New York Vocal Coaching Podcast Ep. 27: Building Vocal Strength hero

New York Vocal Coaching Podcast Ep. 27: Building Vocal Strength

Posted March 6, 2020 by Greg Kefalas
Tackling some listener questions, Andy and Matt give tips and exercises on building strength in the voice! They also reflect on how to prevent vocal fatigue and maintain singing health.
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Released: 3/6/2020

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Episode Transcript

Matt
Welcome back to the New York Vocal Coaching podcast. I'm Andy.

Andy
And I'm Matt. And today we've got a couple of listener questions for you.

Matt
We always love our listener questions, don't we, Matt?

Andy
Indeed, we do Andy. So the first question is, "I am naturally a quiet singer. How do I bring out my voice so I can be heard more easily?" It's a great question and a question I'm sure, Matt, you get a lot and I certainly get often as well. So do you want to kick us off here?

Matt
Sure. So the first thing that I find really interesting is look back at the influences of your life and ask yourself, do you come from a quiet household, did your parents raise their voices often and did you sing a lot in choirs, in large groups where you didn't need a big sound? And I've found that students that come from that background are not accustomed to letting out their voices.

They don't use a ton of breath, they don't use a ton of chest voice or just bigger sounds because they've never had to use it. So in this case it's going to feel a little bit of a workout. As you continue to build more power, it's going to feel like you need to push yourself a little bit extra than you're used to and that's okay. I'm just throwing that disclaimer out there. It is going to feel like you have to put in a good amount of work just to increase that volume.

Andy
And the other aspect of this that goes, I'm glad Matt brought it up right away, my first thought or question for people is to ask about their kind of history and how they grew up. Not necessarily like vocally technically what's going on because that's something that we can deal with pretty easily, but that history aspect also is another kind of emotional and mental sort of aspect. And I find that people can handle the physical aspect of it pretty easily. We can kind of push ourselves to kind of go where we need to go. But it's often times the mental or emotional aspect that holds us back from making those sounds because it feels, I can't tell you how many times I've had a quote unquote quiet singer or someone who wants to make their voice louder say, "am I screaming? Am I yelling?" Or you can see their face get red, or they look around and like, who's hearing me? Or even just one-on-one it's embarrassing. And so a big part of that is getting past that mental block and fighting through that. To answer the question, nine times out of 10 when someone says, "am I yelling? Am I screaming? Am I so loud?"

The answers are resounding, no, you're not. What we think of and then I'll always say, if you want to see loud, listen to this, and then I'll sing. And they'll be like, okay, okay, I get it. You're way louder. And you're not even trying. You know what I mean?

So it's just a mental block of, gosh, I don't want to be loud, I don't want to make, just you know...

So it's kind of getting them used to that feeling. But anyway, there are things technically we can do. Matt, what do you like to do?

Matt
So the first one is kind of going to the breath. How much air you are using, literally to sing, right? And that's going to be one of our main volume controllers.

So if I want to talk quietly to the podcast, now I'm using a very small amount of air and I'm going closer to the microphone, but I am holding back more air. I'm letting less flow just because if the breath isn't moving quite as fast, the vocal folds aren't vibrating as much and we get a lesser sound, right? So from the breath perspective, that's very important. One of the ways that you can feel this is if you take in a breath and just hiss for me very, very quietly. Okay, so take in a nice slow breath and breathe in and now hiss a very gently on an S

Try and make the smallest S sound in the world. Yes, Andy is rocking it. See what you are feeling in your abs, what that breath flow is like. Cool. And we can pause you there because if Andy does that, he could go for like 12 minutes. Now I know he has awesome breath control. And you want to think of what that small output of air feels like. Yeah. So now we're going to do the same thing. We're going to take a nice deep breath, but we're going to give a more aggressive hiss at this point. Okay. So taking that low breath, feel the abs expand, feel the ribs or lift and hiss aggressively.

Matt
And once again, Andy is rocking it. You feel already that there's more volume in that sound. Good. Yes. Excellent.

Andy
That was probably super loud. Sorry about that.

Matt
I love it. That's exactly what we were going for. And if you were to use that hissing airflow as you were singing, you'd noticed that it got louder. Just because there's more breath going through the sound.

