Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute
Today’s idea was inspired by the work of my colleague Dr. David Meyer and Mary Saunders-Barton’s “What about the boys?” DVD. Men often struggle as they approach the notes around C4 and above. Often times this is due to laryngeal rise that is accompanied by pharyngeal constriction and/or a lack of ability to lighten registration. This exercise addresses both issues with two variations.
If the student is having difficulty with a certain vowel, for instance, /i/. Use a descending five-note scale, in a breathy head-voice/falsetto on /i/ and take the time to refine the vowel quality from the very beginning. When the student is in falsetto, the vocal folds allow more air to escape, which put less upward pressure on the larynx. When the larynx rises, the constrictors will often engage and the tongue frequently retracts. In many students, it is easier to release and allow air and sound to flow in falsetto quality, which is why this approach works. By refining the vowel first in falsetto, you are programming the singer’s brain for freedom. Carry the falsetto as low as it will go in the student’s range. When you reach the place where the student bottoms out, repeat the falsetto /i/ on the same pitches 3-5 times, then ask the student to switch to their full voice and see what happens. It can help to say “leave everything the same and only try to change the way your vocal folds vibrate.” Many times you will be surprised by the sudden freedom in the voice. If it doesn’t happen automatically, ask him to return to falsetto and alternate between falsetto and full-voice asking the student to evaluate what is changing and encouraging him to maintain the freedom in his falsetto in his full-voice.
This works on the same principle, except when you reach a note you know the student is capable of singing in their full voice, you develop it into full-voice/belt. In “Cross-training in the Voice Studio” by Norman Spivey and Mary Saunders-Barton, Mary shares an exercise that also leads to great results. This exercise uses a single pitch. The singer begins on /u/ in falsetto, then crescendos into /ju/ (“you”) in speech-like mix, crescendoing to /a/ in belt, decrescendoing back to /ju/, and finally /u/. She suggests using these from F4 to Bb5, but I have also found success lower in the voice with students who struggle with chronic tension. For more information, see page 134 in the book.
Both of these exercises utilize the falsetto to find freedom and are great indirect ways to addressing laryngeal tension in male singers. This strategy can also be used successfully with belters. Do you have similar exercises for addressing these issues? If so, please share below. If you are not yet following the blog, please submit your name and email address in the comment form and you will be added to the mailing list, ensuring you receive each new post in your email. If you enjoyed this tip, please consider sharing it online with your colleagues and students to help spread the word about functional voice training.
Also be sure to check out this summer’s line-up at the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute, which will be offering a one-of-a-kind opportunity to learn anatomy with Dr. Meyer in the SU Cadaver Lab.
Thanks for reading and have a great week of teaching!
Matt Edwards is an Associate Professor of Voice/Director of Musical Theatre at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, VA, and Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute. He is the author of “So You Want to Sing Rock ‘N Roll” and dozens of articles and book chapters on functional voice training for non-classical styles. For more information visit EdwardsVoice.com