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Why Does Singing Feel Good?

By: Melanie Ashe

Whether you are a trained vocalist or someone who considers themselves a professional shower singer, singing gives you some sort of release. Perhaps it’s endorphins, adrenaline, a relief of stress, or an overwhelming wave of emotion that you feel when you open up your body to music and use your very own instrument. Being a performer, I have found an urge to sing when I am feeling stressed, sad, extremely happy, or angry. I often write music and sing when I am propelled to by my mental state, (which isn’t the best policy for becoming a song writer) but it helps me connect to whatever I am working on in a much deeper way. The same goes for the people I teach or come in contact within my field of work. Most of the students I meet feel a sense of relief or passion in a lesson because it is a place of trust, expression, and vulnerability. Singing alone or with a teacher can scare you and motivate you at the same time. 

I have always been curious as to why I wanted to sing. What led me to this path I am currently on? And why am I so driven by emotions when it comes to this specific art form? So I did some research and discovered that singing is very much connected to your physical and emotional being.

Unlike other musical instruments, singing (and yes, we, humans, are a musical instrument) can affect the body in many different ways, resulting in various emotional states. Physically, singing can boost the immune system. At the University of Frankfurt, a study was done to test the blood of a professional choir “before and after an hour-long rehearsal singing Mozart’s “’Requiem,'” where proteins in the immune system were significantly higher after the rehearsal. Interestingly enough, there was no significant increase after the choir only listened to music but only when they were singing (Foot 1). 

For anyone who has been singing for a significant period of time, you know that it is an aerobic exercise. You are burning calories as well as strengthening your diaphragm and your circulation. Exercise is known to release endorphins, which explains why most people feel “better” after they sing (Foot 1). 

One physical benefit that truly surprised me was improvement in your sleeping habits…. Apparently, strengthening your palette and throat muscles can prevent or decrease snoring and sleep apnea. A study in 2008, “published in the journal Sleep Breath found that the prevalence and severity of snoring among semiprofessional singers and non singers indicated that singers scored lower on the snoring scale” (“The health benefits of singing a tune”). So for any of you who are quite the loud sleepers, it’s time to start whistling while you work. 

As for psychological benefits, singing can lower stress, improve mental alertness, and functions as a natural anti-depressant, “When you sing, musical vibrations move through you, altering your physical and emotional landscape. Group singing, for those who have done it, is the most exhilarating and transformative of all. It takes something incredibly intimate, a sound that begins inside you, and shares it with a roomful of people and it comes back as something even more thrilling: harmony” (Horn 1). Along with endorphins, oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the love hormone, “has been found to alleviate anxiety and stress” is released while you sing. Furthermore, oxytocin also enhances feelings of bonding and trust, which explains the decrease in depression and loneliness (Horn 1). 

When it comes to the physical and psychological benefits of singing, there is a lot it can do to improve your health in major ways. Some other health benefits besides improving your immune system, boosting of endorphins and oxytocin, a decrease in sleep apnea, and stress relief, are guided meditation, improvement with posture and concentration resulting in better memory recollection (“The health benefits of singing a tune”). 

Besides the fact that you are healing yourself by creating music, you can open yourself up to a sense of newfound confidence, communication, and a passion for something beautiful whether or not you pursue music as your career or it is simply a hobby. Nothing fulfills me more than when I have an adult walk into my studio who used to sing in high school or college but later pursued other things, or started a family and is now deciding to pick it back up. Music will always be there for you. It is a language just as much as it is an art form. And whether or not it is a serious career, devotion, or hobby for you, it can be a part of your life in various mediums. For me, singing is my medium because I love creating music from my very own being. It feels like the most powerful and and motivating force in my life. 

