Grooming Your Voice For Success
By Julie Lyonn Lieberman
It's easy to build vocal habits when you sing a song over and over again. These habits can be useful to free us to focus on performance values; but all too often, we lock in tightness and inferior function, thereby creating a struggle during performance or even hoarseness, a sore throat, and the like. No matter how good you sound, how music business savvy you are, and how hard you've worked on your material and its presentation, if you don't cultivate a ritual around how you care for your voice, you stand to compromise your future and potentially your level of success.
Pro-athletes work with their muscles intelligently. They understand that if they don't warm up, respect the properties of muscle and joint function, and warm down, they may be beleaguered with aches and pains or injuries that thwart the level of success they are able to achieve. Taking responsibility represents potential longevity as well as quality of experience.
Most singers already know that warm-ups are important, but they may not understand why it's essential to vocalize regularly before singing their actual material. Let's use our postural muscles as a metaphor. Let's say you spend 10 hours a day hunched over. The muscles will gradually adapt and freeze you into that posture if you don't stretch and strengthen your body to counterbalance repetitive motion.
Your sound is influenced by a combination of genetics; family and geographic influences on pronunciation/articulation; and the influence of your emotional/psychological gestalt on the use of your vocal anatomy. All of these factors culminate to create habitual muscular response. This, in turn, can embed and strengthen patterns that mobilize the tongue, lips, breath, and what I call the cathedral the interior musculature of the mouth and throat.
Vocal exercises aerobicize, stretch and strengthen these muscle groups so that they remain balanced. Through this process, you can refine and detail mind-to-body response so that each sound you hear, each emotion you experience, and every thought you intend to communicate to your audience is received by this flexible work station and translated into a palette of color and texture.
Here is the ironic twist: we are least conscious of how we sing each time we learn a new song because our attention is focused almost entirely on learning the melody and words. Yet, this is when we tend to sing the song the most in order to learn it. If it's an original piece, this is also when we are also the most emotional because the lyrics are intimately connected to and motivated by current life experiences.
Some singers, when they are imbued with feeling, tighten the throat or body to express emotion as it wells up. Muscularly speaking, the brain can't differentiate between the activity, singing that specific song, and how we are carrying out the activity. The brain takes all of that information, and locks it together into a sensory engram (which I like to call a barcode.) From that moment forward, we tend to perform the song exactly as we rehearsed it.
Here are some simple procedures you can institute to improve your practice habits:
1) Warm up before singing lyrics: Assess your voice each day and choose exercises that stimulate desired response from breath support, lip action, tongue behavior, and the tone you produce. This is detailed on my DVD, Vocal Aerobics: Essentials for Today Singer (see JulieLyonn.com > Vocalist's Corner for details).
2) When learning a new song, sing the melody on the vowel that's most comfortable for you first; then use the actual vowels of the words but without the consonants.
3) To prevent any habitual muscular associations, speak the lyrics to learn them, but use varying accents from around the world or country; become an actor or actress and delivery the lyrics using different personalities, pitch settings, and emotional contexts to avoid inadvertently embedding negative muscular habits.
- become a British school teacher
- become a sea nymph
- speak wistfully, then angrily, then lovingly
- use your low range and then your high range
- vary volume as you speak
- vary pitch as you speak
4) Join the lyrics and melody together, singing softly without emotion; then try singing the song in various keys as well as with variations in volume. You can apply the personalities you've rehearsed to the sung version as well.
5) Now sing emotionally. Notice what happens to you physically when you become more expressive. If you discover tension mounting in areas of your body, try varying how you express emotion by using imagery:
- I will pour my anger out the bottom of my feet like a pitcher with a leak.
- I will inhale and exhale on between each sentence as if I'm filling the sails of a sailboat with my breath and emulate that image when I sing each sentence of the song.
- I will sing the song with the opposite emotion the lyrics require (emotion is energy and when we pour anger into a love song, it doesn't necessarily read as anger it can read as heightened passion!)
