The Top 5 Mistakes Advanced Singers Make - Part 2
This post is the second out of two - Part 1 lives here!
Part Two dives into two more juicy mistakes I've made along my singing journey that I'd really rather wish you didn't. Misunderstandings that could have saved me years of frustration if I'd had them pointed out or asked the right questions.
The same issues I had with my voice are the ones I see come into the studio time and time again, sometimes in singers who have been singing for YEARS and it's heartbreaking.
So let's start saving you time and tears shall we?
#4: LIFTING YOUR SOFT PALATE AS THOUGH YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT
"Lift your soft palate" is something that has been chanted at singers for generations and for good reason. But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
The way I learned to lift my soft palate was to yawn. This is a very common way of teaching students to be able to feel the back of the roof of their mouth lift, so they can understand what the soft palate is and that it can move.
But this is where problems can creep in hard and fast.
LET'S TEST THIS OUT TOGETHER
I'm going to get you to do a little experiment with me here. Humour me.
Start to yawn - you're going to have to fake it 'til you make it here. Can you feel a stretch sensation? A tension way down the back of your mouth?Yep that. By now you probably know that tension is NOT a singer's best friend. And the tension you feel when over-lifting your soft palate like this is no different.
Now start to lower your soft palate back down very slowly. I want you to notice how far you have to lower it before you feel no tension whatsoever.
What happens if you go though that same sequence while singing a note in your head voice (the area of the voice where we tend to over-lift even more)?
Start singing the note on your high lift (the yawn position) and then gradually lower it until you don't feel any tightness anymore. Can you hear and feel the difference in the sound? Boom. Mic drop.
Mouth shape is one of the key elements of singing technique that is either ignored, over-simplified or misunderstood and yet completely transforms our voices.
You can go from tight and swallowed to relaxed and projecting like a badass in a split second if you know what you're doing.
You can go from brassy musical theatre geek to soulful lounge singer just as quickly.
It's one of the pieces of the puzzle in my Pimp Your Voice Intermediate course that I get the most emails of thanks about, because it CHANGES LIVES. Dramatic? Maybe. True? You betcha.
#5: NOT PAYING ENOUGH ATTENTION TO YOUR TONGUE
I once had a student ask my permission to cut his own tongue out. I know, it sounds creepy but he did have a valid reason.
(Side note: I did not give my permission and insisted that it would be a very bad idea. Obviously.)
I hear a lot of singers talk about "singing forward" or "forward placement". Part of that could be due to the fact that I used to use these exact phrases until I realised that without extra info it often caused more harm than good.
Singing with your voice feeling as though it's "resonating in the mask" or in the front of your face is very important, but you don't want to feel as though you're forcing it or pushing it there.
There are a number of ways we can start to ALLOW the voice to "fall forward" and one of them involves releasing tension in the tongue.
The tongue holds a lot more tension than we tend to realise. After all we're so busy thinking about our breath, support, soft palate and what lyrics we're supposed to sing.
LET'S TEST THIS OUT TOGETHER
The best way to investigate what you're tongue is up to is to hit it with anaesthetic. Not real anaesthetic (it'd be expensive, hard to come by and dangerous to self administer). We're going to play pretend.
Imagine your tongue has been accidentally hit with anaesthetic by your dentist. It becomes heavy, lazy and unable to articulate. It flops down so that the tip rests behind your bottom teeth.
Sing the phrase you're finding difficult with your tongue as heavy as humanly possible. What do you notice?
Once your tongue learns to let go of the tension it's been holding, you can start to allow it to articulate gently again (because let's face it, nobody wants to hear your dopey rendition of At Last without proper consonants), but start with it being overly floppy.
BONUS UNSOLICITED PIECE OF ADVICE: PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE IS NOT JUST SOME BS QUOTE
Learning a new skill requires time and a lot of patience. Training to be a singer is a lot like training to be an athlete. Your body needs to learn all these new tricks and it'll take repetition and self-compassion by the bucketload.
It also needs instructions that you understand. So many of my mistakes could have been solved by a singing teacher thinking of a different way to describe something or demonstrate something.
YOU are not stupid, it's not your fault. But please pipe up.
Ask a question if you don't understand. Say that it doesn't feel comfortable if it's tense. And don't be afraid to see other teachers if it's just not clicking with your current coach (it's not cheating I promise you).
So - remember to be kind to yourself and let yourself learn at your own pace in a way that you understand. When we rush through learning a technique it doesn't tend to stick or hold up when we're under pressure on stage or in the recording studio.
Good things take time, great voices take a little longer.