Jan 06 2012

NOT How to Sing Opera - Part 2

My previous post stirred up quite a bit of activity. That’s great. Pretty much everybody who commented was of the opinion that the demonstration of how to sing opera was severely misguided. That is also a very good thing. But I want to go deeper into this topic of how we create the sounds we are looking for.

Initially I wanted to post that video mainly because it was so off-base that it was funny. I actually laughed. But then I realized that the reality is some people think that is an operatic quality. (If you missed the post I’m talking about, you can find it here: http://vocalwisdom.com/not-how-to-sing-opera)

What I want to look at now is a similar belief of how to sing opera. This is less obviously wrong, but no less mistaken.

After discussing the video with my wife I remembered a teacher at our college in the Theater department. She was a voice specialist that worked with actors. She prided herself on her knowledge of all different vocal styles and techniques.

I remember a workshop that she gave to students that I was present for. I don’t remember the details and if I was participating or observing. But the thing I remember that relates was when she came to the topic of making an opera sound.

She told the students that to sing opera was very easy. All you had to do is yawn, and that would change the sound from a spoken quality, which was good for musical theater, to a rounder, more operatic sound.

Even then, before I had spent the many years studying, researching, experimenting and just generally figuring things out, I knew that she was way off-base.

As someone said in the comments to the last post, there are no shortcuts to a complete sound. This is very true. Any kind of direction to “just do this” is wrong. Even if the direction is accurate, there is no single direction that if done correctly will give you a complete sound. The complete sound that we desire is the product of a coordination of several component parts of the body all working together systematically.

And this necessary coordination is the product of years of development of sympathetic relationships. That is the aspect that young singers don’t understand. And this is probably because many of their teachers don’t understand it either.

The point is you can’t just do certain things as a technique and immediately have an operatic sound. Just like you can’t just be coached in sprinting technique and suddenly run a 10-second 100 meter dash. Even if you were able to know exactly what to do, and could execute accurately, you would need to develop the skill of coordination and the physical reactions of the nervous system to be able to achieve that goal. (Not to mention be naturally inclined to running fast)

This is why I’m always “preaching” not to focus on making a particular sound. That is just imitation. Most voices just aren’t capable of an operatic sound right away. But we hear first and second year college students trying to sound like mature singers. We should always sound like what we are. That doesn’t mean we can’t sound good even if we are young. But if we are 19 years old, we should sound 19, not 45.

What we want is a thorough development of the body as a tone producing instrument. The tone quality we will be capable of making in 6-8 months is not the tone we can make right now (even if we do everything correct), which is not the tone quality we will be able to create in 2-3 years, or 10-15 for that matter.

Then there is the aspect that, like the sprinter, not all voices are capable of the same operatic quality. Smaller voices can become capable of great acoustic strength, but they should still have the natural characteristics of a smaller, lighter voice. They shouldn’t be trying to make a bigger, darker sound that isn’t natural for their instrument. And there is repertoire for most types of voices. So as long as we’re not imitating some other type of voice and allowing our natural instrument to exist we will be OK.

But the main point I want to explore in this post is one about yawning to get an operatic sound. This is actually very common and most of us have been taught some version of this opinion. Yes, I include myself as well.

This belief is tied in with the mis-interpretation of what it means to have an open throat. I am reminded of the principle of medical ethics that says, “First, do no harm”. We would do well to remember this when dealing with an open throat. First, do not close it.

The challenge with that is any type of imitative sound involves closing the throat in some way. For that is the only way to control and alter the timbre of our voice. Which is what we are doing when we imitate a sound, even if it is a “good” sound that we imagine.

With most examples of modern operatic singers we can hear some form of this imitative sound production. The most common is the practice of “opening” the throat to create a darker timbre. In reality, what is happening is the singer is dropping the tongue, trapping the resonance deeper in the throat and applying extra pressure on the larynx.

Probably the most famous example of this condition now is the tenor Jonas Kaufmann. He is a very talented singer that is establishing himself as the top tenor of the time. But he is certainly not a model of natural function. Many can hear his obvious distortion of his resonance toward the dark end of the spectrum.

He does this by forming the resonators, primarily with the root of the tongue, to emphasize the back and lower resonance of the throat. These are important parts of the resonance system, but only parts. They should be balanced with the higher/brighter resonances as well.

This fixed resonance condition creates a limitation of an artificially dark, dramatic tone all of the time. In the roles of Wagner that he is now doing this actually is not too disturbing. I listened to a recording of Die Walküre from last spring and it was the first time I wasn’t repulsed (maybe too strong of a word) by his tone.

