Monday, December 12, 2011

Using your nasal cavity in singing

nasal cavity
The proper use of our nasal cavity when we sing can greatly affect the sound of our voice. Most of us sing through our noses which we can easily tell when we have a bad cold and we try to sing. Our voice does sound different as it has this distinct muffled sound ("ngongo" in Tagalog).

The following video will explain how we can use and train ourselves to make use of the nasal cavity when we sing. Though this videos primarily targets female singers, the lesson however will benefit the male singers as well.

My chorus has greatly improved their way of singing and even has produced a louder and fuller sound using the nasal cavity. It has diminished the strain off their vocal chords, enhanced their breathing pattern, and produced a sweeter and melodious sound fit for a choral group.

One way to force our selves to make us of the nasal cavity is by holding our noses. When we do this, it forces our mouth to open wider for air to pass through and in turn make use of this air to support the production of sound in the process.

Our mouth, the palates, tongue and our nasal cavity will then perform their function in supporting your voice in producing the sound.

Most of the time the vowel sounds, particularly the "ah" (A), will be more round and full when we make us of this technique.

After several rehearsals using this technique, your body will be accustomed to the way you sing and will no longer require yourself to cover your noses just to make use of your nasal cavity.

Again, practice makes it permanent.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Warm-ups for proper breathing while you sing

I made a standard breathing routine for my choral group to work on. In this article, I will share what I have taught my chorus in order for them to be accustomed to diaphragmatic breathing and in the end make them make use of it subconsciously while they sing.

As I have mentioned on my previous article "breathing the key to proper singing", we cannot fully rely on our voices to create the sound for it requires our body and enough air to control the flow of sound that comes out from within us.

These exercises were adopted from a collection of various breathing routines that I have read on other sites and watched from streamed online videos that focuses on diverse methods and techniques on proper singing. I just picked up the effective ones for I have tried some myself.

It is important that when we do these exercises we have to observe proper posture. Keeping your hands to your sides, standing straight and your chin up is a good way to start. Definitely, slouching is a big no-no when doing breathing exercises.

Also, before you begin trying these drills, you might as well refer to this previous article that I wrote. 
  1. Feel the air.  A slow approach to the routine. This is done by breathing air in slowly till it fills your lungs and expands you diaphragm (which you can rightly feel if your tummy inflates while you do this) and then releasing the same amount in the same leisurely pace till you feel all the air come out. Do this in counts of four (4) for each inhale-exhale routine. That is inhale (4 counts) then exhale (4 counts).
  2. Hold it up. Doing the same routine from number 1, we will be holding air in the middle after the inhale part. So that would be inhale > hold > and release (exhale). Again, do this in counts of four (4) for each phase.
  3. Hiss is what it is. This time instead of normally exhaling in a normal fashion, we will be doing a hissing sound when we let air out. So, it would be inhale > hold > hiss. Similarly, in four (4) counts for each phase.
  4. Make it sound. The last routine would be making a sound when you exhale. We chose a comfortable note for this one so everyone can make it through the work out - G (sol) on first octave (that is the first G after the middle C on your  piano). That would be inhale (4) -> hold (4) ->  voice out (4).
  • make deep and slow breathing patterns.
  • start with a four count repetition for each routine.
  • for added weight, increase your reps in increments of four - 4, 8, 12, 16, 20
  • why 4? Because a standard measure in music is done in 4 beats for every measure.
  • make sure that participants are in good health condition before engaging them in these exercises. For safety reasons, start with the first routine and give enough time before moving on the rest of the list.

Related readings:

Friday, November 25, 2011

Harmonizing with Different Voices

singing choir

Never have I thought that my small community choir could soon take advantage of utilizing the vocal ranges. Singing in a four-part voice is something that I think was impossible for a small group like us could ever consider.

For several years, we went on serving church "masses" and singing for choir services in two-part voices or frequently in unison. It was so difficult for everybody to reach the notes that are not really meant for some of us to sing. Untrained about the vocal range, we try to sing beyond what our voices can never really perceive. Guys sing farther and higher through their deep warm tones. The ladies try to pitch themselves down to achieve the low notes despite their high and angelic voices. A terrible mismatch as you can see!

Curious on the trouble we are facing, I started looking for answers. May be, there is someway to straighten out the situation.

So I looked into several books and surfed to various websites for the answer. Only then I realized the bottom line of our problem. We do not make use of what is written in the song books that we use. That is, taking into account the voices as written by the composers - SATB! Vocal range as they call it.

So then, why didn't we thought about that in the first place?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Avoiding crammed rehearsals

One thing that me and my choir didn't realize before that we are always in a rush when we practice our repertoire. As if we were crammed to finish all the songs that will make up our list for the coming Sunday mass. In the end, we fail to deliver the songs as they were supposed to be performed and a disapproving congregation will soon reach our ears.

So, I asked myself, "What am I missing?.... Is it my choir not able to absorb the things that I taught them? Or am I too lax in the way I handle them?"

I decided to put an end to it and started analyzing weighing on things that might alleviate the problem.

One solution that I found was to map out our year round activity since the Catholic "Masses" are celebrated based on a theme and follows a certain season.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Be sharp and on the dot!

It has been two (2) years since we started following a standard protocol in time, we have minimized the chances of tardiness in our ministerial services and rehearsals. Tardiness is a common scene for some groups.

Overtime, we have witnessed the group’s tendency to follow what we call “Filipino time”. If you know how DST (day light saving time) works, this one goes the opposite way. Coming a few minutes to an hour late was so termed and a shameful word to have been implied by us ‘Pinoys.’

