Why are you doing what you are doing?

Why does your choir do vocal exercises? How to know what to do when – Sequential Choral Training Exercises and its importance

It’s important to think of the voice as not residing just in the pharynx. Think of the voice as being part of the mind and the body. Vocal exercises should have a reason behind why each and every one is done. For example: Singing a bright “nee-nee-nee” raises a suppressed larynx to a more neutral position. This is especially important to bass singers who find themselves pressing their larynx to sing even lower. Singing a “nee to a nah” brings the sound forward. Vocal exercises should include continuous body movement no matter how small. This increases circulation, enables natural breathing from the diaphragm, and provides oxygen to the brain.

Not only should movement happen, but the brain should be triggered to think about what the ear is hearing and what the voice is singing. Doing activities such as writing your name in the air with an imaginary balloon helps engage the mind. Looking about the room and finding something new about it, engages the mind. Calling out the new found thing and naming it’s shape, color, purpose and if it serves any purpose to you.

How we actually begin making our first sounds is important. Using descending slides to gently pull the vocal folds toward the cricoid ring and back toward the thyroid sets good habits into play.

Helping our singers understand the difference in our articulators (teeth, tongue, mouth, and jaw) that make consonants and resonators that make our vowels therefore our pitch is equally important.

I hope you will read below to better understand what a sequential vocal warm up is and how to employ customized exercises to maintain healthy singing for the whole of your life.

There are 8 steps in the SEQUENTIAL CHORAL TRAINING EXERCISE:

▪Connect Body and Mind

▪Alignment

▪Breath Management

▪Phonation

▪Articulators

▪Tone quality/Timbre

▪Aural skills

▪Reading skills

BODY and MIND
Wash car/windows ▪Dig a ditch ▪Swim front/back stroke ▪Swim circles ▪Quick jog ▪Hand off the dance ▪Draw name with balloon

•Williams: Happyhttps://youtu.be/ZbZSe6N_BXs

•Copland: Rodeo (20:11) •https://youtu.be/SNZs82BZ9R8

ALIGNMENT Massage jaw, temples, neck muscles •Yawn and stretch with arms over head then open to side and drop •Shoulders to ears, drop with blades high •Roll up on toes; back on heels; side to side; soften the knees •Drop, hang over feet, roll up one vertebrate at a time as if stacking blocks on top of blocks •Look about the room – freedom to move •Tongue stretches

ACTIVATE DIAPHRAGM / BREATH MANAGEMENT •Choir Shoulder Check – right hand on neighbor’s shoulder, lightly tap if shoulders rise •Measure Air Stream •Silent breath in, out on “ch-ch-ch-ch-ch” •In 4 out 8 – lungs completely emptied (fast stream of air) •In 2 out 12, 16, 20, 24 •In 1 out 16

    

KEYS: No audible breathing – closed-mouth yawn Keep shoulders down during inhale Keep muscles engaged Keep moving

ARTICULATORS: Mouth, Teeth, Tongue, Jaw

distinguish articulators from resonators:

Other ex: Cha  – tta – noo – ga,    Cha-  tta-  noo – ga      Choo.
    Bu   -tta –   bu- tta,    Bu –  tta –  bu-  tta      Boo
Other ex: Bu-tter-fly, bu-tter-fly, bu-tter-fly flew,  Bu-tter-fly, bu-tter-fly, bu-tter-fly flew.
Six-ty eight, six-ty eight, six-ty eight-two, Six-ty eight, six-ty eight, six-ty eight two.

RESONATORS and TIMBRE •Whistle register small [u] through head-mix-chest
•Bright to Dark [ne] using pitches A-C#-E over 8 counts
     Reverse Dark to Bright
•“Pepe Le Pew”

•Moving Sound Forward: 1. nasal 2. nasal to open 3. open

Agility:

Breath Energy – use “z” to springboard the air:

AURAL SKILLS ~ PRACTICING AUDIATION

Pitch Matching Teacher calls, students echo; Individual calls, choir echoes; Altos call, sopranos echo, etc.

