At this point in our vocal study, it’s good to review by asking some questions.
Let’s begin today’s session by working on "breathing" again. Remember, air is what drives your voice or your vocal folds. The vocal mechanism is often referred to as "vocal chords", but the term vocal folds is a more descriptive term. (More on that later…)
To roughly understand how your vocal folds work, close your mouth. Now slowly fill your mouth with air. (Your cheeks will "puff" out.) If you keep your lips together lightly, the increased air pressure in your mouth will at some point drive them apart either in a quick sustained release of air or "in puffs" if you blow air into you mouth in short intervals. That’s just how the vocal cords (folds) work. As air comes up from the lungs, the folds are forced apart by the air. The vocal folds only vibrate. It’s the air that is the motor move the vocal chords.
The point where the vocal folds come together is called the "glottis". It’s not critical that you know this term, but it will be helpful in the future. What is important to understand is that the air passing through the vocal folds (the glottis) is what makes the vocal folds vibrate at a particular pitch. In other words, when your vocal folds open and close 440 times a second, the ‘A’ above middle C will sound. (A more precise way of stating this would be to refer to the glottis opening and closing 440 times a second.) A soprano that sings very high (a high C) will have her glottis opening and closing over 1000 times a second—or her folds are vibrating 1000 times a second. Wow!
When the glottis opens and closes, the vocal folds vibrate at that particular speed. And it is simply the air that makes everything move. THIS is why breathing is so important to good singing. The more efficiently the air moves through the glottis, the more relaxed, comfortable and easier will be the singing process.
Now let’s go to a new breathing exercise!" We’ll call it: sit—bend—grab—and expand!
Sit straight in a chair and begin to concentrate on your breathing. Breathe in over a count of five, hold your breath for five and then breathe out for five.
Now bend over and touch (or grab) your ankles. (If you’re like me, grabbing my ankles will never happen—but bend over as far as you can.) Breath in on a count of five, hold your breath for five and then breathe out for five. Do this several times.
In this exercise you will definitely feel how your midsection expands when you inhale and how it contracts when exhale.
Sit up with your hands positioned just under your rib cage and repeat the process several times replicating exactly how it felt when you were bending over. (Insert picture of person): 5 count inhaling; 5 count holding; 5 count exhaling.
Now stand up straight! and repeat the five-count breathing procedure several times with your hands still positioned just under your ribcage.
Now walk around your practice room doing exactly the same thing.
Next return to vocal exercise #1: a sustained tone on a single pitch.
IMPORTANT: Breathe slowly and correctly each time you sing. This is where a mirror is critical—Carefully watch yourself sing making sure that the shoulders do not move and that the midsection always expands when you inhale.
Then go to exercise #2.
As you sing the exercises, ALWAYS try to breathe correctly. Now let’s go to another new exercise. This time relating to connecting the tone.
On middle C or (an octave lower for men), sing an ee vowel for two beats and then ‘slide’ into an oo vowel for two beats and then slide back to ee for another two beats. When I say ‘slide’ I mean move from oo to ee without any stop or break in the tone.
(Men: If you like, begin on Bb and go up to F. Remember, you sing an octave (eight tones) lower than a woman.)
Repeat this ee-oo-ee slide on each note as you go up to G.
Repeat the exercise, this time beginning on C# or Db. Sing up to G# or Ab.
Now return to Holy, Holy, Holy. Without any accompaniment, sing through the first stanza on ee or oo. Then sing stanza one or two stanzas in the connected method you have practiced earlier. As you sing, practice breathing AND connecting the tone. Sing slowly and take time to breathe—Remember, no shoulder movement! If you only sing 1 or 2 notes before you have to breathe again, that is OK. The important point is to breathe correctly and connect the tone.
As you practice these exercises each day, try to increase the speed of Holy, Holy, Holy. But no matter what, breathe correctly and connect the tone. If you are feeling adventurous, then go to Abide with Me and repeat the process on this hymn.
That’s it for Lesson 6. Don’t hesitate to e-mail me (paul at songandhymns.org) or phone toll-free 1-800-587-5780 with your questions or comments. Happy Singing!