Weird, unnatural voices (Singing Teachers)
ModeratorDecember 1, 2015 at 3:10 pm
…For want of a better title.
I just don’t know what to do with people who sing like they are constipated. Or they actually change their voice in a very strange way so that it’s nothing like their speaking voice even.
So, as I thought case studies might be a good idea for my secondary teacher meetings, perhaps they are good to have on this forum too? So here is my first one:
Case Study: Mary, 30 (not her real name).
Mary is currently working on Hallelujah. My go-to song for beginners! Her voice is so nasal that it’s unpleasant to the ear (I have to try not to flinch!), so thankfully I managed to get her to drop the larynx with yawn/bellowing from the belly type exercises and also to sing Hallelujah in a very posh voice as all her vowels were so narrow and screechy. So it’s much better, but she seems to stay in head voice when going into the chorus which is very odd (I have tried to tell her to just go back to an almost speaking voice mode).
Also, her breathing is extremely unnatural… massive expel of air on the offset (I have tried to get her to maybe not take in massive breaths, but maybe it’s the other way around, I can’t really tell)
Her warm ups started with really harsh onsets as well – that’s getting better, although she can’t seem to find that simultaneous air and sound on a vowel (but that’s quite common and should get easier as time goes on).
There are some students who just can’t seem to relax and think of singing as talking.. I don’t teach SLS or anything, but breathing should be literally the same as talking in my opinion. I’ve tried to get her not to overthink it and not tense up – but difficult when you’re telling someone a million things to think about at once!
I would like to attach some examples as I feel like I could get my point across a lot better if you heard her sing. I think that’s probably a complicated option to have on this forum, so here’s some private links for now:
Hallelujah in her natural singing voice: http://picosong.com/bDes
Hallelujah in her adjusted, warmer tone: http://picosong.com/bDen
Rolling In The Deep in her natural singing voice: http://picosong.com/bDeq
Sobbing Scales: http://picosong.com/bDec
This was taken from your latest video, Matt – I even showed it to her and I don’t think she really gets it – she’s just going into head voice really.
Sorry to sound so negative, obviously my true feelings come out when talking to fellow teachers!!
I would love some guidance and a second or multiple ears on this as I have had a few frustrating cases where I want to help so much but reach my teaching limits…
MemberDecember 3, 2015 at 11:58 pm
I’ve just had a listen to some of the tracks you posted and I can hear what you mean, it sounds very tense and like she isn’t taking in enough breath to finish the phrases, especially on the top notes. I can definitely hear an improvement on the warmer tones though!
I heard she was taking breaths where she wasn’t meant to…for my students who do this I get them to print out the lyrics and listen to the original version and make a note of where the breaths were taken. That way they have more of an idea of where they should be breathing and it’s there in black and white and I make then stick to it and only change it very slightly in some cases as obviously everyone is different.
Hope that helps a little bit 🙂
MemberDecember 4, 2015 at 12:42 am
Number one, is that I find students who squeeze alot and do things that make their voice sound weird unnecessarily are usually just trying really hard. Ironically it’s often these singers for whom music means so much to them that they’d prefer to micromanage everything to avoid anything going “wrong” but end up sounding completely unnatural.
There’s a few things I’d do for this particular student. Number 1 is get her speaking everything (including the lyrics to the song and all her exercise sounds that you’re using). Listen to her speaking voice and see what’s going on in there. Is it breathy? Is it high? Is it released? If there’s any pathology in her speaking voice she’ll probably over compensate with singing, so make sure she’s speaking with power and ease first! Get things back to basics. If her speaking voice sounds great then get her to be aware that for the most part, (especially down low where these songs are), singing is basically just speaking but with more sustain and greater specificity of intonation. But everything should feel pretty similar, pretty free. Her speaking voice can be a template for finding something that’s much more comfortable and natural for her.
