• Frith Trezevant: Singing Teacher based in Bristol, providing Singing Lessons in Bristol and the South West
  • Frith Trezevant: Singing Teacher based in Bristol, providing Singing Lessons in Bristol and the South West
  • Frith Trezevant: Singing Teacher based in Bristol, providing Singing Lessons in Bristol and the South West

 
   

 

“ (Dear ***** ) , write back to Frith and try to hook up some sessions. I met her on Saturday and within 7 mins found her to be one of the most knowledgeable voice coaches I've ever met. Prioritise this over any other I've suggested thus far… “
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" I got in!  He said that I have an amazing range – and sing a top A better than some of his Sopranos! Got a higher mark than last time and put in to semi-chorus.  All down to you - Thank you for all your encouragement. "
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Frith's Teaching Blog #2


Stand up straight!'

 

Myth Busters

This is another of those well-intentioned instructions that can lead to difficulties. Standing well is a good idea when singing.  The problems come if there is no explanation of how to stand – except for ‘straight’.

Let’s have a look at standing up first.   Balance – and I prefer that concept to ‘posture’ which has the same word root as ‘position’ – is dynamic. 

Different body uses require different body balance set-ups so singing and ballet and horse-riding will align your body differently.  Stiff muscles are the enemy of good singing, so if an instruction means that we end up standing stiffly, it’s going to affect our singing.

If standing up straight involves tightening the neck, there can be consequences for the vocal tone.  Some of the large muscles that help support and turn the head run close by or even across the larynx.  If they stiffen, they are likely to cause stiffness in the small laryngeal muscles, and this will affect the tone.

Sometimes, the image of a ‘puppet on a string’ is used to encourage singers to ‘pull up’ their body, and this can be good.  When you’ve pulled up, imagine that the strings attached to the top of your head are loosened off.  You might notice that you release tight muscles with that thought. You should be able to wobble and to nod your head.  If you can’t, there is some stiffness and holding going on.

The back of the neck should be ‘soft, strong and very long’ … The vocal tract has a right angle curve in it.  If standing straight involves sticking your chin up or pulling it in hard, your neck balance is going to be compromised and this will affect the tone.  You can try singing a vowel and, without changing anything, lift your chin up.  You’ll find that the tone changes, becoming thinner.  Pulling in hard will eventually compromise the larynx so much that your sound may stop altogether.  This sort of ‘anti-practice’ encourages you to work out the limits of your movement. But don’t overdo it!
The idea of a plumb line running through the body is also a useful one.  With the crown of the head parallel to the ceiling, the ears should line up over the tips of the shoulders, the top of the hip bones and the middle of the knee, and the back of the knee should be over the middle of the ankle.  Within this set-up there will be curves and variations, particular to each body, on either side of the central line. 

A major consequence of standing ‘straight’ is locked knees.  The knee bone’s connected to the (!) leg bone.  The leg bone’s connected to the (!) hip bone …  The consequences of locked knees are wide ranging but generally they throw the body completely off balance because of the ways the body is connected.  I was genuinely surprised in an Alexander Technique lesson when asked ‘Which part of the body moves first when you want to step away from standing?’.  It’s your knee!  Try it. The knee moves forward and the leg and the foot follows. Your body alignment should mean that you could move off at any moment.  You can’t do that with locked knees.

Locked knees will throw the hips well forward of the midline, and the shoulders will be drawn back to balance that, making the head jut forward in order to realign itself over the midline.   It’s fairly heavy.  An adult head weighs roughly about 4.5 to 5kg and it’s sitting on a narrow pillar, the neck, so if the body beneath it is out of balance, it will end up thrusting forward to compensate. We’ve already discussed how important the neck alignment is …

Sometimes we’re encouraged to clench the butt muscles as part of standing straight -‘squeezing a lemon’ is sometimes invoked.  If you clench the butt muscles firmly – and to keep a whole lemon in place between the cheeks, this would seem necessary (!), you may well notice that your throat tightens up along with this move.  Even gentle butt clenching will make unwanted changes occur in your throat, and although it may encourage the diaphragm to flatten or engage the muscles of the pelvic floor, it will do so by compromising the flexibility of the abdominal wall, and is to be avoided. The abdominal wall has to be free to move in order to work your breath.

