Breathing and Coordination

May 2nd, 2014

Most singing instructors use exercises for a variety of different skills, and focus on each skill individually until ultimately they are all working together. This makes learning to sing a manageable task that we can all enjoy filled with exercises that are beneficial wherever you happen to be in your development.

The exercise that I wrote for these videos is an adaptation of several that I’ve known over the years, and helps to work on several different skills, each of which can be focused on in turn until they’re all comfortable and on their way to becoming second nature. Ultimately, when we’re singing or performing, we want to focus on the performance rather than the skills that make it possible, which is why it’s so important to make time for regular focused practice.

In this exercise, one of the main skills I wanted to convey was the idea of suspension on short notes. The short notes at the beginning of each phrase of the exercise are there to challenge you to keep the rib cage open and abdominal muscles engaged in the process of singing. Additionally, the short tones help to allow the vocal fold to adapt more easily to narrower vowel sounds.

The descending scale challenges us to stay lifted and engaged (again abdominally) throughout the singing process, avoiding the common habit of going slightly flat when singing descending scales.

The exercise begins with just one vowel sound, and eventually goes on to incorporate the five main vowel sounds that are used in English language singing. The challenge here is to remain focused and narrow in resonance throughout the exercises getting good transitions and keep the timbre (sound) of your voice consistent.

On top of it all, though the range of the first couple of exercises is comfortably in our chest voice, the video quickly moves on challenge us to navigate through the passaggio.

All in all, quite a bit of content for such a short video, the idea being that repeated practice sessions with the video allow one to shift focus from one topic to another until the practice in each becomes fluid and they work together to open and deliver a natural singing voice.

Enjoy! If any questions or comments come up, feel free to get in touch!

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Singing a Phrase with Lyrics

April 25th, 2014

It’s easy as a singing instructor, or voice instructor, to work on technical concepts using only syllables and solid vowel sounds. They tend to reveal aspects of a singer’s performance very clearly and without any other complexities to make it more difficult. In reality though, most of us sing songs that have words in them, and it’s important to give a singer phrases and exercises that incorporate the complexities that they’re likely to encounter in their repertoire.

In this phrase, “I Love to Sing,” we have a variety of challenges, as detailed in the video. What I didn’t mention was that after you’ve gotten accustomed to it, it would be beneficial to record yourself singing it and have a listen. It needn’t be a particularly fancy recording either, just a way to listen to your voice when you’re not actively producing it.

As always, I hope these help, if questions or comments come up, feel free to get in touch.

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New Lip Trill Help!

April 23rd, 2014

The lip trill is one of those voice teacher exercises that nearly ever one of us uses. It’s helpful for so many reasons it’s hard not to implement it frequently when working with clients. The learning curve on it can be steep for those that have difficulties with it, which is what someone wrote in to my youtube page. So, I put together this video.

It may still take some time to get the lip trill going, but with some patience it’s just a matter of time.

The lip trill, though, is not the end all be all of vocal training. As much as I use it all the time, and find it extremely helpful in range development and diagnosing airflow management issues, I feel like it’s more of a blunt force object. Kind of like using a baseball bat to squeeze orange juice. Sure, you’ll get some juice, but you’ll also end up with orange all over the kitchen.

The lip trill is great when you’re first learning a new song or skill. It takes a lot of the weight of the air column off of the vocal fold, allowing it to change shape more easily while remaining adducted. Fundamentally though, it’s not the same as singing a solid vowel sound where that sub-glottic presure must be consciously controlled. I say this all to say, practice and work towards acquiring this useful skill in order to add it to your tool chest of vocal exercises, but keep working on the other vocalizations and practices that are out there as well. There’s no need to but the brakes on the rest of your vocal development simply because this one exercise is elusive at times.

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New Warm Up Video Online!

April 21st, 2014

I uploaded and released these last week, but I wanted to share a word or two about them. Working with intervals in our vocal practice offers advantages that are different from pure scalar singing. First off, we sing intervals, and consequently it pays to practice with them and warm up with skips in mind. Secondly, in many of the exercises in these videos, there are slight pauses between one note and the next. These pauses serve an important function, and provide us with an opportunity to develop several skills simultaneously.

In an exercise where the air stream is momentarily paused, the vocal fold has the opportunity to adjust in an un weighted capacity. This is significant in that with practice, there will be subtle changes to how we’re vocalizing. The released that the vocal fold has in those pauses gives it the opportunity to adopt the new position more easily, rather than defaulting to an old position that we’ve grown accustomed to singing with that is normally achieved while the vocal fold is in a legato phrase. This is particularly helpful in working through passages that ascend over the passaggio. It is there that the most amount of adjustment for new vocalists or those new to vocal study occurs.

I combine shorter length syllables with more legato passages in order to create a ready, set, go type situation. The shorter bursts allow us to adopt a more appropriate position; the legato phrases are more similar to actual singing.

As you work with this warm up, I would encourage you to pay as close attention as possible to your vocal posture, and attempt to maintain it through the legato passages.

