Mind Trick for Breathing

Question:  Should one breathe differently for 'Life' than they do when they perform as a singer or voice actor?
Basically:  NO.  Most people walk and talk and sleep with exquisite breathing technique.   Rarely do you see someone lifting their chest or shoulders to inhale as if desperately gasping for air in the process of ordering a latte.  In life, we're not conscious of our breathing, and thus do it perfectly.  As singers and actors we feel that, or have learned that we must be conscious of how and when we breathe.  And because of that extra attention on it,  we tend to get in our own way.   As you have been reading this,  you have breathed maybe 6-10 times without thinking about it.  Now....keep observing how you are breathing but don't force it, just WAIT and observe.  (breathe 3 times before moving on) 
Now we are bridging the gap between unconscious and conscious breathing.  It is true, sometimes as singers and actors we do have to plan when, and how much air we are to inhale. But what if each time we breathe, even if planned, we are accessing our 'unconscious' breathing technique as 'conscious' performers.  Well, that's exactly what we are doing when we're doing it right.   
Now, let me get physical and show you how.  We already did part 1 - observing your own breathing process without 'sucking' air in.  While observing,  you will notice that in the abdomen, there is a sense of release, which seems to be connected to the impulse to breathe.  This is the diaphragm responding to a relaxed abdomen.  This is crucial - you have to let the belly go in order for the diaphragm (it's higher up, but connected) to work efficiently. 
Exercise:  Lean over in your chair and put your forearms on your thighs - basically a modified squat.  (This can be done without a chair as well).  You can clasp your hands together in front.   This puts the focus even lower in the abdomen, which is especially good for singing.  Keep observing.  Then start to speak our sing short phrases, utilizing this technique for your inhales.   Now we're not getting into breath SUPPORT in this article.  Breath support is essentially -- how can we manage our air flow, air pressure, and actually the diaphragm itself during the exhale!  Let me know if you need more help with that!!  You know where to reach me.

David
http://www.voicelosangeles.com

2 Kinds of Love -- The Power of Point of View in Performance

In any kind of performance, having a clear point of view about what you are talking about is essential and often transformative.  

Definition:  Point of view is the angle of considering things, which shows us the opinion, or feelings of the individuals involved in a situation. In literature, point of view is the mode of narration that an author employs to let the readers “hear” and “see” what takes place in a story, poem, essay etc. (from https://literarydevices.net/point-of-view/

In singing a song about a new relationship:

"Look at me, about to fall again ; riding waves till the very end again."

The point of view could range from -- "I'm so ready for this euphoric adventure no matter how it ends"  to "Oh no, am I ready for this ride?  Can I handle the pain it may bring?"  

(Had to throw in a Valentine's theme!) 

In VOICE OVER, (commercial for this example) the Announcer may be talking about the Scooby Doo Haunted House Game:  "It's the Scooby Doo Haunted House Game!  etc...."  The point of view could range from "I love this game so much that I have to tell you all about it" to "Oooo, this is a spooky game and I wonder if you have courage and skill to try it, kids!...."  Imagine how much different those two reads would sound vocally?   

In character work, we think more about the point of view of the character, more than that of the ACTOR as in the case of a VO announcer.  

So.... add point of view to your checklist for Singing, Acting and Voice Acting,  and have a great rest of your Valentine's Day! :) 

The Latino - An exploration of language, dialect and identity

I am half Mexican.   I've always known this, but for the most part have never felt it.  Basically I was raised as a white Jewish kid from Kansas.  But when we moved to Los Angeles (my mom's hometown) when my brother and I were 9, we were exposed to a whole new reality.  Mariachis, drunken uncles, mysteriously sexy (yes I could already tell somehow!) cousins and aunts, Spanglish, homemade tamales and my 100 year old great grandma. (though the story was that 'no one really knows how old she is')   This was my mom's family.   I look back on these experiences with gratitude. I was immersed in a social tapestry that I could hardly understand, but it was feeding my imagination and teaching me about myself and my identity.  Or was it?  When I looked in the mirror, I still saw a Jewish kid with strong glasses, and well, kind of dark skin.  I was learning Hebrew prayers and going to Passover Sedars and living in Westake Village and playing the clarinet. 
     I ended up taking a couple years of high school Spanish, but most of my practice speaking the language came in my 20's and 30's when I worked as a waiter and bartender.   I worked with Mexicans who in many cases had crossed into the states to look for more opportunities, more money, more freedom.   This 'restaurant Spanish' they spoke came quite quickly to me and my accent was acceptable.  I would tell the cooks and busboys that I am half Mexican but they would look at me incredulously;  not doubting the fact that my mom is Mexican, but doubting my own conviction in being Mexican myself.
     Throughout the years, this identity question has presented itself in many ways.  But more and more, the "universe" if you will is pointing me toward owning my Mexican heritage.  Over the last 6 months alone I have had multiple people come up to me talking in Spanish, I've been flown to Mexico City to be in a commercial photo shoot,  I've had 2 Spanish Market commercial auditions and just recently I was cast in a new musical in which one of my roles is called "The Latino" - a Mexican immigrant in search of more opportunities, more money and more freedom.  In the show, the character passionately reminds Kansas tourists (YES THAT'S RIGHT - KANSAS) that we are all descendants of immigrants, and we are all undocumented.   As I am working on the accent of the character (using many resources, but mostly trying to find native mexican immigrants as examples) I occasionally take a look in the mirror (literally).  As my accent starts to emerge, so is the image of me in the mirror as a Mexican-American man looking back at me. I see the Mexican in me, and I even FEEL it.  
 

