INTRODUCTION TO SINGING

POSTURE | BREATHING | LARYNX | WARM UPS | COOL DOWNS

 

POSTURE

 

While sound is created by the vocal cords, which sit inside the larynx located in the throat (see section 3), our whole body plays a part and we need to be mindful of our physical set up before we begin practising.

 

We ideally want to be standing with our feet hip width apart with a slight bend in the knees, we don’t want to overextend or lock out our knees as this will cause tension in the glute and hamstring muscles. It’s ok to have some slight movement as we don’t want to be rigid however we do want to avoid placing our weight more heavily on one side/leaning etc.

 

The top half of our bodies should also be neutral with arms ideally hanging loosely out our sides. If you find you like to hold your arms up or fidget, try putting your fingertips on a table in front of you and letting your wrists hang loose to encourage the chest and arm muscles to relax.

 

The head should also be neutral to ensure the neck muscles aren’t tense. Make sure your chin is not lifted too high or crunching into your neck as this will determine the position of the neck muscles, which can lead to constriction when phonating.

 

The video below shows a gentle way of relaxing your muscles and find the perfect set up to begin your practise.

 

BREATHING

 

There are a lot of myths regarding whether the size of a person’s lungs can affect their ability to control and maximise breath intake and release. You may have heard that professional vocalists have bigger/stronger lungs, however the fact is they have more likely adapted their technique to encourage maximum yet comfortable intake and control the of the release. NOTE the use of the word ‘comfortable’, it’s important to use breath control to aid the phrase being sung, too much air can also cause issues when singing so we should always be mindful that our breath is appropriate for what is being sung. If we take in too much air this can add pressure and resistance as we sing.

 

Breathing is a subconscious action that are body does to keep us alive, we don’t have to mentally think about it. The diaphragm is a muscle that sits underneath the lungs and aids in the process of breathing. ‘Breathe using the diaphragm’ is a phrase vocal coaches use often, however what does it mean? How do I access and control it? As opposed to thinking about controlling that muscle, let’s look at controlling other muscles that may be obstructing it that we know we can control, specifically the stomach muscles.

 

In day-to-day life we hold tension in various parts of the body and as a singer it’s important to know how to release it. A lot of people hold tension in the stomach muscles which can obstruct our ability to maximise breath control and add pressure and resistance to the diaphragm and even the vocal cords themselves. The stomach muscles play a part in breathing, particularly when we release breath. Muscles that are in similar areas often work together – the stomach aid the diaphragm when we breath out. Unnecessary holding of the abdominal muscles can form a resistance against us taking in deeper breaths.

 

The following videos show examples of techniques that assist in the relaxation of the stomach muscles when breathing in, along with helping learn to control the release of breath to help us sing those big notes and long phrases.

 

Sometimes we need to take a quicker breath due to phrases or how the music is written. We call this a ‘snatch breath’. The following video shows an example of a snatch breath and how to practise it at home.

 

LARYNX

 

The larynx sits on top of the trachea and is more commonly known as the ‘voice box’. It has 2 main functions;

 

  • Protect the airways by making sure nothing unwanted goes into the lungs
  • Create sound using the vocal cords (phonate)

 

The larynx is made up of different 9 different pieces of cartilage, the main ones being the thyroid cartilage, cricoid cartilage, and the epiglottis.

 

The larynx moves in various directions in order to manipulate sounds, predominantly up and down using both extrinsic and intrinsic muscles. If you run your finger approximately midway down your neck you should be able to locate the larynx. An example to help you feel the larynx movement is to yawn – you should feel your larynx move down as you do this. When we swallow, the epiglottis closes to prevent food going down into our lungs and as this happens our larynx squeezes together. It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that a lower larynx will create a lower pitch and a higher larynx will create a higher pitch, however it is more connected to the resonance and tone of the sound opposed to the actual pitch. Lower larynx sounds are used by opera and classical vocalists to create that darker, resonant tone whereas higher larynx sounds are used in more contemporary vocalists to create a brighter sound. The larynx houses the vocal folds (cords) which are responsible for phonation and pitch.

