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PLACEMENT

Q. I've been singing for about 2 years and I know my pitch is good but every time I sing high, I am really flat. What is going on?

A. If you're reaching up to achieve high notes and scooping down to get low notes, your "placement" needs work. Placement is the coordination of breath pressure and vocal cord closure to get a consistent result from the lowest to the highest part of your vocal range. When you use proper technique, you will feel all the notes are right in front of you - like a pianist in front of his instrument - not high up or low down. If you were learning to play darts, and you stood at a different spot on the floor, and used a different arm to throw the dart every day, how consistent could you be at nailing a bulls-eye (the pitch, vocally speaking)? My placement exercises involve a technical term: dynamic registration. Vocal cords have gears, like a standard car transmission. Each gear or register accommodates fixed notes in one's range. The ability to transition between the registers gives one consistency and predictable execution of pitch. What is involved is a training of the vocal cords to engage more air pressure and glottal pressure during the transitions (sometimes called the "passagio"). But this training must be done with imagery, because there is no neurological steering wheel to affect these subtle changes. That's why we vocal teachers have developed these wacky exercises and noises to guide you! Most untrained voices have "static" registration, where the texture of pitch will change drastically at set points in the range. A girl will have a heavy registration (louder) sound up to a certain point, and suddenly it will shift to either breathy (light registration) or strained once she is past A, B-flat or B above middle C*. That is called a "register break". The male register break is a similar mechanism but sounds different. The male break** often has a big honky crack to it, where the female crack sounds almost like a failed yodel. Some of you guys will remember a time when your voice began to change. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, in the middle of a sentence, something would "slip" and "crack" and you'd be talking like a different guy. That was the development of those gears wreaking havoc on your self-esteem! Your vocal cords were developing an ability to stretch and loosen and would "slip" as they came together, allowing a blast of air through the cords and an awkward interruption of the sound. Girls are spared this torture!

Say you're stuck in your chest register, and you try to hit a high note. Your instinct would be to take a big gulp of air and raise your throat and everything else in your body to reach the pitch. Anxiety creeps in because that pitch is not attainable in the register where you are currently living. It falls short, sounds flat - as though it hit its poor head on a ceiling. The ability to engage the falsetto/head register in the imaging and execution of pitch is vital to learning musical language properly. It is contingent on training the "clutch" (or diaphragm) during the transitions. High notes involve stretching and low notes involve loosening, just like guitar strings. The cords need to come together evenly during these movements, otherwise a slippage of air will create the sound of a crack or yodel. {Co(o)rdination!} The navigation of these register breaks involves compensating for the stretching or loosening of the cords. This requires just the right amount of extra glottal (vocal cord) pressure and corresponding extra breath pressure (that would be the diaphragm preventing the release of air from the lungs), which you will eventually produce without thinking about it. When the training is automatic, you have an automatic transmission, where no gears ever have to be mechanically shifted. Sounds really technical, doesn't it? It is. But you won't learn it in that technical way! Learning it is a piece of cake with my exercises: a bunch of pitched noises that are fun and get results. Learn about "above the pencil." It's all in the DVD!

* The location of the vocal break depends on the type of range of the individual.
** There are some voices that have less of a break than others due to physiological, range and other issues.

Joe from San Diego writes:
The other day I was in the studio, and there was a note in one of our songs that I wasn't sure I could hit. We eventually had to change it for a lower note and I was really embarrassed. How can this be avoided?

If it's not comfortable to sing, it's wrong. But first find out why it's not comfortable. Anticipating stress in that high note is often the very thing that takes away the momentum that you need to achieve it. If an Olympic diver is going for a quadruple flip, but out of fear he hesitates the smallest bit at the edge of the diving board, he will most likely fail because he lacks the proper launch. This is where "audiating" comes in. Audiating is the ability to hear in the mind the pitch right before it's executed (we're talking milliseconds). Violinists and fretless string players must practice audiating in order to play their instruments, because they have no frets or black and white keys to tell them where to push down on the string. It is the "aiming of the ball." A basketball player doesn't just toss the ball randomly in the air hoping it will find the basket. To throw something "up there" or "out there," without knowing where it is will cause your body to search for the note as you are trying to execute it. The uncertainty will destroy it. As a singer, you're in the same boat: you need to know precisely WHERE YOU ARE GOING! Again, the ability to engage the falsetto/head register in the aural imaging (audiating) and the resulting execution of pitch is vital. In other words, if you know where that note is in your falsetto, and you 'image' it in falsetto, you can yell comfortably DOWN ONTO where you're aiming. This will dispel anticipation or the feeling of being trapped in a static register and you will not have to hesitate at the edge of your vocal diving board. Exercises for this are in the Find The Pitch section in The Zen Of Screaming DVD.

Try also to identify the vowel on which the high note occurs on. Is it the first note? Then launch smoothly into that vowel like a skater gliding onto the rink. Visualize that vowel sweeping across to the back of a stadium. BE THAT VOWEL! Is it the second note or later? Identify the vowel that precedes it and launch both or more of them together in a chain like a chant. It's all in "FLOW" and "THE LAUNCH" in the DVD!

Check out the next section.
THE ZEN OF SCREAMING

THE ZEN OF SCREAMING

"...the Bible for extreme vocals. Don't open your mouth 'til you've watched this DVD." Tom Beaujour, Editor, REVOLVER MAGAZINE > MORE INFO
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