Friday, July 08, 2016

Understanding Vocal Resonators

Each resonator (Pharynx, nose and third) has a different sound. The lower resonator, Pharynx, creates a more edgy tone associated with the 'Chest Voice' timbre. The upper resonator (Nasal cavity) creates a softer and more flute-like sound. The third (front) resonator adds a strong sharp or 'bright' component to the voice.

Speech is usually resonated in quite random places within the vocal tract in accordance with the speaker's accent.

Singing voice is defined by the fact that it uses both lower and upper resonator. (Sometimes referred to as 'First and Second' resonators respectively.)

Falsetto occurs when the lower resonator collapses or otherwise ceases to function and we produce only the sound of the upper resonator.

When we shut off the upper resonator, through habit or intention, we produce sound only from the lower resonator. This creates a 'shouty' sound or 'speak-singing'.

The third resonator is a temporary one which we set up in the mouth (as opposed to the pharynx or nasal cavity) which alters the sound produced in the first / second resonator combo to produce the acute vowels.

These are all resonator issues and have nothing to do with cord closure.. except that when the resonators are working the cords will tend to close more readily.

Always concentrate on developing (allowing) the correct natural balance between resonators and the rest will follow.

The only way to go after increased range and/or improved access and stability through the bridges is via correct, split resonance production beginning in the lower range.

Any time we shut off a resonator,  we create a future moment at which it will need to activate again. At any such moment there is an artifact: a  'bump' or jerk or disconnection.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Breathing Basics

Pretty much everyone has heard that breathing for singing involves using 'the diaphragm'. It's best to think of this a Lower Chest breathing. When we breathe in the upper chest, this is a shallow and rapid breath. Lower Chest breathing gives us a slower, deeper breath and allows us fine control over the breath pressure on the exhale.

Here's the number 1 basic exercise for taking control of Lower Chest breathing.
  1. Lie flat on your back with arms by your sides
  2. Place one of your hands on your solar plexus area.
  3. Spend a few minutes just allowing yourself to relax, and your mind to calm.
  4. Become aware of the movement of breath in your body... the hand on your midriff will be slowly rising and falling as the air flow in and out.
  5. Feel how it is the gentle expansion of the lower (floating) ribs that initiates the inhale cycle.
  6. Now in your mind begin a count of 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 repeating, a nice easy tempo (90 bpm).
  7. For a while (maybe 10 cycles) breathe in to the count of 4, and out to the count of 4.
  8. Then start to hold the breath at the top and bottom of each cycle: Like "In - 2 - 3 - 4 , Hold - 2 - 3 - 4, Out 2 - 3 - 4, Hold - 2 - 3 - 4..."
  9. Repeat for a while, then go back to simple inhale- exhale without the hold.
  10. Now on the exhale, allow the cords to close 3 times like 'Ho Ho Ho', just gently dividing the exhale into 3 segments. Make sure the back of the jaw is dropped in the singing position.
  11. After a while, change the sound to a continuous mmm, just whatever pitch is confortable. Feel how the air from the bottom of the lungs connects to the mechanism in the throat. 
  12. When you  are done, relax a minute, roll over and gently sit up.

This is an example of 'indirect control,' a concept we use a lot in singing. We have taken an action (lay on the back etc) in order to trigger the body into a certain action (implement Lower Chest breathing).

Much of the control of the singing voice is done by similar indirect means. Cord closure, head-chest balance, intensity are all indirectly controlled.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Pre-singing skills Part 2

"Ah! "

What does that mean to you? How does it sound?

Hmm well of course it is just marks on your screen so doesn't sound like anything until you say it out loud. Depending on many factors including where you come from and how you are feeling right now you could choose to sound out that small two-letter symbol in any number of ways. I could try to be more specific and give you the example of a word, like for example "Father." Still, the same problems apply.

So who cares anyway>

Well if you are trying to sing well, you should care. Imagine for a moment you are not a singer but a saxophone player. You go out and spend two grand on the best sax you can afford, real world-class. Then you sling it in the back of the van with the PA speakers, and of course it picks up a few dents. But again, who cares, it'll play just fine bent out of shape... won't it? After all who knows why they make saxes that wierd shape, maybe just to look good..?