Andy
Absolutely. So to repeat what Matt said, when people say, how do I increase my volume? Your breath is kind of our number one volume controller, more air, less air. That's kind of a simple way to kind of think about it. Another thing that goes into that breath is I'll have people, I'll just make them have a conversation with me and I'll have them just, I'll say, get louder, get quieter. Just tell me about your day. What have you done today so far?

What have you had for breakfast? And then I'll tell them, now say it louder, now it say quieter. And I'll ask them to kind of figure out what is really changing actually like physically and oftentimes they're like, well I'm using more energy more, and what does that mean, more breath usually.

Matt
Right. And then they really feel that volume control as well.

Andy
Absolutely. So moving on up our body from our breath, let's talk about at the kind of laryngeal and kind of vocal fold level. Sometimes we just need a little more control, a little more compression in our vocal folds. And so you know what I'll have people do when we're talking about volume, we have kind of two, not talking about our breath, but two kind of big factors, our resonance and then also at the vocal fold level. And usually it's a combination of both.

Sometimes people need to increase their resonance in their vocal fold work is fine. Sometimes their resonance is fine, but their vocal fold needs work. At the vocal fold level, it's things like hard consonants, gig, Bs, even Ds will be fine. Big fat chesty vowels, Ahs, Ohs, Ehs. Things like that kind of help us naturally get a bigger sound at the vocal fold level. Not exclusively, but this is kind of one way to kind of think about it.

Matt
Yeah. And the way I like to think about it is chest voice or how much your vocal folds come together. The heftiness, so to speak, of your sound is the potential for volume. So if you do not have a lot of chest voice and not a lot of compression and you have a very breathy sound, even if you're letting so much breath. I'm trying to use so much air.

Oh, I'm trying to make a loud sound, but it's not loud and I'm having to use a lot of effort because the vocal folds are just letting that breath run through. But if we increase the potential for volume, we closed that chest voice, we add that compression. Now that there's more mass literally vibrating, I can use the same amount of air. Oh, now I get this big sound and I'm backing away from the mic so I don't scream into your ears, but that's what kind of the recipe. What we're looking for is we need that closure of the vocal folds plus the air to kind of work through it and then the resonance on top.

Andy
Absolutely. One way you can kind of think about it is say you've got two people trying to make a splash in a pool and they both are on the diving board and they're both going to jump without bouncing too much.

But say one person is 300 pounds and then the other person is 50 pounds. Now if they're both jumping, they both have the same airflow, so to speak, from the exact same place from the exact same distance, but more of the weight, more of the body is going to be coming together against the pool, the water, what is going to make a bigger splash? What's going to make a bigger sound? The heavier person. Now, I'm not saying you need to sing heavy, but the idea here is that we're using more mass of our vocal fold. We're getting them to more of the vocal fold to come together for more sound. So like Matt said, although same flow of air. I feel like I'm losing so much air, then that's not an air issue. It's at the vocal fold level and so we need more mass.

We need more compression.

Matt
Yeah, I love that analogy. So if you want to try and put this together and he talked about the Bs and the Ahs and all of this. If you want to just try saying for me, "Ba, Ba, Ba." Right, it's a very thick, strong sound. Try calling with this Ba Ba Ba. Project with your voice. Feel the strength of your vocal folds. Let that breath flow and you'll see if you get a big sound. If not, then go back to this idea. Are you holding back on the breath? Are you feeling breathy with your sounds? And those diagnostic tools is going to help a lot with kind of balancing the strength in your voice and giving you that sensation of really upping that volume.

Andy
Absolutely. And again, going back to Matt's original, original thought, how you grew up, you're probably going to mentally then kind of shut down almost and you're going to kind of squeeze in or you're going to squeeze your throat up or you're not going to want to push air because you don't want to be loud and things like that or your cheeks are going to be a little red because you're embarrassed.

Again, pushing past that mental thing, we're just trying to tie all of these things together because they do all go hand in hand. Very rarely is it just one simple fix. Sometimes it is. But in this, in this, when it, when it comes to volume, there are a handful of factors that we have to consider and put them all together kind of at the same time.