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What does it mean to have a "good" voice?

Imagine....

you have just heard an amazing French Horn solo;  impeccable pitch and control, a round and full tone, moving flawlessly between notes and creating a sense of emotion and intention.   Would you say,  "Wow you have a great French Horn!"  No.  Most likely you would say, "Wow, you can really play that thing."  But we tell good singers, "Wow, you have a great voice!"   I have noticed that the better vocal shape I am in (practicing every day and in good vocal health), the more often people say, "You have a great voice."   So what makes a Voice, 'Good'?   There are certain anatomical traits that do play a factor, but more importantly, a solid TECHNIQUE, a refined sense of LISTENING and a developed ABILITY TO CONNECT the voice to intention and emotion will maximize the potential of YOUR FRENCH HORN...er, I mean VOICE.

 

"The Next Day Effect"


In singing and voice over recording,  there is a phenomenon that I call "The Next Day Effect".  It goes like this:   It's midnight.   You've just finished recording and editing the BEST audition you have ever done,  or you have just finished a final mix of your new song.  You hit "EXPORT" and you're ready to send it off. 

Cut to 10am the next day.  You give your prized work another listen.  WHAT??  This couldn't be the same version that I finished last night!!   This is the The Next Day Effect.  For quite a number of years, I experienced that, and occasionally still do.   So why does that happen?  Where is the GAP between what we think we did and what we actually did?

 

There are a few things at work:


1) You get used to hearing only your work and your mind plays a little trick on you.   Your ears haven't had enough time away from 'you' and you have lost perspective.

2) You haven't learned how to listen to your work objectively.   This may take years to master and some people are never able to do it.   You must be able to listen to yourself at every step of your self direction and recording process as if you are listening to a stranger.

3) You don't have the DIRECTION TOOLS necessary to give yourself the proper feedback while you are creating your audition,  song or other creative work. 

So how do you get better at this?    Well,  repetition is one of the keys of course.   The more times that you record yourself and then do the exercise of listening to your work the next day or days,  the more you will improve.  But you have to be brutally honest with yourself.  Take note of when you ENJOYING your work rather than CRITIQUING your work.   At this level, you need to CRITIQUE.     I am not talking to those of you with issues about hearing your own voice.   For YOU:   You need to embrace the enjoying part for awhile.   I'm talking to those of you who are looking to deliver a professional level product.   Perfectionism will always be an enemy but right now we are talking about the art of OBJECTIVE SELF-CRITICISM. 

In the area of Self Direction, particularly for voice over I can help.  I've decided to offer 2 upcoming workshops that have Self Direction as their primary themes.   In the voice over industry SELF DIRECTION IS A MUST.    The first class is coming up Wednesday August 12th and there are still a few spots available.  It is a COMMERCIAL Voice Over Workshop for all levels.   The intermediate and advanced students will be training in Direction and Self Direction.   The other upcoming class is only for intermediate and advanced students and is a 3 Saturday Direction and Self Direction Intensive.   Get a director's perspective and find a whole other layer to your technique. 

For more info on the classes starting on August 12th  and August 15th,  CLICK HERE. 
I highly recommend reserving your spot soon! 

 


VOICE TECHNIQUE TRAINING TIP - THE FLOOR EXERCISE


Lie on your back, using a hard mat if necessary, with your very slightly lifted with a book or a shallow pillow.  Your neck should be aligned with you spine.  Allow your shoulders to rest against the ground as much as possible and release any tension in your legs, which are straight. 
- Observe your breathing, noticing that diaphragm 'takes the breaths' for you.  Take note of that, because that's exactly how you should breathing in your speaking and singing technique.  
- Allow your lungs to fill a little more, but in the same 'passive' way that you have been working so far.  Notice that the RIB CAGE is expanding more and you may feel your torso lift a little of the ground.  Keep waiting for the next breath.
- On your next exhale - make a ZZZZZ sound, and then go back to another passive inhale, then another ZZZZZ.   5 Times. 
- Continue breathing, not feeling that you have to fill up all the way
- Sing a song.  Continuing to allow the same passive inhales at first.  (longer gaps between phrases)  Then try to slowly minimize the lengths of the gaps.   Eventually you will be able to 'CONTROL the Passive inhale.'

