Was I Teaching a Wrong Technique for All these Years?
by Shelly Wade
“Yell out the window as loud as you can, so the people down the block can hear you”.
I have said that more times than I could count. If you ever studied with me, you spent a lot of time doing that and likely, you were secretly wondering if I was crazy.
Are you a parent who was always asking me to teach your kids ‘more vocal technique’ but you never felt like I listened? But we wrote amazing songs and performed on big stages with professional bands, so you couldn’t be mad…?
Well, I recently found proof, 100% with no question, that I was NOT WRONG!
Here’s how I found out.
A couple weeks ago, a restaurant was in a bind and called me to fill in for a band who canceled. They really needed live music that Friday AND Saturday night and although I hadn’t sung since around March 2020, I still said yes!
My laryngologist would have KILLED me.
To be fair, NO ONE should be singing for 3 hours, two nights in a row without being vocally “in shape”.
…or could they?
I honestly wasn’t sure, but I made a hypothesis and went with it.
Not only did I make it through both gigs without even being vocally fatigued, but…
I sang ALL my highest, hardest, most difficult Linda Ronstadt songs and they actually felt EASIER than all years past.
I played 30 minutes extra because people kept asking for “one more” at least 4 times.
My voice felt GREAT at the end and I could’ve kept going for more.
I won’t even hold you in suspense.
Pineapple and Cats.
That’s right. I eat pieces of pineapple on stage in between say, every 4 songs. But that’s only how I stay hydrated.
So how did I get in the best vocal shape of my life without a single conventional vocal exercise….
I yelled for cats across the mountain every day for 2 years.
I hate to say I told you so but…
Singing does NOT require any dumb-dumb expensive and annoying ‘la la la’ ‘do re mi’ exercises and I knew it all along. Well, I figured it out AFTER I spent $120 grand on opera lessons and conservatory training.
And… The environment cannot be forgotten.
My voice was always a bit hard to maneuver while living in NYC. The air isn’t amazing. Moving in and out of old apartments with dirty this and that… opening windows and bus fumes come in. And whatever’s in the subway…
Not that we should be afraid of those things because we shouldn’t be. But they affected me, no doubt.
My mom’s house is a bit old too and surely the air isn’t perfect here either. I spend as much time outside as possible and I sleep with my head right by a window even if it’s 10 below. Haven’t had any bad colds since then either. Maybe a stuffy nose that goes away in literally one day.
So how does it work?
Well I’m lucky, since I have 4 cats who love being outside and hate coming in at night. I yell for them a lot because there are coyotes and we’ve had two go missing. =(
So I yell… “Puna… Karpu… Cina… and Mama… as loud as I can, maybe… I dunno, give or take, anywhere from 10-30 times a night, as loud as I can. Maybe more if somebody’s in heat.
The neighbors probably love me. . ‘The crazy cat lady who came from New York City’.
At least I’m not squealing ‘mi mi mi mi mi’ up to a high C in the apartment upstairs from them.
There you have it.
I’m not saying my voice was perfect on those gigs. It wasn’t. But it honestly felt better than it ever has and it definitely fit the description of being “in shape”. I added some videos here at the bottom for reference.
Take that, Dr Pittman. (Please no one tell, he really doesn’t need to know.)
So are conventional vocal exercises not required at all?
I’m not saying exercises are required for certain things. My ‘yelling’ could easily be called an exercise. I don’t think this would quite cut it for someone singing coloratura roles like Violetta or Cenerentola but…
It’s the difference in…
When homesteaders do real work around their property like feeding animals, tending gardens, and so forth, they’re doing REAL work, which is required my nature. It gets their bodies ready to do more of all that, which is exactly what they need to be doing.
When we go to the gym, however, to get on the treadmill and life weights and all that, of course we still get ‘strong’, but is it the kind of ‘strong’ we actually need? Does it help us get ready to… “be able to run on a treadmill”? Does it help us be able to carry heavy loads of groceries from Trader Joes? Or walk up and down a million sets of stairs… or to survive? Even running outside? I’m not saying there are no benefits to this, such as increasing breath capacity and all that. I’m not an expert in this field anyway.
You certainly can’t argue that ‘natural’ work is far superior to ‘fake’ work.
It’s the same with the voice. We do these weirdo acrobatic ‘mi mi mi mi’ workouts that don’t really align with the nature of our body and anatomy, and then we expect our voices to sound unique and beautiful with a tone that’s true to our physique and bone structure.
When instead, we could just sing the exact same way in which we naturally speak….or yell.
Any famous artist who has a beautiful voice and very unique, one-of-a-kind voice quality such as Ed Sheeran who you’ll see in the video below, or Linda Ronstadt, Whitney Houston… all the greats.
They didn’t learn by doing fakey-fake exercises, I’m sorry. If they DID, they would SOUND fake. They most definitely woudn’t have a one-of-a-kind color to their tone. Impossible.
Try to ask a regular person to pick out an opera singer from recordings. Do they all sound the same for the most part? I studied opera and I can’t tell. The only people who know are people who listen to records for a living. Hope I’m not offending anyone, but it takes a lot of time and experience. The average person doesn’t listen to a soprano on the Met Opera Radio and say… “Oh that’s so-n-so!, I love her!”
Go ask a farmer how he gets his animals in? Do all farmers just figure out how to GET LOUD? I bet they do, because they have to.
Ask an angry kid how they’re able to yell at their siblings and be so darn loud, yet they can’t sing above the decimals of a large mouse when they get on stage.
A friend of mine saw Ed Sheeran singing for a crowd in Soho today! His voice is both strong and beautiful, which is rare, so I wanted to show you, especially since he’s singing without a mic here! Check out the video below.
His support is on point and he has a very nice path of open resonation in his skull and face. But it cannot start with resonation and manipulation of some head to chest exercises by singing ‘mi mi mi’. It has to start with support that comes natural to a human body.
Conventional vocal exercises most always consist of manipulation in one way or another. I don’t care how good or bad the technique is. Manipulation isn’t nice. Not when you do it to others or to yourself.
I’ll be sticking with what’s natural. It sounds like Ed Sheeran did too! He has a very strong voice with a LOT of volume AND color. I don’t think he always sounded this good. Nothing like practicing ‘the real thing’ by singing in stadiums to get good at ‘the real thing’.