Matt
Right. And I would say if you don't have a voice teacher that you're seeing on a consistent basis ask friends and family. If you say something and they know that you're trying to increase your volume, ask, "Did I just speak loudly or am I speaking pretty soft?" And they'll be honest with you. Cause sometimes just because of how you grew up, you might think you have this humongous sound and it's maybe a 4 out of 10 with what other people would consider.

So it's hitting the vocal gym and building up that power so that you can have the wider range of variety and volume that we're looking for. And the other thing along that same line that I'll add is being quiet is not a bad thing at all. Just as a singer, we want the option to do both. We're not trying to change your speaking voice, we just want you to experience the very strong and the very soft and everything in between.

Andy
Absolutely. This is so vitally important for people to hear. Being quiet is not a bad thing or a good thing. It just is what it is. There's no value.

Matt
It's a tool.

Andy
It's just, it is what it is. So if you are a quiet singer or speaker, it's not a bad thing or a good thing. It just is what it is. Now, my follow up question oftentimes for people is why do you want to speak louder or sing louder with more strength. Why is that? And usually we'll get into other things, "At work I'm quiet," or "I've always been kind of shy," or "I always feel a little embarrassed," or "People can't hear me." Or whatever the case may be. And then we can kind of delve into it a little bit deeper on that level, kind of whatever they're talking about it. But Matt, it's so important. Being quiet is not a bad thing. It just is a fact. Right, you are quiet. That's not a bad thing. A final quick note, I kind of had mentioned resonance earlier that I wanted to talk about a little bit. I'll give an example of resonance to my clients sometimes who are wanting to be a little bit louder or stronger and I will change literally nothing except for my resonance.

I'm not making it stronger. I'm not compressing more. I'm not decompressing. I'm not adding more air. It's all about where I'm allowing something to resonate. So for instance, I'll give you an example. If I were to say, "Gosh, it's been a good day." There was just kind of a natural thing there. Now, if I were to say, "Gosh, it's been a good day," or if I were to say, "Gosh, it's been a good day." I'm not changing my breath flow. I'm not trying to be quieter or louder, but in all three of those, the volume changed even just a little bit because I'm changing where it's resonating. And so this is another way we can kind of monitor that for ourselves. So some, if people kind of have a little bit darker voice or if it's a little bit back or something, they're going to, they're going to have a harder time getting their sound cutting through things just because it's a little bit dopier-sounding like we say at the studio, whew, the sort of sound or a little bit darker sounding.

Whereas if someone kind of talks like this all the time, naturally they're going to be a little bit louder. Not because they're trying to be loud or not because they're pushing more air, not because they're necessarily compressing more. But because the resonance is a little bit different, it's resonating in a different spot. And so this is another factor to kind of consider.

Matt
Yeah, that's so important. And if you play with character voices too making those very bright sounds, very doofy zones just so you experienced the range that your voice can do. It can be very helpful as you tinker with when you want to be louder, how you want to get louder and all that kind of stuff. So if you are working on building into the stronger part of your voice, we would love to hear from you. So send us an email at podcast@newyorkvocalcoaching.com with any updates, with any other questions that you have and we'll be happy to answer those.

And yeah, good luck in building that volume. We're excited to hear from you.

Andy
And we've got, we're going to end with just one more quick question. "My voice easily becomes hoarse and fatigued. I even sound tired when I speak after just one song." What's the dealio, Matt?

Matt
What is the dealio? Actually this is a good one to pair with being quiet, trying to get louder and all that kind of stuff. If you are getting hoarse so quickly, it's usually because, well it is because you're over-driving your voice, you're giving too much breath, you're giving too much bass, your larynx is rising too high and it's really making the vocal folds smack against each other too much. Right? And it's tensing everything up. Those muscles are getting tired and it's, your voice is going to sound a little different because there's some swelling on the vocal folds themselves and one of our objectives as voice teachers is to find the best to mix, the strongest sounds without any type of fatigue so that we don't have to worry about that when we're singing long performances or practicing for a couple hours or anything like that.