 

We have 2 sets of vocal cords known as the ‘true’ and ‘false’ vocal cords. The false vocal folds sit above the vocal cords, and the true vocal cords are what we use to phonate (make sound). The true vocal cords contain layers of muscle that help the cords vibrate, closing the vocal cords stops air from being released and as our cords separate breath is released. The cords change shape using the intrinsic and extrinsic laryngeal muscles and can be short and fat or long and thin. Put simply, short fat vocal cords lend to lower pitches and thinner cords lend to higher pitches. This is because when our cords are short and fat they vibrate in a thicker tone quality and less air is released, this is often used in our speech quality/chest voice/M1. As we sing higher and move into our head voice/falsetto/M2 the folds stretch and thin out, meaning that less of the cords can connect and thus more air is released, which can make the voice sound breathy and thinner.

 

While not used to create sound themselves, the false cords do help the true vocal cords as they contain mucus which can drip onto the true folds when we swallow, this is why we often feel more hydrated when we swallow despite no saliva/water actually touching the cords. The vocal cords need a thin layer of mucus to avoid friction/drying out, however when we’re ill or suffering from excess mucus this can cause a thicker mucosal layer which can prevent the cords vibrating effectively and weigh them down – this is why we sometimes lose our voices/notice a drop in pitch when we have a cold.

 

WARM UPS

 

Below you will find a selection of vocal warm-ups to use at the start of your lesson/practise session, more complicated/technical warm-ups can be found in section 4 on the vocals homepage however it’s best to begin with these as a starting point before moving to harder exercises.

 

Forward Placement exercise

 

When we sing we want to feel the voice is nice and ‘forward’ as opposed to feeling the sound compressed in the back of our throats – do this exercise on either a hum/rolled r sound/lip trill depending on your comfort/capabilities. My advice is for beginner students to begin using the hum to really focus on the resonance and progress when you feel comfortable – please note that you don’t HAVE to complete this exercise on a trill or a rolled R at all as these can sometimes depend on genetics. You are aiming to feel vibration (tickling) on the front of the lips, as you move up the scale you may feel this more in the nose. Make sure you take a nice intake a breath and release it slowly to ensure you don’t need to breathe through the scale. As you get higher you may need to ‘flip’ into your head voice so feel free to let this happen.

Siren

 

Sirens are one of my favourite beginning warm-ups, I thoroughly believe every warm-up should contain a siren! Not only are they great for warming up the voice they also help to point out areas of vocal weakness/loss and potential vocal injuries (please don’t be alarmed if your voice struggles on a siren to begin with as it will probably improve with vocal training/practise, it does not mean necessarily mean you have a vocal injury). We siren on the NG of the word ‘siNG’. Begin by saying ‘siNG’ and really put emphasis on the ‘NG’. Feel the base of the tongue contact and release off of the soft palate (practise by saying ‘Guh’ a few times). We want to say ‘ng’ but keeping the tongue and soft palate connected which will create a completely nasalised sound. As the tongue is high and the soft palate is connected to it this stops the air being released out of the mouth, so if you pinch your nose while phonating the sound will stop (this is a good checker to see if you are creating the right sound).

 

Mm, Nn, Ng

 

Again to practise that siren position, this is a great warm up to start feeling resonance of sound within the mouth in relation to the position of the tongue. Exactly how the title is written we start on a humming sound, move to a ‘nn’ sound where the tip of the tongue is high and the base is low and then end on the nasalised siren sound.

 

Ooos

This is the first warm up with an open vowel sound, it’s demonstrated with an ‘oo’ vowel but feel free to play around with different vowel sounds such as ‘ah’ ‘oh’ and ‘ee’ and listen to how that changes the sound/feel the different vibration locations all from changing the mouth shape. Again as we’re still early in the warm up you may (in some vowels more than others) feel the need to flip your voice from chest-head, don’t fight this as it is still early in the warm up and we want to warm up gently and safely.

 

COOL DOWNS

 

Here are a couple of easy vocal cool downs to do after you’ve finished your practise. I would also recommend a small period of vocal rest if you’ve been working on more advanced techniques or changing some of the habitual vocal qualities that prove tough for example working on thick fold when you naturally speak in a thinner quality.

 

Vocal Fry/creek

 

Channel your inner Britney and Enrique Iglesias and make a vocal fry sound (see onsets in section 3 of vocals homepage). This action involves very little air being released through the folds and can be very therapeutic for the folds. This is located in the MO register (the lowest register we can sing in) and is the loosest, lightest vocal sound we can create – you can find this by descending on a vowel sound until your voice begins to creek.

 

Descending Sirens/Vowels

 

Using the same position as a siren, begin at the top of the range and siren down to comfortable pitch (sounds like a whimper). You can also do this on a vowel sound of your choice. This exercise is good to reset the larynx to it’s normal position.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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