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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Singing With A Voice That Has No Boundaries

American Idol 2009 is over and the winner is Kris Allen. We all know that, but I’d like you to vote again.


Yes, I’d like you to compare their voices simply from one technical point of view, and then vote with your own conclusion based on that one point.

Now, bear with me, a technical point of view doesn’t mean that the viewpoint has to be boring. In fact, the opposite is true. Anyone who wants to know more about singing – that’s YOU - discovers all sorts of exciting things about techniques along the way.

For instance, I’d like to talk about vocal projection, which simply means sending your voice on a journey, a journey to a distant place, past all boundaries and obstacles. After you explore this journey of vocal projection with me, I’ll get back to Kris and Adam, so take a deep breath and let it out slowly (see, I’ve already given you something to do to help your voice).

Where is this distant place where you are going to send your voice? Think of it as a spot on top of a mountain, way over there - somewhere out in front of you. You can see the mountain but you aren’t near it. You’re on top of a different mountain and there is a canyon in between. You can see the highest point, but you can’t get there from where you are.

All of a sudden, you see someone whom you haven’t seen in years standing on the top of the mountain. Someone you care about and love with everything in your being. But you are on this side of the canyon and he is on the other side of the canyon. He does not know you are there and so does not see you.

What to do?

You yell loudly, but the wind is blowing through the trees and the sound is bigger than your voice. The canyon and wind form a boundary line, a barrier for you. So, you yell louder, but the only result is a sore throat and a cracking sound in your voice.

Next, you try jumping up and down and waving your arms, but you are too far away and it doesn’t do the trick.

You consider lighting a fire. That will get attention, but probably only from the fire and police departments. Besides, the fire would just chase your loved one away.

So, now what?

You think back to something your singing teacher (yes, you have a singing teacher, it’s me!) told you about projecting your voice, something you did not fully understand at the time. Quickly, you try to recall what she said and then envision seeing her cup her hands around her lips and calling out to someone. You remember her telling you to do the same, imagining that you have to get your voice through a tiny hole in the corner of the room where the ceiling meets the two walls. Her voice sounded really loud when she did it, almost like yelling, but it didn’t seem like she hurt her throat.

“Do it,” you call out through the wind. “Get over yourself and do it!”

You cup your hands, placing them around your lips, then remembering that she told you to let go of the tension in your hands, your neck, your jaw and your belly, you plant your feet and call out “Hello,” stretching out the vowel “o,” like she did.

The sound doesn’t get very far and it bugs you because it doesn't sound good enough to go anywhere, let alone over to the other mountain. You look down and kick the dirt, berating yourself. When you look up again, you see your loved one starting to walk away, not because you don't sound good, but because he can't hear you. Frantically, you try again.

“Hellooooooooo,” you call out through the wind, “hellooooooo, heloooooo,” with more urgency and higher pitched now, “heloooooooooooo.”

Something connects inside of you. Your whole body feels alive for the first time in years, almost like every cell is tingling, vibrating with power and joy. You realize that you aren't just calling out anymore, but you are singing and your voice is strong, so you keep singing out across the canyon. You begin to hear your voice reverberate against the huge granite boulders and it gets louder and louder as you let it go, not caring how it sounds anymore. You are totally focused on making sure your beloved hears you.

Suddenly, you see him turn his head in your direction and now you can tell that he sees you. He calls back to you and BOOM, there’s an earthquake, and all the boulders fall down around you and you never see your loved one again!

No, seriously, when being heard is so important to you that you don’t care about anything else, you will let go of all your tension and unleash the natural power of your voice. That's what it means to project your voice.

Now, back to Kris and Adam. From a strictly technical point of view, who do you think sent his voice on the furthest projection journey?

For my money, it was Adam all the way. His projection technique was much more developed than Kris's. By the way, when Kris responded to winning, even he seemed to know it...."it should have been Adam...."

I won’t talk about the differences in their energy or pitch control in this article, but there’s no question that Adam knew more about projecting his voice than Kris, although I have to say that every once in a while, Kris did effectively project and break through his own boundaries.

But if you watch the American Idol videos again and compare the two of them simply on the basis of what I’ve written about sending your voice on a projection journey, which one do you think wins?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Seeds and Song

The bad news is all around us. An emergency NATO meeting in Belgium. Trouble with Russia, Georgia, Poland, Afghanistan, Dafur, Iraq, Iran, Algeria, Zimbabwe, the teetering world economy, etc. etc. etc.

What can I do about it? Stay calm, do my daily vocal exercises, focus like Michael Phelps and offer something better.

So I offer seeds! Yes, seeds. Chia seeds.

As the price of everything goes up, this inexpensive food offers hope for the world.

Sounds silly, I suppose, but it's true.

But what does this have to do with singing? Good health (physical, mental, emotional, financial, spiritual)is essential to good vocal habits.

Chia seeds have many benefits, a few of which are:

  • MORE Omega 3 oil than salmon

  • MORE calcium than milk

  • MORE antioxidants than blueberries

  • MORE magnesium than broccoli

  • MORE fiber than flax seed

More energy means better singing, so I'll eat seeds today and sing.

This is the seed of hope I plant today!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Morning Voice

To make your day go better, do this simple activity before getting out of bed.