Sources:

https://takelessons.com/live/singing/health-benefits-of-singing

http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/advertising/todayshealthywoman/ct-ss-thw-health-benefits-of-singing-a-tune-20180314dto-story.html

Finding Your Voice in Song

By: Stefanie Emery 

voice lessons

Many people are intrigued by the art of song and the beauty of the singing voice. For some, singing can come naturally, but for others it may be their life’s work to create the best singing voice possible. Either way, there are many mechanics and techniques that go into a well balanced singing voice.

When we learn that our natural speaking voice is in fact the same “voice” we use to match pitch for singing the mystery and challenge of singing can be simplified. The simple idea that we can transfer the speaking voice that we use to communicate every day to song will help a singer manage the obstacles of matching pitch, creating rich tone, and avoiding an overly breathy sound. 

Let’s break the singing voice down into three main areas. Chest Voice, Head Voice, and Mixed Voice.  Although we access these three “voices” differently, and they have different qualities to them, our goal is to create a consistent sound throughout all of our vocal “registers” thus leaving us with “one voice” instead of three completely different sounding voices. This is a big goal for most vocalists, as navigating between these areas can produce very different tones, volumes, and characteristics if not trained with proper control. Here are our three “voices” and some details on the resonators within our body that produce these sounds.

Chest Voice 

Most commonly recognized by the area where we use our natural speaking voice, the Chest Voice is accessed through the chest, acting as it’s external resonator, and in the mouth as it’s internal resonator. If you place one hand on your upper chest and say “HEY” you should feel a vibration in the chest. Chest Voice is where we produce our strongest sound which is usually the most easily accessed with lower pitches (think back to the speaking voice) and into a mid to higher register where we can produce big, belty sounds. 

Head Voice 

Head Voice is the opposite of Chest Voice because it is a much lighter sound and feeling. Think about taking all the weight away from a big chest voice and hitting pitches in your upper register, these are notes that feel higher and are not as easily achieved in a lower speaking voice area. Head Voice resonates externally in the back of the head and internally in the nasal cavity. To feel the Head Voice place one hand on the upper back of your head and say “WEEE” in a high pitch. You may feel that resonator vibrate slightly. Now say “What’s Up Doc” in the style of Bugs Bunny. Hear that very nasally sound you just created? You are using your Pharyngeal Resonator, or nasal tone, which is accessed externally off of the nose and internally at the back of the Pharynx. Your Pharynx is located internally towards the back of the head within the vocal tract. 

Mixed Voice 

Mixed Voice is where we combine the resonators of the Chest Voice and Head Voice, while  including the Pharyngeal Resonator to add in nasal qualities. Without this nasal component we won’t be accessing the “Mix” of these two other resonators to their fullest extent. All three of these resonators are present in a well balanced Mixed Voice. We use Mixed Voice to achieve rich, full sounds that span between our Chest and Head Voices allowing us to achieve the most consistent sound spanning our low and high registers. Mixed Voice can be used in our upper register to achieve higher pitches without them sounding thin or weak.

Learning how to access these three areas of the voice and how to coordinate the proper mechanics can be achieved through vocal technique exercises, experimentation, and application in song. 

Hearing Chest, Head, and Mixed Voice in Song 

While listening to a singer navigate through their vocal registers you can now start identifying which “voice” they are singing in. Dissecting a vocal performance is a great way to learn the different qualities of these areas of the voice. First, recognizing the pitch is most helpful because it will give us a clue to what register of the voice they are in. Is the singer singing low or high notes? Do they sound strong or light? If the sound is lower and strong there’s a good chance they are singing in chest voice, and if the sound is higher and light they are most likely in their head voice. Mixed Voice is sometimes challenging to identify because it usually sounds strong and has a large resonance. Many singers use their Mix to get powerful sounds in their higher register, thus, at times tricking the listener to think they could be in a powerful Chest Voice.  The song “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele is a great example of hearing all three of these voices. She uses her Chest Voice in most of the song but flips into her Head and Mixed Voices in many areas to create dynamic interest and to also achieve higher pitches with ease. Stylistically, she is choosing which voice to sing in to create differences in feel and tone, which creates an interesting performance rather than one that can feel monotonous and dull. When a vocal stays in the same area through an entire piece and lacks stylistic freedom the result is sometimes flat and underwhelming. Using your ear to analyze a vocal is a wonderful tool as it allows one to compare another vocalist’s abilities and begin utilizing the learned techniques in practice. 

