Voice Lessons, Solfege & Ear Training
Overview of Voice Lessons
Voice instruction at the Royal Academy consists of learning a variety of skills from reading notation and singing notation on pitch using syllables such as Do-Re-Mi-Fa- Sol-La-Si-Do (solfege) as well as being able to train the ear to hear a note, a passage or a song and re-duplicate it through use of the voice (ear training). Voice students are also taught vocal technique such as breathing, articulation and projection exercises to strengthen and better control specific muscle groups. Though it is not mandatory, it is also important that vocal students have or engage in some sort of piano training for a variety of helpful reasons. Voice Instruction at the Royal Academy focuses on how the voice works and applies these principles to vocal technique. It is our experience that almost anyone can improve their singing voice and almost anyone can learn to speak with greater ease. Unfortunately many people have been told that they can’t, and they have a negative vocal self-image because of this false belief. Our philosophy is to teach our students on three levels: intellectual- there should be an understanding of how the voice is produced, physical- through muscle memory and specific muscle relaxation, and emotional-spiritual – through a positive and supportive environment, through releasing emotional blockages to easy vocal production, as well as an emotional connection to the music and content being expressed vocally. Exercises are tailored to a person’s age and voice. A “cookie cutter” approach is never used, instead exercises are utilized that are custom-designed to each person’s individual vocal needs and goals. Lessons are available for adults, teens and children. All ages and skill levels as well as styles are welcome. Private lessons can be for either speech improvement or for singing technique. Voice lessons are taught by a variety of our highly trained vocal teachers and performers.
Lessons are either for a half-hour forty-five minutes or one hour sessions.
Age to Begin Voice Lessons
The Royal Academy offers private voice studies for both the beginner through highly advanced students beginning ages 6 through adults. There are a variety of methods offered including (the most popular) ” traditional ” method The Royal Academy faculty uses a variety of methodologies and customizes each lesson plan depending upon their students practice habits, level of interest, potential and most of all their goals. The most commonly used methodologies we use are Dandelot, Lutgen, Danhauser and Pischna as well as a various other methods not mentioned. Voice is offered 6 days per week (Monday through Saturday).
How Does The Voice Work?
The human voice is a very mysterious entity because it cannot be directly seen as it is used. Unlike other musical instruments where the teacher can actually see what the student is doing, vocal training requires a teacher with an excellent ear that can identify the sounds a student produces with actual vocal function. We call this teaching ability, “x-ray ears”! For the student it is impossible to “hear” your own voice as others do. Therefore, it is helpful for the student of voice, whether they be a speaker or a singer to increase their understanding of exactly how this mysterious entity known as their “voice” actually works. Teaching voice should ideally be teaching the student to know his/her own voice well, what the options are and how to use them for a free and healthy sound.
What is the human voice made of? Very simply- the muscles of the larynx, air, space and the articulators (tongue, teeth, palate, lips). That’s it! These components interact with each other to produce your unique vocal sound. But you need to keep in mind that a vocalist uses the entire body to sing. This is why body alignment work is so important. Voice lessons, if taught by a competent teacher, should address each of these components through various exercises and concepts. It is also equally important to know which muscles and functions potentially interfere with the voice.
The muscle/mucous part of the voice is the vocal folds (aka vocal cords), which are a tiny paired muscle found in the larynx or voice box in your throat. The vocal cords are covered with a very important layer of mucous which basically has the consistency of jello. Other tiny muscles within the larynx control the space between the cords as well as the length of the cords. The vocal cords need to be brought together in order to produce sound. If they are too tightly brought together or not taught enough the vocal quality suffers. The larynx must be free to vibrate without excessive tensions from the throat constrictor muscles. Once they are brought together airflow makes them vibrate very quickly through the mucous layer that sits on them. If you are not getting enough water or are consuming products that dehydrate yourself, the vocal cords do not function freely. A symptom of this is a frequent need to clear your throat. It is suggested and 8 glasses of pure water or decaffeinated herbal tea per day. You should limit alcohol and caffeine consumption.
The voice is also made up of air. The air is the voice’s energy source that you control with each breath that you take while singing or speaking. The air sets the vocal cords vibrating and oscillating through the mucous covering. Singing/speaking without a healthy air supply is like trying to drive a car without gas! Your breath is your fuel and it is vitally important. Vocalizing requires a sustained breath. When we inhale high in the body and raise our sternum/shoulder area for the breath, the exhalation cannot be sustained or controlled easily and actually tires the tiny throat muscles used for singing/speaking, producing vocal fatigue, tension and often, an airy sound.
On the other hand, learning how to take a breath which expands the ribcage and pelvic floor gives the vocalist ease and control over the voice once this technique is learned. A vocalist doesn’t need more air, just more control over the air supply. One important fact that is almost always over-looked by voice teachers is how to prepare the body before taking a breath. It is almost impossible to take a healthy ribcage breath if your stomach muscles (the abdominals) are tense. The first step to proper breathing for voice, then, is to relax the abdominal area.