This brings us to the other significant skill of these warm up

Much as we focus quite intently on the singing, or exhalation aspect of singing, it also pays to devote some attention to the inhalation and suspension aspect of vocal production. All the pauses in these exercises create an opportunity for you to take note of the overall engagement of your core, and how it is supporting vocal production. As a one who studies and teaches the appoggio breathing management system, I want to encourage you to pay attention to how much engagement is happening. Is it free to change as you sing in a different range? Does it feel supple and light or heavy? How much open-ness is maintained in the lower ribs? Being aware of your posture and engagement can help maintain greater open-ness and ultimately, provide better airflow to support vocal production, further enhancing your control and enjoyment of your voice!

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New Interval Study Video Up!

April 19th, 2014

I remember when I first began to sing in an environment where there was a critical analysis happening while it was coming out of my mouth. It didn’t entirely go that well I have to admit, and doing this video on Perfect 4ths feels a little like closing that loop. All I had to do in the lesson I’m thinking of was sing up from the tonic of a major scale to the fourth, and I floundered miserably. I don’t really have that problem anymore, and working with this video will help if that’s something you struggle with.

It’s interesting really, because fourths are all over the place in popular music. A perfect fourth is the interval between the fifth scale degree and the tonic when one ascends to the tonic, and this is an awfully common occurrence when we’re making a cadence in our songs. Approaching those key areas of songs and being able to execute them well makes us as vocalists stand out as professionals, something I want for myself and for all my clients. I hope you find this practice helpful. If there are areas of vocal pedagogy or music that you want covered, let me know, I’m always happy to take requests. Until then, all the best!

Jeff Rolka

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How to Sing Fast Notes!

April 12th, 2014

A listener wrote in on youtube asking about exercises and tips for delineation. This is another way of saying fast passages including ornamentation, riffs, trills, and that sort of vocal line. These are the phrases that we hear when vocalists are singing a lot of notes, sometimes very quickly, on a single vowel sound. These riffs can occur anywhere in a vocalists range, it’s just about how you write the line.

Having good legato phrasing and good airflow doesn’t always translate directly to singing fast paced melodic lines. We have to be sure to really keep our air moving solidly through the phrase and beyond the last note of the riff. If we fail to do that, either in the muscular engagement of our cores, or conceptually by thinking that the line is over before we’ve stopped singing, we often get phrases that have compromised intonation, or sound different timbre wise in our voices after a certain point.

The exercises in these videos, of which there are four, are a progressive beginning to getting a grip on changing vowels, changing directions of phrase, and changing length of phrase. There are certainly more, but this will get you started. Enjoy!

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Working with Breathiness in the Voice

April 2nd, 2014

Breathiness in our singing voices can be a nice affectation for certain songs, but ideally we can control it so that it’s only there when we wish. I’ve encountered breathiness in vocalists of nearly all experience levels, and the question of how to work on it comes up regularly.

In these videos are a few exercises that one can do to work on eliminating that breathy quality. Each one has a brief explanation of what breathiness is and how the exercise works. There are four of these, and I want to encourage you to find the one that is in the most comfortable range for you, despite whatever vocal range label you associate with. The goal here is to in an area of your voice that is easy to work with, and leaves you free to focus on the exercise, rather than having to sing a note that is too high or too low for comfort. If any questions, comments, or requests for further information come up, I want to encourage you to write in and let me know. These videos were done by request, and few things give me greater pleasure than to address the needs of those who are watching and making use of these videos.

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Singing When You’re Sick

April 2nd, 2014

If there’s anything that gets to me, it’s having a cold and worrying about my voice. Logically, there’s no reason to get stressed out about it, but as someone whose livelihood depends on their ability to sing, demonstrate singing, and meet with people, being sick really gets to me. As the new father to twins, I’ve had more colds this winter than I have had in the past decade, and just as I was recovering and feeling like my voice was back in shape from the last one, I got yet another cold, and this one is really rough!

When life hands you lemons though….as the saying goes, and I took this opportunity to make a short video about what we can do when we’re ill. The focus is on determining if it is safe to sing, and how to proceed if that’s the case. As always, comments, questions, or requests for more information are welcome and encouraged!

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New Video – A Brief Word on Talent

March 25th, 2014

I feel like I’m going out a little on a limb here, discussing talent. Talent as a concept that through my years of training has generated different reactions from different teachers I’ve studied with. From those that were offended to suggest that they were talented, to those who took as a compliment, but didn’t give it terrible weight, I’ve come to think of talent as something we create with constructive criticisms and disciplined practice. I’m certainly open to discussion about it, have a look/listen and tell me your thoughts. Thanks as always for watching!

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New Warm Ups for Baritones and Sopranos and a new Series!

March 20th, 2014

Warm Up videos on youtube seem to be really on demand. I easily get more requests for these than almost any other vocal instruction request. A listener requested that I do my ‘Daily Warm Up for Male Voices’ video for Baritone, and I figured I might as well include female vocal range as well. So this week those two were released, you can find them below. Additionally, I wanted to start a new series of video that was closer to actual singing, with the complexities that words and phrases bring to it. That gave rise to ‘How to Sing a Lyric Phrase Number 1′ within which I made up a silly word combination and discuss the vowel consonant attributes. A good start to what I believe is going to be a useful service. Enjoy!


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