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How to Become a Better Singer: Bulk it Up

Sep 29 2016

Hey singers of the world!  Here is another really practical and helpful tip on singing to the best of your ability.  This blog series is designed for the individual singer and the worship pastor of many vocalists.  Here you will find some information regarding what we call “vocal tendencies” and how to improve upon your singing based on these tendencies.

Each of us tend towards a certain sound or imbalance in the voice.  In the previous blog, we talked about the ‘Pull Chest’ tendency where you may find that you have a hard time navigating out of your chest voice into your higher sounding ranges.  You may navigate your chest, middle and head voice REALLY easily without tension or any break or change in sound.  We would call this the mix. Even mixed singers need technical exercises to work on, and we will address this in the last of this blog series.  There are four main tendencies that we will be addressing in this series (light chest, pull chest/high larynx, flip, and mix), with some tips on how to grow, no matter where you find yourself.

The ‘Light Chest’ Tendency

Someone who has a light chest tendency would sing with an airy or disconnected sound (many times throughout the whole vocal range).  These people have trouble getting their chords to connect and may be using TOO much air and not enough muscle.  We addressed the internal muscles used to help the cords to close in the Pull Chest blog, but while Pull Chest tendency uses too much muscle and not enough air, light chest uses too much air and not enough muscle.  Working on this tendency is not necessarily about becoming a LOUDER singer, but addressing the health issues that come with too much air passing through the vocal folds.  This can irritate the cords and cause vocal damage, just like pulling chest and abusing your chords with too much muscular effort can.  This is about a clearer, more “connected” sound.  This sound comes when the vocal cords have had an appropriate amount of adduction or connection with one another to produce a clear and healthy sound.  Now, we aren’t saying using a breathier sound when you sing dynamically or stylistically is terrible and a huge no no!  But someone who can NEVER achieve a clear and connected tone will need to do some work on connecting for a healthy singing voice.  Once you CAN connect, you can occasionally go back to a stylistic preference when needed.  Our goal is for each singer is to have longevity in their own style.  Remember that God gave you a gift to steward wisely — and while all of our gifts sound and function differently, they all deserve our very best!

Even in this video, I am a bit more connected than many of you may be, as I am quite a heavy chest singer and struggle NOT to connect sometimes haha!  But here you will see Hannah, who has been working on her light/weak chest tendency for a couple of years so we skipped ahead to a more complex 1.5 scale.

You can hear how edgy and squeaky her hums and her “ah” is.  These exercises help the vocal cords to close when they normally wouldn’t want to in your tendency.  Record yourself doing these exercises and listen back, making sure that you are hearing sounds like a door hinge creaking.  This doesn’t need to be so aggressive that you are hurting yourself or shouting…the point is to use these exercises at a normal talking level.  Once the very small and intuitive thyroarytenoids and cricothyroids (internal muscles used in vocal cord function) get the hang of gently closing, you will be on a roll in no time!  The key is consistency.  Your cords can get confused if you do work like this and then go back to singing with all air.  So, for now I would say sing your songs on these edgy sounds as well and stay away from as much breathy singing as possible.  Once you are consistently getting cord closure, you can incorporate some of the old sound back into your singing.  But this takes TIME and PATIENCE. 🙂

Try these exercises written by Lara Tenhoorn, one of our amazing vocalists and trainers at Hillsong College:

When you tend to be a light singer use edgy, aggressive sounds such as Aa Aa Aa and/or a nasty sounding Ee Ee Ee on a 3 tone scale (do, re, mi) eventually building into 5 tone scale (do, re, mi, fa, sol).

For females with no chest voice, start on A3. For females with chest voice but falsetto on top, do the same thing in reverse starting on D5.  Then work on repeated notes (e.g., A3 or D5 repeated 4 times in a row on edgy Aa or edgy squeaky hum).

Once the muscle starts to activate and engage, put plosive consonants first – B’s work really well because they can be sung aggressively and provide helpful back pressure.  (5 tone Ba Ba Ba, Bay Bay Bay and eventually move into super nasty sounding full 1.5 octave scale Nay’s, Aa’s and Ee’s – as much edge as possible to begin with.)

This is the same for males but you’ll most likely need to reverse it and use these exercises mainly for male head voice, starting on A4.

I hope this helps you and remember-warm up, squeak it out, so you can bulk it up! Hehe

Chelsea LaRosa
Hillsong College Vocal Oversight – City Campus