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June/July 2016

by Caitlin Smith

Finding Your Voice: 50 Ways to Love Your Voice… Even More!

by Caitlin Smith

Finding Your Voice: 50 Ways to Love Your Voice… Even More!

I am overjoyed to announce that this is my 50th column for NZ Musician. To celebrate, I’m letting rip 50 top tips. 50 gold nuggets of singing wisdom I’ve extracted from 18 years fulltime teaching and a lifetime of performance, writing and musical communion. Love your voice!

  1. Do yoga stretches with vocal warm-ups; especially those opening chest and throat. Warm-up and sing everyday. (www.caitlinsmith.com/warmups)
  2. When improvising, enjoy the silence – listen out for the next notes that want to be sung. Let it be natural, don’t think.
  3. Feel, don’t superimpose! Never fake emotion, deliberately roughen or affect your voice. (We want to hear you, not the effects/ effort/ breath/ strain you’re using.)
  4. Let the story tell itself through you – be sung by the song.
  5. Ride your emotions like surfers ride waves. Work with their nuance and open yourself up to find out where they’ll take you. Work with them rather than repressing or avoiding.
  6. Before practising, writing or performing, pour imaginary cups of tea for your inner critic, censor, prude, pervert, perfectionist, conservative, scaredy-cat and neurotic. That’ll keep ’em busy while you have a good time!
  7. Sing with your eyes. If you are self-conscious about opening them, look past the audience until you’re safe enough to look into people’s eyes… (Says the legally blind woman!)
  8. Use ‘ng’ like your life depended on it. For forward placement, to project/focus the sound, blend registers, sing smooth phrases, pitch.
  9. View pitch range as a wedding feast in front of you on a horizontal rather than vertical axis. Reach forward to get at the higher notes/ profiteroles further back on the table.
  10. Expose your teeth, top and bottom. (Smile, snarl, bite.)
  11. Imagine yourself as one gigantic mouth.
  12. Use High Performance Psychology. Affirmations, rampant positivity – sonorize what you’re after, visualise the perfect audience/ venue. Get comfortable with being the centre of attention, pre-empt magnificence.
  13. Listen for, be curious and delighted by, the effects of good technique as you sing. Note if it feels easier or freer. Turn on all eight senses to maximum sensitivity.
  14. Listen to heartfelt, well-produced beautiful voices. List and focus on the qualities you want. Be optimistic and realistic by understanding your body as an acoustic instrument.
  15. Use the whole body. Employ the big muscles of back and belly as rocket boosters to anchor, strengthen and stabilise.
  16. Feel the pulse. Deepen the groove, slow tempos and play with phrasing around ‘the one’.
  17. Use as little air as possible. See how much of a song you can sing on one breath.
  18. Be a spell-caster, a sonic sorcerer/ sorceress. Become aware of spirit; feeling it, connecting to it, drawing from it.
  19. Sing as you speak. Recite lyrics aloud to ascertain accent, pace, intonation, phrasing, dynamics. (This also helps memorising lyrics.)
  20. Be honest. Singing requires physical honesty (location, removal and replacement of tension with open-ness). Songwriting and interpretation requires emotional honesty.
  21. Harmonise with everything. The more you sing harmony, the easier it gets.
  22. Energise from your deepest well. Work natural highs and stimulants (unblocking and balancing) so that energy flows limitlessly and effortlessly.
  23. Wrangle twang. Use it and open-ness instead of breath and push for pitching, dynamics, tone. Make them your best friends. Aim for piercing not loud.
  24. Read and do The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.
  25. Don’t compare yourself with others or how it used to be. Remember, ‘nothing compares 2 U’
  26. Shape vowels with your entire face. Lift cheeks, drop jaw (waaay more than Nui Zulenders are yused to).
  27. Be a ‘one take wonder’ in the studio. Prepare with pre-production, practice and warm-ups.
  28. Make your shows ‘must see’/‘you had to be there’ occasions.
  29. Good technique allows you to express and feel more deeply. The means to an end – your goal is authentic communication.
  30. Remind yourself why you sing – list the reasons for yourself and others.
  31. Become aware of your thoughts before, during and after you sing. Reconcile them with reality. Talk to the voices of doubt, self-hatred, despair… Be your own cheerleader, nurturer and biggest fan!
  32. Get healthy. Sleep, drink 11 cups of water a day, deal with respiratory issues and allergies that inhibit breathing, strengthen your core (abdominal and lower back muscles), exercise, overcome addictions (including over-eating, Facebook, drugs and alcohol ‘for creativity’).
  33. Learn from everyone and everything, and practice to consolidate.
  34. Be objectively aware. Understand vocal qualities you desire and detest rather than just worshipping or hating.
  35. Take risks. Investigate the unknown, get out of your comfort zone, be a crazy-ass mad scientist with your practice and performance. Don’t presume you know what people want – they want ‘amazing’!
  36. Prepare yourself for nerves. Focus on simple physical tools and use a slow release ‘sssss’ as long, quietly and using as little air as possible.
  37. In a nutshell you’re a drum – a hollow-bodied resonator. Open all areas holding tension consciously and deliberately.
  38. Sing more and often. A little goes a long way. Sing when walking, showering, doin’ chores, driving, cooking… everywhere!
  39. Breathe a little deeper down inside as you inhale, release and let-go a little more as you exhale. Allow breath to be tidal (to help you sleep/relax) and/or silent and automatic when singing. Let inhales inhale themselves.
  40. Lose self-consciousness. Make it about the song, not you.
  41. Use singing/songwriting analogies you relate to (e.g. driving a car, having sex, prayer, playing on a jungle gym, building a house, the rainbow bridge).
  42. Don’t fear singing high. Enthusiastically anticipate opportunities to bust out good technique.
  43. Align your posture. Scruff neck, chin down, elevate chest, heavy shoulders, centre from the hips, use arms as extensions of your heart.
  44. Learn and practice rudiments. The silent giggle to open throat, vowel shaping and purification, ng, twang, lifting soft palate.
  45. Create community. Collaborate, co-write, participate, visit, rehearse, get out amongst it, attend gigs, blog, be a fan.
  46. Believe in yourself and your music. Organise, curate musical gathering/experiences. Invite and welcome your favourite musicians to play/record with you.
  47. Write a poem every day. Make time for songwriting and practice. Use that time creatively and wisely.
  48. Discover the therapeutic power of singing with failsafe almighty technique. Use music as medicine – singing as ultra-sound/healing. Offer up problems and blockages to the sound to remove them.
  49. Become best friends with your voice. Be nice, check-in, care, comfort, encourage, trust, understand, listen.
  50. Lobotomise yourself with a crochet hook through the eye socket! No deal? Then stop overthinking. Don’t think – sing! And bloody well enjoy it, yah hear?

www.caitlinsmith.com
bravecaitlin@gmail.com
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