Finding your natural singing voice is fun, experimental, and exciting. Knowing how your own voice operates is the first step to becoming a better more well-rounded singer,  and with dedicated practice you may start expanding your vocal range, techniques, and overall sound. As much as singing is technical it must also contain emotion and feel, because without those characteristics it may begin to sound lifeless or even robotic. Remembering that the tools, techniques, and mechanics of the voice are extremely important for vocal success should always be paired with the knowledge that music is an art and without personal expression and thoughtful emoting one will only be attaining, at best, fifty percent of their best possible sound. 

Fall Recital 2018 Highlights

The recitals are the best time of the year every time they come around. Not only do we get to enjoy great music, but we also get to watch the growth of each participant! A good concert, with a great community of people. What more could you want?

Our recitals happen twice per year, once in the Spring and once in the Fall. If you’d like to perform on one, let your teacher know!

Check out our talented students!

Our seasonal recitals are a great way for students to get an opportunity to perform for friends and family! It’s also great for friends and family to get a chance to see the progress they’ve made since last time, whether they are 6 years old or 60 years old. Check out this video offering up highlights of every students performance from our Spring 2018 recital at the Ethical Society of Philadelphia!

What’s My Voice Type?

voice, type, fach, philadelphia“What’s my voice type?”

Beginner voice students often ask this question. It feels reassuring to classify ourselves, to feel we belong somewhere. Plus, newer singers believe knowing your voice type gives them other information about their voice, such as their range. What seems like a simple question doesn’t have a simple answer though. To understand why, first learn what “my voice type” even means, why voice type exists, and why a singing novice might not be able to find their voice type.

What is Voice Type?

A “voice type” is the classification of voices based on certain qualities and characteristics of the voice. These characteristics include:

  • Range: how high and low you can sing.
  • Timbre: the “color” or quality of your voice.
  • Vocal breaks: the shift in your voice between head and chest voice.
  • and Tessitura: the part of your range you feel most comfortable singing in.

Men tend to have four options when it comes to voice type: countertenor, tenor, baritone, and bass. Women tend to have three options: soprano, mezzo-soprano, and contralto.

All of these variations depend on a number of physical elements just like they do in instruments. A cello has thicker strings than a violin, resulting in a lower range. Similar variations apply to the voice as well. Therefore, the variations in voice type depend largely on physical sex, but also on genre.

These identifications vary according to genre because different genres require different characteristics. A musical theater soprano may be considered a mezzo-soprano in opera because of the average range, tessitura, and timbre of the music.

Why Classify the Singing Voice

While some people like labels, others ask, “Who needs them?” There are pros and cons to identifying your voice type.

Pros

The number one benefit to knowing your voice type is for auditions. If you audition as a singer, the panel can get an immediate idea of your voice through your stated voice type. Why? Because the “rules” of voice type allow others to understand what characteristics your voice possesses.

Similarly, you can select music for yourself this way. If a song has a certain note you can’t reach, or spends a lot of time in a part of your voice you’re not comfortable with, you will know not to sing that song.

Cons

Identifying your voice type can become unintentionally limiting. Especially for younger or newer singing students, a voice type can make you feel boxed in to certain guidelines, discouraging you from exploring new songs.

Voice types are also hard to identify. The voice is a tricky instrument. It’s not like other instruments where you can see and feel exactly which notes the instrument can hit. Each voice is unique, and it can even change based on age, hormones, and more.

What’s My Voice Type Then?