No it will not play right. The shape of a sax is largely what makes it sound the way it does. Even the smallest ding will have an adverse effect of the timbre, pitching, stability, and ability to hit the high notes. Sounds familar, right? Starting to figure where this is going?
Yes, it's all to do with the laws of acoustics, which we can't change. The body of the sax is the "resonator" which has a particular effect on the sound waves coming from the reed - something about "standing waves" "formants" "harmonic series" and so on. The end result of all this acoustics malarkey is the timbre we know and recognise as the saxophone.

So the spaces and shapes in the vocal tract do the same kind of thing to the sound waves coming from the vocal cords. And the exact way we say the vowel creates the shape of the resonator... which as we know should not be dented or twisted out of shape in any way. So a pure vowel = a pure sound, great timbre, accurate, stable pitch, and easy range.

Next time we will look at what we mean by pure vowels, how we find them, and how we use them in real-world singing to create any style or sound.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Pre-singing skills

In the course of my daily teaching, I wonder why some people "get it" and others don't. I don't mean being a great singer, (that's another issue). I'm talking about basic voice. Why do some people just go "Oh ok, if that's the right way to sing then I'll just do it that way"... and out comes this great voice. Meanwhile others struggle for a year or two to achieve the same thing.

Now the cynical among you may suspect that a working teacher may prefer students who come along every week for a year rather than those who need just a few lessons... but no, actually I for one would prefer to get fantastically quick results on core vocal issues, so that we can get on with the exciting part of building a great vocal performer.

And of course there are those who are in the grip of heavily ingrained bad vocal habits.. for these people there will always be a longer time-scale to undo and un-program the neuro-muscular responses they have built up. But even in this area, some work quicker than others.

So here's what I think:

There are several areas of skills/awareness on which good vocal performance depend. Among which are:
  • Lingual ability: simply, the ablity to do stuff with the mouth over & above habitual everyday speech.
  • Vowel flexibility: The ability to alter vowels, for example in "putting on" accents. More likely to be found in people who speak more than one language, as to do this you need to understand that vowels are not "fixed" but can vary according to circumstance.
  • Posture: The ability to stand and move in a relaxed way.
  • Breathing: The ability to voluntarily draw breath into the bottom part of the lungs
  • Intention: The intention to make a strong sound. Note this is different from simply wishing for a strong voice. Strong voice = a feeling of being loud. Many people are not prepared for this. A teacher can show you how to get what you wish for. You need to wish for the right thing!
  • Accurate hearing: You need to be able to distinguish timbres within music... for example pick out one instrument in a busy musical mix. Or tell an oboe from a cor-anglais. The ear is the primary organ of singing.
  • Basic music knowledge: Many singers are held back because they feel that they don't know enough about singing or music. If you just understand counting and some basic stuff about keys & chords you will feel more "worthy" of taking the lead

Friday, June 17, 2016

Overview of vocal development

This is part of a reply I made to someone's question about the process of developing a singing voice good enough to join a band: 

So really we are looking at the question 'what makes a singer 'good'?': 

Generally I guess it's the ability to make an unfettered sound that comes right out and hits each part of the song just perfectly. 

'All' it is, is my old adage 'closed cords in an open throat'. Which of course is so much easier said than done. 

To get to that marvellous state we need to:  eliminate all habits that tend to distort the throat (including habitual involuntary lanynx rise, altering the vowel along with the pitch and blowing too hard); then we need to understand how to find (and creatively exploit) the fine balance between air and muscle in the cords; develop absolute precision in formation of strongly resonant vowels and develop our understanding of the relationship between vowel shape and the resultant sound. 

As you can see above there are two main phases, first the elimination of the old and then the acquisition of the new.  In lessons, these two do overlap largely, because many of the development tools we use to eliminate the old are also creating new skills at the same time. 

However the true understanding, benefit and use of the new skills cannot actually facilitate a fully fledged singing voice until the throat distorting issues are quite and entirely gone. Singing is a matter of such precision as I have said before while the throat is unstable it is like trying draw a picture on a table that is randomly bumping and jumping around 

There's a tendency towards a lack of objectivity, but that is everyone's problem! Objectivity enables us better to practise on our own and thus greatly speeds development by working smart. 

And as always with anything skills based, it's about putting in the hours and working smart. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Its not what it sounds like...

Singing is the art of sonic illusion, presenting or perhaps even 'implanting' a feeling in the listener. The singer might make the listener feel like they want to scream or cry, but that's not what the singer herself is doing. That's the effect the sound has.

