Singers: Do You Make These 4 Common Errors?

The long-hyped premiere of NBC’s new show Smash aired on Monday night, and 11.5 million viewers reportedly tuned in.  Critics have been giving it mostly positive reviews, despite a few flaws (The Atlantic called it “messy, cheesy and a bit of a letdown”).  Readers, what do you think?  Will the show be the next “smashing” hit?  At the very least, we can’t wait to hear more of Katharine McPhee’s powerful voice.

For the uninitiated, singing may look easy – you either can sing on pitch, or you can’t, right?  Not so fast.  Without proper training, it’s common for beginners to make simple errors, and if those turn into habits, they may make or break your future as a singer.

Here are a few common singing mistakes, as written by Teresa Radomski, an operatic soloist and professor at Wake Forest University:

1.  Poor posture
The efficient alignment of the body is of primary importance to voice production.  Problems in posture range from the collapse of the chest and rib cage with corresponding downward fall of the head and neck, to the hyper-extended, stiff posture of some singers that results in tension throughout the entire body.

2. Poor breathing and inappropriate breath support
Some beginning voice students gasp for air and exhibit clavicular (shoulder) or shallow breathing patterns.  Trained singers, on the other hand, use primarily diaphragmatic breath support.  The muscles of the lower back and abdomen are engaged, in conjunction with lowering the diaphragm.  As the breath stream is utilized for phonation, there should be little tension in the larynx itself.

3. Limited pitch range, and difficulty in register transition
All singing voices exhibit an optimal pitch range.  The term “register” is used to describe a series of tones that are produced by similar mechanical gestures of vocal fold vibration, glottal and pharyngeal shape, and related air pressure.  Some common designations of registers are the “head” register, “chest” register, “falsetto,” etc.  Singing requires transitions from one register to another.  Lack of coordination of the laryngeal musculature with the breath support may result in register break, or obvious shift from one tone quality to another.  Regardless of the style of singing, a blend, or smooth transition between registers, is desirable.

4. Poor articulation
Pronunciation with excessive tension in the jaw, lips, palate, etc., adversely affects the tonal production of the voice. The longer duration of vowel sounds in singing necessitates modification of pronunciation.  Retroflex and velar consonants (such as American “r” and “i”) need careful modification to allow sufficient pharyngeal opening for the best resonance, and the over-anticipation of nasal consonants (“m,” “n,” “ng”) may result in a stiff soft palate and unpleasant tone.

Of course, the best way to fix these errors is to work with a professional – relying on YouTube videos alone will give you some tips, but won’t give you the one-on-one feedback necessary to really improve.  We’re here to help – find a music teacher near you, and start working toward your goals!

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Photo by ataelw.

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