Simon’s Voice on Paper Gods

Ask Katy

Katy, I've been very impressed with Simon's vocals on Paper Gods. It seems like he's added range to his top-end, his vibrato is more consistent and sustained and he's hitting the dead center of every note. I think this album truly propels him into the elite of rock's greatest vocalists. My question is did he work with a vocal coach in preparing for this album or do anything different than normal, or is this just the product of experience and a fully matured voice? Thanks, Todd

"OK Todd,

Thank you for the amazing compliment; that's extremely generous of you.

I do think of my voice generally as - work in progress - . With anything in life, I believe that the day one stops learning and developing, i.e. the day that things become fixed, that is the day which marks the beginning of gradual decline. It is the same with the voice. Looking back, I see how fortunate I was to experience my own personal vocal break down when I did. That humbling, terrifying time was, I now realise, was the gateway to a new, much more holistic, more sustainable approach to the physical side of my job. The one person who, above anyone else aided me was the London based vocal therapist, Ruth Epstein. She works mostly with peoplle, often children, who suffer speech & vocal problems. You can imagine what an important job she does. Humanity is a social species. Just consider for a minute what life could be like for those who are unable to express themselves vocally.

Ruth has helped me to regard my voice as the sonic projection of my whole self, body & mind.

So onto the technical stuff. I am lucky to have maintained good general level of fitness into my 50s. A big strong chest, strong arms, strong back & neck, strong core, arse & legs are all essential to good voice production. I think of myself as big taut resonator, made of muscle, bone & sinew. Getting rid of extraneous flab & gut has helped me enormously. I have learned to stand straight when I sing. Crucially, I have taught myself to sing while holding my neck straight, with chin in, & crown trying to touch the stars. If you look at old live shots, you'll see me chin jutted out, shoulders rounded. This position is all wrong & unsustainable, it creates terrible neck & shoulder tension. What is worse, it flattens the tube that makes the sound. Imagine holding the cardboard tube from inside a roll of kitchen paper; holding it vertically in front of your face, one hand at the top, one at the bottom. Then imagine moving the grasping hands laterally away from each other, without changing the angle of them. As the tube goes from vertical to diagonal, it squashes & begins to fold. That's what I used to do to my trachea when I sung. It is a very hard habit to break, but I feel I am making slow but steady progress.
And if this is all starting to convey a feeling of tension - well it should, & ... at the same time, it shouldn't. You want to make yourself rigid in order to resonate, while at the same time keeping neck, head and throat muscles relaxed enough to do something like sustained vibrato. I think of the diaphragm as the chief provider of rigidity. Not because it creates tension, but because it creates the internal pressure which keeps the frame & the skin inflated. When you sing you NEVER STOP BREATHING. Inside, at the back of the throat & up near the soft palate is the pharynx, which you can lift; you lift it involuntarily every time you yawn. As a singer one learns to recognise the feeling of lifting & opening the pharynx. This is an essential factor in the production of sung notes, especially high notes!!!

You learn to feel vibration & resonance:

on the lips - "mm".
With the tongue you learn to feel it:
on the hard palate - "nn"
On the soft palate - "ng"

You feel it it your head, & in your throat, & in your chest. You carry on learning to feel the resonance, further & further down your body you go. It may take years, but I have heard of singers who can feel it in their toes. Me? I have just about managed to get the feeling of vibration in my groin area. And right now, I'm quite happy with that.