Audiation Using Curwen Hand Signs: Teacher signs three/four pitches: (“do-re-do”) singers sign & sing pitches

Hearing intonation: Explain that each pitch contains 100 cents; Give “middle E” pitch then gradually move over 10 pulses down a half step (moving 10 cents each pulse)

Divide choir into three or four groups.  •All sing an ascending major scale. •On the descending scale, each group stops and sustains one pitch in the scale, creating a major chord, all resolve on cue to do, mi or so. •Use to work on tuning, balancing chords, dynamics, and harmonization.

SIGHT READING: Choose a system and use it everyday. Think methodically – do not leap frog over any steps

Systems that work include:

Sight-Singing for SSA, Crocker & Eilers, Hal Leonard Publishing

Sight-Reading for Success for SA voices, Stevens & McGill, Hal Leonard Publishing

J. Reese Norris: JReeseNorris.com available strictly online

Young Singers Journey Book 1 & 2, Baldwin, Bartle, Beaupre, Hinshaw Music

•Transfer and Recognizing Patterns and Which one is not like the others:

  Major/minor scale

  Major/minor arpeggio

  Major/minor pentascale

Repeating rhythms

Sing the tune: OLD HUNDRETH, lyrics by Thomas Ken in the key of any new piece you are singing

soprano line in solfege: so-mi-do-re-fa-mi-re-do:

REFERENCES

Cooksey, J. M. (1992). Working with adolescent voices. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.

Daugherty, J. (2012). Sequence of a Choral Warm-Up. University of Kansas, KS: Science-based voice education course, Department of Music Education and Music Therapy.

Freeman, C. (2014). Sequential Choral Training Exercises for Middle School. The Institute for Healthy Singing.

Hasseman, F. , Jordan, J. (1991). Group vocal technique. Chapel Hill: NC: Hinshaw Music, Inc.

McKinney, J. (1982). The diagnosis and correction of vocal faults: A manual for teachers of singing and for choir directors. Salem, WI: Waveland Press, Inc.

Norris.J.R. (2019). ACDA Interest Session: Unlocking Mystery of the Middle School Men. https://www.jreesenorris.com/resources.html

Shalberg, M. (2019). Breath Management Exercises. Una Vocis Choral Training Exercises.

Stultz, M. (2007). Innocent sounds. Building choral tone and artistry in your children’s choir. 1, 69-78. Fenton, MO: Morning Star.

Stultz, M. (2007). Innocent sounds. Building choral tone and artistry in your children’s choir. 2, 137-144. Fenton, MO: Morning Star.

http://Hymnary.org, Ken, T. (1694). OLD HUNDRETH

https://hymnary.org/text/praise_god_from_whom_all_blessings_ken

Images:

https://www.google.com/search?q=Curwen+hand+signs&safe=off&client=firefox-a&hs=7zd&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&channel=sb&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=JwqeU7PfBtW0yATgoICgBg&ved=0CB4QsAQ&biw=1229&bih=581#facrc=_&imgdii=_&imgrc=OqrWbRNsyr00FM%253A%3BvN5qlJ2L-cKzAM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.classicsforkids.com%252Fteachers%252Fimages%252Fhandsigns.gif%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.classicsforkids.com%252Fteachers%252Ftraining%252Fhandsigns.asp%3B292%3B364
https://www.google.com/search?safe=off&site=&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1229&bih=581&q=quarter+note&oq=quarter+note&gs_l=img.3..0l10.54.3137.0.4102.18.12.3.3.3.0.190.1215.4j7.11.0….0…1ac.1.46.img..1.17.1252.f6Mf41wDTFQ&gws_rd=ssl#facrc=_&imgdii=_&imgrc=SeL-RMLXFg9ifM%253A%3BGrazW_KWWUUDPM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.rath.ca%252FHomeSchool%252FMusicGifs%252FQuarterNote.gif%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fwww.rath.ca%252FHomeSchool%252FFlashCardMusic.shtml%3B200%3B175

The Breathy Girl’s Changing Voice

Two videos attached for your reading enhancement ~

My favorite part of being a voice teacher is working with “Changing Voice Girls.” An email arrived this morning from Becca (8th grade) who has an audition for a select 9-12 girls touring chorus. She’s been making bi-weekly recordings of her singing for me this season so that I can track her voice change progress. In January I noticed her sound becoming progressively more “breathy” and “gunky” so when I received the following message today, I was not surprised! Here is our exchange:

March 2018

Hi Miss Jamea! 