That’s not to say it was appropriate, just that it didn’t stick out as much in that style. But then he sang Faust this season and that tone is totally inappropriate for the french opera. This is what I mean by a fixed resonance. No matter what he sings the tone color is the same, whether the music is supposed to be a dramatic expression or a lyric one.

The fact that he is distorting his voice is confirmed by the lack of true vibration on the low notes of the Walküre aria and the high C of the Faust aria. Many think he is singing with an open throat. He is lowering his larynx, but it is causing him to disconnect from his larynx. So the vibration of his vocal cords are not true. He is in tune as far as pitch, for the most part, but not in terms of quality.

The real test to determine this is the character of the sung vowels. Traditional vocal training always emphasized pure vowels. Sometimes that is misunderstood because what we tend to associate with that is how we pronounce when talking. We actually do not talk with pure vowels.

Pure vowels for singing require acoustic vowels. Vowels made up of the complete acoustical spectrum of the voice. When a tone resonates completely the whole vowel is created. Often we can notice the impression that many singers only sing the bottom of the vowel. They are missing the top of the vowel.

The reason is physiological. The tongue is dropping in an attempt to have an “open” throat. So the low resonance that makes you think you have a rich tone only represents the bottom half of the vowel. It lacks the upper half. And because the upper part of the resonance, and vowel, is missing there is a lack of brilliance in the tone. Making it less present in the space and forcing the singer to work harder to produce as much result.

But the key aspect to this difference between the yawning throat and the naturally hollow throat is the ability to understand the words being sung. The majority of singers on stage today can’t sing intelligible words because they are distorting their throat in order to “open” it.

This next video is from 1998 and is a good example of his natural quality. This illustrates how much he has changed how he uses his voice.

The production is not totally coordinated. But it is not deliberately distorted like he does now. The only real problem he shows is singing too much out of his mouth. This decreases the amount the resonance is able to reinforce the vibration, which would make the singing easier. It also would improve the register balance in the upper range. But he doesn’t seem to have too much trouble, either.

Another example of Jonas K. singing french, this time the Pearl Fishers duet with Dmitri Hvorostovsky. In this we can hear a good example of the distorted vowel quality because it really shows up in the quiet singing. It sounds like he is holding the vowels in the back of his throat.

We can hear Hvorostovsky has some of the same quality, but not to the same degree. Let’s listen to a version of this that is considered by many to be the standard.

The simplicity and purity of both voices is a real model for all singers.

So the question is, if it is so obvious that the “Kermit” approach to operatic singing is off, why is it not so obvious that the “yawning” approach is as well? They are both distortions of the throat space. The Kermit sound is trapping the resonance in the upper oro-pharynx with a raised larynx. The yawn sound is trapping the resonance in the lower oro-pharynx with a lowered larynx.

I think part of the confusion is not only with the open throat issue, but with the low larynx. It is true that in a well-coordinated voice the larynx is in a low position. But it is not preset there. The larynx lowers itself as part of the vocal gesture. And only for the fully intensified vocalism.

The larynx should always have stability. But the position of it depends on the degree of intensity. It sets itself in response to the expression. Doing any kind of preset lowering over-rides the instinctual coordination of the larynx.

The natural positioning of the larynx is what allows the singer to still sound like a person when they sing. When the vowels are distorted because of the manipulation of arbitrarily lowering the larynx they no longer sound like a person. This is because of the fabricated nature of the imitative sound. The real human character of the voice was a quality of all the great singers, regardless of vocal style.

Now, I have just used Jonas Kaufmann as an example, but he is certainly not the only modern singer doing this. And to be realistic, there were singers in the past that did this as well. They just were recognized as limited and not considered the great singers that they are now.

To close out this post I want to include some examples of singers from the past that illustrate some of the characteristics I’m talking about. These are not necessarily the “best” at what they do. (Although they are pretty darn good) They just approach the act of singing in a fairly natural way. They certainly don’t make a pre-conceived sound by yawning the throat open. And for the most part we can understand the words.

Beniamino Gigli, Tenor

Notice the lift in the mouth form. The combination of strength and sweetness.

John Charles Thomas, Baritone

The Italian pronunciation isn’t great. There is little dynamic contrast. But listen to the tone production. The words are clear, the resonance balanced and the vibration constant. Artistically it could be improved. But right now this is about vocalism, and for our purpose here this is a great example.

