I wish to pass on my inherent skill for sound healing. I want to share this wonderful skill with everyone and I’m ready to deal with all the questions and emails you will have for me so fire away folks.
Sound healing using just the voice creates a sacred space in which vocal energy vibrates to create specific frequencies that fit particular parts of the body. These energy centres are tied to the chakras in the body. The 12 notes of the chromatic scale are all present in the body too. 8 of them relating to the 7 chakras, with the heart or “Great Unstruck” having two. The remaining 4 notes are the spine and nervous system – liver, kidneys & spleen and lastly the glands and the connection to the space between life and death. I will go on to explain all of this but we will need to start at the very beginning, a very good place to start… yes thank-you Julie Andrews (she and I share a birthday). All life and healing begins with breath. Breath focuses. Deep stomach moving breaths that protect the body from illness. I have been working in the Music Industry for a couple of decades. During my time teaching solid techniques to stabilise the voice and teach ways to minimise damage to the voice and expanding the overall range of voices I developed a new method to warming up the voice through the sonic shower which I have been using for a few decades now to facilitate healing in people by unlocking frozen frequencies. This original technique allows singers of all abilities to gain a rapid understanding of their voice and expand their range beyond their hopes. It also allows singers to smooth out any breaks in their voice and enrich their tone to create a vocal line that rings with the truth of their soul in everything they sing. My clients have included Kylie Minogue, Dannii Minogue, Geri Halliwell, Rosin Murphy, Dani Harmer, Holly Valance, Taka Boom, Darren Hayes, Charlie Simpson, Lisa B, Ronni Ancona, Kirsty Bertarelli, Jacques Villeneuve, Steve Smith – Dirty Vegas, Barb Jungr, Johnnie Fiori, Mark Dugdale and Jan Buehlmann. Sorry to those I’ve missed out. There have been so many of you and I can be a tad forgetful.
Ok so let’s start learning how to use the voice to create your own sonic shower. Firstly we need to look at breathing and breath control but I know for many this yogic skill is already mastered or not the most fun thing, so feel free to skip this for now and jump straight on to any part that grabs your attention.
Breath control is key to everything in life. Not just singing but everyday health and vitality is influenced by breath. The following technique will most likely make you a little dizzy at first. This is because breathing, properly deep will cause a huge rush of oxygen into the veins and then up the body’s superhighway to the brain. SIT DOWN if you begin to feel lightheaded.
I did a deep meditation on breathing once while kneeling in sunlight. The rush to my head was so fast that I passed out backwards striking my head hard on the solid floor behind me knocking myself out. Though I was out cold my right half of the brain decided to take matters into its own hands and made my left arm slap my face hard to wake me. Hahaha. I did laugh but it’s better to not pass out when exercising deep breathing.
So there are many myths about breath and the body and especially the diaphragm. The diaphragm cannot be individually moved. It is controlled by the stomach and abdomen muscles. The diaphragm is a disc that separates the chest and lungs where we hold air and the abdomen a vacuum where we digest and expel food. So breathing should always begin at the abdomen.
Lie on the floor or on a bed and place some hefty books on your belly. With one hand hold the books to stop them falling. Place the other hand on your chest. DO NOT allow your chest to move at all during this exercise.
Breath in through your nose and see if your stomach drops down with the weight of the books. If it does then you have much to learn to undo this habit. Sorry for misleading you then but I can’t help myself. So to breath properly and really deeply we must teach ourselves to push the stomach outwards. As the abdomen is a vacuum, it will force the diaphragm to drop down and allow air to be pulled into the very deepest parts of the lungs.
So let’s breath in slowly through the nose to a count of 4. Then hold the breath for a further count of 2-4. At first just count to 2 and slowly build to four. Then exhale to a slow count of four through the mouth. Many yogic practises breath in through one nostril and out through another. Yes Ms. Clinton I’m thinking of you. Don’t listen to her. That may be good for democracy but it ain’t any help to the singers among us. The nose tends to switch from one nostril to the next as the main channel for air every 20-40 minutes quite naturally unless we are lying on our side. We exhale through the mouth as this is what is needed when we create vocal tones. Breath will be used to support the voice as it vibrates between the vocal chords. The best time to practise this daily is as you nod off to sleep at night. Breath long and slowly from the stomach alone to sleep blissfully every night.
So that is part one of deep breathing. It’s now time to add the second part to build a sequence up. This is where the oxygen might start flooding your brain and that dizziness might kick in so please be thoughtful and sit down if you feel lightheaded. It may seem like I’m being over cautious but I’ve had pupils faint on me.
So inhale to a slow count of 6. Only now we will extend the abdomen outwards for 3 counts and then while holding the stomach out we will lift and separate the chest and ribs upwards and outwards for the remaining counts of 4,5 & 6. If you can hold the breath for 2 beats and then exhale for 6 beats collapsing down the chest and stomach together.