Being on time or at least a few minutes early before the agreed schedule has so many perks. It assures your attendance to a specific event. It imbibes a character of being punctual and true to your word. Moreover, it seals a continuous flow in a day’s work away from further delays. Less tasks for the following days.

My choir has followed this standard procedure when we have scheduled performances and services to the church (Catholic). An hour before our schedule is our optimum time to have departed from our meet-up location. We give (at least) a 15-minute grace period for everyone to get to our meeting place. Most of the time, we travel in groups when we attend to our services and we do enjoy most of it.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Observing and listening to others

Just like any form of communication, listening and watching other people talk will help you understand what the other is conveying to his listeners. It is only through silence that you will be able to hear the emotions and appreciate the ideas of the deliverer of the message.

Given this thought, an idea came up to me. If we are to listen to various choral groups all around the city or even within our own vicinity, this could entail the possibility for us to understand how these groups sing differently from each other. In some way, we will be able to pick-up the good ones and apply in our own technique. Or even take on the bad ones and improve and develop from then on. In summary: observe, adapt, improvise.

We had the opportunity to visit a few churches in the Metro and we've seen several groups that may have the edge in choral singing.

Throughout the series of our visits, we have seen different methodologies and techniques though not as perfect as the world renowned groups like the Philippine Madrigal Singers or Loboc Children's Choir, their way of singing is a good point to start from.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Vocal Exercise

Vocal exercise is an essential part of a choir's training routine. It is at this point that the vocal chords and all parts that make up your voice are prepared for the actual singing performance. Just like any form of physical exercise, your voice should be warmed-up before engaging in the actual activity.

Vocalizations should follow after the breathing exercises and lip drills and right before the proper rehearsal of the song of choice.

When we vocalize, we aim to reach different portions of voice training.

First, we aim to create a seamless transition of the vocal registers by passing through a series of these exercises that will guide us in resonating the right sound corresponding to the played tune. Bridging two vocal registers is something that is difficult to achieve without vocal training and takes a long time to get over with. The voice will break apart when an immediate transfer between registers are called upon that puts so much stress on our chords. This is what we called in tagalog term "piyok."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Breathing Exercise #1: Inhale, Hold, and Release

To fashion our breathing to the way we should when we sing, breathing exercises should be undertaken so that our body will get used to it. Our body has the capability to record certain actions that we do regularly resulting in an effortless routine.

When we set our alarm clocks to wake us up on a certain time then it becomes a habit that sometimes we get up ahead of our alarm clocks. That is one proof that our body can adjust to whatever we tell it to do. That is why regular breathing exercise can help accustom our own breathing to the required way of breathing when we sing.

The first basic exercise to practice is taking in air gently, holding it for a few seconds and releasing it slowly. But first, we have to change the way we breathe for us to sing properly. We need to activate our diaphragm to do the work for us. We will focus in delivering air to our lower abdomen where our stomach is also located.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Your body makes up for your voice

Most people sing with their throats (vocal chords). Since our voices comes from within the larynx where the voice box is, we do exert so much effort pulling all the sound that we can get from our vocal chords. We all depend on the power of that single muscle not knowing that sound production does not solely depend on the voice itself. In turn we end up falling short in the middle of our performance as we try to reach for the high notes as hard as we could possibly get.

There are certain things we should consider in the proper creation of sound when we sing. In this way, it would be easier for choir members to determine "where" to acquire or produce that particular sound. Singers, vocal teachers and experts has termed it the "vocal register" or better yet "vocal registration."

There have been many discussions made over the Internet about the vocal register which is too technical for most of us. I will be discussing this portion a bit simpler (if possible) for others to understand. Most of the information I will be sharing are purely based on observation, reasearch and experience as I have used and relayed it to my own choral group.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Breathing: the key to proper singing

When I joined a choir when I was still a kid, no one has ever taught us of the proper singing habits. For years, we sang just like any normal kid that usually ends up with an itchy throat or a lost voice (either a sored throat or "malat") for the next few days after stressing our vocal chords.

Never did we know that singing involves the proper use of air and how we use the air in creating the sound plays an important role specially in choirs or choruses.

Technically speaking, our vocal chords generates the sounds. Sounds are produced when air passes trough our chords. They take shape according to the sound produced. Consequently, passing enough air through the vocal chords will aid in proper sound production. Only through proper breathing exercises can we develop our breathing habits for singing.

To sing properly, we need enough air to pass through our vocal chords. We also need to hold enough air to make sound production smoother and more powerful.

Look at the flute. It is a wind instrument that depends largely on air to be able to produce the right sound. An ample amount of air is required to pass through the holes as the fluist plays on it. Just like our voice, we cannot sing properly without passing air through our vocal chords.

Adapting this concept will make it easier for us to understand the idea of sound production. Singing does not solely depend on our vocal chords, air helps to produce the sound through the chords. We need to control the flow of air to produce the right sound as we intended to do while we sing.

Starting my journey

My passion to play and teach music in church choirs (Catholic) dates back 12 years ago as I started to handle and teach my own youth choir.

I do not have a degree in music. I only have some formal lessons in minor schools plus the 12 year experience in the field.

I have been aiding my former mentors and colleagues in teaching their own choral groups for quite sometime now. My musical prowess and knowledge on music dynamics and theories have provided much help in the performance of various choral groups in our community. Up until now, I give service to those who asks for whenever possible.

Teaching music, particularly liturgical in context, to young people has never been so easy. So much to say, not all people has strong affinity to their spiritual side. Religion is not a strong magnet specially to teens and young adults. Keeping up with the group is quite a painful challenge.