“The voice is also most importantly made up of space.”
Space? Let us explain. When you play any other musical instrument (and yes, even good speaking can be musical), that instrument is already built. You just simply learn to play it. The human voice is unique in that it is an instrument that is built as it is “played”. The shape or space of this instrument is created by the size of your throat and mouth, other wise known as your “vocal tract”. This is determined by how you take your breath, and the ability to relax those muscles that close the throat, many of which control swallowing and movements of the tongue. The shape of the voice is what makes it so mysterious, as it cannot be seen, only heard. When your throat is made smaller by the constructor muscles, your larynx is elevated and the voice feels tight and strained. The sound produced is far from your best. If you employ the back of your tongue to push your larynx down in order to sing or speak, your voice will most likely sound and feel good to you. Unfortunately, no one but you will hear this pleasant sound. Your voice will not resonate to others as your primary resonator, your throat, will be filled up with your tongue! The goal of the vocalist then is to open the throat (as in a yawn) while relaxing the tongue. There are no muscles in the throat that help us to sing or speak with a resonant sound. Only the tiny muscles located in the larynx produce vibration and pitch which can be resonated by an open and totally relaxed throat.
What are the variables that a voice can work with? Pitch, head and chest registers, volume control, sounds (vowels and consonants), and vocal quality, depending on the style of music you are singing. Voice lessons will help you to become aware of these qualities and how to balance and manipulate them within your voice. Different vocal qualities and music usually bring up a wide gamut of strong emotions in the vocalist. It is important to recognize this- the voice is meant to be a communicative device closely connected to our spiritual selves. The more options the speaker or singer has available within their voice, the more they are able to express the gamut of human emotions. By expanding your voice, you expand yourself and the range of emotions you are able to express. This is the true goal of voice lessons.
One thing to remember is that learning to improve your voice is a gradual process. You are teaching your muscles new ways of responding. The process will become automatic, but it takes daily practice and often several years of study, depending on the student. Typically, at first you will be able to produce healthy changes during voice lessons. Gradually these improvements will carry-over into practice at home. The next step is getting so used to the new way of using your vocal and breathing muscles (while relaxing the constrictors) that this will become second nature to you during performances or in public speaking. Practice, dedication and good communication with a trusted voice teacher are the ingredients for success. You will get out of voice training exactly what you put into it. It’s a wonderful journey of self-growth, exploration and exciting possibilities.
Voice Lessons for Children
Voice lessons for children aged 8 through the adolescent years are taught differently than lessons for adults. The reason for this is that children learn differently. Concepts of good voice production can be abstract. Because children think in a less abstract way than adults at the Royal Academy we use fun and interactive vocal games to make learning easy to remember and fun. I usually use a playful and imagination-based approach to vocal exercises, allowing kids to create some of their own exercises as well.
We sometimes even use images of popular cartoon characters, for example, (such as “Patrick” from “Sponge-Bob”) for constrictor relaxation as well as an example of a “low belly breath” in breathing exercises. I also use animal sounds and imaginative play such as imitating a “frog” posture to find a low breath, to help the child discover the different healthy sounds she or he can make, and the necessary breath support that he or she can create.
Children (and even adults) learn breath management skill by blowing on pinwheels or blowing soap bubbles. Many children are kinesthetic learners and explore the voice in these ways.
Work is usually also done with the child’s speaking voice, because whatever they can speak they can usually sing! Good speech habits and speech flexibility are the foundation of the singing voice. What a person does with their voice all day long will certainly affect how well they sing.
If there is an interest we also teach basic musicianship skills to children using fun charts, worksheets and manipulatives. Your child will be reading music in no time!
Children seem to benefit from simple ear-training exercises so that they can develop excellent ear-larynx coordination as well as learn to hear, identify and sing different musical intervals. I strongly believe that every child can sing in tune, know the basic major scale, and identify basic musical intervals with practice.
Voice Lessons for the Adult Student
The Royal Academy also offers private voice studies for the adult student. Whether you are a beginner, an advanced player, or simply rekindling an old passion for music, we offer a variety of programs and lesson schedules custom suited for the adult student who has to often juggle a very demanding work and home schedule. Lessons are offered at all three convenient locations and hours range from morning and lunchtime lessons until 9:00 PM in the evening.
The Adult student can expect to learn all genres of music ranging from classical, jazz, swing, pop, ragtime, blues, music theater, Broadway and more. At the Royal Academy the adult student can expect to learn all the skills necessary in being a well rounded and creative musician. The Royal Academy ensures that all of its students develop strong sight-reading skills, counting and rhythmic skills, technical skills, theory and creativity.
There is no question as to the many therapeutic and stress relieving benefits of music. Not only as a listener and player does the sound of beautiful music immediately relax and soothe a very active and tense mind, but music has the ability to stir the emotions and to act as a wonderful vehicle for creative expression.