Can’t stop singing “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson? It’s been stuck in our heads for weeks! If you covet the amazing vocal skills of Bruno Mars, read on for helpful tips from Glendale, CA voice teacher Ben M…
Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ killer new hit, “Uptown Funk”, is all over the airwaves this month. The production is lush and the instrumentation is a perfect mix between classic ’80s and the newer influences of pop music. But without a doubt, the standout instrument on the song belongs to Bruno Mars. His voice soars over the band, building energy throughout the song with effortless grit but smooth delivery.
When I ask my students whom they want to sound like, Bruno Mars is the one of the most common responses I receive. And I can’t argue with them. Besides being one of my own vocal inspirations, he exerts a masterful control over his voice that is undeniable and certainly enviable. And as I tell my students, it’s absolutely possible for any singer to gain that same sort of power and vocal control. You won’t necessarily end up with Bruno Mars’ sound, but you will develop your own polished voice that attracts an audience of its own.
Some say that learning to sing is a very complex process. And while there is much to consider when training your voice, almost every exercise and technique you learn will be in pursuit of one goal: relieving tension. It’s an ongoing battle for all singers, from beginners to seasoned professionals.
It breaks down like this: your upper body can be thought of as one large resonating chamber. Once air passes through your voice box, the tone you create is free to reverberate off anything it passes before it exiting your mouth.
The three primary resonators are:
- Your throat – This is the first place your voice travels to. This is where that dopey, hollow quality of your voice lives. Imagine you’ve received a shot of Novocain to the jaw… the resulting tone would be complete relaxation and full utilization of this resonator, also called your pharynx.
- Your nose – This is where the nasal quality of your voice comes from. Exclusive use of this resonator could put you in the running to be the sixth Backstreet Boy! If we were still living in 1999, that is.
- Your mouth – The last stop before Voice Meets World. This is where your sound is shaped into vowels and consonants that will form the syllables and words you articulate.
Learning to shift between these three resonators is the holy grail for the master singer. A voice that has a measured combination of resonances is called a “mixed voice,” a frustrating term for many aspiring singers because the concept is somewhat abstract.. But the good news about “finding your mix” is that it will come to you all on its own. It’s as simple as allowing the voice to roam free by releasing the tension that exists all throughout your upper body.
So, how do we accomplish this? The first step is by manually relieving tension to prepare the body to sing. There are more than a few areas that need attention, but here are three of the prime suspects and the cues you can give them to relax.
- Your shoulders – Tension here will cause you to breathe improperly. With the goal of keeping your shoulders relaxed at all times – even when breathing deeply – a helpful technique is to contract your shoulder muscles for five seconds, and then release. Repeat three times, and then roll your shoulders back a few times to remind them to stay relaxed.
- Your neck – Not surprisingly, the more you use your neck muscles, the less space in your throat and the less resonance you will be able to produce there. A few simple neck rolls – slow, controlled, and gentle – will help prepare your neck for singing.
- Your jaw – This is possibly the hardest place to relieve tension, as it is the most difficult to target. It’s typically one of the last spots singers learn to relax, but you can help it on its way by yawning, chewing, or manually massaging the joints.
Think of these techniques as the stretch before the workout. The next step is to work with a vocal coach who can teach you vocal exercises that – with time and repetition – will re-coordinate your muscles to relax and stay relaxed. Eventually, this relaxation becomes second nature, and you’ll be able to unlock that elusive “mixed voice” that will take your singing career to the next level! And who knows, you might have the next hit just like “Uptown Funk”!
Ben M. teaches music performance and singing in Glendale, CA. He attended Northeastern University and is currently studying voice at Brett Manning Studios. Learn more about Ben here!
Photo by skyremix