The Longest Note

Whether you're a singer, or an actor,  it may be interesting to consider:  How long can I hold out a single pitch.  The ability to improve this skill will help your singing as well as speaking technique.   I randomly tested myself the other night and was able to go about 50 seconds on a single note, using falsetto.   So....what is the WORLD RECORD??  Well, it turns out that I took a vocal workshop this last weekend with the guy who holds that record,  Richard Fink IV.   Richard is a New York based coach who has developed the 'Throga' System, which I am currently studying.  The emphasis of his training is NOT standing around trying to hold notes as long as possible while burning incense and listening to meditation music.  The world record thing was more of a side project.  How long did he go?? 

Watch the Video!!

 

So how does he do it?   There are 3 parameters at work here -  1 )Lung Capacity,  2) Breath Support, and 3) Vocal cord function.

1) Generally in singing we are concerned with efficiency of breathing more than Lung Capacity itself, because if we filled up to full capacity all the time, we would be extremely inefficient, and frankly stressed out!   For the longest note possible, it's about very high capacity - this means being in great cardiovascular shape and understanding how to use both the diaphragm and intercostal (around the rib cage) muscles to make the lungs fill with air to about 90% capacity.  More than that will create too much stress in the body and too much air pressure in the lungs.

2) Breath Support, as most of you know now, is the managing of air flow and air pressure as you create sound (exhale).   To stay on one long note at a constant volume, you most be able to control the AIR PRESSURE in your lungs and between your lungs and your vocal cords.   You are essentially a balloon that is letting a little bit of air out of the valve at a steady pressure and speed.

3)  The valve I described in #2 is actually the vocal cords - as they vibrate they are allowing air to pass between them (there are 2 of them, just to be clear).   If they are opening too much as they vibrate, too much air will go through and it will be breathy, if they press too much, not enough air will go through and a squeezing sound will result.

So for a long note, we're looking for a full (90%) efficient inhale, a controlled air pressure  and air flow, and a nice vocal cord closure that lets as little air through as possible while still vibrating in a healthy manner.    Try a few long notes.  Choose a very comfortable pitch.   Big Inhale, then follow the description above.  If it's too difficult as first, start with an SSSS sound instead, then a ZZZZ.  You will quickly find that some of the same muscles that you use to HOLD your breath are employed when sustaining a long tone!

 

 

How to Break the Rules and Book the Job

I recently recorded a McDonald's radio commercial which is now airing in the Bay Area.   It was recorded here in L.A. at Dave and Dave studio's in North Hollywood.   
The spot features a character talking in a huge conference hall.  Picture a Silicon Valley Tech Mogul.   It was up to me as the actor to bring in the 'atmosphere' of a large conference room.    (Atmosphere is one of the advanced concepts I teach in my voice acting classes. ) To act as if there were 2000 people listening to my voice reverberate about the hall.   In order to help myself achieve this in my audition (recorded at my home studio),   I added reverb to my audio track for listening purposes while I recorded it.   It is a NO -NO generally to add effects to the actual audition submission.   The clients would generally prefer to hear your clean unaffected voice.  

But after recording the audition and hearing it with the reverb I found it to be so convincing that I just had to leave the reverb in.    So, in this case, breaking the rules worked.   I got the job. 

Listen to the spot by clicking HERE.

  







 

How to Sing The National Anthem

I’ve been practicing the National Anthem for about 25 years.   So when I had my debut this last weekend at the LA Equestrian Center, I was ready.  The Equidome is a large covered outdoor arena that seats 3500.  While it wasn’t full on Saturday, it was still a grand event, featuring Spanish horses, pageantry and American spirit.   I came on to sing after a 5 minute horse and flag routine that featured 10 horses and riders.   You may wonder if I was nervous?  Not at all, until about 1 minute before going on when the words started to escape my memory.  Going into the event I had thought about having the lyrics on my hands or something just in case.  But the soundcheck the night before was so flawless and my 25 years of practicing would surely protect me from any sudden loss of mind.  Right?   

I was literally looking for a pen backstage to jot a few marks on my hand before going on but then I paused, sat down for second, closed my eyes and took some breaths instead.   I knew from my many years of performing experience that the words would be there once I found myself clearly in the moment and clarified my objective.    So as I walked to my mark in front of 10 horses staring at me on the dirt floor of the Equidome, the jockeys holding 10-foot high American flags,  I remembered that singing the National Anthem was more important than my own concerns and fears.  

It was a capella, so of course I had a pitch pipe - which I always tell my students to have when singing a capella.   Don’t expect yourself to remember your exact starting note unless you have perfect pitch!  Blowing the pitch is also a great way of focusing in on the moment:  listening to the pitch carefully and imagining singing it.  That’s all I needed to get back to my purpose.   One can apply the concept of “it’s bigger than you” to any kind of performance, whether it’s for stage, on camera or voice over.  Our larger objective as artists is to tell a story, to serve a writer, a community, or even a nation.