[powerpress url=”http://vocalwisdom.com/wp-content/uploads/JCT_Inquesta.flv”]

Here is an example of JCT where we can see him. He is well past his prime, and singing a light-hearted song. But the voice is still there doing what it is supposed to. And the words are still clear.

Eileen Farrell, Soprano

The first video shows Eileen Farrell in the role of Opera singer. The tone has color, and is even dark at times, but there is no hint of singing down in the throat.

This second video shows Farrell in her alternate role as Jazz singer. This is a great example of many aspects of good singing. Balance between vibration and breath, clean initiation of the voice, balanced pronunciation, spontaneous expression, varied dynamic levels. Also, it shows how it is possible for a big voiced opera singer to express naturally in a popular style. Maybe the most impressive is the healthy use of the lower register orientation that is necessary for popular styles. This actually might be better male voice oriented singing than most actual men I’ve heard.

Joel Berglund, Bass-Baritone

With Joel Berglund we have a great example of getting a rich, warm tone by singing in the head resonator rather than the modern way of singing in the enlarged throat.

Torsten Ralf, Helden Tenor

Ralf was a student of Flagstad’s last teacher, Mdme. Haldis Ingebjart. His timbre took some getting used to for me, but he certainly uses his voice in a good way.

Rita Streich, Soprano

In both of these videos we get a good example of the lift of the face that I often talk about. This helps keep the tongue from dropping down the throat, blocking the tone.

This shows her older but still with a youthful voice.

Apollo Granforte, Baritone

A lesser known baritone, but a great example of a true huge voice. Rich and robust without the falseness of yawning. Notice the words are still clear at “e poi” sung piano near the end.

Sergei Lemeshev, Tenor

Lemeshev is a singer I plan on Spotlighting in the future. He was Russian and not well known in the west. He sometimes had instability in the middle, but the top was incredible. Although the audio is sometimes off, this video from a movie is a nice example of the perfect mouth form he used to accomplish his great head resonance.


I know this has been a long post. Thanks for going through it. I hope these concepts are getting clearer. The biggest point I want people to grasp is there is no difference between any of the various manufactured sounds. They are just different versions of the same thing.

The other thing I hope people are starting to notice is modern singers tend to keep their resonance in the throat, treating the roof of the mouth as a ceiling. The singers that exemplified traditional principles allowed the resonance to be in the head, where the roof of the mouth was more like a floor to the tone. I hope you can hear that in these examples.

Please comment below.

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  1. What a wonderful article! Thank you! I cannot wait to hear these singers. (I have to get a new laptop for that, as the sound on my laptop has crashed but as soon as I can I will listen to the clips.) I always tell my students to first find the natural position of the tongue by breathing through the nose only, while unhinging the jaw. Then launch a note by singing the word “who” – using a little air at the start (as if blowing gently) – without changing the tongue position. From this level one can then round the soft palate and oro pharynx muscles for the various vowel shapes. Pressing down the root of the tongue (as you so rightly point out) makes the voice sound sombre but singing from this “who” position frees the lower muscles of the throat (I find!). I am sure your sound samples amply bear this out!And yes…the soft palate for the higher notes is used as a floor and not a ceiling! Lorna Kelly

  2. Hi Michael, thanks for providing the examples. Haven’t had a listen to them all yet but I do like the Eileen Farrell ones. There are a few more on your Youtube channel favourites that I thought were good too, like Shirley Jones singing “It Might as Well be Spring”. Related to that, (in my inexperienced observation) it seems to me that older musical films (e.g. Rogers and Hammerstein, older Disney movies) used well-produced voices with a tone quality closer to classical singing than musicals of more recent years. It seems that audiences then probably didn’t find them as foreign as I do now listening to them (I’m not saying that the singing is bad, it just seems stylistically old fashioned to me).

    I’m glad you brought up Jonas Kaufmann because I recently saw him on TV singing in Tosca. Whilst I watched, I wondered how he sang the tenor tessitura singing as he does because as you mention, he is singing in a less than ideal condition. Yet he hasn’t been plagued by vocal problems like Rolando Villazon has. So is he doing some things functionally right, some other things wrong but keeping functionally well enough to keep up with the demands of daily performance? Or is there something else I’m missing?

  3. Great Michael!!!
    Such a great idea to exemplify with all the videos. I would appreciate much more of this.
    Regarding Joel Berglund. I once came to him here in Stockholm for the first and only voice lesson with him. I sang Tonerna by Sjöberg for him. After I hade finished singing he turned to me and said “Now I will sing this song for you.”
    The great sound that came out of his mouth was astounding. I had never heard such singing before in my life. Unfortunately mr Berglund only taught during daytime so I never became his student though he offered to teach me.

