Episode 136 – Being Too Careful

It takes work and dedication to learn to mix and blend through the vocal break. It also requires a period of being very careful to establish the new balanced in the voice.

The problem is when the singer gets stuck in this particular place, afraid to sing more openly and robustly.

In this episode, John discusses this issue and why you need to get out of this overly careful approach once it has done its job.

Episode Transcript

Episode 136 – Being Too Careful

Hey there, this is John Henny. Welcome back to another episode of The Intelligent Vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending your precious listening time with me. All right, just a couple of quick things you can get both of my books, Teaching Contemporary Singing and Voice Teacher Influencer. There are books one and two of the Voice Teacher Success series. You can get them on Amazon Kindle right now for 99-cents. As this podcast is coming out, both books are available for 99-cents. That is actually a deal. So, if you’re interested in teaching voice or if you’re already teaching voice, you want to learn how to grow your business go ahead and grab those books while they are really, really cheap.

Today I want to talk about not trying so hard, specifically, not trying so hard to mix. Now if you’re new to the podcast, mixing is, there’s a sense of balance, and voice teachers will argue about terms, but I’m going to go with mixing. It is this balance of muscle. The muscles of the lower register versus the muscles of the upper register, but also a balance of acoustics between the lower and upper register. This transition area also called the passaggio. Singers call it the break. This area is what keeps voice teachers in business. This is the bane of most singers’ existence. What happens is when we sing in our lower register or chest voice, this is our more natural voice. This is something we do quite easily. This is where we communicate and where we speak, and the outer edges of this natural area is shouting at the upper limits of our chest voice.

We start to shout if we try and stay in a pure chest coordination as we go higher. We will begin to shout and our nervous system is really good at shouting. It’s a hardwired survival mechanism, and overriding this hardwiring takes quite a bit of work. It’s something that singers have to spend time on. And at the upper end of the voice, you have a what is often called the head register. Some people call it ‘mode two,’ and this is often thought of as a very hooty, falsetto-y, classical sounding voice. But in between those two, you have more of this mixed condition. You have this condition where it is not as low and heavy as your chest voice, but it’s not as light and hooty as your head voice, and this is where most contemporary singing is done. This starts about E-flat Above Middle-C for men. You’re really getting into this area that, if you don’t go into this mix or whatever you want to label it as or you don’t do something to mitigate the building tension and heaviness of pure chest voice, you’re going to have trouble.

For women, it happens about a G- or A-flat-four, that’s the G or A Above Middle-C on the piano. And typically you will spend a lot of time learning to get through this area without cracking, learning how to mix. So today’s podcast is not for the absolute beginning singer or even singers getting in towards intermediate singing. But I would encourage you to listen because you’re gonna run into this at some point. A problem I see again and again are really hardworking singers who go and they start studying and they start learning to mix and they start to get a relief from this yelling, this pulled chest voice, this over-squeezing of muscles. and one of the reasons it’s so dangerous is it’s so easy to squeeze your vocal folds.

As your larynx, this bump that houses your vocal folds, as this larynx starts to go up, which it will do in the acoustic setting of this yell. All right everybody makes the same face when they yell. They drop their jaw, they pull their lips really far back, the larynx, that bump rises up and then they just start pushing as hard as they can. It’s really easy to squeeze the heck out of your cords as the larynx comes up. As the larynx gets lower, you’re less able to squeeze your vocal folds. And that is why very often one of the first things you need to do is you need to start dropping your larynx. And the other thing you need to do is you start going in the opposite direction of this yell. So if a yell is defined by this, the jaw down as far as it can be, the lips just spread as wide open as can be, and the larynx as high up as it can be.

And there are acoustic why the body will naturally do this in order to go into this yelling condition. So what you do is you do the opposite and you need to begin to lower the larynx at first, and you will round the lips rather than letting them go really, really wide. And what that does is that breaks that lock, it breaks the muscular lock and it also breaks the acoustic lock that you will get as you go into the shout condition. So rather than somebody just going into this, you know, and they’re just yelling the heck out of it. If they stay more in, there’s rounded vowels. They’re going to find more ease. Suddenly they’re no longer yelling. You begin to get more range. The break in the voice goes away and you start to think, this is the magic secret.

I’ve got this now. I am now going to just keep my larynx real low and I’m going to round my vowels and I’m just going to go through and I’m just going to sing in this mixed condition. And the problem is it doesn’t sound great and it’s not very powerful. Now, at first you need it to not be very powerful. If your condition and your nervous system and your muscle memory is all about shouting, which is very loud and very powerful, but very limited to get out of that condition, we have to overshoot and we have to go very low larynx and very rounded vowels. And not so much that we flip into head voice, but we need to– Although if you’re really bad, you will need to flip into head voice if you’re really locked up.