So what we are doing is creating something that is not what it seems, but which conveys emotion to the listener. The meaning of the lyrics is always secondary to the emotion.  The meaning gives rise to the emotion.

Singing is not the correct medium for communicating the literary meaning of the lyric. I could give you some lyrics and you could read them and understand the literary meaning.  Say it's a song you've never heard, or that has hasn't been written yet - we've just got a lyric. You read the lyrics, and understand the meaning through the medium of the written word.

The art of the songwriter (and poet) is to select the words so the the sound that they make  is equal to, or perhaps we could say 'expresses'  the feelings engendered by the meaning of the words.

So we can put the literary meaning aside and deal just with the sound... the singer then has a template that they can use to create a soundscape which conveys the emotions engendered by the meaning of the words. And we give that to the audience.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Singing Voice Part 1 - What's "good" singing?

Let's be clear on the distiction between good voice and good singing. Anyone can learn to use their voice correctly, and end up with a great sound. But not everyone can carry a song well... That is a matter of personality and that indefinable X-factor.

So with a voice teacher you are working on you voice. Sure a good voice teachers will address some performance issues, but will be mainly concerned to improve vocal function.

Now that we have distinguished between voice and singing skills, we can again ask "What's good voice?"

First a word about what good voice is NOT: it is not a style or a sound, a limitation or a loss of individuality.

Good voice enables:

  • A large vocal range compassing around 2-3 octaves
  • An even, clear sound over the whole vocal range, with no gaps, breaks or changes of quality.
    The ability to move from a quiet to a louder sound at any point in the range, with clear, even sustain and vibrato as desired.
  • The ability to use a wide variety of timbres from hard to soft evenly throughout the range.
  • A voice that is healthy and easily produced allowing the singer to undertake extended rehearsal and performance without strain.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Recording at Voxbox

I recently received a link from a former client (and friend) showcasing her latest song. She writes great material in a kind of left-field quirky pop mould, she knows what she wants from the production team and the musicians, and she has developed her singing to a fine degree where her tone carries that all-important 'singers' formant' or 'buzz'.

So I am always excited to hear her stuff (as I am with most of my current and former clients) and clicked right on the link. I have to say that sadly I was disappointed. Not by the song, the instrumental production or the singing, but by the vocal recording. It sounded like it was recorded in and old tin can!

Leon Berrange vocal producer Voxbox LondonNow project studios are wonderful things. They have liberated musicians to be sonically and musically creative in ways never seen before. But project studios by their very nature are full of compromises. Space and budget constraints, and the necessity of having to provide production and arrangement areas as well as decent acoustics and monitoring... well it's a lot to cram in.

By taking parts of your project to specialist studios you can gain a lot for a modest extra outlay. OK you may upset the ego of your 'producer' ... of course he wants to do everything in house. Especially if he is working for very little money. But if he truly has the interests of your project at heart, he will understand. If you are taking live drums, go find the very best drum recording specialists in your area, and record there. Which brings me to the vocals....

The vocal is the heart of popular song. Singers spend years of time and tons of money training with the best teachers to get that sizzle, depth, dimension and dynamic into their vocal sound. Capturing a vocal performance takes specialist knowledge, environment and equipment. A mid-range condenser mic and a reflexion filter just doesn't cut it. Even if there is a vocal booth, there are bound to have been compromises in the design unless you are at a full-scale top end studio.

In our studio at Voxbox we do nothing but vocals. Our vocal booth is a generous size and is treated to remove all unwanted room resonances that can adversely colour a vocal sound. We have a selection of high-end mics and a recording signal path that has been obsessively designed to capture (and flatter) the singing voice. The key elements in the vocal signal chain are the preamps and the compressors, and we have a carefully selected range of both to make the most of every voice.

Not only can we get  you a truly world-class vocal sound, but you will be working with one of London's most sought-after singing teachers to produce your vocal. I am co-founder of Voxbox and am one of the most technically aware teachers around, with an understanding of the connection between technique and style that goes far beyond what you may encounter in a 'general' producer.

Contact me via our main website for bookings and enquiries.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Troll on the Bridge

The Bridge Troll
This is Pulling Troll, the guy that sits on the bridge waiting to grab on your larynx and jump up so you fall off the path. He is not a nice guy.