My voice has just recently started to fade away. I have to work a lot harder than usual to sing even the S1 part of “Let the Sea Make a Noise[1]”. Do you have any tips that might help? Just a couple weeks ago I would have said with confidence I have a good chance of making the top girls’ choir next year, but now my sound doesn’t sound as pure as before.

Thanks!

Becky

~~~~~~~~~

Hi Becky!

I noticed on your recordings that some changes are a-coming! The most important thing at this time is to keep singing with all the healthy practices that you’ve learned. No pushing or forcing the voice. It’s going to be a bit breathy and gunky for a while. That’s ok! We know that this is normal and that most girls auditioning for the first time to the touring chorus are in this stage.

Girls.Vocal.Chink.Image.
Adolescent Female Vocal Folds.

Helpful Guidelines:

  • Practice daily. It’s important to stay ‘conditioned.’
  • Drink lots of water & swallow (or spit) the gunky stuff.
  • Avoid coughing or clearing as this is wearing and damaging to the vocal folds. Take care of the voice!

– Your sound will not have the same clarity as last year, but you will still do your ‘set up’ the same as always. We’ll keep watch that you don’t start any unproductive habits like:

  • pulling the lips, arching the tongue, over-blowing the air (this actually makes the breathiness worse)
  • pushing/pressing the sound, or even getting a strange head/body posture started. These things would ultimately undermine the sound.
  • Support the breath just like you have been! Nothing needs to change from what you’ve been up to already. You will feel like you don’t have enough air because you’re leaking[2]! It’s normal!

 You can still get resonance. The more relaxed your teeth/mouth/jaw/pharynx is, the better! When these things are in place, your breath will be more efficient!

Vocal Exercises:

  • Descending glissandos. Start with your lighter head voice production and maintain that sound throughout the exercise.
  • Ascending glissandos throughout the range. You want the voice to sound even from top to bottom. If you feel a ‘yodel’ or ‘break’ in the slide, focus on:

1.) maintaining lighter “production” all the way through the line.

2.) energizing the breath where the break happens. (The tendency is often to back off when there’s a hitch, but you must keep that breath moving!) Note: when I say “light,” I don’t mean wimpy tone: I’m saying not to use a ”muscular” or “heavy” tone.

  • Skip-intervals will add flexibility to your voice. Strive for accuracy and ease. (“Let the Sea Make a Noise” has great melismas that make a perfect exercise!)
  • Sing your own voice! If you start trying to “do” your old sound or a more mature sound, you will likely be going in the wrong direction. Your new “changing” voice is beautiful. Embrace it!

 XOXO

Miss Jamea

 [1] “Let the Sea Make a Noise” by George Frideric Handel, Arr. Jacob Narverud for SSA & Piano. S1 range is E4 – G5, S2 range is D4 – D5, A1 range is A3 – B4. (This is Becky’s required audition piece.)

[2] During female adolescent changing voice, girls’ vocal folds develop a gap (place where the folds don’t fully close). This is an occurrence that is normal and that will eventually pass given good technique and time.

  • Please watch stroboscopy showing small posterior gap or vocal chink in normal teenage girl:

Allegro Choirs of Kansas City perform “Let the Sea Make a Noise”, Georg Frideric HANDEL. Christy Elsner, Director; Jamea Sale, Vocal Coach.

 

Part 2 The human voice: an instrument in residence

Jamea Sale, Director of the Institute for Healthy Singing:

JSale@HealthySinging.org

Executive Associate Director, William Baker Choral Foundation

Voice Specialist, Allegro Choirs of Kansas City

Part 1 of  The human voice: an instrument in residence looked at the voice as a localized instrument in the form of the larynx and vocal folds [link to previous article]. Of course, the vocal folds do not initiate vibration of their own accord. There is energy stimulating the folds to vibrate! That energy is in the form of breath!

The Human Thoracic Cavity

The thoracic cavity can be thought of as a container holding the lungs and heart. The container is bounded by the ribs (and muscle and tissue). The ribcage, while structural, is also flexible having tissue and muscles between each rib that function to open and close the ribs. The diaphragm is situated at the floor of the thoracic cavity, and it works in unison with the ribs to draw air in and out of the lungs.