  • Lie flat on your back with your legs uncrossed and hands at your sides
  • Focus on a point out in front of you, on the ceiling if possible
  • Take a deep breath, fully expanding your belly and keeping your shoulders from tensing upwards
  • Purse your lips like a fish and let out your breath with an "sss" sound directed towards the point in front of you, like it's coming from a slow leaky tire. Repeat 3-5 times
  • Take a deep breath and as you let it out, make a VERY GENTLE "mmm" sound as though you're tasting something delicious, then spin the sound up and down as long as your breath lasts
  • Do this 3-5 times (or more) before you get up and enjoy your day!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Britain's Got Talent and Babies

"Britain's Got Talent" 2007 winner, Paul Potts, restored my faith in mankind!


This mobile phone salesman, whom Simon Cowell called "the underdog" of the competition, sang "Nessun Dorma" and won.

What's "Nessun Dorma?"

Opera, plain, simple and powerful! It's one of the Puccini arias that Pavarotti made famous during his celebrated career. (read about the Puccini Effect)

Even though the competition took place in June, I didn't hear about it until today when I watched a brief Oprah YouTube promotional video on which he briefly appeared. On YouTube alone, the videos of his audition and final competition triumphs have been seen well over 20,000,000 (yes, that's 20 million) times! More than Pavarotti's YouTube of the same aria, I might add.

Potts sang opera and Britain's pop music fans went wild!

But what does this have to do with babies?

As you already know from my previous post, Song in Your Womb, and according to research from academic circles, voice (singing and speech) training starts in the womb and continues throughout life.

The trouble is that most of the academic research never makes it to the general public, which is where it will do the most good.

One of my jobs with SingBabySing™ is to point out the research that can inspire and motivate parents (especially moms), childcare educators and providers to enhance the work they do in raising the babies of the world.

For example, on Friday I had lunch with Dr. Sheila Woodward, a wonderful researcher. You'll remember her from Song in Your Womb. She's the Interim Chair for the Early Childhood Music Education Department at the University of Southern California and sits on the board of the International Society of Music Education, amongst the many other things she does.

She's also the person who recorded sounds that babies hear inside their mothers' wombs and from those recordings discovered important information about language acquisition before birth. With her permission, I would like to quote from her article, "Musical Origins:"
    "The acquisition of music and language skills requires the same cognitive auditory processes essential for speech development...the evidence of auditory discrimination, memory and learning which occurs from the fetal stage indicates the vital role which parents, caregivers and society should play in the provision of optimal sound environments from before birth."
Allow me to translate the academic-ese:
    "What a baby hears inside the womb will directly affect the way it speaks or sings later in life, so parents, educators and others should expose babies to the best possible sounds before birth."
Other research backs up what SingBabySing™ does, so I'll have more to write on this subject in the future.

Meanwhile, sing to your baby today, whether inside your womb or out!

You are the most important talent he/she will ever hear so...
let us help you give your baby your best!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Song in Your Womb

I listened to a music education presentation at the Disney Hall in Los Angeles on Monday, October 29th and was totally blown away when Soili Perkiö, the Head of the Music Education Department at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland, played a recording called "Womb Sounds" by Dr. Sheila Woodward from South Africa, who now teaches at the USC's Thornton School of Music.

In 1992, as part of her doctoral thesis, Dr. Woodward placed hydrophones (miniature microphones that work in liquids) inside the wombs of several pregnant women (with their permission, naturally) and recorded the sounds that babies hear inside that watery world.

Guess what those sounds are?
  • Mom's heartbeat
  • Mom's voice
  • Music that Mom plays
I nearly came out of my seat! It was evident that I hadn't been thinking big enough yet. That recording reinforced EVERYTHING I've been doing with SingBabySing™ plus took my ideas to the prenatal level!

If a baby hears her mom's voice around 4-5 months during development inside the womb, and other research shows that this mommy voice highly impacts the baby's later language development (it does), then how much more important is it that moms everywhere be given the opportunity to learn how to use their voices to their fullest beauty and power so that their babies will get the best possible leg up in life!

Another amazing story that came from that conference was the story of El Sistema, the phenomenal music education program in Venezuela!

But more on that another time.

For now, I simply finish by saying that music and language education start in the womb, not (WOW!) after birth (WOW again!)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

It Starts at Home

Your child will sound like you sound to her as she grows up.

If you get tense emotionally (don't blame PMS, your husband or your child) your voice will tighten up and probably get strident, which usually means UGLY!

She's watching you and listening to you to see how you react to life.

She'll do pretty much the same things you do so...

Do her a favor (not to mention yourself) and learn simple techniques to control how you sound to her:

  • Tune out what's causing you to get upset

  • Focus on a point on the wall in front of you

  • Take a deep breath

  • Let it out slowly, like a slow leaky tire whose air is directed at the point on the wall

  • Do it again but smile this time

  • Do it until she smiles

  • Twirl around 3 times and laugh at yourself!

Go back to what you were doing and remember this blog!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Morning Sounds

Adding beauty to the morning sunrise that still managed to show up today in spite of Southern California's current inferno, I spoke softly and gently to Michael about the importance of how we use our voices when we communicate with one another.

As a large coal-colored crow and squirrel vied for dominance over the branched territory of trees that have been smacking the windows because of the Santa Ana winds that emblazoned and emboldened the fires, I realized something crucial about the significance of SingBabySingTM.

A curious goose-bumpy feeling burned this truth into me:
We must set an example of vocal excellence in our day-to-day communications or we won't help anyone else. And if we succeed, we'll have the opportunity to lead the way to a better world, a world that has learned to control the fire of its negative passions so that the power of its positive ones can prevail.

If not us, who?

And if not you, who?