• Rachel Nichols, Singers, Voice 09.05.2011 Comments Off on So You Want to Sing Better?

    So you want to sing better?  But do you ever get overwhelmed with where to begin?  As a voice teacher I encounter new students who feel so inundated with information that they have a hard time focusing on just a few key elements of singing.  The good news is that there are little things you can do RIGHT now that will make a huge change in the way you look and sound!  So here they are…really put your full attention into these simple, yet vital exercises and hear your voice transform!

       1. OPEN YOUR MOUTH

    Sounds silly doesn’t it?  Of course we open our mouths when we sing but surprisingly enough many of us barely do.  Even when we talk we hardly open our mouths!  When our mouth is restricted and closed up the vowels sound incorrect, we can’t understand the words, and the notes will sound like they are stuck in your throat.  We need to over-pronounce and over do it! Since we are not usually people who talk with a WIDE-open mouth, I tell students that if you feel funny trying to sing this way than you are most likely doing it right!  When you over-pronounce and open up the sound can come forth in much clearer and stronger tones.  Plus we can hear the words of the song better!  Not to mention you look great too!

       2. BREATHE IN THE RIGHT SPOTS

    Pay attention to where you breathe in your songs.  Many times when we slow down and listen we find that we are taking a breath in the middle of a word!  We wouldn’t do that when we are talking in conversation so let’s try not to do it when singing.  A PHRASE in music is just like a sentence that we say.  We want to try to make it to the end so the phrase feels and sounds natural.  There are of course some exceptions to this rule when you have a very long musical phrase.   So always look for comas or rests.  These are great places to sneak in a breath!  Taking a breath in an awkward spot can make the song sound “choppy”.  So pay closer attention to where you take those much needed breathes.

       3. EXPRESS YOURSELF

    When you are singing a happy song why don’t you smile?  When you are singing a dark, emotional song why are you smiling?  It is important to express yourself and put emotion into your face and eyes!  This isn’t just for actors or those who sing musical theater!  When you open up your eyes and eyebrows, and put expression into your checks and mouth, you sound engaged and interesting!  People are drawn in to what you have to say.  Even if you have an amazing voice yet look dull and bored, people will not enjoy listening to you or looking at you.  Put your mind, body, and emotion into the story of the song.  Whether it is happy, depressed, or fun…go there and your voice will follow!  This will also help number 1 become easier!

    When I have had students implement these simple techniques they are always amazed at how much louder, clearer, and confident their voice sounds!  So give it a try and start somewhere so your voice can soar!

    Voice Lessons in Kirkland, WA

  • Rachel Nichols, Singers, Voice 12.01.2010 Comments Off on Utilizing Your Breath

    A few blogs back we discussed the basics of breathing and how our body should respond to a naturally formed breath.  Now that you have been paying closer attention to how your body operates daily when it inhales and exhales, let’s try some exercises to help form even better breathing habits!

    There are two things we will do to help improve air function.  The first is to STRETCH our breathing muscle so we are able to expand and take in a large amount of air.  The second is to STRENGTHEN our muscles so we can have good control and support in the releasing of our air.

    Here is an exercise for stretching….

    1. Sit on the edge of a chair and lean over, resting your elbows on your knees.  Relax your upper body.  Don’t stiffen your back.  Put one hand on your stomach region underneath your bellybutton.

    2. Now squeeze strongly and release all of your air by pulling your stomach muscles in.  Squeeze everything out until there is nothing left inside!

    3.  Now very slowly take air in through your nose and mouth.  You should feel your stomach expanding and filling up like a balloon.  Take air in until your stomach feels like it will pop.  Air should be filling your body from the bottom of your stomach then upwards.  Your chest and shoulders should not be moving.

    4.  Once you are filled up squeeze quickly and strongly again and push all of the air back out.  You should feel your muscles contracting when you do this.

    Implement this exercise everyday doing 3 to 4 inhales and exhales.  Stop when you feel dizzy!  As you do this exercise you will feel your stomach muscles being able to expand more!  Your body will also start to develop the habit of taking lower, deeper breaths.  Put this into your practice routine and watch as your breathing becomes a strong foundation to your notes! Then we will come back to learn how to strengthen those muscles….stay tuned and good luck!

    Voice Lessons in Vancouver, Washington

    Voice Lessons in Clackamas, Oregon

  • Rachel Nichols, Singers 03.10.2009 Comments Off on Breath in – Breath out!

