Thanks, Dr. Bastian, for this wonderful introduction to the anatomy of our voice!
I am increasingly convinced that one powerful way to develop a voice that sounds the same from top to bottom, and from bottom to top, is to really slide and feel connection between pitches. And I’m a huge fan of not singing thirds or steps all the time.
Try this exercise on an open vowel, starting the first pitch with an M or an N so that the sound is firmly in the mask. Move up by half-steps for three sets, then down one half-step and start up again, so that we avoid the inexorable tension of moving higher, and so that we cover some of the same pitches over and over again. Listen and feel diligently to be certain that no pitch bumps or crunches. The aim here is total uniformity and unification from top to bottom.
I made up this little exercise yesterday for Lucas, a sophomore acting major. We found this surprisingly difficult, especially to nail the 3rd accurately every time we came back to it. This exercise was intended for early in the lesson, since it calls for masky resonance and quick, loosen-it-up agility. Sing this on /ma/ on every syllable, at about 100 clicks per minute. Once you sing a set on the first measure, lengthen and extend by singing the second and third measures.
I have a couple of students whose /I/ vowels are a mess. Either the tongue is curling toward a consonant, or never makes it high enough to give the vowel any clarity.
This seems to be an endemic issue amongst people who grew up in Saint Louis.
So, to fix this issue, these students practice on these words, sustaining the tone and focusing on keeping the tongue still:
The vowel on each of these should be exactly the same!
We’ll call him Walt. Teenage male. Fifteen years old, and a sophomore in high school. Voice changed more than two years ago.
Well-developed falsetto, with easy access.
And when we tried to sing lightly in upper register, his muscles switched him to an octave high in falsetto.
So Walt and I tried to sing together a slow glide up from a3 to d4 on /u/, and at c4 his voice just jumped up a fifth to a4, and in falsetto.
Clearly the upper passiggio is a problem!
So what to do? The slow glide up should work, no?
We tried to shorten the length of glide, from a3 to c4. And that worked. We sang this on /u/, /e/, /a/, /ɔ/, and /ɛ/.
Then we moved up to a#3 to c#4, and then to b3 to d4, running the same series of vowels.
And bingo! He was able to sing through the passaggio. Now he repeats daily for several weeks to gain muscle response, strength, and flexibility.
Here are a couple of additional tongue-twisters from the final few days of the Bonnie & Clyde run. I really enjoyed coming up with these!
For the tongue-twisters here, simply take them up by half-steps, and get slightly faster each time. Notice that the ALW tongue-twister features the consonants D, L, and W.
At New Line Theatre, where this week we will close the fourth weekend of performances of Bonnie & Clyde, I’ve been trying to devise a new tongue-twister most nights for our ritual warm-up.
Two of them from this past weekend were topical.
Some of these have been fairly creative. Others have been repeats of something from my previous lives, including the ‘zinga-zinga-zoo’ exercise and the BDFLMTPTV series.
For the tongue-twisters here, simply take them up by half-steps, and get slightly faster each time. Do one or the other, of course. And in the Fall Break exercise, think in terms of a secondary dominant on ‘fabulous.’
One of my high school students has had drilled into him that ‘placement’ is the most important thing about singing.
He’s a barbershop kid, and so his reference point is understandable.
In order to humor his fixation on placement, and help him understand his possibilities for control of where a vowel’s focal point actually is, I put together this series of words that he is to sing on one single pitch:
Notice that every one of these opens with a labio-dental fricative, followed by a nasal consonant; both sounds live at the front of the vocal tract. Then we have a series of vowels that move from one end of the vowel chart to the other, and close with a forward-placed plosive consonant. The idea is to isolate the consonants in one location, and help the vowel maintain a frontal focal point in the mask.
With a few students over the last few days, we have had real success in keeping the ‘o’ and ‘u’ vowels from traveling too far back. And the resultant increase in the singers formant have been noticeable and notable!
An interesting read. I would suggest doing these exercises under the guidance of a professional, though — the lack of explanation leaves a lot to the imagination.