jar

 

Human Lungs and Diaphragm

The diaphragm is an elastic sheath muscle the spans the bottom of the rib cage. Think of the diaphragm muscle as the “divider” of the torso. The upper torso (thoracic cavity) contains the vital organs of the heart and lungs, and the lower torso contains the viscera. The diaphragm is parachute-shaped, and it descends on inhalation and ascends on exhalation.

 

brain breath

When the brain sends the message, “I need air!” a complex set of activity is triggered:

  1. Inhalation: The thoracic cavity must expand:
    1. The rib cage muscles are triggered open
    2. The diaphragm sheath muscle descends (contracts).

This causes a decrease in lung pressure in comparison to the atmosphere of the thoracic cavity, and air rushes into the airway.

  1. Exhalation: an elastic recoil of the lung tissue occurs. The thoracic cavity relaxes.
    1. The rib cage muscles close, returning to resting position.
    2. The diaphragm muscle ascends.

This causes a decrease in lung volume and results in increased pressure in comparison to the thoracic atmosphere so that air rushes out of the airway.

In physics, this is directly related to Boyle’s Law. Check out this easy to understand visual explanation on Youtube:  Boyles Law from Respiratory System – Anatomy & Physiology Online https://youtu.be/q6-oyxnkZC0.

Breath trivia:

The diaphragm descends anywhere from 1.5 cm at rest to 6-10 cm during exercise.

There is no air going into the abdominals! The role of the abs is to relax and allow the thoracic cavity to be more spacious.

Breathing allows you to take in the oxygen and expel carbon-dioxide waste. But when you exhale, you also breathe out a lot of water. Humans exhale up to 0.59 fluid ounces of water per hour and about four times that amount during exercise.

The right lung is larger than the left lung in humans to accommodate the heart.

If the lungs were opened flat, they would be so big that they would cover the size of a tennis court.

The abdominal muscles required for breathing are also involved in postural support, movement, balance, coughing, urination, vomiting, singing, childbirth, and defecation.

TO DO:

 Body Mapping the Ribs:

  • Place your hands, fingers together, on either side of your torso. Find the lower ribs. Do a long exhale. Notice the ribs drawing together toward the center of the body. As you do a long inhale, notice the rib cage “opening” and lifting. Keep your hands in the same position but move them a few inches away from your body. As you repeat the breathing exercise spread your fingers apart as you inhale and close your fingers together as you exhale.

Open & Close Hand

  • Imagine you are holding a pail, one hand on the bottom of the pail and the other on the handle. Lower the handle of the pail as you exhale and inhale as you raise the handle of the pail. Now, place your hands on your low ribs. Imagine the action of the pail handle as you exhale and inhale.

 

pail

  1. Body Mapping the Lungs:

 Stand with a relaxed, upright and regal stature. Allow your jaw to be relaxed and open. Exhale for a count of 4 and inhale for a count of 4. Now release to a slouched position continuing the count-breathing. As you inhale, notice how the breath intake is inhibited by this new position. Return to upright.

  • Expel all air in the lungs. Hold this position momentarily (don’t inhale). Now, release your ribs and abs and open your mouth. Simply allow air back into the lungs without “doing” an inhale. Repeat the exercise a few times. Notice that air naturally flows into the lungs due upon release of the muscles of the ribs and abs.

III. Sing!

  • Stand with a relaxed, upright and regal stature. Exhale for a count of 4. Inhale, releasing your ribs and abs. Begin an exhale and allow the voice to join the exhalation in a long sigh.
  • Repeat the previous exercise, but instead of sighing, try singing a song you like. Allow the breath to initiate the sound of your singing.

Jamea Sale, Contributing Author

References:

8 Fun Facts About Lungs | Pulmonary Hypertension News. (2017). Pulmonary Hypertension News. Retrieved 8 January 2019, from https://pulmonaryhypertensionnews.com/2017/12/20/8-fun-facts-lungs/

Bilal M, Voin V, Topale N, Iwanaga J, Loukas M, and Tubbs RS. (2017). The Clinical anatomy of the physical examination of the abdomen: A comprehensive review. Clin Anat. 30(3):352-356.