Another thing I note in these recordings is that she has quite a high voice. This is causing her to go way too muscly at the bottom (which probably feels a little extreme for her), and is consequently forcing a little break to happen at E4 pretty consistently. This tells me that even though chest voice is something you need to work on with her in the long term, it’s probably her trying to sound strong at this low extreme of her voice with no reference frame that’s causing tension. She’s a high voice, so let the voice chill out nice and high for a while. Allow her to be a bit heady. Do some songs that have lines that start above that E (even songs that start above A4!) with descending melodic lines. This will appear to weaken the sound of the voice in the short term, but it will also trick her into stopping her voice from muscling her way up from the bottom, which in the long term will result in a more natural strength-building process. Dopey or sob sounds from the bottom will only make that break at E4 more pronounced, which will make her use more muscle to compensate! Do songs that aren’t quite so heavy sounding. Let the voice return to normal before you add more muscle! That would be my 2 cents :).
MemberDecember 4, 2015 at 8:45 am
Let me just say that it sounds like you’re doing some great work with her! Her head voice is sounding nice and sweet and there’s some really good stuff going on.
But what I can hear is a lot of tension in a few places. First of all, the nasal sound we’re hearing is caused by tension in the pharynx, soft palate and tongue root. That shortens the amount of available space in the back of the throat and causes that harsh, piercing sound. Tension in the tensor palatini and palatoglossus muscle can also prevent the soft palate from rising, causing a nasal sound.
All this could come from two places. The first, as Kat says, is over-singing – trying to ‘micromanage’ the sound into something nice can cause tension in all sorts of areas. I have a great cure for this – get her to sing as though she’s pissed off, using a ‘blah-blah-blah’ or ‘yeah-yeah-yeah’ as a reminder. If you aim it in the right way, she will feel a releasing feeling in the tongue and jaw. I also use the ‘me-nah-me-nah’ to get this release, as in here: http://mattpocock.com/2015/10/30/finding-helens-chest-voice-episode-2/.
From there, you can build the singer on top of that, getting her to make things nice while still feeling the physical release she gets when she’s pissed off. I call that relaxation ‘base camp’, then all the nice sounds are little ways up the mountain.
The second thing could be muscle tension dysphonia. That’s when there is laryngeal tension in her natural speaking voice which prevents her making a good tone. This is worth a google, since it might tell you if it’s worth sending her to a Speech & Language Therapist. But as a halfway house, I use this exercise to release laryngeal tension: http://mattpocock.com/2015/10/29/inside-matts-studio-the-ultimate-vocal-warm-down/
Hope that helps! But it sounds like you’re on the right track with her already, just making her aware of when she’s tensing is the next big step!
ModeratorDecember 4, 2015 at 11:27 am
Thanks Beckie – a good tip that I need to re-use! And thanks Kat – good idea about the speaking voice. So if she’s a high singer and just needs to initially enjoy a relaxed, natural, head voice sound, should I put Hallelujah in A for example? Or change the song so that it doesn’t bore her?! Any good song suggestions for her, with the descending melody idea? I definitely thought Rolling In The Deep was an error on my part as it’s too big and she needs something less ballsy to begin with! And no dopey sounds, okay noted. Thanks!
Matt – thanks! Great to hear that it’s not a bad start and I now have techniques I can build on so that’s great!
Thanks for all your help all – I shall keep you posted!
MemberDecember 4, 2015 at 12:02 pm
I’m not sure what song would be good to give her but you could try something with descending patterns like old Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off. Or do something that generally hangs out higher like Decode by Paramore? Maybe also ask her questions about what kind of music she likes – it could reveal a lot about the particular vocal sound she’s going for, or you could use it to unlock some of that tension by getting her to sing something that she says makes her feel relaxed and happy?
Another thing you can try is talking about getting a better idea of what is “good” and “bad”. She may feel that singing in a certain way (naturally) will make her sound “bad”. You can talk to her about setting more specific goals and start unlocking any beliefs about her voice that are holding her back. Remember, singing is super psychological! Never underestimate the power of a discussion and some self-acceptance/equanimity on the part of the student. <3
ModeratorDecember 4, 2015 at 12:08 pm
Well said, thanks!
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