    I look forward to all comments about your article.
    Happy New Year 2012.


    /Ron Rutger, Stockholm

  4. Nestor Gurry

    Message Body:
    Dear Michael

    I really appreciate your post about “how not to sing opera part 2″ but I rather got a bit confused.

    I utilize in my teaching and on myself the so called ” yawning” as a tool to help the opening of the throat.I know it is not a real yawn , but rather the primary sensation of it, which might lead to the elevation of the soft palate?

    You say that Jonas K. sings with too much enlarged pharynx…and yes, I can notice that, but then, how is he able to go into the top register with such a heavy voice? He sounds like a baritone, but when his voice goes up it turns into a rich , rounded sound with ring and power!

    I could say the same thing about Villazón, and José Cura but still, how can these tenors are able to sing so many roles, in the main opera houses? how can they manage to face the difficult arias and repertoire, if their techniques are …”wrong”??

    Another question in the opposite direction of the open throat: Tenor Andrea Bocelli sings with a high larynx position? If so, what does this guy do to sing high Cs in such an easy way?

    No matter the mics and electronical devices, his voice sounds nice and full …when singing classical, and it does not look as if he is suffering. I saw him live here in Brazil, and I believe me , I was very close to him back stage during his vocal warming up, and his sound was very operistic.I can´t understand his endurance if we agree that he is a high larynx oriented tenor ( or not ? ) …and that would make an open throat impossible to achieve.
    I appreciate any comments,
    best regards!

  5. Nestor, your questions are actually very excellent. How can a singer, if he/she is using the “wrong method” sing so well and for as long as they do? I have heard all sorts of methods all my career, and I have heard voices, super beautiful and ringing voices, that really are working against themselves, as far as what they are doing with their singing actually working with how the body works, and yet, they sing beautifully and sometimes every a long time.

    Some singers, their personal constitution simply allows them to go out there and sing and sing and never have an issue. The voice sounds fine, they really sing well and are exciting to the public, etc. But they are NEVER relaxed performers. They are often the most nervous when it comes to performing and the most superstitious as well. They have their collection of dolls and crosses, or their multiple prayers to the Madonna (now I am not criticing their faith, that is admirable, but they are sweating buckets and on bended knee pleading with God to make it so they can get through). And all of that because they are not at all certain about their technique. Corelli was so nervous it was amazing he could sing at all, and so critical of himself (but was married to a woman even more critical about his singing than he). Corelli was mostly self-taught. Del Monico was taught well, and with a good technique that he altered (to the sorrow of the man who taught him, for all these WRONG views of what we taught are out there all the time, all because Del Monico “revised what he was taught” into the pressed down larynx that gave him his sound). Yet, both of them sang well and for a long time.

    The lists of singers who sang with less than good balance and techique and were successful is legend. But just because people sing that way, and a few make it for while, doesn’t mean that should be our goal, or that we shouldn’t come to understand a better way.

    Consider a few great singers. We have Enrico Caruso, the most legendary of tenors, who actually used a more “laryngial” based method which didn’t really have the voice use different registers. His singing was miraculous and he worked very hard all the time at everything he did. But he was not a perfect singer, no matter how great his sound, for he had nodes removed a few times.

    You mentioned Villazon, and didn’t he have to cut his career short because he ruined his throat, and he may not return to his career ever? Now, no matter how “exciting” the sound, it was not produced in a healthy way, and he paid the price.

    You mentioned Andrea Bocelle, a singer whose voice I do like listening to from time to time, even though I know it is produced all wrong. What makes it so he can sing what he does is the fact he uses mikes. If he were to actually put his voice under the pressure of a real operatic performance, it would crumble. I know, I saw him in a staged performance of La Boheme. His singing was completely inaudible. The other singers didn’t need mikes, but they weren’t all that good either (you will notice in most all his operatic recordings, he is also not paired with great singers, and some of them really don’t even qualify as serviceable singers in the real singing world; that is done by design, as his voice would really fall flat when put with those who really can sing). That performance he was actually booed. It stopped for a while, while they hooked up mikes for his voice, then it went on. One reads only of the “fine performance” after the mikes were afixed to him, and seldom reads of the complete displeasure of the audience prior to that. I witnessed it, so that is how it is. When a singer is not having to actually use the energy and tension real singing involves, they can do a whole lot of things that otherwise they would NEVER be able to do. And, singing high notes without this needed type of support is not all that hard if you have a mike.