He hates a smooth vocal range, and loves vocal strain and cracking. There are a range of powerful tools you can use to defeat him, using a single main principle:

"By consciously maintaining an identifiable and repeatable feeling of relaxed openness in the throat, he won't be able to grip on to the larynx, and you will sail easily between registers. Once you really get this feeling to be permanent in muscle memory, he won't even see you go by, and will turn to dust and disappear."

While the larynx is jumping, it is quite impossible to properly control all the elements that go to make up the singing voice. When the Troll is gone, you will be amazed at how you begin to see new and subtle controls in the voice, so you can get your sound just the way you want it.

So your first singing lessons should be all about how to produce the various vowels and consonants in such a way as to maintain that relaxation in the throat.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Practising 'On Mic'

Make sure you get some of your practice time on mic. You need a good mic setup with a bit of reverb and some light compression. It's a bit like a dancer using a mirror to check their look: the mic takes your voice away from its immediate connection with the inside of your head and allows you to develop a more objective approach to hearing your voice from the outside.

The ability to listen properly and objectively to your voice is a most important one. Otherwise you would be for example like playing tennis with the other side of the court in total darkness. You would have to rely on how each hit feels in order to try to figure out where the ball went!

You also need to develop the sense of singing within the musical blend, which of course mostly comes out of loudspeakers.

In the mix you use, make sure you have a bit of reverb on the mic, as the sound in your head will mask the simultaneous sound from the PA, but the slight delay in the reverb allows your ear to latch on to the external sound. The compression just smooths out the peak loudness a bit so it sounds more natural.

All of this really helps with singing on stage, singing in harmony, and in recording situations: times when you need to hear yourself clearly and accurately, sometimes picking the sound of of a busy musical mix.

One quick tip: If you are struggling to hear yourself on stage, look at the monitor in front of you. That will direct your ear to the monitor, and you will hear yourself much better. 

Friday, October 07, 2011

Voxbox Teacher Training

The start of our teacher training programme is coming up soon. We have a number of great applicants for the programme, but right now are looking for a few more potential teachers as we only want the very best teachers to carry the Voxbox seal of approval.

In the past our Camden studio always offered a selection of teachers at all price levels, but as the years go by (can you believe that next year is out 10th anniversary??) the teacher' prices have risen and we can no longer offer teachers to beginners and those on a tight budget.

After some months of looking for new teachers, even among the SLS trainees, we realised that if we want teachers who meet our high quality standards we would have to undertake some training ourselves. We have designed a great course that covers the practical and theoretical basics of teaching and a method for getting people teaching and earning money as quickly as possible. Really the only way to learn to teach singing is to teach singing, and we will be walking our new trainees through every step of the process for the coming year.

Personally Lucy and I are very excited by this development, as the only way to grow our business is to develop the skills of the people around us.

By taking control of teacher training at this foundation level we ensure that teachers have all the foundation knowledge they need ... which some other programmes don't offer as comprehensively as they should.

To some extent in this we are standing on the shoulders of giants: Both Lucy and I learned our basics and inherited our methodology from SLS. We both acknowledge the enormous work done by Seth Riggs and his colleagues in formulating the foundation method of contemporary voice teaching used by SLS and non-SLS teachers around the world.

We have many years of experience managing teachers and seeing how they perform in the real world... and of course experience of our own teaching. We have seen areas where teachers' overall skill set could have better foundations, and where knowledge or specialised skills are lacking.

We have written a two part course, the current one offered being the foundation-level teaching course, with a much more advanced, two-year 'Professional Vocal Instructor' course to follow.

As with all singing-teaching-training programmes, ours is a proprietary non-accredited course. We are working towards getting our second-level course accredited, but cannot promise that it will be... it is proving difficult to find a place for it in the national educational framework. We therefore will issue certificates of completion for the foundation-level course. This will be a permanent certification at this level, unlike the SLS programme which certifies on an annual basis.

Note that this certificate is not sufficient for school-teaching, which requires a different set of qualifications entirely. Our training is oriented toward learning to work in a 1 to 1 situation with singers. Working with groups will be covered in the advanced level professional teacher course.

