Understanding that one to one lessons can be costly, I'm delighted to be giving small group classes to the Actor's Centre so you can really dig deep into your understand of your voice and get on top of repertoire!
To see real progress in singing, we should be working with consistency, so I'll be carving out this time to obsess about singing and to tackle your challenges and goals.
Over the six weeks, we'll break the voice down into the six fundamentals of singing and learn what to strengthen and what to release.
We'll demystify terms such as belt, twang, chest voice, sob, middle voice, legit and give you the tools to understand your own your voice and to fall in love with singing!
Book now to secure one of the limited place:
Own Your Voice - singing to be audition ready!
For those who'd rather sing in a group, I'll also be running a new Musical Theatre choir at the Actor's Centre!
Book here: The Singing Ensemble
I came up with this new theory to give singers ownership of your own voices. I believe that there are six fundamentals that need to happen to ensure optimum vocal production.
I can up with this theory because singing is confusing and ambiguous and filled with a kind of Chinese whispers of confusing terminology: I mean, belt, legit, twang, tllt, head voice, mix, sob, middle voice, chest voice... Aaaaaaah! These are all adjectives and goals!
Let’s put it this way.
When you first learnt to drive a car, you’d break it down into components
You’d learn to use your mirrors, to signal, to have road sense, to steer, to use the accelerator, the gears and pedals. Broken down it’s terrifying but a driver does it instinctively: changing gears, accelerating, slowing down, taking tight corners.
How good would it be if we could sing like that? Drive through your song, changing gears, accelerating, slowing down, taking tight corners.
Belt - for example - isn’t a goal, it’s a terrain. Or road, that calls for an instinctive balance of these fundamentals.
Singing is the only physical endeavour that people don’t treat like a sport. Any sports person knows that to be on optimum form in a race or a match you will have trained with consistency so that when you are playing or racing you can forget the technique and give over to the other type of thinking instinct, or in the context of singing music and story.
Somehow singing isn’t approached like that. singers call in because they have an audition in two days? They show up adrenaline surging I have an hour to get them to where they want to be in two days time. I hear them sing and think shit, you have so much to bring out your potential - damn it - what’s one or two things that will help you one thing that will help you?
I'm going to go deeper in the next blog but I believe that the six fundamentals are: breath, or a steady stream of air connected to your body, jaw release, tongue root release, a free larynx, resonance and adduction.
I believe we should be exploring these six every day! Below are some ideas of exercises that work these fundamentals. You'll see that many of them work all six! These are magic!
I once I got asked to visualise this. Someone made me close my eyes and picture what my ideal audition whilst pressing my finger and thumb together. I’m not sure whether that worked but I had another go before I planned last week's Masterclass and this is what I came with.
You can close your eyes and press your finger and thumb together or you can pick your nose and scratch your ear as you read...!
You hear the first bar of music and you’re instantly transported to a place of calm, focus and heightened awareness. You know how to do this.The music trigger the emotions that will carry this song through, it connects to something deep inside you. You know exactly who you and your character is, and why you need to sing. You’ve done the work. This song is sung in, your muscles used to the leaps and phrasing. You’ve worked each tricky spot technically over and over and now you can just be and do your thing.
If they don’t want you, that’s fine. It’s probably height, hair colour, tone of voice, something impossible to change. But you’ve done your very best.
I hope that resonated with you. We'll be looking deeper into what this means during the courses coming up at The Actor's Centre: OWN YOUR VOICE - SINGING TO BE AUDITION READY, and THE SINGING ENSEMBLE
If you can imagine standing at the side of a stage. One world is in the dark, and cosy and warm and all the rest of the things you know, and all of a sudden you cross a line , and go out into what is absolutely the unknown… You have a house full of strangers and, in front of those strangers you are required to strip naked.’ Janet Baker, In Her Own Words.
Despite being considered last century’s greatest soprano, Janet Baker stopped performing at age 48. I’m sure that every performer I work with can empathise with this decision and has considered it themselves.
Night after night, day after day, you aspire to be your absolute best, then to elevate that even further, to touch ‘that place.’ The one where it all comes together and time stops and you step onto the wings of your art.
Despite days of clunkiness, and insecurity, fears and failure, praying for jobs and feeling inadequate, there will have been moments when the past and the future disappeared and there was only that moment, that note, those sensations, the shared experience of you and the audience.
You will have touched that because, if you hadn’t, then why would you have dedicated your life to this crazy overpopulated career where there are a thousand of you to every job, and the jobs out there barely pay enough to keep you living during the job, let alone to account for the inevitable times in between.
