Your vocal folds are tiny muscles that deal with highly pressurised air and vibrate at extreme speeds to create sound. The brain always aims for safe and efficient vocal technique but when this isn't the case a variety of vocal injuries can occur.
A Vocal nodule is a hard callous-like growth on the vocal folds created by incorrect vocal technique (Usually excess pressure when the vocal folds come together or the vocal folds not closing completely in between vibrations.) Vocal nodules can result in raspy or hoarse vocal qualities, diminished pitch range and breathy voice.
Similar to nodules; Polyps are caused by incorrect vocal technique and cause raspy or hoarse vocal qualities, diminished pitch range and breathy voice. However, polyps present as soft growths.
Vocal fold paralysis
When one or both of the vocal folds do not coordinate when opening or closing this is called Vocal fold paralysis and can lead to a weaker voice, breath inefficiency, swallowing issues and coughing.
The above vocal injuries can be fixed through a combination of surgery, rehabilitation, rest and technique correction. If you are experiencing any of the above issues it is recommended that you visit a specialist such as MVAC.
As a singer you can avoid vocal fatigue and injury in many ways.
1) Always warm up thoroughly.
2) Do not push through discomfort or pain.
3) Don't attempt new skills without a vocal coach.
4) Always warm down your voice.
5) If your voice doesn't feel healthy rest by avoiding speaking and not participating in any singing.
6) After an intense vocal workout steam and rest your voice.
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Choosing the right song can seem like a very daunting process, with so many to choose from how do you know which ones are right for you? At the end of the day you don't need to find the 'perfect' song, just one that will show off your voice and possibly help you learn some new technique. Some questions to ask yourself are:
1) What songs do you like to listen to?
At the end of the day singing a song you enjoy will always be more fulfilling than singing a song because you 'have to'. A balance between learning and fun is ideal!
2) What are your goals?
Each song is an opportunity to learn and improve. Therefore if your goal is to learn how to sing faster a slow ballad won't help you achieve that goal.
3) What vocal style suits you?
You may decide to stick to the style that suits you best or jump out of your comfort zone with a new style!
A thorough vocal education will help the singer understand how to manipulate aspects of the voice in order to blend into different styles like a vocal chameleon. Different styles of songs require different vocal technique, below is a comparison of the technical aspects needed to achieve pop, country and classical voice styles.
The voice develops as we learn to talk and therefore some of us are predisposition to making certain sounds. E.g. a student that grew up in a loud household may be accustomed to yelling and therefore find it easier to produce belt quality. Although we can learn to sing different styles some will feel comfortable than others.
After taking the above questions into consideration making a playlist of songs you'd like to sing for fun or as a challenge is a great idea to help you make decisions in the future. Your singing teacher may also recommend songs that suit your voice or challenge you in the right areas.
Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to progressing as a singer, however not all practice is equal. Over time the art of practicing has been studied to find the most efficient ways of building connections in the brain.
Why do we need to practice singing?
Every beginner singer has a set of habits they default to when singing, some of these may be helpful but many will get in the way of efficient vocal production e.g. Neck tension, poor posture, incorrect larynx setup. An action becomes habit when we repeat it over and over again in response to the same situation or stimulus, this strengthens the path between the stimulus, areas of the brain producing the action and muscles until it isn't a conscious decision. To override the habits that get in our way we must consciously practice responding in a different way to the stimuli over and over until that action takes over as habit. E.g. In response to a high note you jut your chin forward causing tension and inhibiting vocal performance, over time you practice holding correct posture when singing high notes and slowly this behaviour becomes habit making vocal production more efficient.
Just as paths in our brain can be strengthened they can also weaken over time, if we don't use the path our brain will devote more energy towards higher traffic paths. Therefore regular practice is key to keeping good habits strong.
1) You need to practice for hours to make any difference.
False!! In fact practicing for hours on end can be detrimental, not only will your voice exhaust itself (leading to increased risk of vocal injury) but so will the brain. After a certain point the brain either becomes frustrated or bored meaning little progress if any will occur. The truth is 15-20 mins of practice a day is ideal.
2) You need to practice every single day.
False! In an ideal world we would be able to practice every single day, however this just isn't practical. 4-5 times a week is sufficient to see progress. The brain needs time to process what it is learning and practicing every single day doesn't allow for this to occur.
3) Practice should always be 'full-out'.
False again! Although practicing 'full out' does need to happen in order to know you are moving in the right direction, if you were to belt the same phrase over and over you will increase the risk of vocal fatigue and damage. Mental practice can be just as useful as physical practice in strengthening the pathways of the brain and building habits. Some mental practices include: Closing your eyes, listening to the song and mentally working your way through the correct technique and silent singing (creating all of the movements with the larynx and articulators without air or vibration).
4) You need to repeat the same thing over and over again.
False! When practicing a tricky phrase just singing it repeatedly won't do the trick efficiently. Instead pin-pointing what the issue is and working on a few exercises to target these areas, then applying the technique to the phrase will work quicker and address the issue more effectively.
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There are many singing teachers out there, that are just as brilliant as each other! But when it comes to choosing one how do you know where to look?
Here is what to look for when researching for a teacher near you!
1) Qualifications and experience
Although qualifications do not guarantee a singing teacher will be great, it does let you know that they have the necessary education on the voice to teach technique safely. Most teachers will have a page or website with information about them where you will be able to see their qualifications and experience level.
