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Myth-Busting

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Singing generates as many myths and fallacies as does the theory of evolution. I'd like to confront four of the more popular but misguided statements I've encountered and try to bring a little clarity. Digging right in..

THROAT SPRAYS HELP ME SING BETTER

Perhaps you have a favorite tea, potion or spray which you swear helps you sing better. But think about it, these nostrums never touch your vocal folds! They merely moisturize your throat creating a soothing feeling. Some popular voice sprays contain deadeners which numb sensation and provide the singer with the illlusion of improvement. Voice doctors discourage use of mint, menthol and eucalyptus for singers because of the risk that singers might injure themselves because of reduced sensation. Steam, whether from a humidifier, nebulizer or just standing in a hot shower, does improve the mobility of the vocal folds. Maybe that's why so many singers like to hold a cup of hot tea...it's not the tea which helps but rather the steam!

Having said all this, if you have a favorite singer's helper like olive oil (yuck),lemon juice, honey, grapes, crackers, lettuce, then by all means, continue to use them. But just remember that the benefit may be simply throat lubrication or the placebo effect.

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I WANT TO EXTEND MY RANGE

If we define vocal range to mean the highest and lowest notes you can produce, then we all possess a much longer range than we imagine. Vocal range is predetermined by the size of your vocal folds (the larger the diameter, the lower your range). The range extension question is better stated as How can I sing high notes more easily? I'll devote a future article to just that topic. In the meantime, let me say that your range is pretty well preset, like your height or the size of your head. You can discern your lowest and highest notes by using such approaches as singing on an aw vowel on descending notes to find your lower note, and using lip or tongue trills to determine your highest note. Once you know your absolute range, then your goal should be to gain control and consistency of the notes of your range which were yours all along!

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FALSETTO ISN'T MY REAL VOICE

DId you know that men can sing just like women? If you have never heard a counter-tenor, you've really missed out. Hie thee to YouTube and search for counter-tenors and sopranistas for an auditory treat. The reason that falsetto is under-appreciated in Western culture is precisely because of its feminine quality. In my view, that's a real shame- it's like allowing men to use only one arm!

Registers are muscular activities in the vocal folds and larynx which affect their shape and vibrational pattern. Humans have four registers: fry, chest, head/falsetto and, in some rare individuals, whistle register.

I encourage men to vocalize throughout their entire range, from their lowest to their highest note. Think of it as yoga for the vocal cords. With the goal of sounding limber, flexible, agile and even-sounding, practice falsetto and chest voice regardless of whether it's sed in one's chosen vocal style or not.

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TONGUE TENSION IS ALWAYS BAD

It depends on which part of the tongue you're referring to. Visible tension of the tonguei n the mouth IS problematic and that includes tip retraction (like when youmake an R sound in an American dialect). Pulling the tip back is not desirable unless you'rei mitating Scott Stapp, Alanis Morissette or a super-country sound. And overtensing the tongue root sounds bad, like you're swallowing your sound. But firmness under the tongue in the lower jaw can actually help you sing. Activity there can help with laryngeal stability, vibrato control and power. So don't worry if it doesn't feel like jello under your tongue when you poke at it with your finger. If you sound good, you sound good!

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