What are the most important components of singing?
Confidence, Communication, and Support. Confidence gives singers a huge advantage, as it allows them to access their most natural tone without "worrying" about technique or perfection. Communication is also a big one. If you can get the audience to believe what you're saying, you're well on your way. Diction and phrasing are essential. Support is the most important "technical" component and it's so simple, it's complicated, so you can't over think it. It's important to focus not only on the breath, but also on the intention of speech. When unnecessary muscles are freed and the proper muscles are engaged, voila! For a deeper explanation of support, check out my article, "Down with the Diaphragm".
Consonants or Vowels?
Consonants are Shapes. Vowels are Contacts. Sometimes vowels need to be modified in order to get through your bridge or up to the high notes. Generally, we don't walk around slurring our speech up with vowels. When we speak, we speak with intention and consonants. We lengthen the consonants to express ourselves. I lllllove to sing. I love it sssso much. The consonants make up our expression. Not the vowels. Consonants not only help us to be understood. They also give the vowels a little more umph and it instantly makes your voice sound stronger and more connected.
How can I build my range?
Exercise. Just as a runner trains to become quicker, a singer trains to extend their range. The exercises should be carefully chosen so that they do the work for you. In as little as a few weeks, you can begin to see a difference.
How can I improve my confidence?
Experience. Practice. Meditate. Use creative visualization. Read the book, The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green http://www.innergameofmusic.com/. It will change your life, no matter what your age, or your craft. Practice with a video camera and watch. If you don't like what you see, deal with the pain and do it again. And again. It isn't easy, but it's the best way to improve quickly. And if you can get past the pain of self criticism, you can begin to love your voice. I know it seems silly, repeat to yourself how much you love your voice. Even if it's a lie. Eventually, you will believe it. Why not give it a try?
I am having pitch problems. Does that mean I just don't have the talent?
Very few people are completely tone deaf. I've taught several people with pitch problems and most every one of them improved at some level. Sure, not everyone has the raw talent to become a "star"; but there's no doubt that everyone has the talent to sing. Perhaps you may discover that your skill set is geared more toward creativity for composition and songwriting. The important thing is to not give up, or you may never find out.
How can I make my voice stronger?
Once again, exercise. This is something you can't "control" but it comes as you isolate the proper muscles and free the unnecessary ones. Then comes support. Support, volume, and pitch are all results of using the proper muscles. These things are all results, not causes. You can't think about something like pushing your belly out in order to get proper support or to find your natural tone. It's a result of something else, not a 'cause'.
My voice is always hoarse. What should I do?
One of your primary goals with singing should be your health. If you use your body and sing with support, your voice will last forever. You don't want to get to 50 and have a shaky and wobbly voice. Don't practice too long, especially when you are just getting into shape. 15 minutes a day is fine when you're just starting out. It's also best to spread your sessions out through the day. Also, don't scream. Rest your voice if you are hoarse. Sometimes talking is more harmful than singing if you are speaking the wrong way, or in a loud environment. Try to avoid glottal attacks and 'fry', especially on words that begin with vowels. "At", "Ever", "Are" etc. Make those beginning vowels a smooth glide instead of a harsh hit and your voice will thank you. I teach many young children to do this. It's much easier to change these habits and rework them as a young child. As an adult, it's difficult to become aware of, but if you focus on it for a day, you will be surprised. You will start to catch yourself and kick the habit. If you are hoarse for more than a few weeks and aren't seeing improvement, go get checked out.
Head Voice or Chest Voice?
Sometimes singing on certain vowels can help you to find the correct position. But again, exercise is key. You have to let the exercises do the work. Trust yourself and sing with intention. If you do the exercises, and sing as you speak, you should have no problem finding the perfect mix. You can also think of this as you would adjust right and left speakers. The most difficult part for everyone is getting through their passagios. If you feel tension, try to feel and become aware of the muscles you're using. Feel where the resonance is happening and trust your instincts. Record yourself and listen back.
At what age can I begin vocal lessons?
Seven or eight is usually a good starting point for serious children who are eager to audition and have a career as a singer. I do however, have several children who are as young as 3! Without getting too technical, there are many other skills to work on; Stage presence and performance, posture, articulation, strengthening the voice for speech, and much more. Sometimes in school chorus settings, children are exposed to a 'song approach', where they mainly focus on singing songs and have no guidance on how to sing or 'technique'. There is nothing wrong with this, but the children who don't have as much natural talent can sometimes feel embarrassed without guidance. They listen to other children and often attach feelings. If they don't feel good about their voices, the next year, they won't want to sing in chorus- and we won't really know why. The most talented children can also be at a disadvantage. Bad habits can be developed quickly, for example, shallow breathing or unhealthy belting. Children who swim tend to gulp large amounts of air before each phrase, just as they do for swimming. If they are taking vocal lessons, these things are much easier to avoid and we can focus on sculpting their voices naturally as opposed to correcting the bad habits. I don't 'teach' them how to breathe, for instance. I am just there to make sure they are on the right track with technique. The most important concepts are communication (speech and diction), learning melodic patterns to train their ears, and healthy tone production.