Singing and playing acoustic guitar at the same time is the ultimate form of multitasking: your left and right hands must think independently; your brain is recalling chords, lyrics, and melody simultaneously; and your soul has to shine through enough to be emotionally compelling to your audience. It’s no wonder that one, or more, of those components are likely to suffer and go astray during your acoustic set. Here are some helpful vocal tips to ensure that your performance is seamless and professional!
Once you’ve perfected your guitar performance, set aside time in front of a mirror to give your vocals some much-needed one on one time. Practicing your vocals separately from your instrument will provide you with a better muscle memory map for show day. Practice singing a cappella in front of a mirror – go ahead and get up close and personal and observe a few things:
Watch for tension in your jaw.
Too much jaw tension can lead to stress and tightness of your vocal cords. Practice loosening your jaw by opening wide and yawning. Observe the jaw joints just below your ear lobes by pressing gently with your index fingers. You will feel a slight indentation where your fingertips sink in; this is optimal jaw space for you. Aim for opening your mouth this wide when you sing to keep tension and heaviness out of your performance.
Here is an excellent jaw stretch exercise to do before singing and throughout the day to bring an end to troublesome tension:
Open your mouth, stick out your tongue as if you are pointing it towards your feet. Now, Look up at the ceiling with your eyeballs, making sure you aren’t tilting your head back.
Inhale deeply through your mouth, hold for 3 seconds, then exhale the breath while opening the jaw slightly more. Repeat up to 8 times, then relax. You will fill enhanced blood circulation around those jaw joints and more freedom to open wide.
Watch your tongue when you sing.
Now that you have a healthy amount of jaw space going on, you’ll be able to clearly see what your tongue is doing when you sing. Watch out for the tendency to pull your tongue backward, or to retract the tongue, toward the throat when singing. This is a common problem many singers have because the tongue and larynx are connected. While singing with a lower larynx can produce a darker, taller sound, be aware of forming a habit of keeping your tongue retracted. This will limit the amount of coloration in your voice and ultimately produce a more classical sound than you are wanting.
To understand the difference in the vocal tone your tongue placement can make, try these two exercises and note what you hear.
First, look in the mirror, drop your jaw and say “aaaa” as in the word CAT.
Repeat three times with your tongue resting on the floor of the mouth, the tip of the tongue relaxed near the bottom lip. Don’t push your tongue toward your lip, just note how it rests there making contact. Repeat the exercise a few times with this forward tongue position.
Next, drop the jaw and pull the tongue backward.
Repeat the “aaaa” sound three times and note the darker, almost “swallowed” sound you are producing. Also, take note of any tension you feel and consider how fatigued your voice might be after habitually singing with a retracted tongue!
Keeping adequate jaw space and a neutral tongue position may take time, so don’t give up! The more forward tongue position will produce a brighter sound, which will more easily cut through the mix and have more presence when coupled with your guitar. Practicing this technique will definitely assist you in “Working smarter, not harder” during your performances, so find a mirror and settle in for the win.
~ Traci De Leon