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delia.ivan@vocalovertones.com

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Guidelines in time of corona-outbreak

Dear singers,

I hope this post finds you well.

As most of you are likely aware, Coronavirus or COVID-19 has started spreading in Sweden, and I would like to take all precautions to ensure the health and safety of all of us. Therefore, I kindly ask you to observe the following guidelines while health organisations and governmental agencies handle the spread of the virus.

WHEN TO POSTPONE A LESSON
I kindly ask you to postpone a face-to-face voice lesson if:

– You have flu-like symptoms or a cold (e.g. if you cough, sneeze or have a fever due to illness);

– You have stayed in or travelled through corona-affected areas;

– You have been close to or have spent extended time with a person with flu-like symptoms whom you have reason to suspect of Corona-infection;

– You have tested positive for coronavirus.

ONLINE LESSONS FOR SAFETY REASONS
In case you and your voice are healthy, but for safety reasons you choose not to travel by bus or train and stay at home more, there is always the option of having the lesson online via Zoom/Facetime/Skype.

PREVENT YOUR CONTAMINATION
If you are feeling fine and choose to have the voice lesson at my voice studio, we have also taken measures to minimise the potential spreading of disease. Dispensers with hand sanitizer are placed throughout the institution (Supernova Theatre) for everyone to use.

SUSPENDED CANCELLATION POLICY
My cancellation policy (24 hours) is suspended in this time of corona-outbreak. This means that even if you cancel last minute due to cold-like symptoms, you will not lose your lesson and another one can be rescheduled later on.

Take care of yourselves, keep on singing, and hopefully, the outbreak will soon be contained!

P.S. Follow this link to find different options and package deals for online lessons!

Modes of phonation

When we talk about phonation, we usually refer to the movements and vibratory patterns of the vocal folds required in producing sound. A phonation mode is a category of vocal fold setting that allows a particular type of voice quality, and it is closely related to glottal resistance. The latter is described as the quotient of subglottal pressure (lung pressure) to glottal airflow (leakage of air between the vocal folds).

The above figure is made after the phonation modes defined by Johan Sundberg in his book “The Science of the Singing Voice”.

Breathy phonation

Breathy phonation results from a low subglottal pressure combined with a high glottal flow and the vocal folds never close completely during phonation. When used intentionally and skillfully, a breathy phonation helps expressing qualities like sweetness and intimacy during a performance.

Pressed phonation

Pressed phonation arises when a low glottal flow accompanies a high subglottal pressure, so just a small amount of air manages to pass through the vocal folds. Pressed phonation restricts the resonating quality of the vocal tract, leading to a less efficient vocal production. This type of phonation leads to a tense voice, that sounds narrow, pinched and restricted in resonance.

Neutral phonation

The neutral mode requires the least physical effort, corresponding to low airflow and low subglottal pressure. This type of phonation is used occasionally to cover the register break area.

Flow phonation (resonant)

For singing effectively, the encouraged mode of phonation is the flow phonation, also called resonant phonation. It is the most economical way of producing loud and resonant sounds. The flow phonation combines high subglottal pressure and high airflow. This type of phonation gives the sound a mellow, full and richly resonant quality.

For more information regarding this matter, access the paper Breathy, Resonant, Pressed – Automatic Detection Of Phonation Mode From Audio Recordings of Singing.

Did you find this post helpful? Comment below if you have something to share with the rest of us!

Perception exercise 3

Have you ever felt that your voice got trapped in your throat? If your answer is yes, you are not alone! It is an unpleasant experience and a common issue for many singers. It shouldn’t be overlooked, because often it leads to frustration, lack of vocal improvement and even vocal problems (such as hoarseness among others).

What causes this disagreeable sensation? The obvious answer is that the larynx constricts, but more relevant is to investigate the different factors that lead to this happening. On one hand, the tendency of the larynx to close up is part of a natural protective mechanism that we all have. When our bodies engage in strainful activities (for example when lifting something heavy), the larynx acts as a pressure valve and closes off the airway. On the other hand, laryngeal constriction occurs as a consequence of psychological factors, like the flight and fight mechanism. So, stressful events, nerves before a concert, anxiety, and so on, can enable this ‘protective response’ in our bodies. This will lead to strain and significant pressure on your voice and eventually will cause injury if left unresolved.