Only a qualified voice teacher can help you identify your voice type. Even if you know your range right now, you may be able to extend it after learning different technical aspects of singing like posture, breathing, and more. And as stated above, no one element alone points to voice type. The subject is so complex, voice teachers have written entire books dedicated to it.

Again, the best way to find your voice type is to sign up for voice lessons today and learn all about your voice. Your voice type will reveal itself to you after developing a solid technique. And remember, it may take some time, but the process of discovery will be a lot of fun along the way.

How To Sing From Your Diaphragm

voice, music, diaphragm, fishtown, philly“Sing from your diaphragm!” This phrase is almost mythical in the world of voice lessons. Somehow this concept has passed on to students who haven’t taken a single voice lesson, yet even students who have taken years of voice lessons may not know what it means. It doesn’t help either that some teachers say you should sing from your diaphragm while others say you shouldn’t. Who is right? And if you should, how do you do it?

 

What it Means to “Sing From Your Diaphragm”

The short answer to the question of “who is right,” when it comes to whether or not you should sing from your diaphragm is – both teachers are right! Obviously that requires a longer answer though.

diaphragm, voice, singing, lessons

Here is your diaphragm. As you can see, it sits right below your lungs. Think of it as an upside-down bowl-shaped muscle. Because of where it sits, when your lungs expand (when you breathe in), the diaphragm flattens out to make room for the now larger lungs. When your lungs contract (when you breathe out), the diaphragm curves up again. You can see this motion here.

Students often get lost right around now because what isn’t agreed upon is whether the diaphragm is a voluntary or involuntary muscle. In other words, do we move it consciously like our arms and legs, or does it move on its own like our hearts? For singers, this is largely irrelevant. Why? Because the point of a “diaphragmatic breath” is not whether or not we can move our diaphragm. It’s whether we can take an ideal breath to create a steady release of sound for singing. Therefore, focusing on the diaphragm itself misses the point.

Instead, students of singing should focus on how to feel their breath lower in their body, as opposed to breathing high into the chest. This is why the phrase “sing from your diaphragm” may be helpful for some students and teachers; it creates the imagery of a low breath and a steady release for some people. For others, it creates too much focus on something other than the task at hand.

So in short, you should think about singing from your diaphragm if it’s helpful to you. Any one of the following exercises can also help you “sing from your diaphragm” without the terminology.

 

Exercises to Sing From Your Diaphragm

The Milkshake Breath – When we drink a big, delicious milkshake from a straw, that milkshake goes right to our bellies. We can think of breathing in the same way. Imagine your favorite flavor of milkshake. Then, pretend to hold it in front of you and drink it all in. In this scenario, the milkshake will be your breath, and your goal is to fill your breath all the way to your belly. You can even put your hand on your belly if that helps you place it. If you don’t drink milkshakes, you can imagine whatever drink you’d like – as long as you’d normally drink it through a straw!

The Balloon Breath – When a balloon expands, it expands all the way around, not just to one part of the balloon. It does, however, start at the bottom of the balloon. Our lungs, ultimately, are like this as well. We want to use all of our abdominal muscles to create a steady release of the breath while singing, so we want to inhale with that in mind. Take a breath while imagining your torso is a balloon, and your goal is to fill up the whole balloon, starting from the bottom up.

Dog on a Hot Day – Have you ever seen a dog on a hot day, its tongue sticking out and its whole body working to breathe? We can use this for singing, too, although our breaths should concentrate on our belly. Stick your tongue out for an added tongue stretch, then release short breaths from your abdomen like a dog would on a hot day. This is a great exercise to introduce the release of breath along with the inhalation of breath.

The Snake Sound – To start working on the release of breath along with the intake, breathe in on four counts. Then immediately release the breath on a steady “ss” sound for eight counts. The “ss” sound should be strong but not forced, smooth and not jagged. This will encourage your body to release air as a stream rather than all at once, which is vital for singing.