    Breathing is an essential part of being able to sing correctly.  You may be thinking, “How hard can it be?  I do it everyday of my life!”  Well, the truth is our breathing habits over the course of our lives sometimes get very out of whack and we develop bad habits that can hinder us from being able to sing freely.

    When we are born we have perfectly operating lungs and breath function.  That is why a babies’ big tummy will move up and down as they breathe.  You can usually hear one tiny baby scream and cry over a large room of people (think church or graduation ceremony).  They have amazing projection and volume!  As we grow older we are told in school to whisper and to keep our voice down.  We also shamefully suck in our belly to achieve that much desired flat stomach.  Pair these habits with anxiety and stress and you have a type of breathing that will originate in your upper chest and shoulders.  Your breathing will be very shallow.  The initial step in learning how to form correct breathing habits is to recognize the incorrect patterns and try to understand and feel how our body is naturally supposed to function.  There is so much more space to utilize in our body for air then just our chest!

    Here are a few experiments to try…go ahead and inhale.  Take a really big breath!  Do this in front of a mirror.  What do you see?  Did you shrug your shoulders?  Did your chest puff up?  If so, your breath is originating in your chest cavity.  Now go lay down on your back on the floor.  Put your hand on your stomach and just relax and breathe.  What do you feel?  Do you feel your stomach moving up and down?  Do you feel yours sides expanding?  When we are in this position we have proper breathing technique.  Did you feel how relaxed your shoulders and chest felt?

    Our breathing muscle is called the ‘diaphragm’.  It is located in the area right underneath your lower ribcage.  Try to remember this…when you INHALE your stomach region should go OUT and expand.  When you EXHALE your stomach area should be pulled IN.  It is the opposite of what we usually do!  This is the natural breathing process so just relax and breathe!  Start paying attention to how your breathe when you sing, exercise, and go about your day because these basics on proper breathing aren’t just for singing but how you should operate daily.  Becoming aware of how your body functions, is the first step to altering and forming new habits!

    Stay tuned for an upcoming blog that will give you breathing exercises that will help your body develop techniques that will set your voice free!

  • For Parents, Practice, Rachel Nichols, Summer 07.07.2009 Comments Off on Make Practice Fun During the Summer!

    The sun is out and the weather is beautiful!  It can be so hard sometimes to stay inside and want to practice your instrument during an amazing Seattle summer.  That is why we should make our learning in the summer interesting!  Here are a few ideas to “spice” up your practicing.

    Get a new book full of fun and entertaining songs you have always wanted to learn…Start a jam session with a friend…Go to a concert that will inspire you…take your instrument outside (to a park, to the backyard, ect.)…set new goals.

    Here is a great website that has free sheet music of your favorite TV shows and movies!  Use this site to help fill up the summer with exciting new songs!

    http://muzika.50webs.com/sheetmusic.htm

    Make music a part of your summer!

  • Rachel Nichols, Singers, Voice 23.06.2009 Comments Off on Taking Care Of Your Voice (Your Instrument)
    singer by petercastleton.

    photo by Peter Castleton

    As a voice teacher, each week I have students come into lessons with scratchy, horse voices.  Vocal students struggle with frustration week after week with not being able to sing the way they want.  A lot of times in talking to the student about their week I find that bad singing technique isn’t the main problem… it is how they treat their voice during the week.  Screaming, whispering, and many other factors contribute to vocalists never being able to sing properly.

    Here are a few tips to protect your voice during the week so you can sing to the best of your ability!

    *Don’t scream, talk in a loud voice or whisper!

    All extremes are harmful to the vocal chords and will wear down and make your vocal chords swollen.  If this happens rest your voice!  Sometimes it could take up to a week for vocal chords to heal properly.  When you keep singing with swollen vocal chords they will only get worse and will take a very long time to heal.  When in a loud room, talk into your friend’s ears instead of talking over the noise.  When you are at a party or a sporting event, try to limit your yelling.

    *Don’t over sing!

    When singing in the car or at home, don’t turn the music up so loud that you have to over sing or shout to hear yourself.  This will harm your vocal chords.  Turn the music down so you can hear yourself.

    *Be mindful of your milk intake (especially within 24 hours of a performance)

    Dairy thickens the mucus in your throat thus making it difficult to control your voice.

    Try to always be aware of what you do with your voice.  Just like a guitar player keeps their guitar in a case so it doesn’t get beat up and ruined, we have to protect and keep our voice safe from harm so we can sound great and have a blast singing!

    ~ Rachel Nichols