    A singer doesn’t have to look like they are suffering to be singing with great strain, and if they do look like they are suffering (and it has nothing whatever to do with the emotional content of the opera they are in) then one can be assured that something is not working well.

    The thing is, do we want to learn to sing well, or sing and get through it but under extreme physical and emotional pressure all because we are constantly fighting against ourselves? I can assure you, it is so much easier to sing a very difficult opera when you are not fighting against yourself to get through it.

    As for a good sound, as I said, I have heard and sung with some of the most beautiful voices out there, some well produced and others really being forced in every direction at once. And just because a singer can sing, and some do for many decades, that way and sound great and be exciting, doesn’t justify learning things the wrong way. The problem with that sort of thinking is we are not all built the same, and some of those singers may have throats of steel that cannot be damaged no matter what they do, but most of us do not have such a blessing, and we will pay a price for incorrect unbalanced singing, and the price will be permanent unability to sing.

    As for the Yawn, I was never taught that to open the throat at all. The reason is, the act of yawning is not one movement, nor can you really say which part of the act of yawning really opens the throat at all. The most “open and relaxed part” which people feel not quite at the end, closes off the throat entirely. That is not what any singer wants. When people do what I call the “pretend yawn” which is to give the immitation of a relaxed yawn, they have the same problem: you cannot know for sure is actually opening the throat or just giving the impression of a more open back of the mouth. They are very different things.

    This yawning thing was not all that much talked about in the past like it is now. In fact, now, it is the bread and butter of many questionable vocal methods (speech level singing, for one, that ultimately requires a mike to be heard). The other thing a yawn does, even an immitation yawn, is it often pushes the tongue deep down the throat, which is completely opposite of what open throat is.

    My teacher didn’t go on about that. Rather she just had me to a two part breathing exercise, where one began to inhale through the nose then quickly without stopping changed to inhaling through the mouth. Some call it the wide snuff. Whatever it is called, the uvula rises just to the right height, and the pharynx is wide but just to the correct size it should be. The soft palate is up, but not too high, and the larynx lowers, or sits in a lower position. The face is activated and that helps keep the soft palate up, but the muscles in the solar plexus are engaged (some call this the breath clutch area) as are all the support and oppogio muscles, which help to keep the larnyx floating in this lower healthy position. That is all we did to attain open throat position. It was nothing special. And in fact, because the basis of breathing all the time. Whenever allowed, I would breath in this two part method, through the nose and then the mouth. When short breaths were all I could take, then things were through the mouth, but with a feeling of “happy surprise.”

    To my teacher, that kept the vocal track in balance, nothing was doing anything to any extreme. Whenever we do anything to the extreme, we put everything out of balance. A really almost baritonal tenor (the typical heldentenor) doesn’t have to have a super open throat/pharynx to sing clarion high notes. He only need have it open what nature would normally have him do.

    The problem we have today is people are fixating on certain things and believing they will make them sing perfectly. They fixate on breathing, but have no understanding of how support and appoggio work; they fixate on an open throat, but don’t really understand what an open throat is and it is not getting the feeling that you have a basketball hidden in your throat or that you are opening up your throat so you can swallow one, that actually closes off the throat entirely. They fixate on placement, or they fixate on making sure that the air is flowing out of the body. They fixate on all sorts of things. Fixating on any one thing only puts everything completely out of balance and causes a singer to fight againt himself when he sings. The fact that some singers have made careers fixating on one thing and survived doesn’t mean that is what we should be doing.

    The other deception is “THE OPERATIC SOUND.” There is no such thing as an operatic sound. I know that will sound odd to everyone reading it. But an operatic sound is nothing more than a fully developed voice, and if done correctly, one that has nothing limiting its use. What we are more and more accustomed to hearing now days is an UNDERDEVELOPED sound. In popular music, no development of any kind is needed so sound acceptable. In fact, most people see that sound, that raw never developed sound as what we should sing like. That is fine, but even if gives out with time (you would be surprised at how many famous popular and country singers have had nodes removed multiple times).

