Kansas Band Rock Star & American Idol Contestant Share Their Vocal Secrets!
I recently spoke to John Elefante, lead singer for the band Kansas, now a Christian solo artist, and to Josh Holiday, a top twenty male contestant in the 2013 American Idol competition. I asked if they would share their vocal warm-up routines, tips and secrets. Here’s what they said:
How you get your voice ready before an American Idol performance?
Many people don’t know, but I’m a vocal coach. I warm up a lot. So if I had a song for that day, I’ll start in the morning singing the melody using lip trills. I use lots of ohs, ahs, and mums.
What’s the purpose of lip trills?
The lip trill serves two purposes. One, you must be relaxed, which is technically important. Two, your breath flow must be consistent or your lips stop moving. If your singing is relaxed, you can train to hit higher notes. Sometimes a vocalist will use excess tension on higher notes. By relaxing your neck and face muscles, you can allow your vocals cords to naturally hit the notes and not use your neck or other associated muscles to do it.
Do you often recommend different vocal routines for female verses male vocalists?
The only difference that I need to consider between males and females undergoing vocal training is that male voices mature later than females. Therefore I tend to work on belting (singing very loudly in a healthy way) and other more difficult exercises earlier with females than I do with the guys. Other than this, the warms ups are all individually based and not dependent upon gender. Private vocal coaching caters to each individual student regardless of gender.
What’s your warm-up routine?
I don’t like singing scales. I’ll usually start by singing an easy to sing song. Then I’ll progress to more difficult songs until I’m feeling strong.
I’ll share with you a trick I’ve been using for thirty years which prevents me from over singing during a performance. I wear ear plugs when I sing. I put one in all the way, and the other I leave partially out so I can hear the wedge monitor. When I started doing this, I noticed I was getting the same result singing half as hard. I’m not talking in-ear monitors; I hate those things. I don’t even place my voice in my wedge monitor, I can hear my pitch because I have ear plugs, and I discovered I sing half as hard as I once did. That is one big factor which has helped preserved my voice. I hug the microphone and let it do all the work.
How do you maintain such great range in your vocals at 55 years old?
I attribute it to my three years of classical training. I had three lessons a week. I would record the session on a cassette tape, take it home, and rehearse for an hour a day, seven days a week. I completely learned how to re-sing. It didn’t change my inner style, but it gave me the ability to pick up about seven notes on the range I had when I was younger and had started to lose when I was seventeen. I think God was preparing me for Kansas, because I need those notes.
Some people naturally sing correctly, I wasn’t. I was squeezing my vocal cords. It’s kind of like squeezing a balloon in the middle. You have to let the air flow through the vocal cords. I saw a video of a seventy year old opera singer hitting the E above high C. The video was in slow motion. You couldn’t believe the spacing between his vocal cords each time it would open and close. I also saw a video of someone singing wrong. If you take your index and middle finger, put them together and squeeze as hard as you can, that’s about what it looks like when someone is trying to sing a high note when straining. It’s all about the air getting between the vocal cords so they’re not pinching or rubbing against each other. If the vocal cords are pinching against each other, you’re gonna cause damage. My vocal teacher trained me to sing evenly and softly, even on high notes. Some singers turn their head from the microphone when hitting the high notes. My instructor told me that I would never need to shy away from a microphone.