What actually happens in the larynx when it constricts? Above our vocal folds, we have another set of ventricular folds that we call the false vocal folds. These are the ones that squeeze and close up the airspace above the true vocal folds when we strain. When this happens, the sound production is compromised, or sometimes stopped for coming out altogether.

In an ideal situation for speaking or singing, the false vocal folds are out of the way, and therefore the vocal folds can vibrate freely. Can one achieve the skill of retracting the false vocal folds? Here are a few practical steps to help you develop awareness in this particular area. You will learn to recognise the false vocal folds constriction and then the retracting state. Afterwards, you can practice the sensation of retraction until it becomes a singing habit to avoid constricting your throat to obtain the desired sound.

Constriction and retraction

Step 1. Constriction levels

The false vocal folds constrict when we strain or grunt. Let’s experience this by putting too much tension on our bodies like so.

Tighten your abdomen as hard as you can (as when lifting something weighty) and notice the effect on your throat. You should be able to feel tension spreading and your throat getting tight. Keep this in mind and asess an effort number.

Try tensing again, but this time with less pressure (a smaller effort number). Again, you should note that there’s something wrong and uncomfortable, but not as extreme as before. Now, this may resemble a tight throat as when singing ineffectively. Depending on your psychological distress, the intensity of your vocal task and your technique, you will constrict more or less and squeeze your vocal folds to a certain degree. The sensation may be that something inside your throat is pushing down and in while the air is forcefully pushed up from your abdomen, trying to break apart that ceiling. This should be avoided at all costs for it causes hoarseness, nodules and other vocal issues that put your singing career at risk.

Observation! Don’t overdo this step. Its purpose is to make you aware that there are different gradients of constrictions and that you should recognise and avoid all of them when singing. Discomfort in your throat when using your voice is a warning sign that your technique needs improvement.

Step 2. Retraction of the false vocal folds

Breathe through your nose while keeping your ears covered. Listen carefully and observe the inhaling and exhaling sounds that occur. Try and imagine the path made by the air when it rushes in your lungs and gets expelled afterwards. Now, breathe the same way again, but this time without making any noise. Notice what changes. For starters, it is not as easy, in the sense that you had to focus and put a little work into making it happen. Secondly, did you feel a new sense of space in your throat and something moving out of the way? This is the feeling of retraction. The false vocal folds don’t interfere by closing up the airway, and when sound is employed, the vocal folds can function optimally (if the retraction state is maintained).

Observation! It is essential to understand that retracted it is not the same with relaxed or loose. It is more challenging to remain retracted, and many times, it doesn’t come naturally to people. Retracting the false vocal folds should be practised to build muscle memory and being able to recognise the presence/absence of this action in your singing.

Step 3. Retracting some more, an alternative to step 2

Another tool you may use when working on retraction is to think about implementing a silent laugh or a silent cry throat posture. Think about something that makes you smile inside. Allow the sensation to expand down your throat, noticing the space you can create. You should aim in keeping that throat open and avoid squeezing your vocal folds (when producing sound).

The final action is to add sound to this sensation. Let the silent cry develop into a laugh on different words like “ha-ha”, “ho-ho” etc. Focus on keeping an adequate body posture and on what we previously discussed. If your throat starts feeling displeasing or itchy when you add sound, it means that you constricted. Repeat the previous steps and allow yourself time to grasp this sensation and proper muscle coordination.

Final thoughts

Do you need to use retraction all the time? Yes, in most singing situations you do because it allows your vocal folds to move freely during vibration. So, if you endeavour a tense throat when singing, start by checking if you have retracted your false vocal folds before looking at some other technical issue. Remember to address the psychological factors, especially when you are anxious and struggle with stage fright. Our bodies are actually trying to shield us when employing these protective mechanisms. This way, it tells us that something isn’t functioning optimal and that you need to stray away from this dangerous path. Also, constriction happens more frequently when the vocal demands are greater (singing high and powerful, for instance).