Heinrich, Jane Ruby. Voice and the Alexander Technique: Active Explorations for Speaking and Singing. Berkeley, CA: Mornum Time, 2005.

Breathing: The Mechanics of Human Breathing | Boundless Biology. (2019). Courses.lumenlearning.com. Retrieved 8 January 2019, from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-biology/chapter/breathing/

Vennard, William. Singing the Mechanism and the Technic. New York: C. Fisher, 1967.

 

 

The Human Voice: An Instrument in Residence, Part 1 ~

The human voice: an instrument in residence

Instrument

Singers are fortunate to have a traveling instrument requiring no special assembly or installation. Even so, it is helpful to understand the make-up of the singing apparatus.

The Human Larynx

The larynx is the main structure of the human singing instrument. It is an organ suspended in the neck from the hyoid (the only bone in the larynx), and it is situated below the jaw in the neck. Its composition is primarily cartilage (seven cartilages total), tissue, membrane, and muscle.

Location of Larynx

Because the main part of the larynx is in a state of suspension, it can make excursions up and down and side to side in the neck. For singing and speaking, the laryngeal structure tilts and vibrates.  

An interesting feature of the larynx is the epiglottis, which is a leaf-shaped flap of cartilage located behind the tongue at the top of the larynx. Its function is to seal the windpipe during swallowing so that food or saliva is not accidentally inhaled. Thus, the larynx is instrumental in the prevention of choking.

Parts of Larynx

Phonation

Phonation is the sound of singing and speech which occurs from the oscillation of the vocal folds and resonance of the vocal tract. Singing and speaking require a combination of changes in position, tension and mass of the vocal folds.

Vocal Folds

Vocal folds are composed of mucous membrane stretched horizontally across the top opening of the larynx. The folds are situated just below the pharyngeal tract and above where the tract splits into the trachea and the esophagus within the larynx. They are open for breathing and closed for swallowing, sealing the windpipe from food and liquid.

Superior View of Folds

Vocal folds are essential for phonation or vocalization. Phonation requires the vibrate, modulating the flow of air being expelled from the lungs during phonation.

The size of the folds affects voice pitch. Vocal folds begin growing to their full adult length and thickness during adolescence.

  • Adult male vocal folds are relatively large and thick. Male vocal folds are between 0.75″ to 1.0″ in length.
  • Female vocal folds are less dense and are between 0.5″ to 0.75″ in length.

TO DO:

 I. Body Mapping the Larynx:

  • Gently place the fingers of one hand on one side of your neck/throat and then swallow. A swallow is a complex procedure involving numerous pairs of muscles. You probably noticed the larynx moving up then back down to a neutral position under your fingers as your tongue pushed saliva to the back of your mouth and down the throat.
  • Gently place the fingers of your hand on one side of your throat and yawn. As the jaw descends and the tongue lowers for the yawn, you will notice the larynx move down.
  • Gently place the fingers of your hand on one side of your throat and carefully nudge the larynx to one side. Repeat with the opposite side. Notice that the larynx can move slightly side to side.

II. Body Mapping the Vocal Folds:

  • Gently place the fingers of your hand on one side of your throat while you hum. Notice the feeling of vibrations in your neck. Try touching around your lips, nose, jaw, skull and chest while you hum or sing throughout your vocal range. Notice the vibrations that are produced when you phonate.

 

Open & Close & Shortened

  • Simulate the opening and closing of your vocal folds: Beginning with your palms together as in figure ‘a,’ move your hands apart while inhaling (figure ‘b’). Now, sing a long tone as you bring your palms together. Each time you breathe, repeat the sequence, opening the palms for breath and closing for singing. Notice that the breath exhalation begins slightly before tone starts.
