Here’s the thing: vocal coaches are going to disagree. It’s just the way it is. We all think we know how to do it, and none of us do it the same. So, unfortunately for all you singers out there, that means you get to decide who’s right and who’s not. But how are you going to decide that? If you already knew what was the best technique, you wouldn’t need any of us coaches… ideally. More on that in a bit.
Now that THAT’S out of the way, I’m going to say that I hold my ground that, at least in this instance, Alicia Keys’ vocal coach isn’t helping her; in fact, he is hurting her with this technique. Luckily, Alicia understands that technique is able to make or break a singer’s ability to get through an entire show. Now she just needs someone to show her some healthy technique (hint, hint: #HireMeAliciaKeys).
In this clip below, watch as Alicia is instructed to make an “L” in front of her teeth in order to “open her throat”. And just from typing that I’m already cringing. Ok, watch this and then we’ll chat about why I’m cringing.
See… THIS is the kind of stuff that lights my fire. THIS is why I’m in business and why I want to reach as many singers as possible. And why this #HireMeAliciaKeys campaign is happening.
Let’s talk about that “L” technique that “opens the throat”. First of all, if you’ve spent any time with me at all you know I HATE that phrase. Why? Because as contemporary singers, having your throat “open” automatically leads to bad news for your vocal cords. Unless you are singing contemporary music in a classical head voice in which case I’d say to you to just STOP. Right now.
I’m going to get technical for a minute, but it’s for a worthy cause: your voice (and also my sanity), so buckle up.
When vocal coaches use the term “open throat”, what they mean by that is having a raised soft palate, which feels like a lot of space in the back of the mouth/throat area, much like when you yawn.
But here’s the problem with that:
Unless you’re singing in a head voice (which is part of what I call “legit”), and NOBODY wants to hear that in contemporary music, your chest voice (the other part of what I call “legit”) is going to reach a limit where it breaks into the head voice. If you attempt to stretch your chest voice past that break, you’ll experience pain, strain, hoarseness, fatigue, and could end up with much worse if you keep it up.
While we’re at it, let’s talk about that “L”. They don’t go into too much detail in the video about what to do with that “L” except to form it in front of the teeth. I don’t know about you, but when I do that, it doesn’t create space in the back of my mouth/throat unless I also intentionally create space. What it does, though, is create a lot of tension in my tongue and jaw, which leads to a whole different host of issues.
So, if we don’t want to ever sing contemporary music in a head voice, and we don’t want to cause vocal damage from trying to stretch the chest voice past where it’s supposed to go, what do we do?? Well, I don’t like to talk about how bad something is without following up with what I’d do differently, so here are my thoughts:
- Instead of trying to “open the throat” by creating yawn space, just… don’t. When you talk like a normal person without even thinking about your mouth or space, you aren’t creating any space back there. When you sing, just do the same thing and you will not only have much more flexibility in your power, your range, and your abilities, but it will also be easier and sound better. And the pain will disappear.
- Ls are tricky. Period. I always say spend as little time as possible on Ls that show up on tricky pitches because the tendency for tongue tension (even if you’re putting the tip of your tongue where it’s supposed to be on an L) is very high. An L can cause you to have Kermit the Frog moments in your singing if you’re not careful. Try singing your song without the Ls completely, then try again with them back in but just barely form them. Always make sure just the very tip of the tongue touches the part of the roof of your mouth just behind your upper front teeth – and just barely – and you’ll be much better off. If that’s too hard right now, start by replacing all your Ls with Ns – this will help you start to get used to a similar tongue placement and the ideal lightness of touch.
By the way, remember when I said you wouldn’t need us vocal coaches at all if you already knew the best technique? Well, check this out: I have developed a system that is the LAST vocal program you’ll ever need. Learn more about it in my free workshop, or just cut to the chase and let’s work together. You can absolutely fix your vocal health & technique struggles once and for all so you never have to go to a coach again.
You too, Alicia. #HireMeAliciaKeys