How To Hit High Notes – Episode One

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Arthur Lessac is a certified genius. No doubt about it. Not only his intuition, his natural curiosity, but also his ability to create memorable experiences for his students so that the learning stayed in.

Hitting high notes is the great quest of any singer. But what stops us?

In a word – tension.

You probably know the feeling – that ‘urp’ in the throat when you reach upwards above a certain level. The internal muscles of the larynx contract and pull against each other, creating internal tension that spreads outwards like chain lightning. This tension can ‘flip’ the voice, making it lose control.

But Lessac has an extraordinary response to tension, all contained in the duality between two words: ‘Relaxer/Energiser’.

When we normally place conscious effort into something, we usually use more bodily force than we need to, and screw ourselves over. This is apparent in the arm exercise above. When my student just tensed their arm, it wasn’t strong enough to resist my pushing. This is because both the bicep and the tricep are resisting the pushing – and the bicep is actually helping me push! So the wrong kind of force is totally counterproductive.

When my student ‘yawned’ the arm out, creating a full-body experience, the arm was rock-solid. This is because while the tricep worked to resist the force, the bicep was relaxed. One muscle relaxes, and the other gains more energy. This is the crucial part of the relaxer/energiser duality.

The same is true in singing. By engaging the body’s energy using the yawn/stretch, we are able to relax the throat and anchor the body in one motion.

It’s genius. Try it yourself with the same downward scale my student used.

To protect my student’s voice, I also added some thyroid tilt exercises from Estill, similar to the puppy sounds that we’ve used before. Pair this with some simple starter songs and you’ll be well away.

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This Gif Will Help You Breathe Correctly

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Cruising Reddit is rarely a productive use of one’s time. But this morning, my procrastination finally paid off.

This gif (source) is invaluable for students who need help with their breath. When you get into this rhythm, it’s simple:

1. Place a hand on your belly.

2. On the green, breathe out firmly and purposefully, feeling your belly naturally draw in towards your spine. This should feel active and strong, not automatic.

3. On the blue, allow the belly to – without thinking – withdraw back outwards into your hand, creating a little ‘pregnant belly’. This should feel relaxed and automatic, not forced.

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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!

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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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Scales & Warm-Ups Page!

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Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

But that man is screwed without equipment: rods, tackle, line. And he needs somewhere to go get it.

I hereby cut the ribbon on my singing chandlery, with audio warm-ups and scales available to download for free.

No longer shall my students be up creeks without paddles.

Check it out.

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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