So, you have other jobs, day jobs that you spend the majority of your time doing because you know, you know that that other place is there and worth fighting for.
I know that the singers I work with can find that exhausting at times. Sometimes there are days when the lure and comfort of the dark of the wings is bigger than the audience waiting.
Is it any wonder than many singers decide one day that it’s taking too much?
As well as having an astonishing talent for singing, Janet Baker manage to commit to every performance with every cell of her self - connecting to something deep in her audiences. To do that, she had to access a deep, fundamental parts of herself each time, parts with most people don't have to share day to day, especially not with thousands of people who grow to expect it, and need it from her.
I know that artists need to be able to access that deeper place that engages their entire being and that’s exhausting but vital. They are amazing and we need to support that and help them sustain it without losing too much.
I believe deeply in artists and their ability to let the rest of the world know we’re not alone: The singers who bring us into the present moment or allow us to feel something amongst mundanity, the performers who show us their truth and vulnerability in a world surrounded in social media shininess, who can reflect our inner feelings when we feel alone. I believe in music’s tangibility to affect and transform. We need art, we need artists and artists need to be artists.
In a world of mobile phones, any performance can be captured and shared. There’s little room for artistic exploration in case of public failure.
So rather than giving up, how do singers manage these delicate balancing act: of growth as a performer under a public gaze?
What do you do with the exhilaration and adrenaline that keeps you flying for hours after a performance? If you give your soul to a show then what is left afterwards? Does the joy and commitment to your job and craft balance within family, partners, children and the wider world? Is there space for both?
This is why my aim, as a vocal coach, is to breakdown and demystify the voice. To clarify what we mean by technique, how the the mental state affects the voice, or what terms like “belt” or “light” or “on voice” or “twang” really mean!
I want to help singers understand when to engage and when to step off the wings and appreciate the beauty of reality around them as that too will feed into their work as an artist.
My theory of the 'six fundamentals of a singer,' aims to do that. We break singing down to six simple yet crucial aspects: breath, adduction, resonance, jaw release, tongue root release and a free larynx, then every exercise, technique or warm up applies must apply to one of those. For instance, a lip trill works all six if you do it correctly.
But, more compellingly, we can also include all the more illusive parts of singing including: meditation or mindfulness, finding your 'self', using primal sounds, using your emotions, imagery and sensation. These, too, can connect into the six fundamentals - usually engaging your breath support, resonance awareness and adduction whilst often also release tension.
This is for singers like I used to be when I was performing: who feel inconsistent and confused about their voices, or, who aren't sure how to be performance or audition ready.
On those big days, I'd wake terrified and spend the day until performance or audition in a strange state: numb, tense, distracted, jittery. I'd warm up all day long and try everything. If it went well, I'd surge out of the room, on top of the world, but if it didn't it was like stepping into a hidden pot hole and continuing to fall for days after.
Using the six fundamentals, a singer can become aware of what impact each part of their body and mind has on their instrument so you can ready yourself and know that it will get you to the place you need to do.
I'm in the process of creating the optimum warm up: from some brief cardio to get your heart pumping, to some stretching and meditation to bring yourself into your body, then a fifteen minute warm up that really focuses on each of the six fundamentals, releasing the parts that need releasing and strengthening the parts that need strengthening.
Each day, in anticipation of next week's Masterclass at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, and courses at The Actor's Centre, I interrogate this regime and tweak it - trying it out myself , exploring it will my students - so it's nearly ready to share!
Watch the the Janet Baker documentary on BBC iplayer:
Look away if you like things neat and tidy!
Don't worry, I'll make this much prettier soon!
This was created in anticipation for my Masterclass at The Theatre Royal Haymarket and the new course at The Actor's Centre.
Off we go! Five new singers. Lots of goals ahead. Let's do this!!
Own your Voice. A twelve week course to demystify your instrument, to tackle your goals and challenges, and to fall in love with singing again!
Week One: Overview of the balanced singer
Week Two: Resonance
Week Three: Breathing and connecting your body
Week Four: Jaw release
Week Five: Tongue release and your articulators
Week six: a free larynx and ‘tilt’
Week seven: Emotional connection and acting through song
Week eight: Your body knows best: dynamic movement to release tension and mindfulness.
Week Nine: SOVT
Week Ten: Sing on the vowels, use the consonants for energy and support.
Week Eleven: Belt
Week Twelve: Recap.
An ode to the 'BRRRRR'
Most of us love this simple little exercises because suddenly singing feels so easy - suddenly there are no breaks in our voices, suddenly the high notes just fly out - but why?