 

There are numerous other exercises you can use to learn how to sing from your diaphragm (if you choose to think of it that way). These are my favorites because they all come with an organic understanding of how breath works without trying to manipulate our breath in other ways. Feel free to find your own creative ways to take lower breaths, too! Just make sure that no matter which exercises you use, you don’t do too many at once. These exercises can over oxygenate you and make you dizzy if done too many times, especially without practice. Try two or three a day at first for maybe a minute, tops. A little effort will go a long way to getting you towards diaphragmatic breaths in no time.

Fall Recital 2016 Highlights

Students Showing Off Their Skills

Taking lessons and practicing is something that all musicians have to spend most of their time doing, but it all pays off at the performance. Just this December we returned to the Ethical Society of Philadelphia for our largest recital yet. We featured students on piano, violin, cello, saxophone, voice, and guitar for a fantastic afternoon of music making. Our recitals provide our students with the opportunity to show off their skills to friends and family alike. Not only is it a great time for everyone involved, but it’s a crucial experience for becoming a well-rounded musician.

The wide diversity of genres and styles reflects the amazing diversity and talent of all of our students. From Beethoven and Saint-Saëns to The Beatles and Coldplay, enjoy this musical cross-section of our Philly Music Lessons family. We’re so glad to have seen so many people at our recital this past fall, but in case you missed it, here’s a little something to give you an idea of how talented our students are!

 

Philly Band Love, Vita and the Woolf

From our multi-instrumentalist teacher, Jen Pague, come the mind-blowing vocal ballads of Vita and the Woolf. Catch this burgeoning band in Philly while you can!

Jen’s been teaching piano, voice, guitar, and songwriting at Philly Music Lessons. Hearing her lessons from the next room, there’s no doubt Jen brings ease to her sessions and can draw out confidence from anyone. Her teaching strengths lie in an ability to connect with students. Keeping herself inspired and current, Jen’s been working at composing original music when she’s not teaching. With epic vocals reminiscent of Florence and the Machine, these tunes are worth a listen:

Ethical Society Recitals, Rittenhouse

Philly Music Lessons at the Ethical Society
Fall Recital 2015
November 21st, 1 PM
Recitals on RittenhouseIt’s become somewhat of a tradition to have our Fall recital on Rittenhouse Square. The Philly trees have ushered in the Fall, and the park is starting to show signs of the holidays by the end of November. This will be our first recital at the Ethical Society. Equipped with a stage and abundant space for an audience, we’re excited to bring families and teachers into a new venue to support the accomplishments of our students.

The show is a great way for students of all ages to see various skill levels in action, and to put their practice into context. The project oriented learning required for recital performance will no doubt push participating students to higher levels. For this reason, recitals are something we encourage all students to consider, no matter their age or reason for taking lessons. In the past, Philly Music Lessons recitals have embraced true beginners to advanced students studying anything from classical music to pop composition. Thus, our recitals are often diverse and present a wide range of musical styles.


Join us for our Fall 2015 student recital at the Ethical Society this November:
Saturday, November 21st, 2015 @ 1:00pm

Skype Lessons!

skype lessonsWe’ve officially joined the future (or we’re just catching up to the present)! We offer some lessons via Skype. So, if you’re really loving your teacher, but have to move or travel frequently, you can still meet with your instructor via Skype. Our piano teacher Anabelle (who we love so much!), had to move across the country. She’s been giving Skype lessons remotely for classical piano. This is a really great option for adults. Skype allows students to stay motivated with a teacher while squeezing lessons into a busy schedule. You could say Skyping falls into our category of “in-home lessons”, but it is a slightly cheaper option, allowing those who travel or who would rather hang at the screen to easily stay in touch with their weekly practice.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  •  A Skype account
  • A computer
  • An internet connection (high-speed)
  • A camera & mic (built-in or attached to your computer)
  • Your instrument

Once you’ve tested out your setup and are ready for some Skype lessons, give us a holler! Next up, VR lessons (just kidding! We can’t quite afford the future yet.)