The lack of proper technique determines singers to push their voices and squeeze the vocal folds to force out the notes. They need to adjust their singing approach and fight that natural urge to strain for more difficult singing tasks because it is not sustainable. The solution? The amount of effort concentrated in that squeezing and pushing needs to go somewhere else; physical actions like supporting and controlling the airflow, resonance strategies like placement, twang or other vital aspects that are missing from your technique.

Questions or thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment!

Perception exercise 2

The soft palate has a vital role in singing. It can filter the sound and alter its resonating quality by sending it through the nose, or through the mouth, or both together. It’s a useful tool to have in your pocket.

Let’s explore some practical steps in developing awareness in this area.

Locating the soft palate (velum)

Step 1. Breathe in and out through your nose. During nasal breathing, the palatal muscles lower the soft palate to keep the airway open. When swallowing, on the other hand, the soft palate rises and therefore separates the nasal cavity from the oral cavity.

Step 2. Say the word ‘sing’ making the ‘ng’ part last longer. Notice that your tongue is touching something upwards, in the back: the soft palate.

Let’s analyse what happened

When making the ‘ng’ sound (and any other nasal consonant for that matter -like ‘m’, ‘n’-) the soft palate is in a lowered position, and the air escapes through the nose. A method to verify this is to try making those sounds again and suddenly pluck your nose. They will stop.

Step 3. Now say the ‘ng – ah’ a couple of times and then hold the ‘ah’ vowel. Notice that something lifts in the back of your mouth when making the vowel.

Let’s analyse what happened

When transitioning from ‘ng’ to ‘ah’ the soft palate lifts and the vowel is pronounced properly. Sustain the vowel and try plucking your nose again. Observe that this time the sound is not affected, and there’s no air escaping through the nose. Still, if the sound quality slightly changes when blocking the nose, it means that your sound is nasal. This happens when the soft palate is partially lowered. This position allows the air to escape from both the mouth and the nose and alters the sound clarity.

Additional exercise

Make the ‘ng – ah – ng – a’ sounds without moving your mouth and hardly moving the tongue. Focus on the action that happens in the back of your mouth. If you use a mirror, you’ll be able to see the movement of your palate, lowering for the ‘ng’ and raising for the ‘ah’ vowel.

Conclusion

The soft palate is an essential tool in changing overall sound resonance and creating different sound qualities. Master its movement to control nasality and ensure a balanced sound production.

Singing with an open throat

Singing with an open throat is a famous technique that intends to increase the resonating space within the vocal tract. In essence, it is a tension-free approach meant to avoid constricting and hurting the voice.

Here are a few aspects worth considering when trying to open the throat and achieve better tone quality.

  • Balanced neck posture

Allow your head to be free on your neck. Tension spreads easily in our bodies, so look out for improper neck postures, which can affect the optimal functioning of the larynx.

  • Lift the soft palate

Keep your facial muscles active and inhale softly on a ‘k’ sound. This allows you to feel that soft palate raising. Try maintaining this position in your singing. Don’t overemphasize the space in your throat (as when yawning). This creates too much space in the pharynx and an unbalanced sound – the larynx assumes a too lowered position.

  • Achieve a neutral larynx position

Breathe in a relaxed manner and feel a slight lowering of your larynx. This can be used as a starting point for sound production. During singing, don’t try keeping your larynx still and don’t interfere with its natural movements meant to adjust muscle work with pitch and intensity.

  • Retract the false vocal folds and release the constrictor muscles

Avoid squeezing your vocal folds when singing. It can damage your voice, and it may lead to vocal hoarseness and other problems. Try retracting the ventricular (false) vocal folds by employing a silent laugh or silent cry throat posture; I learned this technique from Estill Vocal Training when attending the Level One Course. This puts your larynx in a more neutral position and favours a free vocal onset.

  • Avoid protruding the jaw and tightening the lips

Try keeping your jaw slightly down and wrapped back. During singing, allow it to move freely and drop, without pushing it forward or back too much. 