However the main purpose of training is to get working, and our course is designed to do just that, get you working. With our popularity, high status and Camden-based studios we are uniquely placed to provide studio space and students for our trainees. You will see that the course includes a requirement for a mandatory number of hours of practical solo teaching. We cannot guarantee full schedules, but based on our long experience of the market we feel there are enough enquiries for us to fill the limited number of trainee-teacher lessons we are bringing on to the schedule. In the event of us not having enough enquires to fill all of the trainee lessons in the allotted time, we will extend the time frame of the training until the requirement can be satisfied.

The training will start as soon as we have a group of 4 talented potential teachers. We are planning for this to be by the satrt of November, however it may run a little after that. For it to work our properly we have a certain amount of work to get though before the end of the year, with initial teaching practise beginning in January.

You can apply at

Our Mission Statement

Professional vocal instruction is a sui generis field of expertise. It is a musical discipline in part, yet has almost nothing in common with instrumental pedagogy. It is somewhat akin to speech therapy, yet its aims are different. It shares many concepts and aims with dramatic art, but these are differently applied.

Teachers of singing have traditionally been singers themselves, very often giving lessons while developing or winding down their performing careers.

The quality standard of singing teachers is currently largely unregulated, and the demand for singing lessons continues to grow. New recognition of the health and social bonding benefits of singing, as well as the popularity of singing as an enjoyable pastime help drive this demand. Popular music is increasingly democtratised and more people are participating rather than just consuming. Standard of technical achievement displayed by popular singers mean that every singer now needs high-level tuition.

Voxbox was founded in 2002, and since then has established a reputation for quality vocal tuition. There are, very broadly speaking, two types of ‘singing teachers’: Those who work with singers on their songs and performances, choosing songs that ‘suit the voice’’. The second type of singing teacher is sometimes ‘Voice Technician’. These teachers use highly specialised techniques to work directly on the voice to achieve fitness and correct vocal coordination throughout the vocal range, and routinely bring about startling improvements in their students’ voices. Naturally, these teachers also work on songs and performance issues. Voxbox directors and teachers are voice technicians.

Voxbox would like to provide benchmark qualifications that assure students that they will be receiving the best possible technical vocal work from a teacher who has a broad undertanding of music, singing, the practical aspects of being a singer and the music business .

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Relative Sonic Power of Vowels

Many developing singers encounter difficulty as their vowels begin to take proper shape. The sheer power and loudness of some of the pure sounds makes them hold back artificially, causing tension and distortion of the sound.

The truth is that some sounds are simply louder than others. In other words for the same amount of perceived effort on the part of the singer, the various vowels will each generate a sound which is relatively louder or less loud than other vowels.

This is partly due to the way we hear sound, and partly due to the way the sound is produced. Well the fact is that it is a good thing that sounds vary in power. That fact is a major contributor to making singing sound great: it adds texture and contour to the vocal line.

A simple example is to move from oo to ee: you will feel the strong high frequency energy kick in as you form the third resonator at the front of the mouth and the sound will seem much louder.

Don't let the loudness make you back off or 'break' the sound... it's louder than oo, that's just it's nature. Explore the relative power of the vowels, it's a very important tool for styling.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

A fresh look at male bridges

Out of the blue today I began describing the bridges to a student using new terms. There is so much conflicting terminology around the bridges that it is difficult to have a discussion about them without first defining terms.

Bridges of course are the 'zones of change' where the voice feels unstable, and the feeling of the resonance changes rapidly.

What often concerns me is the numbering of the bridges. Eb3 is of course primary in feeling, but counting from the bottom, where does the first major shift occur in the voice?

Now I am a great believer in the unity of the voice, and that by by singing right we can use a blended resonance throughout the range, and so minimise the effect of the bridges. Nevertheless the resonance shifts can still be felt and heard in the voice.

Some teachers may say that lower male voices experience the 'first bridge' around Ab2, while the higher males experience first bridge at Eb3. The occurrance of an Ab2 bridge is regarded as rare. Other teachers routinely call Ab2 'First Bridge'.

Most teachers would agree that carrying too much weight or muscle into the upper part of first (lowest) register will cause a problem at the Eb3 bridge. So a shift in resonance, or a lightening of tone, or a 'shedding of weight' is advocated as the Ab2-Eb3 zone is traversed.