A lip trill works all the fundamental components of your instrument creating a perfect balance of breath and muscle release. Also, being SOVT (Semi-occluded vocal tract or half shut mouth) it sends the sound waves backwards which, when they meets the air coming upwards, sandwiches your vocal cords between air and sound waves bringing them together without any tension.
But how do you transfer the lip trill into your singing?
Doing your lips trills daily will strengthen your breath support, release tension and teach your cords to stay together throughout your range without tension.
It really is that easy
Hello singers! I’ve been asked to give a free Masterclass to singers at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and thinking about how to provide the most beneficial experience all!
What do you think to the ideas below? Which one would you most benefit from? It’s a two hour class so I can dig deep and there’ll also be a downloadable warm up track to take away!
For ongoing courses, take a look here. (courses run at the Actor's Centre and Aspire, Southfields)
1) The perfect audition song: Finding the song that makes you stand out in an overcrowded industry.
2) The optimum vocal warm up and work out: What to strengthen and what to release in practise so when you sing you can focus on the music and story.
3) Inspiration through Mimicry - learning from your icons and idols.
Here's a little more about each Masterclass.
1) Finding the perfect audition song.
Picture the perfect audition: The first bar of music instantly transports you to a place of calm and heightened awareness. You know how to do this. The music triggers a tide of emotions that will carry this song, connecting your voice to your body. You know exactly who you and your character are, and why you need to sing. You’ve done the work. This song is sung in, your muscles are used to the leaps and phrasing. You’ve worked each tricky spot technically over and over and now you can just be and do your thing. If they don’t want you, that’s fine. It’s probably height, hair colour, tone of voice, something impossible to change. But you’ve done your very best.
In an overpopulated industry, crammed with talent and passion, what will make you stand out?
Is it the big notes? Your tone? Your characterisation?
How do you approach the difficult parts without tension or hindering yourself with tension?
How do you cut a song when jumping into the big notes can seem jarring? How do you make the panel feel like they are watching a performance not an audition, bringing them to you rather than begging them to like you? Does overdone make it a no go?
I'll help you understand how to choose the song that connects to your own story, casting type, singing voice. We’ll look at how to prepare mentally and train vocally for an audition so once you're in the room you can just give over to story and music.
Complete with a downloadable warm up to take away and a list of recommended repertoire.
2) The optimum vocal warm up and work out.
What’s you aim for your voice?
How about a consistently warm, powerful and resonant tone that carries through the range without register breaks, tightness or breathy weak spots or tightness.
Is it belting with ease?
Is it controlling the quiet moments as well as the loud ones?
It is being able to concentrate on the emotion, words and musicality rather than wondering whether the notes will come out?
Singing seems to be one of the only physical forms in which we don’t practise every day. Any dancer or sportsperson who commit to regular and consistent practise to progress in skill, strength and ability.
The voice also needs regular work to strengthen the muscles that need to be strengthened, and releasing tension so the voice can vibrate and move freely.
I’ve created a daily vocal routine that will work each of fundamental components of the voice so that you can begin to fully understand and demystify your instrument until you can be fully in control attaining balance on every note.
The routine will include:
Breath support, SOVT (semi-occluded vocal tract exercises), your adductors, aspirate and glottal onsets, tilt, using sympathetic resonance, releasing tongue, jaw and neck tension, using consonants for support, articulation and energy and opening up your vocal tract using vowels!
I’ll also talk you through the quickest and most productive warm up that you can do on the way to an audition.
Complete with a downloadable warm up and work out to take away.
3) Mimicry as Inspiration.
How does Adele make her notes sound so low and easy? How does Sarah Bareilles infuse her voice with such emotion? How does Idina Menzel get her power? Norah Jones her warmth? How do your idols reach their highest notes, or create their distinctive tone?
Who is using consonants as their secret weapon? And who almost only sings on the vowels yet can reach any note?
What are the strangest techniques singers use and why do they work, including a well known Musical Theatre star who makes a tiny squeak before a note to reach the biggest notes?
How does altering the shape of your vocal tract (mouth and throat) transform your sound and can you learn which colours to include into your own voice as you create your own palate of styles and timbres, techniques and tricks.
Using your idols and icons, we'll look at how their habits are simply engaging one of the main components of your instrument, 'the voice' including: breath support, aspirate and glottal onsets, tilt, sympathetic resonance, tongue, jaw and neck release, consonants or vowel shapes!
In demystifying the process of mimicry, we can learn to strengthen our own voices, playing around with styles until you find the balance that is yours and yours alone.
Until someone else tries to mimic you!
