These barbershop vocal tips have been created from the collective wisdom of various internationally and nationally recognised vocal coaches who have visited Nelson Bays Harmony Chorus and shared their knowledge. Those singers who are not barbershop singers will be surprised at how many similarities there are between barbershop and traditional choral music. Please feel free to comment and add suggestions.
by Kathy Jamieson
B is for Breathing
Breath is the fuel for singing. The tone we produce when singing rests on a cushion of air. Breath support and management are things we must review constantly.
The muscles we use in breathing are the intercostals (think ribs), and the abdominals including the diaphragm. When the ribcage is expanded and the diaphragm lowered, the lungs are stretched – the partial vacuum created is filled when air rushes into the lungs.
When breathing for singing, we use our intercostal muscles to resist collapse of the ribcage, and we use our abdominal muscles to control the exhalation of the air as we sing.
The idea of a “column of air” is a constant steady stream of air coming from your lungs out through your head supporting your sound.
When you do it properly:
- Neither the shoulders nor the chest should rise as air comes into your lungs
- The abdominal area visibly expands when you take air in
- There should be no audible sound when you take air in
- During singing (exhaling) the lower abdominals lift up (towards the diaphragm) and in (towards the spine)
Try these breathing exercises:
- Begin with singer’s posture. Inhale by expanding the lower ribcage. Hiss out to the count of 20. Do not let your ribcage collapse. Repeat 5 times.
- Standing in singer’s posture inhale quickly by letting the lower abdominals relax (air will fall in). Lift lower abdomen in 8 quick motions, shushing breath out in 8 quick counts.
On the pitch of E, sing the “ee” vowel for as long and as quietly as possible. Repeat several times, timing your progress. Aim for 45 seconds.
A is for Alignment
The first foundation of good vocal production is posture. Your instrument needs to be correctly aligned. Imagine your body is divided into four building blocks:
- floor to knees
- knees to waist
- waist to shoulders
- shoulders to top of head
Starting from the floor, align each building block on top of the last one. Ensure your feet are comfortably apart and parallel, your knees are loose, ensure you lengthen your spine and lift your sternum, float your head on top of your spine with your chin level, and ears over your shoulders. Sometimes it helps to imagine a string pulling you up from the top of your head. Now just make sure that it’s all free of tension, and you’re ready to sing!
How about – intervals arrive in unison and on top of each note, rather than sliding up to the note.