This type of breathing will draw in a far greater volume of air as the external and internal intercostal muscles between the ribs create a rise and fall throughout the rib cage. And it’s certainly more advisable than the old Peter Piers’ Rib Reserve method taught by one of Peter’s peers! Haha did you see what I did there? No? OK we’ll press on. All muscles need to expand and contract. Holding muscles in one position just causes stress. We know this is used to torture people and is referred to as stress torture so holding up the rib cage throughout singing just in case you need a speck of extra air to reach the end of a phrase is frankly wrong. It allowed me to slip a nerve in my spine during a vocal lesson at the Royal College of Music once. I fell to my knees and couldn’t stand for a fortnight. If you practise songs thoroughly, why would you run out of breath? That’s what practising is about. Making sure chances of errors are removed so mistakes can”t happen.
So this double-aspect breathing will increase the length of the breath control available but will at first as you repeat this exercise supply your brain with too much oxygen. But you’ll need that oxygen to reach the end of my overly wordy descriptions. Stay with me. I’ll make you into a world class singer and you’ll have no throat problems ever again. I’ve not had a sore throat for over 30 years.
So part 3 of breathing is the exercise we are working up to as the start of our practise everyday. This is about connecting body to breath and focusing the mind for the tasks ahead while removing tension from the neck and throat.
Stand with the feet apart a hip distance with the feet turned out slightly. I said slightly, not an over extended 3rd position from ballet. I’m not here to judge your skills at dancing this is a singing class. So, feet below hips and lift your arms up and out to the sides so that your hand are level with your shoulders. And spread your arms very wide like you are greeting an old friend with a huge hug. Now for the purpose of this exercise your arms start in the middle of the chest and include your ribs and shoulder blades. This is so that the stretching achieved during this warm up is effectively stretching your entire spine and rib cage all along the length of the arms to the wrists, hands and fingers.
So this position we will call “open greeting”. Stand in the open greeting position and inhale deeply through the nose. Stomach out first followed by the chest expansion. Then as you exhale through the mouth tip your head forward and try to reach your chest with your chin but keep expanding your arms out to the sides and try to stand taller.
Inhale again very deeply and slowly and as you do bring your head back up so your eyesight is back on the horizon. This time as you exhale slowly, tip your head backwards as far as you can but again grow taller and stretch wider.
Inhale a third time, through the nose still and as you exhale through your mouth this time tip you head sideways moving your right ear as close to your right shoulder as you can.
Fourth breath is a reverse of the third with the left ear and shoulder making friends. Then repeat all four stages again. I know your arms are aching but don’t let them drop. Keep them wide and level with the horizon.
Now after completing two repetitions point your thumbs skywards and draw them together high above your head and lock them together. Then try to raise you shoulder blades high as you inhale again.
As you exhale release your thumbs a lower your arms quite quickly and then roll your shoulders. This should be you first exercise everyday before humming. The point is not just to stretch and improve your breathing but also to become aware of any tension you may be holding in your neck. Watch yourself in a mirror and notice if one ear reaches its shoulder better than the other one.
Humming is the best way to gently spark our voices into life each day. Humming is the sound of the voice gently trapped by the lips being closed. This allows us to resonate the voice calmly and quietly. We want to remove the stress of our voices being trapped in the throat with the throat muscles doing all the work that other muscles should do. When you pluck a guitar the string creates a tiny sound but the wooden body of the instrument is a sound box and thanks to the magic of physics this allows the sound waves to grow and resonate at far greater volume. The same is true of the voice. Only in the case of the voice the sound box is the chest. Our chests are our woofer speakers. If we learn to not support our voices with our throats we can switch on our woofer speakers and add tone, volume and warmth to our lower register.
I will explain the muscles needed to stop the throat getting involved but not just yet. For now I’m planting a seed of the idea in your heads to pick up again later. We need to think about the shape of our mouths when we hum and what to do with the tongue. Remember the tongue is much bigger than the bit we usually see in the mouth.
So the tip of the tongue should be touching the back of the lower teeth. With the lips together pop your index finger into your mouth to ensure that the teeth are a finger width apart. Then remove your fingers. Without letting your tongue disengage from your lower teeth drop the back of the tongue down your throat like you are going to yawn.
I just yawned writing that. Not sure if I”m bored with myself or just the magic way yawns can spread! I trust the latter as if it’s the former I’ve no hope of you reading to the end of this very long blog.
Now inhale deeply and hum. Any note. Slide the voice up and down and settle on a good low resonant note that makes you feel warm. Don’t hum loudly. Just lightly but try and observe the pitch that resonates the most effectively in your body. For some people the humming gets right inside the teeth. This will pass. Keep taking deep breaths and humming gently and sliding up a down in pitch. Don’t get clever and start parting the lips as this will destabilise your voice as it escapes. Just enjoy a little light humming for now. Feel it in your entire body if you can.
