VOCAL LESSONS FROM THEHEAVY METAL GRANDMAELIZABETH SABINE

Much like Jon Ellis of Mokomokai, I would work on my voice a lot.  I won’t go as far as saying I worked on it every day like he does, but let’s face it, that dude has me beat hands down.  I would, however, make sure I warmed up my voice before shows, especially when on the road; nothing sucks more than walking on stage with a blown voice.  Well, here’s an article we found, from way back in 1989, about this amazing 65-year-old lady who teaches vocal technique to rock stars.  He might be a fat donut now, but Axl Rose sure had the pipes of glory on Appetite for Destruction, and Ms. Elizabeth Sabine was there working those pipes into shape.  This Super-Gran specializes in gv’n’r – metal style.  Along with this story by Steve Dougherty and Stanley Young, we have found some old school vocal exercises so you too can fa-la-la with the best of em’ – FATS)

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Ron_Keel_Tony_Da_Bronx_72dpi (1)Neighbors have grown used to the scene. First, a car pulls up to the curb on the quiet tree-lined street. Next, a longhaired guy in leather and tattoos emerges and knocks on the door of a modest white cottage. A 65-year-old grandmother opens the door and lets him in. Moments later, the sounds begin. Ominous sounds. Moans. Wails. Screeches. Screams of “GO AWAY! DROP DEAD! I DIE! I DIE! I DIE!” Murder? Mayhem? Yet more suburban S & M parlor games? Something much heavier than that. This is, in fact, the North Hollywood home of a sweet little almost-old lady named Elizabeth Sabine, voice teacher to some of metal rock’s weightiest dudes—and dames. “I’ve been so lucky,” Sabine says. “Before I got to be known as the Auntie Mame of Metal, I was known as a practitioner of ‘the science of electro-vocal energy.’ Nobody was taking any notice of me.”

Now Sabine, whose vocal coaching sometimes resembles primal-scream therapy, has attracted a notable roster of clients, both belters and speakers, rockers and actors. Guns n’ Roses’ serpentine frontman, Axl Rose, sought her aid to strengthen the high notes in his voice. L.A. Law’s Alan Rachins, says Sabine, wanted help developing a “cold-blooded, almost robotic” speaking voice. A “somewhat reticent, withdrawn” Priscilla Presley needed coaching because a Dallas director couldn’t hear her on the set. Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine, Keel’s Ron Keel, and Betsy, lead singer of the all-girl metal group Bitch, are other hard rockers who have submitted to Sabine, who, along with more traditional voice techniques, encourages her students to go for the emotional gusto locked up in the subconscious and early childhood memories. “Pretend you’re 6 years old, your cat’s dead, and your father’s taking no notice of you,” she urges up-and-coming rocker Michael Black. “Mean it more. Use more self-pity. Cry!”

M_Sweet_StryperIn other words, don’t grow up. “Children have the secret of singing,” Sabine says. “Adults have a communication hang-up because of screams they didn’t let out when they were children. I take inhibited boys and girls with enforced low voices and get some cries coming out of them. I’m giving back to people the voices they were born with.”

Along with all the childishness, students receive some grandmotherly advice for their $75 hourly fee. “Drink plenty of hot tea, get lots of rest,” she says. Other advice is less grandmotherly. “To have a strong voice,” she says, “you’ve got to kick ass. You have to be a little more assertive, a little noisier.”

That lesson is based on her own experience. As a child, “I didn’t have much self-esteem,” says Sabine, who was born in London but grew up in Australia, where her family immigrated in 1924. Raised by a Victorian-minded mum after her father’s death in 1932, Sabine didn’t enjoy what one would call a rock-and-roll upbringing. “I was a virgin until I was 25,” she says. “In those days it wasn’t difficult. What with mother’s influence, ideas of purity and the feeling that sex was really quite an ordeal, it did keep me on the straight and narrow.”

After early jobs as a dental nurse, magician’s assistant, singer and sweater model—”I had a nice bosom,” she says—Sabine, married at 27 and widowed at 37, supported two sons working as a cruise-ship social director and entertainer.

Group_72dpiImmigrating to L.A. in 1974, at 51, she learned what she calls the “electro-vocal energy” voice technique from Bob Mazzarella, a singing teacher who prodded her to overcome an “unwillingness to make a big noise. I would come out with a ladylike ‘ahh.’ ” Sabine says it took her two years to learn to power-sing. Some of her first students were rockers; in order to teach them, she first learned to mimic their musical heroes, who “seemed to be holding their breath while doing this wailing.” She says she was perplexed by the sounds that some soul singers achieved until she learned that “I had to open my throat so wide it was like I was throwing up. In fact, I was throwing up one night when I realized, ‘Oh, this is how Patti LaBelle does it!’ ”

Sabine, who for the past nine years has taught voice to acting students at the Strasberg Institute, says her current ambition is to open a chain of schools offering expert training at affordable rates. But on a cash-only basis. In the past she has let some rockers labor for their lessons, a practice she is phasing out. “They would leave the yard half raked or just walk away, complaining about the work. I’m getting a little tougher about getting them to save for their lessons. If it’s worth having,” Sabine says, in a burst of grand-motherliness, “it’s worth saving for.”

HERE ARE A FEW VOCAL TRAINING TIPS FOR YOU TO TRY AT HOME

When you have mastered your breathing, the following singing exercises will help you on the path to improving and understanding your voice.

The key to a good rehearsal is to ensure that you achieve the following before starting:
Abdominal breathing
Good posture
Breath during natural pauses
Keep your chin level
Keep your knees loose
Keep your head up
Keep your shoulders sloping and relaxed
Keep your toes pointed forward with your weight on heels and soles
Keep the front of your neck loose – don’t stretch it
Keep abdominal muscles relaxed
Keep your back muscles relaxed
Avoid holding your shoulders lifted and puffed out
Relax and SMILE.
If your having a bad day or feel tense and stressed, this can affect your practices and performance. To help achieve consistancy do a few Relaxation Exercises before your rehearsal. If it all starts going horribly wrong, take a break, relax or do something else and try again later.

Stand with your shoulders relaxed, arms by your side.

Breath in slowly.

Sing one note, holding the note for as long as you can without becoming short of breath.

Do NOT suck in your stomach!

Repeat the exercise with different notes using doh, ray, me, far, so, la, te, doh.

Use different mouth shapes and vowels like “ooh”, “ee”, “a” and “aah”

Try singing up and down a scale (called an arpeggio).

Sing short notes (known as Staccato) as well as long ones.

Sing phrases to improve diction: Examples:-
‘I really love to sing’ (going up the scale)
‘Do,re,me,fa,so,la,te,do’
‘La, Lo, Le, Lo’
‘Ma, Mo, Me, Mo’
‘Ta, To, Te, To’
‘Hi, He, Ha, Ho, Hu’
‘Qua, Quo, Que, Quo’
‘Fluffy Floppy Puppy’
‘Lolli, lolli, lolli, lolli pop’
‘Bring back the boys big brown blue baseball bats’
‘Sally saw silvester stacking silver saucers side by side’
(c-e-d-f-e-g-f-a-g-b-a-c–b-d-c up the scale then down the opposite way)

To feel the difference between raised and normal positioning of the larynx, place your fingers gently on your throat and try to talk as if you were a child or use ‘baby talk’.

Record your efforts, notice the notes that do not sound right and concentrate on those until they do! Listen to the difference in your recordings over the next few weeks practice sessions to hear the improvement in your voice.