Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hair Styled, Teeth Brushed, Voice Balanced ... Good to Go!

There is something that I've learned to do every day as a singer, just like I have to do other tasks of grooming, like fixing my hair, assembling and ironing my apparel, putting on my makeup and all the stuff that gets "undone" overnight and has to be tended to in the morning.in order to commence my day and appear in public,  The "something" I have learned to do alongside these daily tasks is balance my voice.

What is balancing the voice?  It is part of the larger task of warming up the voice, but what I am specifically talking about is getting the muscles that work together for phonation organized and coordinated and all working smoothly and harmoniously, like a well-trained cooperating team.  I guess I've heard singers call it "lining up the voice," and getting the voice "in the groove."

Why was it so hard for me to sing the song "Something Beautiful" for so many years? (yesterday's post). The main problem I had was one of this balance.  I have come to the conclusion that getting the voice balanced, "lined up," or "in the groove" eluded me because of several issues I had: the nature of my own particular instrument, some misconceptions and wrong expectations, personality traits, such as coming on too strong and forcefully, agressive speaking voice, and maybe even a little dysfunction.  I can't speak for all voices because I don't have experience with many different voices.  It seems that there are others with similar struggles to my own, but in terms of this balance, sometimes there are singers who figure it out early and are mostly naturally coordinated.

I like to think of the individual hitches in my voice as being like having a trouble with one's hair such as a cowlick, or hair that wants to naturally part in a strange place, or a hairline that has an odd shape or something.  Over the years, in order to get one's hair to look good under such conditions, one would have to really get to know one's hair well and how it wants to behave and how one can coax it into an attractive position.  One would have to learn how to work with, around, and through these idiosyncracies.

In my case, my voice was imbalanced in favor of the heavier production, the thyro-arytenoids.  They were really excited about singing and wanted to just do everything.  "You just sit back," the TA's seemed to say to their partners, the lazy crico-thyroid (CT) muscles, "We'll handle this!"  In a way, it reminds me of a marriage, where one partner takes on all the responsibility and the other partner kind of acclimates to the situation and says, "okay, if he/she wants to do it all."

Another set of muscles that help, the inter-arytenoids (IAs) just got a little confused about what they should do because TA and CT weren't working together.  IA just tried to fill in the gaps that TA couldn't perform well without CT.

So, like a family has to do in order to live in harmony, if everyone in the family ladens one family member with the primary responsibility, there will be an imbalance, hard feelings, control issues, and disharmony.  Once the family learns to cooperate, and the responsibilities for living together are distributed well, then we can have that "happy family" like the ones we see on TV having breakfast together.  In the case of managing the voice, the "happy family" scene we are after are a few sets of muscles working as a team to get the air vibrating just right so beautiful music can come out.

(A family who might illustrate this is the one in Goldilocks, Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear.  If Papa Bear was the TAs, then his porridge was too hot.  Mama Bear CT, her porridge was too cold.  Baby Bear's (IA?) I guess, was just right.  Ideally, they wanted all their porridge to be just right!)

My singing teacher and I were talking at my last lesson about how getting the muscles prepared for the task of singing is like how a mom might have to go around from bedroom to bedroom in the morning waking everybody and getting them up and moving and doing their jobs.  This actually is a daily motherly task in my own family (for some reason my kids don't hear alarm clocks), and I could really relate to that analogy when applying it to getting the little vocal muscle family up and operating.  See, there are management tasks one learns while being a stay-at-home mom that can definitely be brought to managing one's voice.

There are a lot of friends reading this blog who are not singers, so I won't go on too much with this.  Let's suffice it to say that I was producing the voice in an imbalanced way.  With this imbalance, no matter what song I tried to sing, there were always going to be parts of the songs that didn't quite work.  These little parts of the songs that weren't working were what drove me to eventually start studying voice.  In the beginning, I thought voice lessons were for people who did not know how to sing and wanted to learn, or for people who wanted to sing in an operatic style.  So, I didn't think I needed to take voice lessons because I thought I could sing.  So, it's kind of good that I had this imbalance although, combined with my other issues, it meant that it would take me years to figure it out.

For many years, I labored under the misconception that when this balance finally came, it would just be there, memorized, set in place, ready to go at all times. But just like you can't expect your hair to look the way it did the day before after you slept on it,  I know now that achieving balance happens anew each day. It is an active part of a singer's life.  I also know that the task of balancing the muscles changes from day to day, just like one's hair does. And it also changes from year to year, just like one's hair does.  It is affected by nutrition, weather, health, pollution, humidity, age, hormones, just like one's hair does.  There are days you have to just throw your voice back in a vocal ponytail because you just can't do anything with it.  And there are other times when everything comes together and the hairstyle is glamorous and alive.

I will always have this tendency to start with too much heavy mechanism.  Knowing that puts me way ahead of where I was years ago, and gives me much more ability to get where I need to be.

I've made some recordings today of the specific problems I had in the song Something Beautiful, and maybe even comment on little sections and why they were troublesome for me. If you are interested step in to Frescamari's Practice Room to hear where the trouble spots were, and why specifically that song was hard for me to sing.  Click here for "Analyzing Trouble Spots in "Something Wonderful"


  1. What a lovely set of analogies for balancing the voice! My students are always laughing at me for trying to make technique "real" with creating a parallel world...will make sure I link your blog so they can see I'm not along!

    (particularly liked the idea of the mom running from room to room....how did you know that is how I spend each morning too!)

  2. Thank you for your comment, Elizabeth. This image popped into my head during my last lesson with Susan Eichhorn Young. She told me we were doing exercises to "wake everybody up" and I immediately pictured myself in my morning routine with my sleepy-head children, husband, dog, cat and hamster!