If I made every singer I worked with sound like an opera singer I would have no work! – says Lis Lewis.
Lis Lewis runs a singing studio in L.A and has privately coached Demi Lovato, Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani and many more.
In this wide ranging interview, she explains why voice training for pop singers is so important.
Pop and rock singers are often afraid of voice training because they think they are going to sound like an opera singer – that they are going to sound ‘trained’. They want to sound raw, unique and emotional.
That’s the primary goal – to express your feelings through the sound of your voice. You need a wide range of tones and a high level of skill to do this effectively, which is what vocal training will give you.
These learnt skills are not there to limit or restrain you, they are there to give you freedom.
Build up Muscle Memory
Whether you are in the moment on stage, or concentrating on doing a good take in the studio, your technique and skill set will come from muscle memory. You can just focus on emotionally connecting to the performance.
The best way to maintain vocal training and muscle memory is to do a good vocal warm up. A warm up serves as a reminder to your body. It wakes the body up and tells it what you want from it. A warm up will also release tension and prevent fatigue.
It’s like being an athlete. If you’re tennis player, you’re not going to play tennis to warm up for a tennis match, and if you’re a footballer you’re not going to kick a ball around to warm up for a football match.
You need to do a set of drills to strengthen specific muscle groups and aspects of your skill set. So, when you go to play tennis, or go to sing, those muscle groups and skills are there ready and waiting.
Besides the warm up scales you should practice your songs and make decisions about how you’re going to sing them. You create muscle memory by singing them over and over until you get to the point where you don’t have to worry about that high note coming up. When you are on stage you want to feel confident that everything is already built into your body.
Don’t Get Strangled by Throat Tension
The most common technical issue I see in singers is throat tension. In fact, I can’t remember a person who has come into my studio without it.
Throat tension could happen in many different areas and ways:
- A tense tongue root sitting on top of the larynx
- An exaggerated jaw position limiting the movement of the larynx
- The constriction of the swallowing muscles at the back of the neck
Throat tension is the biggest cause of vocal fatigue. You can end up sounding like Kermit the Frog
The throat tension is, in my opinion, the biggest cause of vocal fatigue. It sounds constrictive. You can end up sounding like Kermit the Frog or like you’re swallowing whilst you’re singing if you allow the back wall of your throat (pharynx) to tense up.
Some singers find that it works for them to use lots of muscles to produce their voice, but it’s very inefficient and so fatiguing.
You may hear a singer who sounds like they have a good strong voice but they may have to cancel shows because they are singing night after night using too many unnecessary muscles in their technique.
Remember to Breathe
Another problematic area for singers is breathing. A tremendous amount of people hold their breath, and some pump out more air than they should so they are wasting it. Where to put the air and how to control it are a big part of vocal training. This is something that every singer must learn to do.
VoiceCouncil's Reaction to This Week's Singing Competition Entry
Milena Bianco - Forever Young On The Entertainers
Wow what a voice for your age! Your high notes were ringing beautifully. You have a very strong tongue though which sounds pulled back on your “ah” and “ooh” vowels. Doing this can make your diction sound cloudy and can reduce the resonance of your voice. Practice singing the song with your tongue high and forward (like a high-heel shoe shape in your mouth). It is likely that you are pushing your tongue down to reach your lower notes too. You can try pushing your tongue all the way out, holding onto it with a tissue and singing the first verse on a single vowel – you will feel when your tongue is trying to fight you!
Lis Lewis is a celebrity voice teacher and coach in Los Angeles whose clients include Rihanna, Britney Spears, Demi Lovato, Iggy Azalea, Colbie Caillat, All-American Rejects, Jimmy Eat World, Courtney Love, Miguel and many more. She has been training recording artists for over 30 years. Lis is the author of the books The Singers First Aid Kit and The Pop Singers Warm-Up Kit both published by Hal Leonard. Find out more on her website: thesingersworkshop.com