Oct 10 2013

New Research Project:Top Vocal Questions

I’m starting a new research project that I hope to compile into a book. The basic premise is to collect as many questions about vocal issues as possible and try to figure out any recurring themes.

From this collection of questions I’ll take the top ten and write thorough answers to them to make up a simple and handy Kindle book. Maybe even have supplemental videos as well.

So the first step is getting questions. This is where you can help. I need your questions. And actually, they don’t need to be your questions. What do you think are the important questions that need to be answered for any singer?

So even if you are an experienced singer or teacher and don’t really have these kinds of questions anymore, what do you think are important questions others should have to maximize their development?

You can leave your questions in the comments below. And if there are too many good ones maybe there will be more than one book. :) Oh, and please Share, Re-Tweet and Good-Ol-Fashioned Word-of-Mouth this post to others for their questions too. The more the merrier!

Thank you all.

  1. Please address the topic of vocal placement Michael. My placement keeps changing every other week and it is driving me nuts.

    Also please address the shortcomings of other techniques Eg SLS, Estill, etc without being too direct in mentioning their names of course.


    Matthew Quek

  2. Here’s a question:
    With a beginning student, what are the most effective ways to relax the mechanism so that the larynx stays more or less neutral and does not jump up with phonation.?


    Michael, I am glad you decided to open such a great topic.

    Well my question is on the ” vibrato” a so called issue.

    According to maestro David, the vibrato should be a sort of result in the voice when many ” right” connections such as open throat , tongue position, apoggio, oval mouth and body posture are established.

    However I am finding lots of students, especially sopranos, that even when many aspects mentioned above seem to be ok , the straight tone is prevalent .I have tried many ” cures” with no results. Can you talk on this issue, please?

  4. I’d like to have a clear and simple explanation of “breath support.” So many students are being told to “sing from the diaphragm,” but they have no idea what that means. I have my own way of addressing this, but I’d be interested to hear others’.

    Good luck with the book.

  5. Alan McLeod

    2 years into vocal training, I still find singing high notes a challenge, and continue to focus on not pulling chest, open throat and face mask resonance. I push hard on high notes which suggests some sort of open throat and vocal chord compression obstacles. What are some of the best ways to develop my upper register?

  6. Thomas Harvey

    I look forward to learning from your study.
    I am working toward developing the technique of flowing from falsetto to full voice for the male singer. I have had friends for which this came naturally, however, it is still a problem for me to do it smoothly. Hopefully, you may be able to address this and share some methods to develop a smooth transition.
    Thank you for your work and continued inspiration.

  7. Thanks for these so far. Great questions. I forgot to say, please share this with your social media so we can get questions from beyond our VocalWisdom community. Thanks!

  8. I can sing like a lark — with ease and joy — in lesson, in privacy, or in chorus. But ask me to step forward for a solo? Everything shuts down! My skin lifts off my body, my heart pounds in my chest: sing?? I can barely breathe, even though I’m trying to focus on easy deep calm breathing.

    My coach says “just keep trying.” But 5 failed attempts in a row in rehearsal have left me (1) removed from the role, (2) covered in humiliation.

    WHAT do you suggest for learning to control performance anxiety? Thank you!

  9. Hi Michael!

    I think some advice for those of us dealing with the aging voice would be of great help.

    Thanks, and best wishes!


  10. Renthungo Merry

    I work with middles school choirs. One area that continues to challenge me is the concept of resonance (One of my choir classes sing three-part repertoire ‘in tune’, but is very soft). My question:
    What are some of the most effective means of communicating the concept of resonance, and what are some time-tested vocal exercises that help build a strong resonating choral sound?

  11. Dear Michael,
    I am constantly having to work with high school students who want to belt- and they do not even have their middle register balanced yet! Explanation of belting verses classical/legit technique via sensations and mental thought processes would be a nice addition to your book. Best of luck! Warmly, Jeanette

  12. Fabian Wyss

    There is a saying about progress and productivity “what gets measured, gets managed”.

