For years I thought, my voice is restricted. I’m a bass. Whenever I reached for the high notes, a huge barrier was piling up. Breaking through that wall was not possible. Oh, but then again, there was this whistlely voice that comes from a different place in the voice. Breathy, restricted to a few tones and too weak to be used. In fact, that voice was rather shameful to use. I bet many singers know that feeling. If you don’t what I am talking about you can stop reading now.
Then I took voice lessons for a year. Classical voice lessons did not help me further, maybe because my teacher was female, maybe because I did not practice every day, maybe because it was not the right technique. A few years later, after seeing that there are websites that teach you how to tie your shoelaces the right way, I dared the internet to teach me how to sing. Just like those many language podcasts, maybe singing could be taught in the car. Don’t freak out yet, when you know all the advices of “standing straight, head up, face back”, because what I discovered is amazing:
It’s all about relaxing the throat. It’s all about isolating the vocal folds from the surrounding muscles, and train them. It’s all about developing a daily workout routine for the vocal folds – and doing it daily.
And there are actually quite a lot of programs out there. Mostly American vocal coaches teach their “secrets” online – if you are willing to pay a fee. Prices are always around 200 Dollars for a “Masters class” and don’t count on extra support unless you want to pay for that extra. Which is more than your normal “music school” but generally cheaper than 2 hours Skype lessons with those trainers. The secret of how to acchieve a mixed voice. There are video lessons, Audio CDs and YouTube blogs. Many of them use the internet channel to sell their videos, others press “real” CD collections. Some go broader than just teaching the mix, by giving breathing exercises, lessons on how to find your vibrato, etc. And its hard to actually judge them since all of them have different ways of teaching the same thing. The videos are generally more helpful and can be stripped down to an mp3 which I use in my car while commuting.
I stumbled across Eric Arcenaux and his AAproach, since he as some nice freebies on the internet. His lessons are covering male and female voices which can be cumbersome in the beginning, as many of the exercises require you to go up the scale and back down. If you don’t have the range yet, this means often to wait or skip ahead. Brett Mannings “Mastering the Mix” program has 12 CD’s but again, 50% of the tracks are for women. At least he gives you a chance by separating male and female exercises and demonstrations. The male exercises of two CD’s fit easily onto one.
I also liked the approach of strengthening the head voice before connecting the two parts. I didn’t like that many of the tracks are normalized, so that actually soft parts and loud parts have the same volume and knowing when to sing soft is often difficult. The amazing thing is that an exercise which was hard on the one morning becomes okay the next day and easy oh the third.
I could feel my voice growing. Although he keeps saying that you should never sing higher than comfortable, another coach has actually perfected to teach relaxation. Per Bristow. Per’s teaching is video based, he focuses as much as possible on relaxation and not so much on “hitting the right notes”. Four video lessons sound little compared to the 12 CD’s from Brett, but it is worth giving Per a shot.
One of the key exercises is the lip roll through the bridge: Poke your fingers slightly into your cheeks, close your lips without pressure and sing a bubbly “Buh” – you will sound like a helicopter – and just slide from bottom to top while keeping your Adams apple in a neutral position (check that with a mirror)
So where am I now? Six weeks after I started with Eric and doing research about Speech Level Singing and their variants I can relax my throat and pass my bridge. My head voice got stronger and I got the grip on finding the tones in between chest and head voice, and crossing the bridge. I’m not there yet, but I keep practicing and I strongly believe that after a few more weeks, my vocal folds are strong enough to stay “in the Mix”.
Since many of the exercises are repeating across programs, I can definitely say that it is enough to get one or at maximum two of those programs. The tip I would give is check out a few sites and see to which trainer you can relate most. Oh, and be aware – they all try to sell their products like Americans: Lots of words, many promises, and endless luring. Just ignore the marketing.
Matthias Krause sings with the Southern Comfort Barber Mates, Eindhoven. His choral life began early thanks to the wonderful opportunities offered at the Jugendchor am Staedtischen Gymnasium Prenzlau. With his move to Eindhoven began his addiction to Barbershop harmony.