Wouldn’t it be great if you could send your voice to obedience school just like a dog?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could send your voice to obedience school just like a dog? As you know, canine classes are as much for the owners as well as their furry fourlegged family members. There is a particular way to address your pooch-and your voice-if you want it to do as told. And it’s not the old dog that has trouble learning new tricks-it’s the master!


Who’s in Control
The first step towards a well-behaved voice is to erase the old commands. The brain dispatches instructions via conscious and unconscious pathways that have been programming your actions since birth. Like dogs, the muscles responsible for singing work best when you start with a fresh slate. Stuff happens when new commands conflict with old ones. For instance, your jaw tightens while singing because it’s been trained to that while speaking. You didn’t teach your jaw to clench-it’s unconscious behavior.


Still, it must be dealt with before a new behavior can take its place. It helps to remember it’s not your jaw’s fault; it doesn’t have a mind of its own. Sometimes the problem between master and voice is a matter of control. We tighten around a note to try to keep it in place. Imagine a dog pulling at its leash. Even though the dog isn’t running around causing trouble, it’s not under control-it’s just restrained. The same is true for your voice. If you have to struggle to make it through a song, then it’s time to clarify the message you’re sending to your body. What good is the right note if it’s accompanied by too much effort? The goal is to have a show-dog of a voice that runs freely through a song without once tugging at its leash. Now that’s control!


Vocalizing is Vital
Old behaviors transfer into the material we sing. This is why the voice rarely improves just by singing lots of songs. It takes an unemotional inventory of your mechanics to make real foundational changes. Vocalizing (singing vocal exercises) is as vital to your instrument as housebreaking is to the owner of a puppy. It’s tedious work but it makes your life soooo much more enjoyable afterward.


Without a simple set of vocal rules, we invent “tricks” to steer clear of problems when singing. These tricks get programmed into you and the song becomes nothing more than a learned obstacle course. You can’t effectively develop new behaviors and try to sound good at the same time. So don’t. Let yourself sound as bad as necessary when vocalizing in order to experience released and efficient coordination. It takes lots of practice to sound like you’re a naturalborn singer.


Free Your Mind
As an exercise, take a phrase from a stubborn song and sing its melody using a single vowel and consonant. Think of “Happy Birthday” sung as LALA- LA-LA. To further remove the melody from its old program, sing it in a variety of keys until you have no tonal home base. Distract your body while singing by moving arms and legs randomly. Vocalize the melody while lying on your back, while crawling, while shaking like a wet dog- anything but the way you usually sing. Make sure you are acting like a lunatic! Finally, invent a new language for the words. The more outrageous the gibberish the easier it will be to release ingrained behaviors.


If it seems counterproductive to take a song you are struggling with and make it sound even more ridiculous, try it twice. Take a song you already sing well and then try a difficult song. You’ll be amazed how easy it is to have fun with the song you sing well and how stuck you’ll be on the other tune. Notice how calm your muscles are when you.re singing something well; it’s not a coincidence. The bottom line is that true control does not require force. The more sounds you can produce without effort when vocalizing, the more you’ll be able to play with dynamics and timbres. If you have to adjust your face in order to secure a pitch, you’ll reduce your options for expressing yourself visually when in performance. Keep the commands simple when vocalizing and things will progress nicely. Even if it takes a year to reprogram your jaw, it’s worth the time when compared to the multiple years of freedom you.ll enjoy thereafter. Be patient and know that you.re not alone in your frustration. Anyone who’s ever been dogged by a disobedient voice will tell ya, “Singing can be a bitch!”

Originally posted 2009-01-10 21:23:27.