  • Optimal tongue postures

Allow the tip of the tongue to rest freely behind the bottom teeth with a slight arch in the middle (‘ng’ position). It shouldn’t feel blocked there, but it’s an effective way to prevent tongue-root tension.

  • Keep in mind the other principles of healthy sound production

Don’t expect that achieving an open throat to fix all singing problems. Keep an eye on your support, resonance strategies (necessary twang for example) and vocal tract configurations to meet specific sounds. Remember that healthy singing is tension-free, even when producing extreme vocal sounds.

Feel free to share your thoughts on this matter or ask any questions you may have in the comments section below.

Perception exercise 1

First things first. Let’s have a look at the vibrating mechanism that our voices use to make sounds. It may appear simple, but a deeper understanding can clear out many uncertainties and improve our confidence.


All the singing magic really happens with the cooperation of a few elements we are describing in this exercise. Don’t be shy to explore and don’t get frustrated if you don’t succeed on your first try. Remember, good singing takes time, and we all have a different pace.

The vibrating mechanism

Step 1. Blow air gently through your almost closed lips. The result will be an airy sound with no perceptible sound.

Step 2. Start blowing the air a little harder just as you sometimes do when you are bored or exasperated. Regulate the pressure until you manage to produce a lip trill (again, without actual sound). This movement of the lips is similar to how the vocal folds repeatedly close and open to create the sound signal. This signal will afterwards be shaped and amplified by the vocal tract, which acts as the voice resonator (next on step 3).

Let’s analyze what happened.
– We needed something that could vibrate, in our case the lips – the vibration source;
– To produce the vibration of the lips we used our breath – the fuel;
– For more effective vibrations, you had to regulate the breath pressure using your torso muscles – the regulator;

Step 3. Now let’s add sound to our experiment. Make the lip trill again but add voice to it (think about humming behind the lip trill). You can feel the vocal folds’ movement by softly touching your larynx.

Let’s analyze what happened.
– The vocal folds acted as a vibrator source as well (when we started the hum).

– The signal produced by the vocal folds was shaped and amplified by our vocal tract – the resonator;

Conclusion
For effective sound production, one needs controlled airflow, an optimal vibration source and a resonator to amplify the sound. 

If you have any questions or something to share with everyone, feel free to leave a comment below.

Common technical problems encountered by singers – cheat sheet

Hi everyone! I am working on a new article regarding the most common technical problems encountered by singers. Here is a sneak-peek for you, use it as a cheat sheet to figure out what causes strain in your singing!

  • Incorrect body alignment

Posture faults | Body tension-related faults

  • Inappropriate breath management

Shallow breathing | Breathing too deeply |

Upper-chest breathing | Belly breathing 

  • Inefficient phonation

Hypo-functional phonation | Hyper-functional phonation

  • Poor articulation habits

Tongue tension | Lips tension | Jaw tension |

Uncoordinated soft palate | Poor articulation

  • Unbalanced resonance

Hypo-nasality | Hyper-nasality |

Over-darkening the sound | Over-brightening the sound

  • Ineffective registration

Register transitions issues | Unintentional vocal breaks

Vocal onsets. Useful tools in creating the expression you want during a performance

The term vocal onset (or attack) is used in singing to describe how the breath and vocal folds come together to start a note.

The smooth onset


The vocal folds meet the breath and come together gently and efficiently just before the sound is made.
The tone is clear and energy-efficient, for this attack ensures a steady stream of air passing through the vibrating vocal folds. This type of onset is representative for classical singing, but it can also be used in contemporary songs when a balanced sound is desired. Furthermore, this onset assures easier access to healthy tone production and resonance.

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The glottal onset


Closed vocal folds stop the breath before the sound is produced (you can notice it by saying “uh-oh!”).
The glottal attack gives a clean, sudden sound to a note and helps you find a strong tone. This type of onset can be used in any contemporary genre, and it is often employed in rock styles. It has a feeling of directness and strength.

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The breath onset


The breath is passing through open vocal folds before the sound production (say “hah” and feel how the air flows before the voice sound).
The breath onset has a feeling of intimacy and ease. You can hear this attack in most contemporary genres.