    There are some psychological studies shows that measuring “progress” actually increases motivation and probability that you stick with your activity.

    Now my question:

    How would measure vocal progress? (with a couple of (simple) measures)

    and equally important

    Are there ways to measure vocal health / the condition of your instrument yourself? How would you do it? (obviously the best option is to get the ear of a competent vocal teacher, but I’m going more in the direction of “how many seconds you can retain an even breath flow on a /s/ sound” type of thing)

  13. How to stop leaking breath.

    How to develop strength and resonance at the upper break in the voice, rather than a soft/whispery/raspy quality.

  14. The more I sing the more I realise how psychological all this is.
    I wish you much luck with such a potentially valuable book, but I must say it’s your approach to the natural voice, your philosophy about what singing feels like and means to us, and how we approach our instrument that’s been so much more valuable than years of technical exercises. So I hope your project remains true to what’s unique about you as a teacher – correct emotion + learned (but unconscious!!)technical skill leads to an impulse to express free from fear which = great singing.

    Here’s my example of how I’ve been applying your philosophy…. I thought my voice wasn’t ‘working properly’ as I had made a decisive effort to stop pushing through my throat and stuck to using my head voice only for any note above an E above middle C (I am a contralto). But I only got a thin, sharp, brassy sound. I REFUSED however to go back to pulling chest and after over a year of practice my mix/balanced voice (ring factor, thin edge function) has broken through. It feels like I’m whistling when I sing, with no throat, it’s all just bouncing off my body and palate. In fact, when I stopped thinking bout my chords, my throat, my breath, my larynx and started not caring if I sucked at this stage and focused on ‘whistling’ my voice through my soft palate and connecting it to my body, it started to work!! So…..My question is: how do we best describe what it FEELS like to sing correctly? How can we let people know that it’s not about what you do, but how you relax. Like the way the vocal chords resonating properly is like two pieces of paper sealed perfectly but gently in static electricity? It is so hard to teach this – It’s taken me over 10 years to ‘get it’ but I think some great advice I received from your writings was about not giving up, and how hard it is to judge your progress personally – you don’t notice your own progress and only see the last incremental thing you did, so often it feels like you haven’t progressed at all, but that’s so not true! You will wake up one morning and feel like you’ve suddenly ‘got it’, but like with elite athletes, you don’t realise how close you’ve been all along, and psychologically it just feels like a revelation. It’s a great feeling, but don’t think your neighbours listening to you can hear the breakthrough – they’ve been hearing the improvement all along!!!

  15. Darlene Moak

    I am a 58-year-old mezzo-soprano who has been studying with an excellent teacher for the past 12 years. I know I have improved in many areas but I continue to struggle with what I think are primarily breath issues complicated by some internal “demons” (as my teacher likes to refer to them). The way this plays out in singing is that unless I have substantial periods (at least several beats) to rest my tongue begins to tighten & my breath stacks. Like another commenter, I also sing much better in privacy and in my church choir but unlike her I struggle in lessons at times and also in solo performance (although I have had some good moments as well). So the question might be something like what would help the developing singer to allow themselves to sing to their potential/avoid fatigue & stacking? Thanks and I am really looking forward to your book.

  16. Ulrika Karlsson

    Hello everybody!
    I can`t stop myself from writing this after been reading the comments above. Stop trying to put words on the “right” way to sing and start taking voice lessons with Michael!
    (I do…)

  17. Thanks for your comment, Ulrika. It’s good to hear from a satisfied client. Hopefully when I answer all of their questions they will want to!

    Thanks for all of the questions, everyone. It is a good start. We’ll see if we can get more to choose from and see if there is any common themes.

  18. Hi Michael, thanks for the opportunity to ask questions. I would like to know what are some good vocal exercises that I can use to encourage singers not to make the #1 mistake you talk about, and how I can encourage the girls in my high school and middle school choirs learn to blend chest and head registers. And, like Craig stated above, I too think it would be interesting if you addressed the issue of aging voices. What can church and community choir directors do to improve tone quality and minimize the often intense vibrato of choirs comprised of members 55 and over? Thank you!

