quick vocal technique with them that really made a difference in our singing- and we all needed it- me as well. I call it "studio hands". If this was helpful to such great seasoned singers as Reggie and Ladye, it can work for ANYONE.

What is the technique I call "studio hands"? (I was hoping you'd ask :)

It is simply using your hands in a way that causes the bottom of your ribcage to stay flexibly expanded. This gives your diaphragm the ability to stay taut and to control your air pressure. You see it in great singing of all genres- classical to hip hop. There are many ways to do it, and I recommend trying them all to see what works best for you.

For vocal control, for high or low notes, for sustains (holding notes out), for more volume, for subtle licks, etc... (For just about any vocal chore you'd like to accomplish):
  • Clasp your hands together, classical style, at the bottom of your ribcage. Press your hands into each other for vocal power and control.
  • Alternately, Lace your fingers together in front of your ribcage. As you "go for" a difficult note, press your fingers into each other. If you're doing this correctly, you'll notice your ribcage just got wider, your butt & abs tightened.
  • Or, try touching your fingertips together, again in front of your ribcage. Press your fingertips into each other as you sing.
  • Another way: Squeeze your fists to expand your ribcage. Caution: don't squeeze your ribcage when you squeeze your fists. Keep the squeeze only in your hands. Your ribs should go OUT, not IN!
  • Or, try "talking" actively with your hands. Sometimes this is all you need.

What to avoid:

  • Don't hand your hands and arms stiffly at your sides. Your arms can easily become "rib anchors", causing your ribs to tighten. This will truly screw up your vocal control. If you leave your hands and arms at your sides, be sure there is "life" in the muscles, making them feel weightless.
  • Don't press your hands into each other at hip level. This can cause the opposite of what you want... it can make your ribcage tighten. Make sure they are at chest level.

We talk with our hands. Why on earth do we make ourselves sing without them??????? Next time you record something... try using some "studio hands"! Let me know how it comes out... and by the way, Reggie and Ladye have an incredible new Christian music project. I will let you know where to find them when their new website gets up and running.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Development and use of Vibrato

I was asked this week about my thoughts on developing and using vibrato.

It is an important skill; however you can place too much emphasis on it and create unnatural vibrato that's hard to unlearn.

In my professional experience, it has everything to do with developing breath support/control, learning to use a feeling of compression centered in the pelvic floor, AND sending this breath through an open and relaxed throat. Then you find yourself with control of all kinds of vocal choices, vibrato being one of them.

My course (at ) includes an old exercise called "Messa di Voce" in which you hold a tone as richly as you can. Once you master this exercise, you can try backing off the pressure even more and allowing a little controlled vibrato to begin in the middle of the sustain. Then for even more control, you can try and smooth the vibrato out into a straight tone again. Jazz singing requires great control of vibrato; you MUST learn to back off pressure while sustaining support, "spinning" the tone in the back of your head to give ultimate control.

Try this:

Put the back of one of your hands on your tailbone. Stand tall and flexible with head back and chin level. Take a breath into, and sing out of, a spot deep in the pelvic floor just in front of your tailbone. Hold a tone steady. Don't lean forward; use so little forward pressure that it almost seems you're inhaling the tone. Then try THINKING a sweet, even vibrato and just imagine it..."will" yourself to do it. Let it come naturally... it's SO IMPORTANT NOT TO FORCE VIBRATO TO OCCUR. As you gain experience with it, try allowing it to occur without thinking.

IF you don't lean on your voice or push too much air, AND you support your tone, I think you'll find yourself with a vibrato you can control naturally. Above all... DON'T JUMP ON YOUR DIAPHRAGM and try to make vibrato that way.

Another thing you can do is to mime a singer who has the natural and free vibrato you want. Watch out for mimicing bad technique from singers whose vibrato is too fast, too slow and wobbly, or uncontrolled and forced.

I have found that this is all my singers need for the vibrato they want to use. I will, as always, be learning more about the voice and will pass other information to you as I find it useful.

Let me know how effective you find this exercise by clicking "comment" below this post. I also value any of your own thoughts or experiences you have with vibrato and it's control.