The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #62134   Message #1003301
Posted By: Don Firth
16-Aug-03 - 04:36 PM
Thread Name: how do you prepare to sing?
Subject: RE: how do you prepare to sing?
At my advanced age of 72 (inside every old geezer is a teenager wondering, "What the hell happened!??") my voice still feels strong, and as far as I can tell, still sounds pretty good (at least, I haven't noticed too many people edging toward the door when I sing). I want to keep it that way for as long as I can.

A big inspiration to me came a year or so ago while watching the Classic Arts Showcase channel. They played a film clip of Russian bass Mark Reizen singing Prince Gremin's aria in a full production of Tchaikovski's Eugene Onegin. At the time this was filmed, Reizen was ninety years old. And he sounded magnificent. His voice was still full and rich. Like dark chocolate.

Taking care of one's voice is important. Not just at the moment, but if you want to be able to keep singing. Pete Seeger had a great voice for the kinds of things he did, but now his voice is, as he says, "shot." When Pete sang, I could often hear a touch of strain in his voice. To my ear, he always sang a bit "tight." I don't know if he ever had any vocal instruction, but my guess is that he didn't, or at least he didn't do some of the little preparatory things that could possibly have kept him singing even now. Folk singers, including some of the better ones, are often a bit cavalier about taking good care of their voices. As if it's "sissy" or something.

I try to warm my voice up a bit every day, starting with bit of deep breathing. Breathing from the diaphragm is especially important, and trying to sing with any volume or reaching for the high notes without good breath support puts a heck of a strain on the vocal apparatus. Loosening the jaw and getting the mouth open is also important. Yawn a couple of times. Then, five words are good ones for getting the mouth open and working—need, booed, bad, awed, hard—wildly exaggerating lip and mouth movements. Stretch your mouth and open your jaw. When I start to vocalize, at first I keep it fairly soft and in my mid-range. Easy stuff, to warm up the vocal folds. I hum for a bit, then sing—mah, may, mee, mow, moo—all on one pitch, dragging each one out a bit. Then "mah may mee mow moo" up and down the scale: e.g., mah on C, may on D, mee on E, mow on F, moo on G, then back down the scale (I usually start on G an octave and a fourth below middle C and take it up to the D a fifth above, but then I'm a bass). Then take it up a half-step and do it again. Then another half-step. Go up and down throughout your range, but don't take it as far up or as far down as you can go until you are thoroughly warmed up and feeling no strain or tension. The idea of using syllables starting with "M" is that this puts your voice into the "mask." You should feel the front of your face vibrating. Nasal resonance, opening your mouth, and maintaining good breath support gives you projection (you want to be able to bounce your voice off the back wall without feeling like you're pushing). But don't confuse nasal resonance with sounding "nasal." That's a no-no. Once I'm warmed up, I'm sing up and down scales and chords and try to cover my whole range, occasionally nudging my top and bottom a bit. But never beyond the point where it starts to feel tight or uncomfortable.

I have a whole stock of vocal exercises that were given to me by three teachers I've had over the years: Edna Bianchi, George Hotchkiss Street, and Mahlon Schanzenbach. There are whole books full of vocal exercises, but here is a bunch for free that I have found pretty useful. It's a PDF file and it takes for bloody ever to download, but download it and print it off. It's got a lot of good stuff in the way of exercises and how to do them. Get it. BLICKY!

I try to do some of these every day, for a half-hour or so, or until I feel warmed up and the singin' is easy. I do the same thing on days when I know I'm going to be singing in front of other people, whether it's a paid performance, or for fun at a party. A few days before the performance or party, I decide what I want to sing, then go over the songs until I know I have them down solid (even if I've sung them 3,000 times in the past). On the day I will be singing, I warm up thoroughly, but then I don't sing much. I sing enough to stay warmed up, but I don't want to wear it out. [Luciano Pavarotti says "On the morning of the day you will be performing, sing for about five minutes. If it goes well, stop. If it doesn't go well, stop!" Well, I dunno. . . .]

Same kind of routine with the guitar. Warm up the fingers a bit every day, do some exercises, play a few things, and maybe try something that I haven't played before. Push the envelope a bit.

Do I actually do all of this every day? No, not every day. But I try to, and I feel guilty if I don't.

Bob is right. Professionalism. Even if you're not getting paid, even if it's just a party or a hoot, if you're taking up people's time and attention, you owe them something. You owe it to them (and to yourself) to give them the best you have.

Don Firth