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The gasp onset


The gasp onset is a variation of the breath onset. The main difference is that the air goes faster through the open vocal folds before the voice production (similar to panting on the word “huh-huh”).
This onset has a feeling of intense emotions, desperation and pleading, helping to make a feature of gospel and soul styles.

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The creak onset


The breath is passing very slowly between the vibrating vocal folds before airflow increases, and stronger tone is employed. You can feel this creak (also called vocal fry) try making the sound your voice makes in the morning or when you are quite tired.
This attack has a feeling of high intimacy or exhaustion. It is prevalent in many pop styles, but you might find it in other contemporary genres as well.

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The yodel onset


The breath passes through the vocal folds vibrating in falsetto with very little resistance, then the vocal muscles activate and vibrate vigorously against the breath. Try making a hoody sound on “hoo” and change suddenly into a chesty “ah” sound to get an idea of the vocal mechanism changing its mode of vibration.
The yodel (also called flip) onset is a country singing trait, although its popularity has grown. You can also find this attack in contemporary genres like pop, gospel, and R’n’B for its emotional impact.

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Keep in mind these onsets are useful tools for creating the expression you want during a performance. An essential feature for a singer is authenticity, so try exploring each vocal onset and the emotional impact that it carries. Always listen to your body, and if something causes strain or constriction, it means you are not using the appropriate technique in employing the sounds you want. Keep practising and improve your technique to control your voice healthily.

How the voice works

Our instrument is inside us, making our voice both exciting and mysterious. Here’s a brief description of how the voice works. A better understanding of this complex process can make your singing approach more efficient.

THE BREATHING SYSTEM | AIRFLOW


The lungs and the breathing muscles provide the airflow needed to sustain sound. You may view the airflow as being the fuel necessary for singing. Your inspiratory and expiratory muscles control the airflow, and along with other working muscles in the body, assist the work in your vocal tract to successfully support sound.

THE LARYNX | PHONATION


The larynx houses the two vocal folds, which vibrate and generate sound. When speaking or singing, the air passing through the larynx gets interrupted by the action of the vocal folds. These adjust their length, closing and opening rapidly, and thus producing a characteristic sound signal. The vocal folds stretch more and vibrate faster for higher notes and shorten and vibrate slower for the low notes.

THE VOCAL TRACT | RESONANCE

The vocal tract encompasses the larynx, pharynx, oral and nasal cavities, also called the resonators. They amplify and shape the sound created by the vocal folds. The lips, tongue and soft palate are used to articulate speech sounds that form words. The vocal tract is highly flexible, granting us different sounds and sound colours when an appropriate technique is employed.
The brain is the overall regulator of these systems by activating muscles and providing information via nerve pathways. It also uses sensory and auditory feedback to control and monitor the optimal functioning of these.

Source: This is a voice by Jeremy Fisher and Gillyanne Kayes

Good singing requires airflow, cord closure and effective use of the resonators.

An effective vocal warm-up routine for singing

A lot of singers lack specific objectives when warming up their voice. Furthermore, there is this idea that there are vocal exercises that work wonders and guarantee fixing any issue. I believe this is oftentimes counterproductive and that it can lead to a great deal of frustration. My suggestion is this vocal warm-up cheat sheet instead.

  • Body balance and preparation

Your body is your instrument, and its state varies day to day. Wake-up your body, and as a golden rule, always check your posture and alignment before and during the vocal exercises.

  • Breath management

Your voice needs breath to sustain its sound. Your breathing muscles have to be strong and flexible at the same time, so include some breathing exercises into your practice every day.

  • Articulators workout

The tongue, lips, soft palate and jaw are actively involved in the production and quality of sound. Spare some time sorting out possible tensions. The goal is to be precise and agile without causing strain.

  • Warm-up vocalization

Any vocal exercise can be used as a warm-up if done correctly. Start light and easy and gradually work your way through your vocal range and intensity, without pushing your voice. Focus on the sensation of ease and relaxation and remember the goal is to prepare your voice for future vocal tasks.

  • Skill-building exercices

You can now target specific areas of your technique that are more demanding. In time,  you’ll be able to sing the song you want, the way you want it.

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