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Having Trouble With Student

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Lauren Bateman

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I've been working with a student for about a year now. Kid has been doing great. He used to have no head voice at all and used to sing everything an octave lower. He couldn't even get up above middle C.

The things is he can get above D#/E with a lighter head voice and with a lower larynx on something like "goog" but he always has trouble in that area on anything else. I feel like I'm hitting a wall with him as he is losing connection as he starts to get to the E/F. I can tell he is getting frustrated and I am honestly feeling a bit frustrated to.

I've thrown everything I know at him and have been trying to learn new things to do with him. Maybe I'm not the right coach for him, but I want to see what other people have to say.

I've tried having him start in a falsetto voice to get the high pitches and then connect, but he can't do that. He has trouble reconnecting if we start on an F or F#. I've tried to use more of a cry sound to help him get his voice forward but he can't seem to get his resonance placement in the right spot up there no matter how I explain it to him. If he is super light he can do it, so backing of the weight seems to help, but then he loses connection and gets stuck in falsetto.

He still tends to grab a bit with his throat and resonate in his throat as he goes higher. We've been working on getting the larynx down more and I can hear that that still needs work. I feel like after a year he should be further along than he is and that I should be able to help him better, but I'm feeling really lost with this kid.

Any pointers and tips would be greatly appreciate. Should I forget about connection and resonance and spend the whole lesson on getting the larynx down to make him feel like he is achieving something? At least he can stay better connected and relaxed that way it seems.

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Hi Lauren, hearing a sample would help.

A few ideas that I would try:

- Use a high falsetto to set the resonance as you did before, but not too high, lets say a high B or C. Make him get used to it a bit and "save" the idea for later. Keep it light, no connection, no sliding.

Then, make him imagine that he is holding an elastic band on his hands. Make him pretend that he is spreading the band open as he spread his arms apart. Make he also imagine that as he spread the band with his hands/arms, it wants to recoil back to the resting position, so he must work against the band.

Then make him define a smooth movement of opening and going back to rest against this resistance.

Finaly, when the movement is smooth, make him recall the high falsetto, and using the same resonant posture, make him begin with the imaginary elastic band spread and gradually go back to resting place as he makes a descending siren.

I think you figure this, but oh well, force him to not skip the notes as he slide down and make him control the pace to follow the movement of his arms closing. Faster is easier, the slower you go, the harder it will be.

- Record him sing a note on a lower spot of his voice, then, using a simple pitch shifter (not auto-tune), increase the pitch to the problem region. This will result on a better reference of a sound that, although too spread, will give him a reference of how to feel the emission, maybe an easier step so that he gets to know that region of his voice. Of course this will be very forward and quite useless to sing, but its easier to deal with.

- Use some occluded phonation and tell him to monitor the base of the tongue with his fingers while aiming for a very nasal sound. This should relax the tongue if its the problem area, often it is as we (boys) love to compensate the squirell tone by creating tension there. Of course the correction of the nasality is up to you.

- Use a mental image of a very painfull situation, but take the time with him, Maybe have him close his eyes and help him depict the scene creating a room, the source of the pain, etc. This should create a similar idea of the elastic band, but more natural.

- Cartoon voices, find a couple of characters that have their voices up on the range where you need it to be, and see if it helps having him do some mimics.. A student of mine told me that he related to a guy making a funny voice while playing counter-strike (go figure :P), I will ask him for the link lol. Mickey Mouse helped me in many occasions.

Overall ideas: if the forward placement is being messed with, work on the opposite direction of the low larynx/covering for now, higher larynx and nasal could help developing the emission and then dealing with nasality is much easier.

Also make him practice a few scales in front of you using alternating L and G on his chest voice, should give away tongue tensions that are happening low on the range.

Also, keep in mind we have a lot of fears regarding this area of our voices, so it may take a while to discover and get used depending on the personality. He MUST explore his voice on his own at home, at first making random voices and mimics is fine, make it clear for him that you cant get into his head and "program" those things for him.

Hope it helps, skype me if you want any clarification.

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lauren, i'm just a singer, but can i just throw out a suggestion?

could it be time to give him exercises to strengthen the arytnoids to achieve more lateral tension strength so he can hold things together through more of the voice range?

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Sorry hard to say more without being there, isnt there any tenor that you know that could give a hand personaly? Maybe get him to an ENT just to make sure and try a joint effort with such tenor or a good speech pathologist.

Can be a simple thing like insisting on a mental image of how he should sound unwillingly...

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I'm guessing he is a lower voice type, since he could not pass middle C. In my first lesson with my current teacher, he got me to sing an A above middle C when I had never passed the F. This was his method:

1. Started on a comfortable medium pitch for my voice.

2. Used a vowel that got the tongue out of the throat (Eh as in men, mixed with A as in man).

3. Brought the jaw comfortably down and back, and exposed the top and bottom teeth.

4. Take a relatively quick but humongous, rib expanding breath through the mouth, making sure to let it sink low.

5. Let out a relatively loud, resonant, brilliant Eh/A vowel with the resonance bouncing all over the roof of the mouth. I had to try several times before the sound came out correctly.

