How To Sing: Using Speech Level Singing

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We all want to be able to sing at our best – or else you wouldn’t be reading this blog! The question is, how do we get there in the most efficient and quickest way possible?

But we need to be careful here. We are so used to listening and watching singers at the height of their artistic peak that we don’t see the grueling, deliberate, and often endless amount of hard work that was required to get them there.

Luckily, Seth Riggs, founder of Speech Level Singing has uncovered some remarkable truths about the voice that allow us to capitalize on our voices for the least amount of effort – saving our voices for a lifetime of use. Later, a formal development process based on Mr. Riggs’ findings was pieced together by CEO of SLS Dave Stroud. With this combined approach we can begin to allow our voices to find and stay flexible, adaptable, and over time strengthen it for even the most demanding of vocal tasks. In this way, we can achieve or sustain the kind of vocal freedom we may have either been born with, or have only dreamed about. The rest of this article is a simplified explanation of the Speech Level Singing training process.

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In order to get your voice functional the quickest, it is helpful to understand on a broad level how the training process works. Otherwise, you may slow yourself down considerably, or even damage yourself, if you work one aspect of our voice when your focus at that particular time should have been somewhere else. When it comes to voice training, precision is key! Understanding the process can help both the beginning singer, and the most advanced vocalist to uncover the secrets to becoming the best they can be.

At any of the early stages of training, the singer will usually find themselves making some TEMPORARY but possibly extreme sounds in order to establish proper vocal conditioning and a better coordination. This is a crucial part of the process that is unavoidable. Don’t be discouraged – it is only temporary! When the right coordination is achieved, the extreme sounds can be removed and a speech level coordination can begin to take place.

You will notice many significant differences that sets Speech Level Singing apart from other teachers and voice training practices. Most teachers and voice approaches will have their students practice breathing exercises, use a few visualization techniques accompanied with some often bizarre analogies, and then begin to have their students sing songs. Not here. With SLS, the emphasis is laid thick upon developing coordination at the vocal cord level first, which means that you may not get around to singing songs until later in the training process. If you try to jump to singing songs too soon, your mental and physical coordination will not be nearly strong enough to accomplish it with ease correctly, and your habitual tendencies will quickly reemerge and greatly slow or halt your development.

It’s also important to note that the steps are dynamic and interchangeable: as you are challenged by different aspects of your voice, you may find you need to retreat to previous steps in order to achieve the more challenging goal.

photo credit: Danel Solabarrieta

And finally, learn to be curious about your voice. Remember: Your own voice is a fascinating instrument (nobody else even has your unique vocal quality!), so remain passionate about the process… Learn to enjoy singing for what it was always meant to be: not for fame or fortune, but for the simple joy of cathartic noise making and sonic self-expression from the heart!

Step 1: Discover To begin, we must first experience your voice in it’s full, extended form: as the “bottom”, or low notes of your voice, and as the “top” or high notes, of your voice. Normally we experience the vibration of low notes as “chest” voice, and as the vibration of high notes as “head voice”.

For most men, the experience of chest is relatively already quite familiar, and it’s the experience of their head voice that is unfamiliar. This often leaves a distinct “break” between head and chest, where the head voice is not blended smoothly into chest, or vice versa. In order to ensure we don’t get “stuck” in chest, getting men to experience their falsetto voice is often the first step in this direction. For women, the reverse is often true… Women are most often unfamiliar with their chest voice when using their voices to sing.

The goal at this stage is simply to familiarize yourself in your singing with not just chest voice, or not just head voice, but to experience both in whatever way possible, even if it going back and forth between the two seems awkward. Female and male singers will begin to become aware of their first “passagi”, first bridge, or their first “break”. It’s important not to get caught solely in either vocal qualities without the other while vocalizing or practicing singing. If you don’t learn to access both, even as separate entities, your range as a singer will be very limited, along with your ability to control the dynamic of the range you do have, and the health and flexibility of the voice will remain in jeopardy.

Singers and specific songs that tend to use both chest and head vocal qualities in a disconnected coordination: Elizabeth Fraser of Cocteau Twins (Ella Megalast Burls Forever), Chris Martin of Coldplay (Clocks).

Step 2: Connect The next phase, generally speaking, is connecting the chest voice to the head voice – that is from the bottom of the range right to the very top so that there are no breaks or cracks anywhere in the extended voice. This could mean developing what was once a falsetto voice, into a blend of chest and head voice.

At this point, the singer learns how to begin to smooth out the first break point in between the chest and head voice. The first break point for most singers will occur almost always in their first bridge. We call this first bridge the “mix voice”, that is the voice that “bridges” the chest voice to the head voice. It is the first of many bridge areas of the voice, and the singer begins to learn how to connect the first bridge, and then the subsequent bridges that follow.

Singers that tend sing in this way: Freddie Mercury of Queen (We Are The Champions), Alicia Keys (Fallin), Chris Cornell (Can’t Change Me), Cold War Kids (Hospital Beds)

Step 3: Release/Balance After establishing a connection in the first transition, the singer must then learn how to release any “reach for pitch” within that area… That is, they must learn how to release any unnecessary musculature outside of the vocal cords, as the ascend from pure chest into a blend of chest and head within the first transition. This process may repeat for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and so on, bridges areas of the voice until the whole instrument is connected and balanced.

If you haven’t done so previously, you will find a big emphasis at this stage on NOT struggling. This can often be one of the most challenging parts of the training process, but it builds within the singer a remarkable amount of versatility, skill, and will provide a means for the vocalist to sustain singing in a healthy production, hopefully, for the rest of their lives. It is often the most exciting step as the singer may finally learn to tap into the freedom inherent in their voice.

A singer that sings with pronounced “release” in her voice: Anita Baker (Sweet Love)

Step 4: Build When the singer has learned to release their voice on higher pitches, it is time to strengthen it as much as possible. It is at this point that the arc of development can begin to allow for “normal” sounds in training.

Singers and their songs in this way: Whitney Houston early in her career (So Emotional), Pavarotti (Nessun Dorma), Christina Aguilera (The Voice Within), Wendy Moten (Come In Out Of The Rain), Javier (A Song For Your Tears), Aretha Franklin (I Say A Little Prayer).

Step 5: Speech Level At this point, all extreme sounds are eliminated, and a speech level coordination is established and strengthened.

Singers that sing in this way include: Mariah Carey on older albums (Hero), Stevie Wonder (Lately), Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Luther Vandross, Harriet Wheeler from The Sundays (Summertime), Anthony Warlow (Bring Him Home).

Step 6: Song Application The singer learns to apply their technique into the songs they love to sing!

Step 7: Style The singer begins to explore what excites them the most about the singers they love, and about the qualities that make their own voice unique…