Finding Helen’s Chest Voice (Episode 2)

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In the last episode, me and Helen were looking for her chest voice. She had, and has, a stunning top range which was capable of great expression and versatility. But where was her chest voice?

The problem was most noticeable in the middle of her voice. The middle C to the G above it – territory usually held by the chest voice in female voices – had been invaded. She was beginning her head voice at almost the lowest point possible, where it was barely more than a whimper.

But why was her chest voice not able to fight back? It had been routed by a persistent and pernicious habit: that she began the start of her notes too softly.

This exercise helps to firm up the beginning of chest voice notes, while making sure they don’t get pushed hard enough to harm the voice or create bad habits. It also contains reference to the puppy exercise – so here’s a puppy!

Puppy-Beagle

And, just in case you don’t get the reference:

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Inside Matt’s Studio: The Ultimate Vocal Warm-Down

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It’s happened to all of us: you’ve been speaking all day, or you go on a night out, or you stretch for that top note, and…

BAM. Voice gone. You might feel like something’s stuck in your throat. Or something’s grating every time you speak. Or for singers, you might feel your head voice has vanished or diminished.

People understand warming up, but what they don’t understand is warming down. This is just as important. Just as your biceps tense up after too much exercise, so do your vocal folds. If you leave that tension to settle in, you’ll lose your voice. Because so often, people lose their voice the day after their big gig, not the day itself.

That’s because the tension has been left to settle in, it’s that bedding-in period that does the damage.

So we need to catch that tension before it embeds itself too deeply into your voice. And this exercise, done with my female student ‘I’, is a killer. It both relaxes the extrinsic muscles of the larynx and helps to chill out the vocal folds.

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Above, you can see a diagram of the muscles around the larynx, just to help orient you. The larynx is the white bit, and the muscles we’re working on are the red bits. Best of luck!

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Inside Matt’s Studio: Articulation – S’s and Z’s

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As an elocution tutor, sometimes I see students with colourful accents. They rarely come as colourful as B’s. Israeli-Russian heritage with elements of American? Pfff.

But, at the end of the day, everything’s only a few sounds away from Received Pronunciation (RP). Here, we talk about S and Z sounds – a crucial battleground for anyone with Eastern European heritage. RP has a deceptive amount of Z’s, as you hear in the clip.

For clarification, the hand gestures we use are:

The Z Sound: Pinching one finger to the thumb, close in towards the body.

The S Sound: Pinching one finger to the thumb, far out from the body.

The news article we used is this one, about Adele.

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Matt’s 5-Minute Tips: A Confident Breath

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When it comes to speaking, beginning is half the battle. If the oft-quoted research is to be believed, the first impression your audience makes of you obscures everything that follows. Your first words, if they falter, fault the whole.

The chance to generate these first impressions begins even before your first word. It lies in how you intake your breath. A collapsed chest and sharp in-breath is the pattern of nervousness and submissiveness. An open chest and smooth in-breath displays relaxation and confidence.

This exercise shows you the difference between the two, and gives you a cast-iron way you can prepare for the crucial first moment of your speech.

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Finding Helen’s Chest Voice (Episode 1)

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Me and Helen, the student in this clip, are on our fourth or fifth lesson. She’s a natural soprano, comfortable with the high ranges and with a sweeping, effortless mezzo-soprano range.

However, there’s a problem. To her, the lower sections of her voice (sometimes termed ‘chest voice’, or ‘Mode One’) feel completely alien. She speaks of her chest voice as though it is utterly separate from the rest of her voice.

It calls to mind the mental illness called BIID, Body Integrity Identity Disorder, in which a person is convinced that a part of their body, such as their hand or leg, does not belong to them. The sufferer will go to great lengths to remove or disassociate themselves from this phantom limb, even undergoing surgery to remove it. After the amputation, they feel much happier.

Helen has successfully amputated her chest voice. Her idea of ‘singing’ is completely in head voice – in its wide-open vowels and wonderful free vibrato.

In this clip, we work on re-attaching the chest voice. You will hear that I do so not by trying to convince her that her chest voice should sound like singing, but by telling her to co-exist with the non-singing feeling. The ‘mnah, mnah, mnah’ sound we work on is designed to be anathema to beautiful singing – yet the thyroid tilt, induced by the ‘puppy’ exercise, brings in a lovely resonant quality to the voice.

Chords for Reflection – first chord F Major.
Chords for Hallelujah – first chord Eb Major.

Check out the next episode in this series for more scales, as well as muppet references.

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The Singing Flowchart: How Anyone Can Learn To Sing

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This flowchart took 3 years, 2,500 hours and a Masters to write. Every singing technique I teach is on there, from breathing and support (top left), tuning and resonance (bottom left) to posture and anchoring (top right). Every bit of it has been researched, recalibrated, turned into analogy and delineated into little circles.

Every arrow shows us the interdependencies of each technique. Singing relies on dozens of muscular activities working together in unison. If one is faulty, the house of cards tumbles. For instance, a poor neck position engages tongue tension, flattening the tone and dismantling the tuning. A tense rectus abdominis engages the false vocal folds, inviting tension and vocal injury.

The act of singing is complicated. Even more so because we cannot, like a guitar, physically hold our instrument as we learn it. Singers have to be trained obliquely: through metaphor, imagery and conceptual understanding instead of rote-learning fingerwork. I have had students stuck on one of these arrows for six months at a time as they battle to make their body understand what their mind is telling it.

But when I look at this flowchart, I see hope. Singing is, in the end, mechanical. I am not a believer in supernatural things – and certainly not in supernatural gifts. Anyone can learn to sing – and sing well – if they are rigorous, imaginative and playful enough.

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