The problem here is that a big majority of male voices need to do more than shed weight. They need to sit firmly into a strongly blended resonance. It is one thing to pare away some 'weight', and another to fully enter the middle voice at A2 or so. The mental attitude is quite different, and as we know, mental attitude is what controls the voice. Full acceptance of the increased head-resonance proportion transforms this zone from 'top of chest' to 'bottom of middle', leading to an easier more relaxed and very stable sound that the singer can dig into for rich tone or belting.

Once this 'Ab2 release' is established, release over the Eb bridge becomes much easier. In effect, we pair up the Ab2-Eb3 zone with the Eb3-Ab3 zone, and get a sort of 'power octave' where the voice is consistent and flexible, minimising the effect of the Eb bridge. If we just 'shed some weight' off of 'chest voice' we are still trapped in the unhelpful 'up/down' thinking which divides the voice at the great Eb3 tipping point. In nearly all male voices, excepting a few exceptionally high voices, head resonance increases from Eb2, and leading to a 'bridge-like' note at Ab2 and a firm second register feeling by A2.

Well... this post began with the terminology. I don't really like calling Ab2 the First Bridge, as this is against the current of common usage. John Henney once referred to this as a 'sort of half bridge'. Well the Eb3 bridge seems more disruptive, but there are other acoustic factors in the vocal tract that cause much of this difficulty, and when we sing correctly these issues (acoustic resistance in the trachea... a kind of cancellation of the sound... I'll happily explain this to anyone who wants to know...) are easily overcome. This leaves us with an Eb3 bridge which feels very similar to the other bridges. So to my mind they are all bridges, starting at Ab2.

Nevertheless today I was describing the low Eb2-Ab2 shift as 'Transition', and numbering the other bridges as usual, I=Eb3, II=Ab3, III=approx D4 and so on. I think this will be less confusing for my students if they work with SLS teachers as well. But I will still refer to the register starting on A2 as 'middle voice.'

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Classical Technique

I was recently privileged to take a lesson in classical technique from a local bass teacher. Now I know I am a bass but like anyone else working non-classical repertoire, I routinely sing way up in what is for my voice second and third register.

I was fascinated by the work we did in the session. I haven't revisited Classical technique at all in the years since I began studying SLS and increased my knowledge of voice.

So here's what I got .. The big difference is in the air pressure. The classical voice needs to be loud, and so the pressure is higher, the mouth wider - more of that in a moment - and the chest component is heavier.

The wider mouth - by which I mean chin dropped further - means that all vowels tend more toward ah and there is less textual distinction between vowels.

All of this means a sound that is loud, coloured by the big mouth opening, and does not readily approach 3rd bridge due to its excessive weight over 2nd.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Controls 1: - It's all in the vowel!

The term 'vowel' refers to a vocal sound which is not restricted or stopped in any way. In other words a vowel is a vocalisation which flows freely out of the mouth and can be sustained.

We learned in my last post about the need to make exactly the right shape inside the vocal tract to get a strong sound. It is difficult to express just how powerful (and how subtle) this effect is. In reality it is nothing short of a totally different sensation during singing. It is as tricky as whistling or playing the flute. When we first start to "get" the vowels, we hear a new sound we have never heard before... it kind of jumps out much louder and stronger without any more effort. In other words we have turned on ('enabled') an efficient amplifier which makes the voice stronger and better sounding.

(Note that for this to happen we need the vocal cords to be operating effectively... see next post!)

So hey this sound like "free stuff!" Well in many ways it is... we get a lot more sound for no more "push," just more precision. Next question of course is how to get some.

The good news is that it is neither magic, miracle or mystery. Just takes time to get it right and some guidance from someone who knows.

Lets go back to the beginnings: Remember that the function of the vocal tract is a result of human evolution. The making of sound predates symbolic speech by millenia. It is seldom that the process of evolution gets something really wrong... and this is true of the vocalisation process. It is certain that the vocal tract is "designed" to make the strongest possible sounds for the minimum possible effort. So just like a runner has to work to uncover the designed function of the running body, so a singer needs to dig away the covering layers of socially acquired speech patterns and mental presumptions which overlay natural vocal tract function.

Although there is no way you can learn this stuff from a blog, I will give you a few pointers in the right direction:

It all starts with neutrality. Remember the dented saxophone we met in the previous post? Well the way nearly all of us speak and/or sing is yer classic dented saxophone. All twisted out of shape, barely able to resonate.