2008 (a long, long time ago....)
It was after a Thursday matinee. I was playing Jenny in Aspects on Love and we were on the last week of a year’s tour.
I had lost my voice.
It was constricted and struck, tight and weak. I’d pushed through the matinee but it just wasn’t working and Nikolai Foster, our director was in that evening. Nikolai was in, and it was the last week of the tour! It was the last week before these glory days of work ended and I’d be out of work again. Maybe never work again!
I was losing my voice and Nikolai was in, and it was the last week of the tour, and there were a thousand people of their way to see the evening show. Despite the empty auditorium, I could feel their imminent arrival crept over my body, tightening my skin, sitting on my chest, constricting my throat. They were finishing their pre-show dinners, they were meeting their friends and looking at their seat numbers.
They were coming!
And I had no voice.
I stood in my dressing room, frozen.
My costumes were laid out, ready for me to put on and go and stand in front of all those people. And Nikolai. There was my microphone, the wire neatly coiled and set, ready to be pinned into my hair, ready to amplify the notes that WEREN’T THERE.
The window lead to outside, to the sky, where normal people went about their days. Oh, how I wanted to be them at that moment. How I wanted to run from my own skin that was tightening by the second.
Yet it was time to do the show and I had to figure this out.
I had to get on top of it.
I took a breath. I tried singing.
It didn’t work. It didn't work. It didn't work.
The panic tightened, grew hotter, the knots in my guts grew, my stomach clenching and churned, acid. I wanted to scream but I had no voice.
I went through everything I knew about singing. My mind was blank. What did I know? Nothing! I knew nothing!
At that point, I had two strategies: warm up until it starts to work, or steam and pray, save my voice, stay quiet until second before I sing then jump and hope for the best.
Neither path looked good.
The half hour call was in ten minutes.
They were coming.
Nikolai was there.
This is the moment when Shona Lynsey, who was playing Rose, my mum, came into my dressing room. She saw that I was losing my mind, she suggested some Alexander technique.
A technique that changed the way I viewed singing forever.
It was a very simple practise: Lie on the floor in semi-supine and move through the body, “allowing the ligaments and muscles lengthen and allowing the joints to widen and release.’
After around ten minutes of this, I stood up.
‘How does it feel?’ Shona asked.
‘Um…’ I heard the sound slide free, unconstricted and easy, ‘Er…’
‘Better!’ I said.
It wasn’t a perfect fix but I got through the evening show.
Now, ten years on and working as a vocal coach, I can finally unpin why this practise works so well.
My voice was knackered after eight shows a week for a year, but panic was far more detrimental. The panic was inhibiting the two crucial things that have to happen for a body to make sound: breath and release!
We need to support a steady stream of air to power the chords to vibrate and we mustn’t constrict these vibrations (sound!) with muscles tension.
The panic was making me hold my breath and grip. Even if I let out enough air to make a sound, my muscles were clamping so tightly that nothing could vibrate. It’s like trying to ring a bell in a clenched fist
The systematic approach (moving through the body one part at a time) distracted my mind from frenzied panic and brought me back into my body. The semi- supine position, allowed my body to align as it 'lengthened,' and 'widened.' The verb, ‘allow,’ was crucial as it encouraged giving over into the body’s natural instincts rather than forcing effort. It reminded me that our body is smart.
It’s got this.
We breath all night long in our sleep.
Language and sound evolved to help us communicate our needs and emotions with each other.
We knows how to produce sound.
Now, in moments of heat and turmoil I still often ask singers to use a practise like this: stillness, mindfulness, observing, body awareness, in any ways that work for them (a meditation can be running or listening to music).
It’s about stilling the mind and reminding yourself that the fundamentals of singing are breath and release.
Week six of the singing course today. Next week we'll be looking at registers and range, at vocals chords and onsets and how different techniques apply to different registers/parts of your range.
If you want to join us next term, you can book here
SUBNOTE: Once your breathing is deep and easy, once you’ve brought your attention to releasing jaw and tongue tension, and once your mind is clear, then you can start to look into your tool box of other techniques you enjoy as a singer. Ie:
Singing on the open vowels.
Using the consonants for energy, support and articulation.
Engaging support with physical movements.
Acknowledging tilt and its benefits.
Using primal sounds.
Observing good and naughty vowels.
Place resonance and sympathetic vibrations.
Experimenting with onsets.
Stylistic and technical add on likes scoops.
The list goes on… and on… this is a list for another time.
Rachel Lynes -vocal coach
These articles aim to simplify and clarify. My aim is to give you clear exercises that make a big difference.