Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Benefits of Cracking

I would like to write about the benefits of allowing your voice to crack.

This isn't talked about much in vocal study circles, but it is essential. Cracking is a vocal reality.

There is an incredibly fine line between cracking and good singing. I didn't really have many vocal breakthroughs until I allowed myself to crack. I discovered that from the place your voice cracks to the place your voice sounds as amazing as you dream it to sound there is close to no distance. It is when we cover the cracking up that we get miles away from good singing. All your efforts to cover up cracking are the very efforts that limit your voice tremendously. Cracking happens when the registers abruptly shift. And isn't finding a smooth, seamless transition what vocal training is all about?

The first thing we need to become familiar with is where the cracking happens. In vocal study circles the single most addressed issue seems to be the "break," the "break" is that place where the voice has a huge tendency to break. What we do is use a ton of "techniques" to cover this up. We "modify the vowel," change the "placement" of the tone, "support" more, modify out "vocal tract," etc. All these things are cop outs, they are what we would call "insurances." But we should drive without insurance - we are not risking another persons life when we crack, we are not even risking our throat. In fact, it is when we try to cover the cracks up that we are risking everything. We risk our throats, our performance and our audience. It's all a fear of being naked. We want out clothes and our clothes are our "techniques."

I find that I sing my best when I'm not using any sort of "technique" - when I started out all I wanted to learn where the "tricks," all the "techniques" that would get me off the hook. Now that I know how things REALLY work, I see that all of these were efforts to avoid the truth. The truth is we crack, and we crack a lot.

Learning to sing is like learning anything else, it takes a lot of failing before you can call yourself an expert. I am not an expert and I still push, and strain a lot. But there are magical days when I'm just too tired to try and be amazing. Ironically these are the days when I am amazing. People start crying, getting excited, cheering, standing up and joining me on the journey that I am taking them. It is the days when I'm relaxed. When I'm just out of juice to push.

Pushing can definitely help cover up the cracks, but the downside of it is that it numbs the audience and it numbs the performance. It makes them feel like they're being shouted at by their parents, sometimes this works beautifully, and sometimes it doesn't. Pushing is also by far the greatest limiting trick you can perform, it limits you in all ways. It doesn't matter whether you're pushing a low C or a high C, it's all pushing and it's all just, well, pushing.

I love pushed singing, I love rock and I love screaming, don't get me wrong, but when it becomes the standard, well it's just… like next.

My favorite rock singers are those who can sing and can push real well. I may start off loving a voice pusher, but by the third song I'm looking for the exit sign.

In that sense I'm gifted and cursed. I can really push my voice and strain and use a ton of muscles and still sound like I'm singing well and pushing well and people still congratulate me and like it, but it's not the same as when I expose my reality. I've had performances in which I've cracked one of two or three times and people have loved them a lot more than when I don't. Because I'm at the fine line of reality and a vocal illusion, I find people are looking for the reality. In many cases this is what they call the "it" factor. You may not have it in your singing, but even if you have it on some aspect of your personality it works well.

Kris Allen, is that his name? The new American Idol certainly doesn't have it in his singing, but he certainly does have it in his personality. And he has it in his guitar and piano playing. Adam Lambert has it in his singing, and is one of the few that has had it. He is hailed, by some as the "greatest Idol ever." But Kris still won. So far I love Kelly Clarkson and Adam Lambert, they have that loose throat going and it makes so much of them available when they sing. Have you noticed?

So it's like a razor's edge. It's right in between falling apart, breaking, cracking and being all exposed and pushing a tad too much. When you learn to sing here you will have "it." But it takes a tremendously deal of courage which comes from trust, which comes from… you guessed it, practice!

But make sure your practice isn't targeted around not cracking. And make sure you are vocalizing and not singing. Why? Because in singing your focus almost by force goes into how you sound, and when you vocalize the focus should be in how it's all operating. It can take a long time to find "it," many, many years. But the sooner you get cracking, the sooner you'll get there.


  1. Hi Gabe, this is James from the jessenemitz forums, I'm loving your site! I'm curious to know, what is your opinion on how the breath relates to all of this? And by that I mean to ask is the natural way of inhalation / exhalation different for singing then it is for speaking? It feels funny asking what is the natural way, I mean I should be able to just look around and know what the natural way of things are, but if I could do that then I would probably be singing beautifully : D.

    I feel I get a lot out of your blog posts, I've been re-reading them frequently for the last couple of weeks. Thanks!

  2. Hi James,

    Thanks for writing me and for your compliments. I hesitate to talk about the breath much, because then it becomes a very mental thing and we try to manipulate the whole thing.

    I think nature works to keep balance as it is required, granted, we trust it enough to let it do its work.

    The breath adjusts itself to your needs, so if all you need to do is speak, the breath will provide the right touch and if you want to sing, the breath will adjust itself for it. For the most part, I think it's better to leave the breath alone -- especially the people who are thinking a lot about what they should do with it.

    We find the natural rhythm through trial and error and we know when we have it down... but we don't find it through use of our conscious thought, since breathing is reflexive and operates by itself like the heart does.

    "Speaking" and "singing" aren't really all that different... or they are depending on how you see things... "Speaking" and "singing" are basically the same thing -- depending on many things... like the song, the style, the volume, etc. There are many "speech" like songs and many times we speak in "sing-songy" ways... I don't see much of a difference, it's just the vocal folds making sounds with the breath.

    When you close the gap in your mind about the "difference" between singing and speaking - which I am not denying or affirming there is - things will simplify in your head and you will have more room to explore.

    Gad you're getting a lot out of the posts! Enjoy!