So do this: Stand up straight. Do that little thing of pulling a "string" at the top of your head to get the posture really good. Then let your jaw float just naturally, a bit open. Stroke your fingers lightly down the sides of your face and then let your hans drop to your sides. Without changing a thing, take a small breath and make a small but strong pre-speech type sound like "huuh." Not a big woofy bark, nor a hard or nasty "hah," just a calm and unaffected sound made from a totally relaxed vocal tract.

So that sound (if you got it ... you may need a treacher's help, or refer to the reference sound on the website) is the core of how the singing voice works. Imagine a saxophone with lips and teeth on the front. It makes a continuous big stream of sound from the sax part, and the articulators on the front make the words.

The throat with the "uh"sound is like the sax, leaving the lips, tongue & teeth to make the words. So we need to say all the vowels with that uh throat. Try it. Re-find that relaxed place, get back to the "huuh" an then say huh-ah, huh-oo, huh-ee, huh-eh, all without leaving that open-throat huuh sound.

OK, again, not something you can really expect to learn from a description, but if you can understand the principle the you are already a long way towards getting in.

Watch out for the accompanying video examples.

Next time: - something about cord closure.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Band Coaching at Voxbox

New band project at Voxbox
Our neo-soul band project Camden Soul has "gone solo" and is now an independent band called Lady Soul. Catch them on

So time for a new in-house band project: I am just floating this as in idea to see how much interest comes back.

I know several students, and I am sure there are a few more, who are working on their instruments as well as on their singing. It seems to me there is a need for a rehearsal-band in which people can develop their skills and gain experience.

How it will work
Unlike in Camden Soul where I played keyboards, I would remain in a tutor role to help each person in the band with their technique and more especially with the whole process of working in an ensemble situation...

Getting a sound
Balancing in the mix
Dealing with equipment and monitoring
Working out parts
Rehearsal procedures
General instrumental & vocal instruction
Songs are chosen in turn by members, so there would be a variety of styles which would be a good thing for everyone. Some people may bring original material, some may bring covers.

The aim is not to create a performing band, but to train you into being confident and able in a band situation. You will need a basic playing ability on your instrument to start with. The group will suit songwriters puzzling about how to move forward with getting on-stage, singers who realise that their chances of getting in a band are much higher if they can play an instrument as well, and anyone trying to get in a band but needing some general experience and pointers about how it all works... or just wanting to improve their band skills. The best thing about Camden Soul was watching how rapidly people developed from students into real singers... so many of the ex-CS singers are now in bands, starting bands or otherwise working on a higher level.

The cost would be based on my standard lesson fee split between members of the group... £20 per 2 hour session seems about right.

My band-playing & instrumental teaching
I am a pro-standard guitar player and have had many guitar students over the years. I am particularly focussed on building practical band-playing guitar skills in the quickest possible way, and have a great system for teaching in this way. I can also turn my hand to bass guitar too if need be. I currently have one guitar student and one bass student.

Although not much of a pianist, I have a good knowledge of stage & studio keyboard playing and synth programming.

I started my musical life as a drummer for several years and although rusty as a player can coach drumming in ensemble.

Weekly sessions would be on Sundays, probably 4 - 6 subject to discussion among interested parties.

If any of you are interested in meeting weekly in a tutored rehearsal band situation, let me know.

Leon Berrangé

Monday, June 04, 2007

Training the voice Pt 1

Vocal function

If you don't understand some of the terms used in this article, first read the article "Glossary & Terms " (Coming soon!)

To achieve good voice, the singer needs to achieve the following 5 goals:
  • Ensure strong cord closure in chest voice
  • Maintain cord closure through all the bridges
  • Create a clear, vertically oriented resonant space in the pharynx.
  • Maintain the resonant space unaffected through all the bridges
  • Ensure that the resonant space is always perfectly tuned to the pitch being produced by the cords.

Conventional singing teachers will simply work with the voice that the singer walks in with, and tailor repertoire to suit. They may try to improve general vocal fitness, but will very rarely try to modify basic vocal function.
SLS teachers take a quite different approach. We constantly analyse and improve vocal function to move towards the five goals set out above.
The tools we use are very specific and affect the function of the muscles of the vocal tract at the basic neuro-muscular level, to obtain the ideal air-muscle balance. At the same time we work on the vowels to perfect resonance.
The next article in this series is in the form of an audio file, so that you can hear examples and try some simple exercises yourself.
The best way to find out more is of course to tale a lesson with a SLS teacher.