Andy
My question for you is. Not you Matt, but the questioner is what is your, what is your warm up look like? Are you warming up? Are you getting tired even after your warmups? Do you need to adjust your warmups? Do you need to make it longer? Do you need to make it shorter? The other aspect of this is, Matt said is, this means there's a major imbalance of something and usually most of the time it's way too much air and way too much compression. And so sometimes if this happens to people, I'll just say, can you just sing quieter? Let's not get complicated about it. And usually the sound is fine. And then they say, "Oh wow, that was a lot easier." Yet because we're using just a little bit less air now. Sometimes you know we can go into more detail if that doesn't quite fix it. For if this is you, you can sing on a lip buzz, sing on a tongue trill just to kind of get that breath flowing in a really easy way.

Make sure your vocal folds are little more decompressed, if indeed they're overly compressed or just smacking too much. Maybe you need to change your mix up a little bit. Maybe you're dragging too much chest voice up, always be doing falsetto work. Make sure you are staying really flexible, really agile. Make sure you're staying really stretched out.

Matt
And just as something that can help out a lot, be very mindful of dragging that chest, pushing too much air. Also mouth spreading is a very big thing. So what I'd recommend is if you're singing through a song after you've been doing the warm and the exercises and what have you, and it's still not clicking into the right place, try singing the words on like a Mo Mo Mo. Because it closes down the mouth and make sure you say a proper Mo, we don't want it to turn into a Mah or a Muh, or whatever like that.

We want to keep it to that O vowel. And the M is also going to help balance your nasal resonance and your compression so you can't drive as much force as you have been before.

Andy
Absolutely you can hear in the sound, the resonance is lining up. More nasal resonance means you're balancing out your larynx a little bit. You're taking some pressure off your vocal folds and your lips naturally because the M and O really, kind of forward lips for that O, everything is just a little bit narrower, making the space just a little bit smaller, which is again increasing resonance and taking some pressure off of your larynx.

Matt
Right. Absolutely. And as you continue to play with that, you can alternate between the Mo Mo Mo and the words. There are a bunch of other words that we could put that with like a Noon Noon Noon.

I mean there are a bunch of different stuff. But try with the Mo Mo Mo first and continue to experiment. Go back and forth and you'll feel that there's a lot of weight being taken off of the voice and hopefully you're going to be feeling better after one song. Hopefully the stamina is going to continue to build as you balance out your registers and continue to aim for that idea of when you are belting, even when you're singing strong and singing high pop music, it should feel like you're talking. It shouldn't feel like you are pushing and pulling and tugging and hoisting and all this kinds of stuff to make it happen. It is the balance and the ease that creates vocal longevity.

Andy
Absolutely. And when you are, if we are doing songs that are the heavy singing or the big singing, just know that you're going to have to give your voice a little bit more of a break.

Andy
You know, if I'm just kind of singing a song like this and here I'm singing, I kind of feel like I'm on Elf when Will Ferrell does that. I could probably do this for two hours but if I'm really singing blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, there's no way I'm going to be able to just do that for two hours straight. Right. And so I'm going to have to give my voice a little bit more of a break. So if you are doing strong, heavy singing, you're just not going to last as long. So you know, give yourself that break and slowly build up, like Matt said, that stamina.

Matt
Right. And also take a look at sleeping habits, making sure you're getting a good amount of sleep, making sure you're hydrating. We also had a podcast not too long ago that we talked about vocal health, so I'm going to refer you over to that as well, which has a lot of great stuff.

That was another I would say close to 30 minutes of a lot of different factors of what creates fatigue, how to prevent vocal fatigue and damage and what have you. And I think all those tips will go a very long way in making sure that you're keeping your voice happy and healthy.

Andy
And again, if you have any other questions, please feel free to email us at podcast@newyorkvocalcoaching.com. We always love hearing your questions. We want to be here for you and serve you, so it's been a great day of answering these questions. Thank you, Matt.

Matt
It's been fun. Thank you Andy and thank you listeners and keep up that great singing work.

Matt
Thank you for joining us for this episode of the New York Vocal Coaching podcast. If you like what you hear, please subscribe, like, leave a review, and share the podcast with friends and family. And we thank you in advance for that.

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You can also find more NYVC content with our Voice Lessons To The World, Quick Singing Tips, and Voice Breakdown series on YouTube. You can also catch us on Instagram and join us on Facebook for our weekly live videos coming to you on Sundays.

We're looking forward to seeing you again two weeks from now for another episode of the New York Vocal Coaching podcast.