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Singers Key Notes: Developing Resonance and the Strength to Sustain Through a Phrase or Note

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How do we develop a strong voice that is resonant and can sustain a long phrase or note?

As in every part of voice training, as you strengthen one point of technique you are helping others also. It is also true that as you are concentrating on one fine point of technique such as releasing the jaw as you inhale, then another point of technique falters. Such a dilemma!

This blog post is concerned with developing the strength to sustain a phrase or pitch. Think of yourself as an athlete. Your body must be in the best condition possible. For singers that means well hydrated, well rested and properly aligned with a straight, stretched spine. (that's a whole other blog post)

The ability to sustain a phrase or hold out Ah! in Poor Johnny One Note for 16 beats has to do with several factors.

1. An inhale that opens the airways and engages the abdominal muscles.

2. Using that breath efficiently. This comes with practice.

3. Generously releasing the breath and not holding or conserving at all! Big no-no: The act of parsing out breath a little at a time only creates tension and the breath you do have to use gets stale. That's why you feel you need to take another breath, not because you need more air!

4. A steady, consistent release of the breath. In the exercise below, you will see how you are using the air as well as learn how to use it efficiently.

5. The exit route for breath and sound must remain as open as possible. That requires muscular strength.

6. You must be saying something to someone! Can't just sing Ah until the 16 beats are up without a clear thought process about why you are still singing that Ah The Ah has to mean something to keep your mind and body actively involved in saying it! You might be thinking Ah, when I see my love tonight, Aaahhhh!

Here's an exercise to help build the muscular strength to keep the body open on exhale. It strengthens abdominal/diaphragmatic coordination and response. This exercise will show you right away the inconsistencies in your breath and sound release. Done right, it will help you explore how you are currently thinking about releasing sound or if you are holding it!

That’s a big build up for this little exercise, but it really is that useful.

You know that annoying sound when a gnat gets in your ear and just keeps buzzing and buzzzzing and bzzzzzzzzz? Well, you are going to make the gnat sound. bzzzzzzzzzzzz. You will sustain the zzzzz forever. Well, maybe not forever, but for as long as you can moving the pitch around. Don't concentrate on pitch, but on the zzzzz.

A few rules:

  • Get a simple opening inhale jaw released, lazy.
  • Make sure you begin the sound up above the hard palate. Yes, above the hard palate, high in the head.
  • As you continue annoying your family and neighbors with the sound, do your best to continue releasing the sound from above the hard palate.
  • Make the sound absolutely consistent. When you experience gaps in the bzzz, that means the breath is stopping then starting again. The sound may not want to continue this is usually due to the lack of muscular strength. Just keep doing it and the strength will build.
  • When you are comfortable with just making the gnat sound try matching it to musical pitch. Play a pitch and bzzz on that pitch. No singing allowed, just be a bug.
  • Then bzzz on the pitch and slide it down a 5th and then an 8va all the while keeping the sound steady and consistent still be a bug!

Try it and let me know how it goes! 

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