  19. BOUVIALA Jacqueline

    Hi Mr Mayer! here is a question out that puzzles me :

    I find Lilli Lehmann’s profile very helpful for myself.
    (I am refering to the picture page 44 in the Dover edition of “How to sing”)
    Like many singers, I have a tendency to think any pitch too low, especially those of the medium. Remembering this picture and having some pitches as landmarks is a good reminder.

    This picture shows “vocal sensations of soprano and tenors singers” as it is written under the picture.

    …To my questions (2 of them in fact)

    1) how am I to change the picture to adapt it to a baritone? to a mezzo?
    Do I write a C sharp instead of a E for instance for a baritone?

    2) the second question is a more delicate one I think.

    It appears that, for Lilli Lehmann, the sensations of the tenor are the same as those of the soprano
    Jerome Hines would not have agreed.
    In “The four voices of man” he writes that the male high voice is actually to be compared to the soprano’s middle voice (page 123)
    In other words,i assume, men would have no sensations at the level of the forehead.

    (I am here quoting two books the reading of which I find very difficult,I understand perhaps a fifth of what is written…. But on this subject at least they are clear enough.)

    On behalf of Lilli Lehmann’s opinion :

    I saw on You tube a lesson given by Nicolaî Gedda to a tenor.
    He says to the tenor who is going to a high pitch “not here!” (pointing to the lower part of the face) “there!” (pointing to the forehead)
    What do you think ?
    Thank you for your website .

  20. Hi, I have read your comments on Villazon’s singing and I thought they were really relevant. Have you seen this vídeo of him singing Handel? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19wO-YqrjeI I would like to hear your comments regarding his approach to Handel’s music. I personally found inconsistence. Even so, I’d like to see your comments here. Maybe what you see here can derive na interesting topic on vocal technique. Regards

  21. Thanks for your feedback. I watched the video and I agree there is inconsistency. But I actually appreciate his singing here more than usual. The main things I hear are the low position of the resonance and the loose vibration of the vocal folds. And these two things are directly related. These are also the reason for the inconsistencies you noticed.

    The reason I like his singing here better than usual is because the Handel style helps keep him from oversinging as much as he does in later musical styles. He is not trying to be as big and loud as when singing more Romantic period music.

    Having said that, his vocal function does not allow for an appropriate expression for this music. The vocal line is not as clean as this music requires. Again, a contributing factor to the inconsistency. This is noticeable in the florid passages.

    Because the vibration of the voice is not pure the rapid note changes do not immediately tune as a well-produced voice would. Another very obvious issue is the condition of the low notes. They simply don’t “speak”. Ironically, this is a result of being too low in position.

    A well-balanced voice should have a clean vibration that tunes spontaneously and produces low notes with clarity. The vibration should have vitality and regularity. The resonance should be “high” appearing to be located mostly in the head.

    The face and jaw should not be pulled down but have a pleasant uplifted character. Even when the jaw is well open it has the feeling of opening both up and down like when we take a bite of a sandwich. There is a feeling of lifting the upper teeth while the jaw stretches open.

    Thanks for your interest in my view on these things. Hope this gives you something to think about.

  22. Imho, singing is all about balance, so I think it would be really neat if each topic covered the extremes and the balanced ideal, and what exercises could be given to go from each extreme to the ideal. So for example, if you are talking about breath management, there is too breathy or not enough breath energy. Too much chiaro, or not enough, etc.

    Specifically for me, I don’t think I could have enough useful exercises that help transitioning through the passagii, since that is the most frequent place where I loose my balance. . .

  23. These are very good ideas. In fact, that is what I do when I work with someone. I make sure to have them experience when it feels like to function out of balance so they can recognize being in balance.

    I generally explain that in my writing as well. Including pointing out the common pitfalls that we tend to face while working on the concepts.

    The transition areas are definitely the most challenging because that is where the major adjustments happen. But once we understand that the main objective it to take care of the vibration the transitions become much less of a big deal.

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