2) Their specialty
The world of singing is incredibly wide, the technique needed to sing different styles; although rooted in the same basic technique, is very different. Therefore if you are interested in learning to sing pop a vocal coach that specialises in classical voice will teach you a lot of interesting things but ultimately will not be able to help you reach your pop goals.
3) Teaching style
At the end of the day a teacher can be extremely knowledgeable, have a lot of resources and be a great educator but if their teaching style doesn't match your learning style there may be a few bumps in the road. For example: Some students really like to take notes while others learn best by doing. Finding a teacher that suits your learning style will help you learn faster, however, a great teacher may be able to adapt to suit their students needs too. The best way to find out whether you work well with a particular teacher is to give them a go, many teachers offer trial lessons for this purpose.
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In a world with continually progressing technology apps can help us with everything from cooking to picking which movie to watch and now singing! Here is a list of my top 5 apps for singers as a vocal coach.
1) The music Notes App
Most of you might recognise Music Notes as a great library for purchasing sheet music. However, the Music Notes app takes user experience to a whole other level, giving you permanent access to your sheet music library and the ability to press play wherever you are! I use the Music Notes app while teaching voice lessons as a backing track for my students, I can transpose, change tempo, make notes, isolate parts of the song and use a metronome all from my phone!
Soundbrenner is a metronome app that allows its users to pick a time signature, subdivide into whatever note you'd like to use and find the tempo of a song using tap recognition. The app uses both visual and auditory cues to make singing in time easy!
Virtuosos is a piano in your pocket! This app has saved me multiple times when finding pitch without a piano.
4) Warm me up
The warm me up app is very handy before auditions or performances, it allows the user access to warm ups tailored to your voice type and needs.
5) Voice Memo
coming inbuilt on all apple devices, the voice memo app can be extremely useful for singers. When singing we can not hear ourself properly as the ear accepts the sound of your voice from both the outside and inside of the body. In order to hear what we sound like to other people we need to isolate the external sound through an app like Voice Memo.
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We've all had a good karaoke session thank to Youtube but can you teach yourself to sing just using the platform?
A quick search reveals a multitude of videos and creators promising to help you sing better, but will they? I'm going to break down what can be achieved through Youtube and compare the platform to a vocal coach.
.It is lovely to see so many vocal coaches offering their expertise online for free! Through Youtube you can definitely learn a lot about basic vocal technique, breathing, posture and some videos also offer exercises to practice. A YouTuber I would highly recommend is Cheryl Porter, her content is extremely informative and her energy is contagious!
The dangers of learning to sing on Youtube
Although Youtube is full of information the advantage of having a vocal coach is that you will receive immediate feedback on your voice, not only does this help you improve faster but feedback also protects from injury. Although many Youtube videos outline how to do exercises there is no way to guarantee you are practicing correctly or safely, prolonged practice of incorrect technique can lead to many different vocal injuries that require long rehabilitation and in the worst case scenario can cause permanent damage. There is also no way to know how qualified voice coaches are online as the platform does not check the qualifications of its content creators or fact check their videos. Most singing teachers in the real world will have a website where you can check their qualifications, experience and specialties.
How to utilise Youtube for singer safely
Although I would not recommend solely relying on Youtube to learn how to sing, it can be useful for both voice students and teachers in the following ways:
1) As an example: Footage of professional vocalists displaying good technique and sometimes footage of incorrect technique can be useful for students to hear when learning about an aspect of vocal technique or to help develop goals.
2) To supplement training: If the student has a questions between lessons it may be helpful for them to look it up, however I would always recommend showing your teacher what you found so they are able to check the information is factual.
3) As a tool for practice: There are a lot of Karaoke or instrumental versions of songs on Youtube and so these may be utilised for home practice. There are also many videos that play scales (Find some great ones on the Rachel Jane Vocal youtube channel).
So you've decided to start singing lessons, congrats! Below is a list of the products you'll need in your singing kit to practice singing, keep a healthy voice and more!
1) A straw
A straw? Really? Yes! Straws are a very helpful tool for singers to warm up and down as they encourage healthy sound production. Blowing through a straw creates resistance for the vocal folds teaching them to close efficiently and straw work can also help bring your range together by smoothing out your 'flip' or 'passagio'. The most ideal straw has no kinks in it and is of medium length.
Any straw will do, however, for the sake of the environment here are my favourite bamboo and metal straws:
Amazon : These come in fun colours and with a cleaner!
Flora and Fauna: Bamboo straws that are the perfect length for voice work!
2) A steamer
Steam is one of the best remedies for the voice, helping open and clear the sinuses and calm an aggravated throat. A steamer can be used after a particularly intense voice lesson, when there is excess mucous or during performance season. Here are some of my recommended steamers:
Bosisto's inhaler: very affordable and comes with eucalyptus drops to help open the sinuses even more!
Vick's Vaposteam: Leak resistant and dish washer safe!
Mypurmist: Temperature controlled and includes HEPA filtration
3) Vocal tea
Not only does it taste great but vocal tea can be used like a steamer to aid vocal health, usually the ingredients will promote soothing of the throat e.g. Honey, camomile.
Soma Voice Tea: contains all organic ingredients.
Vocal Zone: Caffeine free!
4) Singer's notebook
So much can be covered in a singing lesson! To make sure you remember what to practice, how to complete your exercises correctly and all the other handy tips your teacher gave you, investing in your singer's notebook is a great idea!
Any blank ruled notebook will do the trick!
The Rachel Jane Vocal Syllabus books contain note taking space, explanation of exercises and vocal theory, worksheets, flash cards and more!
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