Running Up That Hill
We've all had those days, or at least I have. You go for that note that has troubled you in the past and…….it’s perfect! It’s amazing, glorious – you feel like a golden god of singing.
You hit the note again…..it’s still there! So easy, full and ringing. “This is the day” you want to cry out to the world. The day when you finally unlocked the secret code to your voice.
The next day you come back to your practice room, ready to once again thrill the universe with your amazing command of your instrument.
Except……..it isn’t there. The perfect note has been replaced by the old familiar struggle. The singing gods have gone back to their mount on high and taken your perfect note with them.
The more you struggle to find the note of yesterday, the further it disappears from your grasp. It’s enough to make you want to quit, but you don’t. You get back back to the grind of practicing, hoping to find it yet again.
This is all part of learning to sing. Breakthroughs followed by more struggle. The important part is learning to embrace the struggles and the plateaus. These are what make the breakthroughs possible.
What Went Right?
Let’s look at the scenario I just described. There are likely reasons for the success and following disappointment of the singer.
On the perfect day you were not expecting the great breakthrough, so you stuck to your normal routine (yes, routines can be boring) of warming up and focusing on your vocal exercises.
This routine got the vocal cords properly conditioned for the physical act of singing. The act of warming up helps remove any puffiness from the cords and also gets the tiny muscles and ligaments of the voice primed and ready.
When you went for the troublesome note (with your now-ready vocal cords) you managed to make a small but important adjustment to the vowel. This adjustment does two very important things. It aligns your resonators (throat and mouth) properly with the sound waves your cords are creating and this alignment then creates an almost magical burst of energy that suddenly makes the note not only powerful and beautiful but also very easy.
What Went Wrong?
The next day you likely came to your practice area with a heightened sense of excitement, ready to recreate the magic of the previous day.
You cut short the all important warm-up in order to get back to your singing splendor.
You now take your not-quite-ready vocal cords and go for the magic note, but you make an even bigger error. The vowel is not quite as dialed in as before.
This misalignment now has the opposite effect, the powerful and easy note is now thin and strained. This is because you are no longer getting that all important burst of energy a properly tuned vowel gives you.
Now begins the worst part – overcorrection. You try again, but this time you push more air, it’s worse. You try narrowing the vowel, worse again. You try opening the vowel – ouch that hurt!
The problem is you are now trying big adjustments in the voice when the answer was likely very small, exacting corrections.
The voice is a system that behaves in a funny way - very small adjustments yield much larger changes in the final result. This leads singers to experience what I call the “vocal see-saw,” going back-and-forth from overcorrection to overcorrection. It is extremely frustrating to say the least.
I believe one of the keys to avoiding this frustration is to learn as much as you can about the controllers of your voice. Very small adjustments in air, cord closure and especially vowels will greatly affect your level of success. The more you are aware of these small changes and their results, the greater control you will begin to have.
It’s your unique instrument, you owe it to yourself to learn as much as you can about it.