  • Again, beginning palms together, breathe, opening your palms as in figure ‘b.’ Bringing palms together, sing an ee [i] vowel, starting from your lowest comfortable note. Perform a glissando to your highest comfortable note. As your voice slides from low to high, move your thumbs from a forward position (figure c) to an upright position. Move the thumbs back to the starting position as you slide your low voice down to your lowest comfortable note. The thumb movement simulates the lengthening and shortening action of the folds as you sing from low to high. Be sure to open your palms each time you take a breath and close your palms as you sing.

III. Body Mapping Tension/Relaxation:

  • Gently place the fingers of your hand on one side of your throat. Open your mouth as wide as possible. Notice the tension around your mouth, neck and jaw. Now, relax the opening until it feels natural and comfortable. Practice singing a range of vowel sounds with the jaw comfortably open.
  • Gently place the fingers of your hand on one side of your throat. Make an expression of a dramatic frown and a dramatic grin. Notice the tension around your mouth, neck and jaw. Try rolling your shoulders to an extreme back position. Notice the tension around your neck. Relax to a neutral position. Experiment with a range of postures and expressions noticing any tension and exploring to find relaxation.
  • Consider how tense postures might inhibit the ability of the larynx to move, tilt and vibrate while singing.

References

Birch-Iensen, M., Borgström, P. S., & Ekberg, O. (1988). Cineradiography in closed and open pharyngeal swallow. Acta radiologica29(4), 407-410.

Lumb, A. B. (2016). Nunn’s applied respiratory physiology eBook. Elsevier Health Sciences.

Mittal, R. (2011, April). Motor function of the pharynx, esophagus, and its sphincters. In Colloquium Series on Integrated

Systems Physiology: From Molecule to Function (Vol. 3, No. 3, pp. 1-84). Morgan & Claypool Life Sciences.

Trollinger, V. (2005). Performing arts medicine and music education: What do we really need to know?. Music Educators Journal92(2), 42-48.

Vocal folds. (2018). ScienceDaily. Retrieved 31 December 2018, from www.sciencedaily.com/terms/vocal_folds.htm

Zveglic, E. A. (2014). Speech and singing. In Recognizing and Treating Breathing Disorders (Second Edition) (pp. 203-214).

GESTURES or WORDS?

Please see two videos attached.

Knowing that language is a true barrier in working with our Chinese choirs, I have been forced to be more concise with my instruction! I hope I make this change permanent. The shortest explanation to our singers can either create more confusion or fall silent on their young minds. Even though I have a translator, I must wait for the translator to deliver the instruction then hope the translation was accurate.

Dr. Daugherty, Ph.D. at the University of Kansas, constantly stressed delivering remarks in seven words or less. This might be a hard fast rule for advanced or professional choirs, but it is certainly an efficient manner in which to manage rehearsals for younger choirs.

For the novice singer to the most mature singer, the use of gestures and modeling has become my modus operandi. At this stage, few of our singers actually need more explanation. They simply need to hear and see how the phrase is sung.

In the two videos attached, the Purcell Choir, 9-11 year olds, is singing Sanctus from Cornell’s Unison Mass. We added a breath mark after the highest note in the last phrase of the piece. The natural response is to clip the note while also accenting it. The only remedy was to demonstrate using the fingers of one hand to gently brush the palm of the other. Viola! The voice automatically matched the kinesthetic gestures used by the hands.

The Byrd Choir, 7-8 year olds, has been using Brahms’ Die Nachtigall to learn many elements of musicianship. It has served us well learning to:

  • count sing “1-2-3” in English
  • sing repeating pitches, rhythms and arpeggios
  • sing staccato
  • sing German text

We used the fingers of one hand to tap lightly the other in order to understand staccato singing and to understand where to put the final consonant. In this case the end of each phrase ended with a crotchet or quarter note. All the other notes in the piece are quavers and semi-quavers.

So much more can be accomplished in less time, when we apply a gesture to better understand the goal of our music making. Articulation and phrasing become instantly clear and without ever giving any verbal instruction. Accept the challenge to see how few words you can use in order to achieve amazing results.

Lynn Swanson, MME