There is a popular quote, sometimes attributed to Albert Einstein, and other times to Benjamin Franklin or Rita Mae Brown, that goes something like, Insanity is doing the same thing the same way over and over again and expecting different results. The above practice procedures will give you an opportunity to step out of old practice habits and thereby gain new results.
Vocal Aerobics: Essentials for Today's Singers
with Julie Lyonn Lieberman
60-minute instructional DVD distributed by Hal Leonard
World-renowned music educator, Julie Lyonn Lieberman, has created an instructional DVD for singers. Her practice system focuses on cognitive illumination and muscular facility. This system can help develop a vibrating palette that communicates spirit, emotion, and viewpoint all riding effortlessly on the breath. It is supported by science yet connected to individuality. By first guiding the exercises in silence, her intent is to prevent the tension and misuse that often occur when the main impetus for the creation of musical sound is fueled by a brew of yearning and fear mixed with a fixation on the end product.
Topics covered include:
Section I Introduction, Creating a Cathedral, Breath Anatomy
Section II Aerobicizing the Tongue, Mobilizing the Lips
Section III Balancing the non-dominant side of the mouth, Posture, The Power of Imagery, Warming Up and Warming Down, Vocal Health
Ms. Lieberman trusts the innate intelligence of the client by making sure that they understand how and why each region of their vocal anatomy works the way it does. Through extensive experience teaching, she has developed ergonomically based exercises that are fulcrum triggers: they get the job done more efficiently and faster. Lieberman has discovered that when the lights are turned on and the equipment is illuminated, epiphanies abound and can continue to be generated by the singer, long after the teacher leaves the room.
Her in-depth studies while creating her critically acclaimed book You Are Your Instrument, followed by her three spin-off DVDs (The Vocalist's Guide to Fitness, Health and Musicianship, The Instrumentalist's Guide to Fitness, Health and Musicianship, and The Violin in Motion) place a unique spin on this body of work.
Most voice teachers use exercises that are effective in the long run or they would be put out of business, but the older model for mentorship entailed a do as I do and do as I say approach. It was a faith-based relationship; the student was expected to blindly follow the teacherâ€™s directions without specifics, context, or adequate rapport with the musculature required to do the job smoothly and consciously. The belief behind that style of work was that if you repeated each exercise enough times (often while inadvertently thinking about something else), that it would help you sing better. This is the long, slow train to success.
Julie believes that it's time to replace unconscious repetition with less activity, more awareness, and targeted control. She will help you convert the butcher's knife into a laser beam!
About the author
Julie Lyonn Lieberman has specialized in working with creative vocalists in her NYC music studio over the last 3 decades. Her students have included artists such as Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Vanessa Carlton, Grammy-nominated Putnam Murdock, Indie music award winner Kara Suzanne (best new folk-singer/songwriter album of the year), and critically acclaimed lyricist Julie Flanders, to name a few.
Ms. Lieberman is an improvising violinist/singer, composer, recording artist, journalist, educator, and the author of nine books and six instructional DVDs. A dynamic, participatory workshop leader, her ability to stimulate participants to think and grow in new ways has earned respect for her work throughout the world. In addition to currently teaching improvisation at Juilliard, she has presented for organizations like Music Educators Association, International Association of Jazz Educators, the Juilliard MAP Program, Carnegie/Weill Hall/Juilliard's The Academy,National Young Audiences, and the Carnegie Hall LinkUp.
Lieberman is a J. D'Addario Elite Clinician. Alfred Publishing publishes her scores.
This DVD is distributed by Hal Leonard through your local music, book store, and amazon.com for $23.95
or SPECIAL PRICE FOR MEMBERS OF THE MODERN VOCALIST Purchase through Paypal at The Vocalist's Corner on julielyonn.com
Send a check to Julie Lyonn Music, P.O. Box 268, Worthington, MA 01098 $21.95 + $5.00 shipping in the U.S.Add $5 outside the U.S.