Carrie Griffiths | Essential advice for vocalists

ICMP alumna shares her top tips on maintaining great vocal health...

carrie_griffiths_icmp_vocals_coach_and_mentor

ICMP alumna Carrie Griffiths is one of London's most respected vocal coaches. 

Studying with us in the late 2000s, Carrie has enjoyed a varied and extensive musical career, not only touring the world to perform live and record with Buster Shuffle but also focus on working as a music educator.

She completed her PGCE in 2013, then started teaching in a variety of music settings, including with college students and musicians with mental health issues. Join her Facebook group to learn more. 

Now running her own business to support singers and public speakers, we quizzed Carrie on her top pieces of advice around health and getting the most from your voice...

How do you warm up your vocal chords? Have you any essential tips?

I always start with lip bubbles and sirens. I learned at ICMP how a good vocal warm-up is usually 20 minutes long so I stick to this rigidly. 

Gradually increase your range and difficulty of the exercises, no matter how long you have been singing for. So many different things can affect our voices so it is important to listen and feel what is happening before moving onto the more complex stuff.

Listen to your body and learn to feel what is right as well as what sounds right. And remember to breathe! 

I always adapt my warm-up according to the venue, equipment, and the type of songs I will be singing. It takes some time to work that stuff out but I'm a bit of a voice geek and studied that stuff during long journeys on the road!

Are there any quick wins around alleviating short-term vocal stress? 

I hate this question! There are NO quick fixes! 

It depends on what is causing the stress. In my experience, more often than not vocal stress is caused by physical or emotional tension. In those situations relaxation techniques and exercises can help and you should always rely on the technique rather than what sounds "good".

Low humming is good for easing things up and is a good gauge of how healthy your vocal cords are. If you can hold a low, just audible hum, you will probably be okay to do what you need to do."

It's good to have alternative melody lines ready for days when you are extra tired or having a bad day or feeling under the weather, and if you can, change the key of more demanding songs. 

If you physically can't sing because your vocal cords are shot then just don't! If you're ill and you absolutely have to perform, adapt the instrumentation so you can adapt your voice accordingly. If you are part of a group, get any other singers to support you by taking more of the demanding lines. 

If you are recording, do it in short bursts so as not to put strain on your already vulnerable vocal cords. I never ever use throat lozenges or sprays and I always advise against them - something else I learned at ICMP. 

What should a vocalist do to look after their voice once they've finished singing? 

My classical singing teacher, Mary, taught me to always warm down after a singing session, especially if you have been doing a lot of belting. I do this by sirening down in pitch and in volume. The transition between belting and then speaking after a gig can be quite dramatic so it is important not to "shock" your vocal cords. Drink room temperature water, or warm cold water up in your mouth before you swallow it! Don't smoke!! Eat healthily and stay hydrated. 

What can singers do to make their voices stronger? Are there any daily habits they can get into which will help them? 

Warm-up every day, even if you're not going to do a full practice session. When you are practicing, use the techniques and get into the habit of recording yourself so that you can check your progress. Check-in with your body regularly and remember to pay attention to the whole instrument, not just the voice. 

What are the common mistakes you hear singers making? 

Trying to sound "good"! Especially at the beginning. Just use the techniques and the sound will take care of itself.

Common errors include attempting techniques that are too advanced for their current level, forgetting to breathe, failing to warm up. And not taking advice!"

If you had one piece of advice for aspiring singers, what would it be? 

Get a qualified, experienced teacher who has DONE what you want to do.

If you have a small budget, get the best you can afford and record your lessons. Study as much as you can and speak to people who sing in the same style as you. DO NOT SCRIMP ON YOUR LESSONS! You get what you pay for - I know from experience!

Lastly, enjoy singing. Remember there are millions of people around the world who would love to do what we do but never give themselves the opportunity. It is a tough industry - find learning in every challenge and enjoy every last moment of it!

Visit secretvocalacademy.com to find out more.

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Vocal courses
by Jim Ottewill
June 26, 2020
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