This article was originally posted on November 27, 2018.

How do you encourage healthy singing in addition to everything else your group has to accomplish with your rehearsal time? We talked to Dr. Erin Hackel, creator of the Spectrum Singing method, about building a healthy voice from the ground up and bringing the best out of your group. You can watch the full interview here or check out some highlights below!

What are the foundations for a healthy singing voice?

Most people – even those who don’t consider themselves to be singers – already have a healthy singing voice. If your speaking voice isn’t always hoarse or shouting, you have a good foundation. To start, you have to take stock of your body – sing with good posture and use support. All of this sounds familiar to vocal educators, but it can get lost in translation when we don’t define the terms.

What is support? Most people, including many vocal students, don’t know what it actually means. We can use terms like “sing from the diaphragm”, “sing on the breath”, and others to describe technique, but those terms don’t tell us howto sing properly. They’re basically word pictures, abstract descriptors of correct technique. Starting with the epigastrium – a little group of muscles right above the abdomen – you can give concrete guidance to your students on how to sing properly.

Additionally, good vocal hygiene is important – not just to understand, but to practice daily. The things that we know but don’t always do can make all the difference for our students. Staying hydrated, not yelling at the football game, treating your allergies consistently, treating acid reflux, not oversinging – the list goes on. Even collegiate singers often ignore one or more of these things. Treating and resting your voice properly and consistently will get rid of many vocalists’ issues quickly. Don’t be afraid to go to an ENT (ear, nose, and throat doctor) to get checked out.

Is pop singing less healthy than classical singing?

Dr. Hackel is a classically trained singer who found herself teaching pop singers in a contemporary music program. The classical music world sometimes has a stigma against pop singing and belting, but she had to learn how to sing in popular styles to help her students. She found that the foundations for both are very similar – different techniques from different styles are often transferable across the board. For example, classical tenors are trained to sing very high notes in their range with what’s essentially a belt in popular styles.

Again, the terminology is important because it can create distance between styles that use the same foundational techniques. Terms like “covering” or “singing in the mask” can be used without knowing what they mean on a practical level. Vocal teachers and “gurus” can often give technique advice without specifics, and students shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions and dig deeper. Dr. Hackel developed her method with simple, concrete explanations of the various vocal techniques she employs.

How can directors help group members develop their voices during group rehearsals?

Check in with your singers! Make sure they’re singing in the tessitura, their comfortable range. Just because a singer can hit the soprano notes in your repertoire doesn’t mean that she should sing soprano consistently. The most important thing a director can do to help singers is to give them agency to speak up for themselves.

Marking – singing your part with proper technique but much lower volume – isn’t very common in contemporary a cappella, but it should be. Directors should allow their students to mark and even encourage it if the group has been singing for two straight hours in rehearsal. Singers who know their limits should let their directors know – you don’t want the singers to leave rehearsal with dead voices.

How does Spectrum Singing work?

Spectrum Singing got its name from the variety of techniques it employs – it’s not a linear approach so much as a set of vocal tools. In this video, Dr. Hackel talks about the gross motor movement of the larynx as one tool that can be adjusted to help singers take on different ranges and styles.

You can empower your singers every single rehearsal by keeping them accountable with their vocal health.

This article is based on an interview with Dr. Erin Hackel, the director of CU Denver’s Lark and creator of Spectrum Singing. She’s one of several a cappella personalities we interviewed in our Summer Series. Stay tuned for more articles on what YOU need to know about a cappella education every week.

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