Some people do some or all of the above naturally, without thinking about it. Lucky few! By far the majority of people have to work hard to master these techniques.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Bad Voice?

Sometimes people point out that some people who sing "wrong" have managed to build successful careers. Well yes of course... Talent as a singer should not be confused with good voice production, and there are many abused voices making good livings for their owners. In many of these instances, the very style of the abuse is what the public go for. Very often it is the aura of vulerability that a cracked broken or strained sound gives to a singer that appeals.

Thre are a few caveats:

  • Abused voices are often unhealthy and prone to infection & strain-related problems
  • Without good technique it can be hard for singers to sing high or low notes comfortably, if at all
  • To achieve wide ranging and versatile expression the singer needs access to a variety of tones and dynamic levels, which are usually only gained by in-depth technical work.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Digital Music Revolution

I just found a new music site where musicians can sell their wares and public can browse and discover. Check out What's different is the way music is priced... according to demand. It's free to register so anyone can browse.

When songs are first posted they are available to download at no cost. This rises with demand for the track, up to a theoretical 98 US cents per track... 1c less than a track off iTunes or Napster. Smart idea number 1. Smart idea number 2 deals with the way on most similar sites, there is such a huge selection of material, it is difficult for anything to rise to the top and make any money. Amiestreet have tried to solve this problem by an incentivised recommendation system. If youREC a track and it gets popular, you get rewarded...albeit with credit to spend on the site, not money. So the game is to successfully predict what people will like and buy. You get to be allowed to REC tracks by spending on the site.

Muzos/bands get 70% of their sales... after an initial 5 bucks off the top for setup fees.

Smart thinking from the designer of the business model. Could that be win-win-win?

So what about the site and content? Site is well designed, easy to figure out, good nav, well thought out genres (unlike the pathetic MySpace genres!) and quite deeply layered. There's a lot of stuff about an awful lot of people, and you can dig in quite far. I followed a REC and got to Jets Overhead,

Any good? Well, like much unsigned material, competent but kinda generic. Did I spend any money:?.... uh, naaah. Will I go back? Sure.

PS a further visit turned up Ilana, a UK soul artist. Check out her MySpace

Harmony Vocal Singing

I have been reviewing the recordings of tonight's Camden Soul rehearsal, and just thinking about how to improve the blend between the harmony voices in the backing vocal ensemble. I started thinking about how to best describe the specific way that backing singers have to synchronise to get that perfect blend. It is so much more than the matter pitching well. All the singers (and there are around 16 in Camden Soul) also need to be approaching the styling of each song in exactly the same way... this means addressing the matters of both voice quality as well as vowel type.

Voice quality depends on the air-muscle balance and how we implement that. We can talk about how edgy we sing, and how loud we sing: these are two separate dimensions of the dynamic. You could label them the quiet-to-loud axis and the soft-to-edgy axis. So the four extremes would be a quiet soft voice, a quiet edgy voice, a loud soft voice and a loud edgy voice. Every situation needs an agreed choice of (and ability to deliver!) style of phonation throughout the group. Of course we must always stay balanced, and know where that centre is, so that we can learn to bend it without breaking it....

In general backing harmony vocal work you are dealing with a wide variety of songs, and each will carry a certain style... not so much a reference to genre as a to the way language and sound are used. The singer is always faced with a variety of vowel choices for every word, and the choices made are a strong factor in the overall styling. The sound of the vowel that comes out from the ensemble can only sound right stylistically of everyone is making the same choicess. Describing vowel stylings is tricky... we can think of them almost like fonts on a computer, complete sets of sounds that have a common character. Like "small and precise," or "deep gospel," or "push-out soul." ?. Makes sense to me.... .

Anyway great rehearsal tonight, even got a dynamite live recording of Rocksteady from it... band was cooking, Naomi nailed the lead vocal and the rest of the singers had their hands up in the air.... Carol's new song sounded great, and Asya's Pull of the Sea, having been gigged a bit already, is settling in really nice. The girls have got their moves better, and the three new singers seem to be working out well. So a great set of gigs coming up... new original material plus looking forward to being at the wonderful Clapham Grand again. (And the Bedford, and the Miller, and Kings Head... see the Camden Soul site for details)