6. Worked the Eh/A vowel up one pitch at a time, accepting only the sounds that were resonant/cavernous.

7. As I ascended in pitch successfully, he let me know that the resonance will shift locale little by little. "FOLLOW THE RESONANCE, DON'T FORCE IT TO BE SOMEWHERE IT DOESN'T WANT TO BE." (with "Use the force" undertones) With each successful rise in pitch, the resonance on the roof of my mouth shifted slightly. I LET IT. I FOLLOWED IT, AND MAINTAINED THE THROAT/TONGUE/JAW/MOUTH/DEEP BREATH POSITION!

As I passed the area I usually cracked at, the vowel changed (covered) on it's own. My teacher also hid the piano keys from me so I did not know what pitch we were on.


Now that I explained what was done for me, anybody care to explain why this worked so well on my voice?

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Sounds like he's hanging on to the TA muscle and it won't let go. He needs to let the CT muscle take control - The easiest way is with semi-occluded vowels. "ng" is one of the best for this.

Have him start on Bb3 on "ng" LIGHTLY and siren up and down - small intervals at first, gradually opening up the siren above E / F if possible.

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the goog idea your working is great. You said he looks like he is in pain. Try using different vowels to trick him into fullvoice go from goo starting up top on an arpeggio then come down to chest and up on "a" as in bad. do this all over the from g4 down to c4 and back and forth but make sure he looks like a mannequin. Also just using "u" guh on a five tone going from c3 to a4. but he needs to breathe before every scale and just say the word guh or gee or goo or dee or bee really any vowel and do them quick so he cant think about it. your job is to get him loose and balanced then you can start working the intensity of sounding full as opposed to sounding falsettoey.


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I'm just an intermediate student but after learning how to connect in the head voice here's what I could suggest. "Goog" might be bringing his larynx down too low to enable twang at his stage in the game. Try having him instead begin training splatty sounds. Get him working on front vowels like ee, ih, eh, and ae (i'm thinking ae might be best here) and have him focus on making it very bright sounding. Let the quacking happen. Encourage a high larynx, as a temporary gateway to help access easy twang and then once he's got it, go back to a lower larynx position and try to work in the same isolated feeling.

I guess I was in a similar situation because I was naturally a more low larynx singer and when I started studying TVS and began learning to twang, it was very hard for me. If your student is the type that struggles to achieve twang, you can bet that he will have to go through a few months of moderate strain during his training in order to really get after the development of twang. Key word moderate (or maybe even mild...hard to explain but basically just not full out strain). And I think the reason my twang developed so quickly (somewhere between 6 months to a year) was because I understood that. Rob Lunte would frequently tell me in lessons it's okay to feel a little "burn" in the larynx from an aggressive connecting workout. As long as the student doesn't take it to the extreme of feeling pain, the slight amount of strain accompanied with the training of twang, I've found, is just a necessary step of the process. From what I've read, what it is physically is that at first the only way the brain will be able to get twang happening is by engaging all these extrinsic muscles in the neck to help it out. Over time, the brain will learn to remove the unnecessary muscular tensions naturally. But if you try to prevent those extrinsic muscles (the strain you might see him going through) right from the start, it prevents the intrinsic coordination of twang from being accessed. You need to let the strain happen temporarily in order to build the coordination. At least in my experience. Another thing that has to happen temporarily is you have to start with a high larynx in order to really build twang well.

I hope this makes sense. But I also really need to emphasize that both you and the student need to be smart about this aggressive training of twang. It should not be hell for him. It should not be the type of thing where he's going, "coach, this really doesn't feel right, it hurts". It should be more like, "wow I can really feel the muscles being worked". It should be approached with the idea of just being a vocal athlete and harnessing the energy and courage to dig deeper into the strength of the voice. Not a brutal no pain no gain mentality.

But I just wanted to make that point, I think it will help...that for some, learning to twang is just really hard and will feel very muscular at first and lead to quick fatigue, but if you keep at it, and approach it in a smart, controlled way, it pays off.

I would also recommend you suggest that he take a lesson with Rob and then come back to you. I think that would help a bit. Just to give him a better and clearer opinion on the direction he needs to go in to get out of this "goog" trap.

Good luck.

And be sure to really consult Dan and Felipe's posts here. They are both very good teachers and their suggestions seem to be on the right track. I am just a student with much less credibility and experience.

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Actually I had the same problem as your student for a long time. The way I learned to use full head voice was not by singing in falsetto and trying to find it somewhere along the way. No beginner can do that, it's advanced stuff. I learned by pulling chest like crazy at first and then later trying to fix the placement, vowels etc to properly get into head voice.

So yeah, perhaps full voice sirens starting below the passagio.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Just to give you an update. What I found worked best for him to get his resonance placed correctly and get his voice out of his throat was a very squeaky mum. Whiny like a child that did not get the candy bar he wanted saying "I want it".

That seems to get his head voice in the right spot. I think if he keeps working with that, it will help him let go of wanting to grab on to the higher tones.

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