Sometimes intermittent butt-clenching is the order of the day – ‘squeeze for the high notes’.  This instruction would seem to be aimed at engaging the pelvic floor, but it really is a move too far.

The way you carry your weight, your age, your height, your sports and activities and your personality will all imprint on the way you stand, and changes might feel ‘unnatural’. The balance you understand as ‘natural’ is your habitual way of standing and it may feel strange to change it.  You can try be observing and  optimising it by looking at yourself in a mirror, using more than one mirror to view your stance from the side, and having someone else help you realign yourself.

So stand well in order to sing well!

If you would like to send some feedback on this post,  I would be interested to have your comments. Click here to feedback your thoughts.

Frith Trezevant © January 2016

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Frith's Teaching Blog #1

 

‘Open your mouth – I can’t hear you!’

 

Myth Busters

In this teaching blog series, I’d like to set out some ideas about common instructions to singers and what they might actually mean in terms of technique. The first instruction I’d like to examine is ‘Open your mouth – I can’t hear you!’

Some singers sing with a tight jaw.  There may be many reasons for this. 

For some, the jaw tension is a feedback loop because they have suffered hearing loss in the past – perhaps through glue ear or some other childhood ailment. 

The temporo-mandibular joint which moves the jaw is a complex one and the people who know most about it are dentists! We can get a feel for how closely the jaw and the ear are connected when we have an injection into our jaw at the dentist’s and we get referred pain in our ear!

We hear our voice through bone conduction as well as through the air.  The larynx is tucked in close to the spine and the sounds and buzzes it makes are carried by the bones into the inner ear – this is the reason why we sound strange to ourselves when we hear our voice on a recording.  The recording is only picking up our voice through the air, and that is how others hear us.  If we put our fingers in our ears and speak, we can get an understanding of how much of our voicing is carried to the ears this way.

A tight jaw in a singer who had suffered hearing loss would give more auditory feedback over a different range of harmonics.  If you put your fingers back into your ears and hum, and then try with a tight jaw, you may perceive the sound as brighter. It’s actually a really tight and inflexible sound!

A tight jaw can create all kinds of problems for a singer.  Some tighten up as pitch rises (even though the jaw has no legitimate role to play in pitching).  Others tighen their jaw because their air flow is inadequate and the tight jaw enables them to sing on a low air flow.

So sometimes, it’s helpful to get a singer to open their mouth a bit more.

 

But not always.

The jaw has two open positions – a slack jaw and a jammed-down jaw.  The slack jaw position we can call position 1 and the jammed jaw, position 2.  Position 1 will be different for each singer.  Position 1 is the optimum for most singing for most singers.  It will be providing the best amplification for a range of frequencies in the voice including the singer’s formant – the ringing quality that makes a voice carry.

Some people prefer the look of position 2 because then the singer Looks like they are really singing.  This is an illusion.  The singer is now chewing!  A violinist wouldn’t be asked to saw with the bow so that they Looked like they were really playing the violin, but this is a common instruction to singers.

Opening the mouth beyond position 1 will often result in an increase in the decibel level of the voice, but only at close quarters.  The extra mouth opening will disturb the balance of the formant frequencies, and the voice will be LESS loud at the back of an auditorium. 

Singing technique is a matter of balancing forces – air flow, air pressure, air speed, the resistance of the folds, postural integrity.  Alterations to technique need to be made in a way that doesn’t unbalance the instrument.  Wider than optimum jaw opening leads to the back wall of the pharynx becoming stiffened (leading to unbalanced vowel sounds) and the vocal tract actually narrowing even though the mouth is wider.  It’s not really worth it for a few decibels more in a small room.

 

If you would like to send some feedback on this post,  I would be interested to have your comments. Click here to feedback your thoughts.

Frith Trezevant © January 2015

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