It is essential to good singing that the abdominal muscles become the main focus of support for the voice. NOT the throat. I get so upset when I hear artists who are having nodules removed or surgery on their vocal chords. While I agree that they need to be rid of these vile vocal enemies, I know that without proper vocal education they will just develop the same problems again and again. I wish I had time to devote to all those who wish to be free from throat worries and sing joyfully with the soul but I don’t. This is why I’m writing these exercises down for you all. My serious pupils who have put in the practice to master the techniques I teach, have gone on to enjoy great stress and pain free singing. I am so proud of this fact. Not one pupil has developed any problems in their throat but to achieve this freedom they have practised. This is how to master the muscle control to remove any stress on the voice box and shift support to the solar-plexus. I’ve also had so many pupils who have come for lessons having been previously told that good vocal support is like bearing down to pass a poo! Seriously. NO! That myth has to stop. It’s ludicrous and damaging. And often creates throat tension from the straining. Teachers who use analogies to understand actions needed for techniques should stop teaching. Actual technique should be taught not daft ideas like “Reach up for the stars to hit that high note”! So here’s my daft analogy, followed by solid technique to grasp it and control it.
Imagine your abdomen is a balloon and your voice a ping pong ball suspended on the flow of air from the balloon. If I squeeze it from the top the air flow becomes trapped and the balls falls. If I squeeze it from the bottom I can control the flow of air and support the voice for much longer and push it higher. Genius I hear you cry. You might want to cry a little louder. I thank-you but say it is really simple logic and physics.
So we must replicate this with the muscles in our abdomen. The lower pelvic muscles must contract to provide the lower squeeze and the solar-plexus muscle will bulge outwards to provide the support that stops the throat muscles from getting involved. Grab one of those heavy books we used earlier and let’s get to know our solar-plexus a tad better.
Stand a short distance from the skirting board of a room facing the wall. About the length of your feet. Take the book, sideways on, with the bottom edge against the wall and aligned with the horizon. The spine will project towards your body. Lean towards the book and allow the top edge to nestle your solar-plexus. That the muscle group just below the rib cage at the very top of the stomach wall. The top two cans of your six pack if you have one. Now allow yourself to push your weight towards the wall so the book presses into your body. Then contract your pelvis muscles and push hard on your solar-plexus and you should move slightly backwards under the pressure. Repeat this to strengthen your muscular support but also to begin to programme the body to have muscle memory around this action.
So here we are finally at the magic bit. I say magic as it has over the years created so wonderful moments of healing and self realisation. It has facilitated huge changes in people. Unfrozen not just shoulders but bunged up bowels too. The magic of sound and vibration on the human body is the fastest growing area of medical research. From ultra sound growing teeth to stemming internal bleeding to non invasive brain surgery to stop trembling hands. The sound of the sea can regenerate human tissue and muscle bringing a whole new sense to the Georgians taking a restorative cure at the seaside.
Working at first with sound to help students to access various cavities in the body, neck, head and skull to create better tone I was puzzled but one thing and this one thing was huge and annoying as it made no sense. If my chest is a different size to a pupils chest why does the same pitch fit the same parts of the body in all people. That defies the logic of physics and acoustics. Bloody physics again sorry folks but without the physics we have no singing.
Then a medical friend offered a suggestion that could be right. A chest is made up of various cells. Ribs cells, lung cells, heart cells etc. Each cell would have its own frequency to hold it structure as that particular type of cell. Perhaps it is these cells as a whole that informs the pitches that resonate in various parts of the body. Whether it’s just magic, cosmic energy, god or Gaia force or acoustic physics I am not currently able to say for sure but I can say it works. And I can say it’s a great way to start your day. Tuning yourself up and kicking all the bad trapped sounds and niggles out of your body.
Early Ancient Greek Music was based of the tetrachord. When Pythagoras went to Egypt to learn the cosmic significance of music and to hear the Music of the Spheres he was told that the tetrachord or the outer two notes know as the Perfect 4th is the most cosmically important interval. Our voices live to jump in 4ths. Indian Ragas are often perform in two sections with a tonal shift. Western music developed modes to begin to better frame harmonic progressions in music. A single note is a beacon of creativity possibilities. Two notes create a path or journey. With a third note with have a realm. A triangulated space of existence. A harmonic cloak if you will. As we add more notes or shift them to create new harmonic relationships we have emotions. Music is the abstract art that shakes the energy of of souls.
Odd then that the body like early music is created on the relationship of two perfect fourths. We will start in the chest register with an F#. The chest has two notes F & F#. It is the only part of the body to do this. It is the meeting point of our breath and the place where both the earth and heaven energies converge.
So let’s start by humming an F#. Place your hand of your chest and as you hum try to get the tone into your chest. Don’t force the sound just chill into it. Let’s the chest fill and grow with the F#. Spend some time each day connecting with this warm rich body tone. I released an album with my friend Kinan Atassi – Kyanite Sound Sculpting the 5th track will help you to tone an F#.