I’m now in my 10th year of teaching singing and I will admit, I’ve gone through phases of favourite singing techniques, sometimes cycling back to ones I’d forgotten from years ago. I’ve studied the intricacies of the vocal setup, including how intention, acoustics, and biomechanics affect our singing. But as I get more experienced as a teacher, I’ve found a lot can be achieved with the simplest instructions. In the next two blog entries, I’ll share my simple not-quite-secrets with you.
Legato is the Italian term for “smoothly, well-connected” and part of the general music vocabulary. Legato is essential for singers in contemporary commercial music (CCM) styles, regardless of ability level or prior classical training. Because a lot of CCM is rhythm-focussed, singers without CCM-specific training often stop and start airflow to achieve rhythmic emphasis. Accomplished CCM singers actually use rapid crescendo-decrescendos to emphasise rhythm without stopping their airflow entirely. If you pay careful attention next time you speak, you’ll find this is exactly what we do to stress syllables in speech. When applied to singing, Irene Bartlett calls this “pulsing the breath”. Another way of describing this technique is that there should be a thread of legato underneath waves of rhythmic accents.
You may require the assistance of a qualified CCM-style singing teacher to perfect the pulsing technique to be style-appropriate, but if you’re experiencing low to moderate vocal fatigue, either across the board or in specific songs, you can improve your singing by practicing legato. Take even a heavily rhythmic song by someone like Ed Sheeran or Sia and temporarily apply extreme legato to the note and word changes, before returning to sing it normally, should help you find rhythm with flow. A thread of legato through your singing will reduce vocal fatigue and help you sing in-tune. (If you’re experiencing more than moderate vocal fatigue, a trip to a speech pathologist is the correct path.) Some degree of legato is essential to correct breathing technique for singing.
Psych yourself in
Fear, uncertainty and nerves dramatically affect your voice. The fight or flight syndrome limits the freedom of the rib cage for breathing; the throat also tightens with fear; the tongue pulls back during sadness. I can almost guarantee that if there’s a note you’re struggling to sing, you’re probably worried about it.
If you have ongoing issues with mental health outside of singing, help is available! Your GP is a great first port of call. If however you just get worried when you’re singing a tricky song or note, you can apply mental tricks like distraction, imagining the note or phrase is significantly easier or lower than it actually is, or singing the phrase in a more comfortable pitch range then replicating those physical throat/torso sensations when you return to the true pitch. You’ve probably experienced a time when you sang better when you weren’t trying, or were distracted with another task like driving. Intentionally applying psych-in techniques leads to a confident mindset, which leads to a freer voice. Mental toughness is a great asset to a singer, especially when combined with a willingness to experiment and take advice.
I’ll never forget the day I learned I could belt an F#5. It was a few years back and I was (am) so into the song “Birthday” by Katy Perry. My voice was healthy and at the point in the song that I’d usually lazily mark the high note, I thought – “I wonder what would happen if I just gave this a crack” – and pardon the pun, but there were no cracks – a strong, in-tune note came out! I’ve done it every time I’ve sung the song since.
I hope these tips have given you some simple ideas you can apply to your singing right now to help you grow more proficient.