The Hey Ride Exercise: Finding Your Big Sound
The following is an excerpt from a response email to a student after our lesson that included an exercise I call the "Hey Ride." I use the word "bellowing" to describe the sound that one aims to create in this exercise. Even though the word has Middle English origins meaning "to roar," I like the word "bellow" because one can associate the term with the strength and clarity of a large iron "bell," and also because it reminds singers to access a strong foundation from "below."
I'm glad you enjoyed bellowing! Part of the vocal exploration process is finding your parameters and hanging out with them so that you know them - you know what you're capable of. You know your dynamics. Sure, not every song is going to require bellowing. Some will bellow all the way through. Some will build to a bellow. Some will have bellowing moments. And who knows, you might find "The 7th Son" building into a frenzy for the last chorus in some glorious moment of spontaneity. Now you know you can be there for that build.
But other things happen with this exercise, ideally, that tie into Vocal Unity - your awareness of, and access to, the spontaneous fullness of your voice. And the ability to connect your singing delivery to an intention - target-specific delivery based on a powerful emotion. As singers, we so often get caught up in just making sure we hit notes and enunciate that we forget the soul of the vocal experience is in the communication. The meaning. That switch can get flipped in your brain once the music is added and take you out of the essence of the words.
If the music doesn't enhance the meaning, you might as well just say it instead of singing it. Your responsibility as a musical reiterator is to literally breathe life (the soul, the meaning, the emotion, the story) back into the words every time you elect to recreate that communication, whether you are in the presence of the actual receiver of that communication or not. I've seen the phenomenon in action too many times to believe otherwise: Directing your singing to an "intended" has a profound effect on the sound you are creating, the muscles you use, the resonation you access, etc. The habit you are building, whether in private or on stage, in its ideal state, is a mind-body-spirit phenomenon, and you do your practice a disservice when you neglect any part of that trinity.
And yes: liberation. I know that feeling very well. We are noisy by nature! Most of us come into the world making an ear-piercingly loud sound with our voices, entirely free of inhibition and semantics - a pure communication. We learn to be quiet. And don't get me wrong - especially as another "soft-spoken" man, I value quietude only slightly less than I value breathing. It's essential for sleeping and meditating and I just need large, regular doses of quietude for my sanity and my creativity. But live music, whether it's around a fire, in a church, or on a stage, is that wonderful opportunity to let go of all that conditioning and get back to our natural state. That big, open sound that we can make connects us to our nature and conducts life force/energy through us in unparalleled splendor. Belly laughter is its only fellow!