But we need to get out of this shout condition and so it’s necessary to go into this exaggeration. But the problem is when it has served its purpose, and now it is time to start stepping back into power and back into more open vowels. They’re not as rounded and the larynx can come up a little bit and it starts to inch towards the dreaded shout, the yell, the pulled chest, the break, and that scares singers and they start to become frightened that they’re not mixing. And it’s one of the main things that I deal with in more advanced singers, is they start to run to this safe zone of what they consider a mix. And the mix is very precious and it’s not intense and it doesn’t ride the line. You know, great singers are riding the line, at times, of vocal disaster. They’re riding the line of breaking, they’re riding the line of cracking.

And it’s wonderful when you see a singers like Freddie Mercury, even Bono will– I don’t know if he famously said this, but I remember him saying many years ago that a great rock and roll vocal is one that’s on the verge of the voice just cracking and breaking, that you’re almost not making the note. And there is some truth to that. That’s a specific style. But you know, singers that are like thrillingly on the edge, even great classical singers. And then when these tenors are just nailing these high notes, they’re right on the edge because they’re not in these very rounded safe conditions. They’re in these exciting, brilliant, almost yelling but not quite, and you have got to find your way back to there. You can’t get stuck in this over safe over careful, slightly scared singing. Nobody is buying a ticket, spending a lot of money, driving, paying for parking, dealing with all the hassle of going to a live performance to watch a singer be slightly scared and really careful and really precious and oh so technical and afraid of making a mistake.

No, they go to see the high-wire act. You go to see singers just communicate and explode with passion and musicality and a voice that does things that’s right on the edge. So if you’ve been spending so much time in this working on this mix and being very, very careful, that’s fantastic. That is actually necessary for a while, but don’t stay there. Don’t get stuck there. Don’t be afraid to start walking back to more thrilling singing. Now I’m not saying to go at this willy nilly and take a sledge hammer and just start shouting. And I would recommend that you do this with a teacher that knows what they’re doing, that knows how to tune vowels in a way that you can really start to get these more open belty thrilling sounds. But you know, great belting is not done in this overly careful mix, if you will.

And I’ve talked about this before. Mix is quite a wide tent. On one end it’s almost falsetto classical singing, and on the other end it’s almost just a full-on shout. And in between those two extreme points, you have all the shades of mix, but the brilliant belty intense mix is done on the edge of that shouting. And you need to have all the different shades of mix in your pocket, and even medium mix, or slightly towards the light more heady classical mix. You still don’t want this over precious over attempting-to-mix the sound. And I can hear it when students do that. They’re overly concerned and it just doesn’t make for great singing. So you’ve got to start stepping your way back to more open vowels, back to more intensity, back to more freedom, back to more daring.

And dare I say back to more fun, back to more enjoyment. You didn’t start singing so you could be constrained with all these rules and fears of your voice and being wrong. I don’t even know what being wrong is unless you’re making a sound you don’t want to make, but you just have to be very careful when somebody is telling you can’t make a certain sound. It’s funny, when I was first teaching many years ago, I used to use the words always and never quite a bit. And now I rarely – see, I’m not going to say never – I rarely use the words always and never. Actually, I almost never use the words always and never because you have to be more open. It’s communication.

You’re just going to be dull. No matter how well you sing, you’re not going to grab somebody. And a lot of my favorite singers are not the best technicians. They’re not even close. But oh my goodness can they move you with their voice and the passion and the intensity. So don’t be afraid. Once you’ve got this mix going, start working your way back towards the belt. Start working those vowels more open. Take it step by step. You need to learn to start to dial things in bit by bit, little by little. But the magic thing is when you start to open these vowels up and you start to be in that more intense vocal place, it gets easier because of the energy that’s reflecting back down to the vocal cords. There’s really a freedom in not being afraid, and there’s a freedom in allowing yourself to go to that place that I really want every singer to experience.

Hey, if you want to know more about me, please check out my website, johnhenny.com. Check out my free straw warm-up course. Just at the top there. Click on courses and you will see the straw warm-up. Costs you nothing. It’s a great way to keep the voice ready for singing. And if you want to learn to sing with intensity, I mean, if you’re really ready to start belting, my course Boldly Belting, you can go to boldlybelting.com. If you use the coupon code podcast20, you can save $20 off the price. But I just got a fantastic email from someone this morning who was ready to hire someone else to sing his songs. And he got the course and was able to start bridging that gap between exercises and material. And that’s what my course is designed to do. It’s kind of, I’m not going to use the word revolutionary, but well, I’ll use it until I find a calmer word, but it’s somewhat revolutionary in that I’ve created a way to bridge the gap between exercises and singing materials. So just go to boldlybelting.com. Find out more about that. And until next time, to better singing. Thank you so much. Bye. Bye.