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The voice may be the most treasured physical asset that we possess inside this marvelous machine we call our Human Body. As a professional vocal coach for many years, there are two remarkable conclusions that I have made from my experiences.
1.) How easily we take the voice for granted and often fail to nurture it or, even worse, abuse it.
2.) As far as its performance applications as a musical instrument, we conclude that, “I either have a great instrument or I don’t.” (without training)
I will discuss conclusion number one in more detail.
How easily we take the voice for granted and often fail to nurture it, or even worse, abuse it. I would first ask you to Google images of Vocal Cords or the Larynx. You will find pictures of the two vocal cords that we use to accomplish two major goals.
1.) The cords are moved together by muscles and air is pushed between them from the lungs and abdominal muscle system. This makes them “buzz” and creates a fundamental sound. Just try “humming” and you will get the idea.
2.) Once a fundamental sound is produced, other muscle systems stretch the two cords in a perfectly coordinated manner to produce varied pitch. This can be compared to tightening or loosening a guitar string while plucking it.
Most of us can perform these basic operations without training as we must learn to speak and “hum a tune” at a young age. This is a marvelous or even miraculous process that must not be taken for granted. The pictures you have found during your Google search may make the Larynx appear rather large but it is actually about the size or smaller than your thumb. Now that you have viewed this delicate little instrument, imagine what it must endure when you go the Ball Game or Rock Concert and yell and scream. Or maybe you are a vocal performer of any given style and because you have little or no formal training about how to properly deliver controlled levels or air pressure to your larynx, you are constantly vocalizing with a lot of strain and tension in your throat. Under these stressful conditions, your delicate little instrument often endures a lot of abuse. This is one of the reasons why you get a “hoarse voice.” What is happening is that your tender vocal cords actually become swollen from straining and banging into each other.
Try beating your hand on the wall for a while and you will also swell up. With the vocal cords, this constant abuse may develop vocal nodes, which might be simply thought of as calluses on the vocal cords. I am also a guitar instructor and I get calluses on my fingertips from pressing down the metal strings to make musical chords. Great pop singers like Elton John, Ian Anderson, Julie Andrews, Freddie Mercury, Robert Plant, Justin Timberlake, Victor Wills, Joni Mitchell, Madonna, Miley Cyrus, Rod Stewart, Celine Dion and many others have all endured surgery from vocal nodes. This result means that they abused their voices to some extent, not intentionally of course.
Another example of serious vocal abuse can be found in some of our young performers who “scream” the lyrics intentionally in a vocal style called “Screaming.” I have already had one of these young people in my studio for vocal rehabilitation following surgery for vocal nodes. We all must realize that this is serious business and if we want our voice to last us a lifetime, we must never abuse it. Further we must submit ourselves to professional training and not be so naïve that our voice does not require this to operate to its potential.
I will now discuss conclusion number two in more detail.
As far as its performance applications as a musical instrument, we may conclude that “We either have a great instrument or we don’t.” (without training)
Let me ask you this question:
Why, when we consider studying the voice, is there such a lack of considering a practical educational approach?
Here is what I mean by this?
Imagine the normal process for a beginning student learning how to play the clarinet. A common approach might include the following strategies:
1.) Observe and understand how the instrument works mechanically.
2.) Learn basic fingering positions.
3.) Learn proper embouchure, or how we position our mouth on the mouthpiece.
4.) Learn proper posture, breath control, and phrasing.
Where I find the approach to vocal instruction fall short of these basic goals is mainly in the mechanical part of instruction.
I have never had one student start with me with any prior experience that had any grasp of how the entire body works as one team to produce sound. I mean never!
This issue is discussed in depth in Chapter 3, “The Vocal Power Team,” in my popular ebook, “Singing and Speaking on the Edge of a Grunt.”
How do I make this conclusion? My first consultation is always an in-depth inquiry regarding what students understand about this information. Sadly, not much.
We must be honest and ask why this is the case. In my observation it results from a disconnect about the necessary process of learning how to properly vocalize when compared to other musical instruments or professional life skills like sports. We approach the voice like no other learned skill most of the time. If we were learning to play the guitar, even just to play the simplest of songs, we would conclude that we must at least buy a lesson book to begin studies. In other words, we would not just pick up a guitar, put it in our lap and expect to be able to play. This may sound rediculous, and it is, but this is often how we approach using our voice to Sing, Public Speak or Act. We may conclude that the fundamental sound and quality of our vocal instrument is the best it can get and there is little or no room for improvement. It is hard to imagine anyone approaching any other learned skill in this manner.
If we approach vocal instruction in this manner then we are being ignorant of the potential of our incredible instrument. My studio is filled with many a beginning vocalist who have been told by their peers that they were “tone deaf’ and should never sing again. The truth is that, although and untrained voice may have some difficulty in singing in pitch initially, this can be quickly fixed with most people. I have only encountered two people in 26 years that were clinically tone deaf.
So, we must conclude that our approach to learning how to properly vocalize must be no different that any other instrument or life skill. It must be trained properly so that it will be operated in a responsible and powerful manner ones entire life.
The following issues are also very important for any aspiring vocalist to consider.
In case someone forgot to notify you, singing is work! One of the largest obstacles to progress I have found is that some students apparently never take into account that learning to sing or speak correctly will take a lot of practice and hard work. Of course, there is the gifted crowd who think they are so naturally talented they do not need to work hard. This attitude breeds failure no matter what you are trying to accomplish in life. Many people do not equate learning proper singing or speaking with work.
The fact is that when I sing or speak correctly for a long period of time, I actually break a sweat. My whole body is involved. Your whole body is your instrument! Just like any sport, part of the learning curve involves learning which muscles to use in the right way and then using those muscles in a similar or repetitive motion to develop consistency and muscle tone.
If you have ever trained with weights, you know what I mean. The only way you make progress is to build and tone your muscles with consistent effort. Just like you can’t go to the gym one day a week and expect to compete for Mr. America, you can’t sing or speak correctly once a week and expect to become Lucianno Pavarotti. You must be focused, disciplined, and work hard.
I truly hope this information has been helpful. I hope that you will seek out a competent voice coach before you begin your journey to become a serious vocalist. I would highly recommend that you buy my ebook for only 9.95 at my website where I thoroughly explain how to use your voice properly.
Best of luck to all!
Jonathan Morgan Jenkins
Buy Jonathan's best selling ebook on sale for only 9.95!
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