The secret to a full and powerful singing sound may be as close as your breath –says Judy Rodman
I was recently called to go on the road with an artist who was having some serious career-threatening vocal problems.
He had trouble hitting his high note, had pitch issues and chronic vocal strain, his dynamic expression included wild volume swings, his vocal licks were forced.
His vocal sound was thin and strained, and listening to him felt like being yelled at.
After three days of tweaking his vocal technique for each of his acoustic and full band performances, all of his vocal problems disappeared and he told me – and his label president – that I had changed his life!
What changed? He gained vocal control.
So how do you get it?
The most important factor for creating vocal control is the way you apply breath!
Breath for the voice is not the same as breath for life, which is just inhaling and exhaling.
For the voice, breath consists of three areas… “inhalation” and a balance of two opposing forces of exhalation which I will call “breath support” and “breath control”.
Your posture matters here – try inhaling as you stand or sit flexibly tall, chin level, head balanced over your tailbone instead of forward.
This should cause the upper curve of your spine to be straighter, which will open the ribcage wide.
Your low abdominal wall should easily expand as you breathe in, allowing the diaphragm to flatten out and drop the floor on the lungs.
The inhale feels like breath falling into the pelvic floor… (which is really into lower lungs) no gasping sensation needed!
You don’t need a huge inhale… just breath enough to accomplish the phrase you intend to sing.
Breath Support (that which moves air up and out):
For this, contract those low stomach muscles (internal and external obliques, transverse abdominis,) muscles you just relaxed for the inhale.
This will support the dome of the diaphragm moving up and pressing air from the floor of the lungs – but keep the squeeze below the navel.
A good way to sense this is to squeeze your bottom (gluts) as you get tall.
You’ll notice your low belly muscles coming inwards, too, but your ribcage stays open. We’ll talk about why next:
Breath Control (that which holds air back):
To control your exhale, keep the bottom of your ribcage wide!
This keeps the diaphragm, which is connected at its edges to the bottom of the ribcage, stretched taut like a trampoline or drumhead.
The stretched diaphragm can then control itself and the air it allows upwards. In fact, the biggest saboteur of breath control is a dropped or tight ribcage!
I call the delicate and vital balance of breath support and control ‘pulling’ instead of ‘pushing’ air.
It is a compression source of air power, centered in the pelvic floor or saddle area – NOT in the lower rib area that comes from a wrong understanding of breathing from the diaphragm.
You back off the air pressure to the minimum needed to make the sound you want.
The sensation of pulling instead of pushing breath is, in my experience, the best way possible to have optimum vocal control.
My Reactions to This Week’s Peer Review Vids
Summar Lababidi – “Ours” (Cover)
Summar… girl I’m so glad you are going for this! You really do have vocal potential to do Taylor’s songs well. However, you need to make it easier for your voice to work. Try singing from a stool set up against a wall, head and back against the wall. This should open up your crunched in ribcage and throat, teach you to trust this position, and give your voice a whole new lease on life. Also, memorize lyrics, and talk TO someone specific when you sing.
Lucy Marshall – “Skinny Love” (Cover)
How cool to hear this piano vocal song interpreted by you as lower key guitar vocal! Really translates well. For even more control, move your feet closer to the stand so you have to back your head up and you can’t bend yourself over your guitar as much. Also I’d love to hear you articulate more clearly. Experiment with wider changes in dynamics. You might even try part of the first verse in head voice like Birdy does. But in general, I bet when you sing, people listen☺
Judy Rodman is an award-winning vocal coach, session singer, recording artist, songwriter, producer. Creator of “Power, Path and Performance” vocal training, named “Best Vocal Coach” by NashvilleMusicPros.com, she trains singers and speakers nationally and internationally. Judy authored PPP vocal training courses, “Singing In The Studio”, “Vocal Production Workshop”.