Open Up and Say ‘AGH”!

In recent months, I have been drawing my students’ attention to the merits of the rogue vowel sound ‘agh’. Early on in their training, they often perform pharyngeal sounds in an effort to establish some level of mix. For some, it has even allowed them to find elusive head voice tones as well as taking off undue pressure off of chest voice. Plus it can be fun to make such a bratty noise- even the adult students like it!!

 

I now want my students to realize that ‘agh’ has great value beyond the exaggerated ‘witch’s voice’. I am emphasizing the importance of the wonderful ring we get from even a normalized production of this vowel that is so important for healthy voice production, regardless of the style they sing. We are using ‘agh’ as a centering vowel to establish openness and an awareness of resonance before connecting it with another vowels. I am finding it helpful in keeping singers’ ‘ah’ vowels from becoming overly dark and the ‘oh’ from being overly rounded, especially for my classical students.

 

Here are the exercises that I am currently using:

 

  1. ‘Agh’ vowel with tongue extension- Students are asked to let the tongue hang out of the mouth. This heightens the sense of openness and is a great way of sneaking a tongue stretch into the exercise routine. The octave and a half pattern or octave arpeggio are the patterns I employ most often here, but an octave down arpeggio may be good if the student still pulls chest a bit. I really like for students to watch themselves in the mirror for this one to be aware of mouth shape and tongue activity.
  2. ‘Agh’ with tongue extension to ‘ah’ or ‘oh’- After evenness is found with the previous exercise, we then move to another open vowel. I use ‘oh’ most often. The tongue is again extended on ‘agh’, but then is allowed back into the mouth for the following vowel. The ring established on the first vowel should remain on the second. Students are moving to ‘oh’ with less tendency to go a bit nasal or to round the lips too much, allowing them to keep a more consistent tone. They tend to stay with a more pop mix approach instead of a more covered choral sound. I again use the octave and a half pattern mostly.
  3. ‘Agh’ without tongue extension to ‘ah’, ‘oh, or, ‘uh’- I now move to a five tone scale, which tests the waters of the mix further, since it adds more resistance to the vocal folds. I urge students to change mouth shape very little as they move from vowel to vowel.
  4. ‘Agh’ to close vowels- Using either an octave arpeggio or the five tone scale, ‘agh’ will now go to ‘ee’ or ‘ooo’. I save this for last because there will be a bigger adjustment in mouth shape now. Again, the hope is that the ring of the first vowel will be maintained in the second.

I have been having students to employ what Lisa Popeil refers to as ‘belter’s bite’. It’s the posture of preparing to bite into an apple. It can be very helpful with students when singing with an edgier approach like in gospel, rock, and belty musical theater.

 

For my more classical choir kids as well as my powerhouse pop and gospel singers, this approach has been extremely beneficial. They are finding more consistency in their mix and more aware of the sensations when singing in their middle voice.
Happy Singing- MIX RULES!!!!!

The ‘NG’ Exercise

Happy Summer!!!

The ‘ng’ sound is a quite useful tool in training the singing voice. It aids in establishing a good adduction of the vocal folds while allowing the singer to experience good nasal resonance (not to be confused with nasality, which is a topic for another day). For some, exercising on this sound may also help in keeping the tongue from pulling too far back in the mouth while ascending their vocal range.

Like the lip trill and fricative warmups I covered in the preceding posts, the ‘ng’ is a semi-occluded sound. They are all created with two places of closure within the vocal tract- one being the vocal folds and the other being some combination of lips, tongue, or the roof of the mouth. There is a positive energy boost to the folds in this setup that aids in good adduction and an easy, consistent flow of air. They are also useful as cooldowns after a lot of vocal activity.

Try using the ‘ng’ sound on the various patterns I demonstrate in this new video, being mindful to keep the tip of the tongue right behind the lower front teeth as the back of the tongue raises towards the roof of the mouth. Pay attention to the buzzy sensations in the mask area- that nasal resonance is good for you.

ENJOY!!! KEEP SINGING!! 🙂

Lip Trills Revisited

Lip trills have become an ever-present exercise in the modern voice training landscape. Like the fricative sounds I presented last time, they are semi-occluded sounds, meaning they are produced with two places of closure within the vocal tract- one being the vocal folds and the other being created by some combination of lips, tongue, or the roof of the mouth. A positive energy boost to the folds in this setup results, aiding in good adduction (cord closure)and an easy, consistent flow of air. They are also useful as cooldowns after a lot of vocal activity. What I have found, though, is that a lot of students have a hard time executing them properly and can get frustrated in the process. This video gives helpful hints to allow you to perform these lip bubbles more efficiently. You can thank me later. 🙂

Go forth and SING….SING…..SING!!!!!!

Fricative Vocal Warmups

HEY Y’ALL!!! Happy June!!

Along with lip trills and tongue trills, fricatives are very effective sound sounds to vocalize on to warm up the voice. They are all semi-occluded, meaning there are two places within the vocal tract that experience some closure- one being the vocal folds and the other being created by some combination of lips, tongue, or the roof of the mouth. There is a positive energy boost to the folds in this setup that aids in good adduction and an easy, consistent flow of air. They are also useful as cooldowns after a lot of vocal activity. Check out my video for more info and demonstrations.

HAPPY SINGING!!!

Where It All Began

Baxter Riggs books

Back in late 1992 or early 1993, I purchased these two books, “The Rock N Roll Singer’s Survival Manual” by Mark Baxter and “Singing For The Stars” by Seth Riggs. By the time I finished reading them, I knew that I would end up teaching voice in addition to performing. Mind you, I hadn’t even started studying voice myself at that point. But I knew that part of my calling would be to train other vocalists. You could say that they changed my life. They have held up pretty well after all these years of use, I might add.

Columbia College Music

I realized just a few days ago while chatting with a fellow voice teacher friend that I began my journey of vocal training 20 years ago. I was in my first semester as a transfer student at Columbia College Chicago when I enrolled in the Technique In Singing I class with Brad Nitzchke. Then it was on to private voice with Brad as well as great voice classes with Bobbi Wilsyn and H.E. Baccus. In 2001, I began study with Randy Buescher and the whole game changed. Wow!! Where has the time gone? LOOK AT ME NOW!!!  I am so thankful that I am now sharing my passion for the voice with other singers, helping to develop other vocal coaches, and making music of my own. I’m fortunate to be doing what I love, passing on the knowledge that was poured into me. I am very blessed and humbled.

There is no way I can look back and not mention my first two college music instructors. I began piano studies with Barbara Cunningham in my second semester of my freshman year at Indiana University Northwest, not even a music major yet. The next fall, I enrolled in a Rudiments Of Music class taught by Dwight Davis. Over the next two years, these generous teachers fostered the talent that they saw, even when I still had my doubts. They both believed that I could and should pursue my passion. It was Mr. Davis, in fact, who brought Columbia College Chicago to my attention and convinced me to apply to the world famous Berklee College of Music (I got accepted!!!). He even gave me free theory and ear-training lessons for a few weeks to make sure I was ready to become a music major. I owe them so much for helping me follow the path to my life’s work. I try to pay it back everyday that I teach and make music.