Saturday, June 2, 2007

Vocal Performance techniques of Power, Path & Performance and the Alexander Technique

OK people, here is the last post in my three part series discussing techniques of "Power, Path & Performance" and the "Alexander Technique".

This one will deal with "Performance", which I teach as "Communication".

Once again, I would like you to open this link to Ron Murdock's amazing article: . This time, begin reading at the top and stop when you come to the paragraph beginning with "What, then, is this vast vocal organ?".

Ron titles his article "Born To Sing" because he believes (and I agree) that anyone can learn to sing- even if you seem to be pitch-deaf. After working with what Ron calls "Tonematching Exercises" and I call "Aiming Practice", I have yet to have anyone come to me who can't learn to sing in tune. If you can talk, you can sing. Your speaking voice will be improved, too, and I soooo enjoy watching (and hearing) the blooming process.

I am always telling my students that singing is like and Olympic event. Like great athletes, singers use every inch of their physical beings. Ron quotes his mentors: In the introduction to their book called, Singing: The Physical Nature of the Vocal Organ, by Professor Frederick Husler and Yvonne Rodd-Marling, Rodd-Marling says, "Singing is a highly physical happening, a unique form of communication produced by muscle-movements set in motion by a fundamentally emotive desire to express beauty."

In Power, Path & Performance I teach the synergy of breath, open throat and communication. When we really communicate, we operate our physical bodies in a different way than when we are NOT really communicating (when our minds are occupied with non-communicative thoughts). This total commitment to giving a message to someone causes our breath to work better and our throats to be more open. It can also cure stage fright.

I agree when Ron says, "It is this exaggerated level of communication of feeling that actually sets in motion and coordinates the vast, complex muscle structures of the singing instrument. This puts a very great physical demand on a professional singer---as great a demand as that of any top athlete."

However, there is a caution: Just like a great acting, great singing will involve RE-EXPERIENCING emotion, not faking it. Don't be surprised if going deep brings tears to your own eyes until you learn to be comfortable being that exposed.

My students hear me say this a lot: Real singing is not for the squeamish! I think Ron would agree.

You might want to try out Ron's great performance awareness exercise. Read where he begins "Sing a song. Any song you know well..."

Also, I totally agree with Ron that we must not put technical singing before emotional singing. Voice teacher Jeffrey Allen says the Italians take their technique on stage with them in their little finger.

Get it?? hehehe

Next time you have a song to communicate, Go For It. I bet you'll breath better for it, and your throat will be more open, too.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Throat opening techniques of Power, Path & Performance and Alexander Technique

Hi everybody... sorry it's been a week since my last post; I've been busy with a showcase on the Yantz sisters, studio background and vocal production work and bunches of voice lessons, as well as new musical revisions to the play "Runaway Home". Lots of news to come... but meanwhile...

This post, the second in a series, will relate vocal technique of the "Alexander Technique" to that of my method "Power, Path & Performance" on the subject of how to keep an open (not tight) throat. I am deeply indebted to Ron Murdock, who has kindly contacted me and furthered my understanding of his article and the Alexander Technique. I have edited my first post based on his communication; you might want to re-read it.

First question to ponder: Why do you need an open throat? Well, among other things-

  • To keep from straining or damaging your voice
  • To get rich, beautiful resonance
  • For pitch control
  • To raise lower and upper limits on your range
  • To eliminate vocal breaks
  • So you can concentrate on communicating, not on hard notes!
Now that I've got your attention...

Please click the link to Ron Murdock's wonderful article at Scroll down about 1/5 of the way and begin reading at the paragraph that begins "What, then, is this vast vocal organ?, just before Fig. 1. Continue reading until you come to the paragraph beginning with the words "The breathing organ makes up the other half of the singing instrument."

Now focus on illustration (Fig) 2. Wow!! Do you see all the things that are connected to your vocal aparatus? Let's list them-

  • The top of the chest
  • The tongue (hyoid) bone
  • The jaw (via the tongue)
  • The soft palate
  • The head
  • The gullet (esophagus)
  • The shoulder

Allow me to quote Ron Murdock: "All these muscles form what Husler and Rodd-Marling called an "elastic scaffolding" or suspensory mechanism around the larynx."

This illustration clearly shows how important it is to balance the stretch connecting the vocal aparatus in all directions.

In "Power, Path & Performance", I use the imagery of a hook-shaped vocal "Path" suggested by voice teacher Jeffrey Allen, which I've found to be an incredibly effective way to get the anatomy working right. The way I teach this path is to get a vocalist to PULL words and sound from a path which begins in the pelvic floor, continues to a point above and behind the head (i.e. the balcony), and then finishes by using the word to pull the sound toward the audience. OK- here's a practical application- imagine you are a hip-hop artist (if you are one, you don't have to imagine:) Use a silly sarcastic attitude and say "Yo, sucker" or "Yeah, right!" That's the feeling of pulling your voice. It's tall, flexible, confident, fearless, powerful and strain-free.

Here are some habits you need to keep your throat open:
  • Pull, don't push, your words out
  • Stand or sit tall and flexible (yeah, that helps with breath, too!)
  • Flexibly balance your head on your top vertibrae
  • Don't lean your head forward or stiffly back!! (For help, try singing with your head against a wall)
  • Keep jaw loose; use a slight sideways chewing motion if your throat starts to get tight- expecially on "e" and "oo" words
  • Relax the base of your tongue
  • Keep your chin flexibly level - not lifted or dropped
  • Form consonants in the front of your mouth, vowels in back
  • Use the feeling of the inner smile
  • Let your soft palate "fall up" instead of trying to make it lift to forcefully

Note: One caution I'd like to reinforce is this: Don't try to make your head go straight back. Move it a bit to the side instead. If you do it right, it should actually cause your ribcage to open. Which helps with the breath, of course! Notice how the Power and Path connect for optimal vocal use...Cool beans!

Look for the next post in this series... it will be relate Alexander Technique to PPP on Performance. Alexander was an actor, so this will be good. Again, my thanks to Ron Murdock for his excellent article and his thoughts on these posts. And as always, your comments and questions are welcome!