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Vocals Myths and Answers, part one - By Jeannie Deva
Over the years, various terms have been developed in an attempt to give singers instructions and an understanding with which to develop their voice. Not all instructions are scientifically sound, and while some of the terms work, others have created new confusions. If you have been confused by any terms, previous suggestions or directions, it is important to “clear the air” in order to move ahead. To assist you in this process, we’ll examine the most common terms and then create our own definitions and concepts based on knowledge of the body.

Clarifying Terminology

“Singing from the Throat” “People say” that you should not “sing from the throat.” This is a funny kind of double-edged line. We do sing from our throats! That’s where our vocal folds are! (Which, by vibrating, produce our voice.) What is meant by this expression is that singing with throat muscle tension is not good and that proper breath support is essential to good sound production.

“Support, Support!” I recently read Vocal Q and A posted on an online web site. The singer wrote in a problem and included the fact that he had never taken voice lessons. The voice instructor gave him some feedback and ended by saying that he had to remember to “support.” This direction was never explained. So what does “support” imply and how do you do it? I can only imagine what someone may mean by it and in fact, the meaning may change from teacher to teacher. (No wonder some get turned off by voice lessons!) The fact is, your vocal folds need only a certain amount of air to vibrate them at any one time. If too much is sent (pushed) out, there will be too much pressure against them and problems will result. Do you think you need to push out more air as you sing higher? If so, you may be surprised to know the exact opposite is required by your vibrating source (the vocal folds). The higher you sing, the less air they need for their vibration. It’s actually better not to think about the amount of air at all and let your body handle it automatically.

“Sing from the Diaphragm” At the risk of hurting someone’s feelings, does anyone really know what this means? This direction is usually accompanied by the teacher patting their belly. >From this, singers think the diaphragm is just above their belly button. When compared to the physiology of the vocal process, I find this instruction very odd indeed. The diaphragm is several inches higher, and the area the teacher is indicating are the intestines. The diaphragm plays an important role, but it does not make our sound! Some teachers say that to sing properly, you must control the diaphragm. Others say the abdomen must be controlled by a slow conscious use and contraction. I am putting forth that there is a way of working with your body so that you do not have to think about breathing when singing, your abdomen can remain relaxed, and the air stream will be controlled automatically.

“Breathe From the Diaphragm” Yet another direction that makes you think you have to do something to make the diaphragm do what it does naturally. How else do we breathe? Now I know that the idea behind this is to get singers to become more aware of their lower torso, to relax the abdominal wall, and to not tense the shoulders or heave the chest while breathing. But it is just too vague, confusing, and open to misinterpretation. Also, by moving, the rib cage is a more important physical cause of an inhale, not the movement of the “stomach.” To learn how the ribs are designed to move so as to let them function naturally, assists in breathing that better supports the needs of your vocal instrument.

Stay tuned for Part Two next month!

© 2003 Jeannie Deva. Jeannie Deva is the founder of Jeannie Deva® Voice Studios since 1978 and of The Deva Method® A Non-Classical Approach for Singers. While her private voice studio is located in Los Angeles, Jeannie maintains private clients across the country and in Europe. Author of the internationally published vocal home-study course: "The Contemporary Vocalist" book and CDs, she has been flown to recording studios internationally to handle album vocal production and has been endorsed by producers and engineers of the Rolling Stones, The Cars, Aerosmith, and many others. Clients include Grammy Award Winner Aimee Mann, Patty Griffin, Coppertree, Dar Williams, Moodcrush, members of the J. Geils band, cast of Fame, Jesus Christ Superstar and many more.

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