    What we see happening in the classical world is teaching that is designed to “create an operatic sound.” As a result, students are taught all sorts of things to DO to give them this sound. The problem is, it isn’t a real sound, nor is it what a truly operatic voice should sound like. To give such a voice (this manufactured voice) depth, a false sort of covering, making all the vowels dark, has developed. The result is ligher voices pretending to sing more dramaticly, but with impossible diction. These singers don’t last, and usually are not all that pleasant to listen to. Or we have such overly produced forward placement, it is nearly like we are hearing someone sing with a clothes pin on their nose. That may be the Broadway sound, but it is not an operatic sound. But the biggest result of all this is that we have no large voices.

    Large voices do not mean singing super loudly all the time. But in the past, even small Mozart voices were actually much fuller than we have now. They had ring and a balance between the lower darker sound and the upper higher sound. The voice was balanced with the pharyx and head sound. The hard palate was NOT the cealing of the voice, but its foundation.

    Singers sounded darker and richer than today, but at the same time had much more “squillo” and ring than what we hear today. Todays bass sounds like a comic baritone, and a tenor nearly like a falsetto alto. There is not depth and humanity to the sound, and that is because it is all manufactured rather than just produced through correct means.

    Learning to sing well takes TIME, lots of it. When I studied, I was with my teacher five days a week, and we worked. I studied for 6 years before I sang a role anywhere, but began with Ortrud in Lohengrin. Even though singers today take a long time to get into the profession, they are not studying all that long. They study one hour a week, if that much, and are spending more time learning arias than learning how to sing. They enter endless competitions, which seldom translate into a career. So they are singing, but not getting anywhere. They are spending all their years auditioning, entering contests, going to university to earn a degree in singing, and all sorts of things that don’t actually teach them how to sing. As a result, this “hothouse” method of singing has developed where singers are “ready to perform” because they have developed “the sound.” But they haven’t really trained a real voice.

    Learning to use the voice completely, developing the muscular strength needed to endure the strain of performing, and a whole lot of things simply take time, lots of it. And students now days simply do not have the time, and teachers can’t earn a proper living putting in the time like they did in the past. Also, managements are not interested anymore in developing a singers talent. They used ot in the past. They took you under their wing, prepared you for the roles you were going to sing, and often worked a number of years in that preparation. That isn’t economically possible anymore. So, students must learn to “fake it.”

    All this contributes to the lack of sound vocal training. And all this has contributed to the desire to churn out singers, rather than train singers to use their voices.

    Also, in the past, singers who didn’t have any real evidence they would or could sing opera were not usually trained to do so. Although there is not guarantee a smallish voice could not sing opera, usually it couldn’t. Even if produced well and correctly, it never attained the carrying power (which is again something more than just volume) to ride over an orchestra. Such singers were encouraged to sing in other things, not opera.

    Now days, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Anyone is trained to sing opera, and most of them think they have a hope of a career. The reality is, nearly none of them do. They simply don’t have what it takes, even if they can immitate the sound. What some opera companies are now starting to do is use microphones all the time. The age of miked opera is upon us. It was inevitable, since so few singers are qualified to sing opera as it is written. Also, managements want small movie star/Broadway type bodies singing opera, and with some opera, Wagner for example, a smallist body simply cannot produce the needed sound. To do so, the singer is under extreme stain all the time.

    But as I said, there is no “operatic sound.” What opera sounds like when done right is a fully developed freely produced voice. When it is produced that way, diction in any language (even English) is flawless and intelligeable, the voice can sing using its full range without strain (I say ITS full range, not all voices have high C or higher, and when they strain to achieve those notes that is called “FORCING”). The volume and ring come naturally, and to the normal person sound super loud and penetrating. The voice cuts through the orchestra and flows over it like a tidal wave of sound without strain. Even smaller voices do the same thing, but simply to a lesser degree than the large ones. The voice carries to the furthest ends of the theatre without the use of “projecting.” One doesn’t PUT THE SOUND OUT THERE, as it goes out there. The voice is free to sing at any dynamic level, and can swell or diminish the volume at will without strange “tricks” to accomplish it. And a well trained voice will be agile and able to freely move. Super large voices may not be as quick as lighter ones and coloratura work may have to be taken at a slower tempo, but it is still quite easy for a larger voiced singing to sing. And a freely produced voice brings with it that special something. It is a sort of energy that really thrills the listener to the very soul. It drives audiences to a frenzy. We see such things with pop music, but not because of the actual singing, but because of the “manufactured star image.” That is carrying over into classical singing as well. I see nothing wrong with good marketing, but that marketing should have a good product attached to it. But when you hear, and even sing, with such wonderfully produced voices, it is like nothing you can imagine. It is like being in a different world. It is like being transported. When one sings with singers and all of us sing that way, there is something so unbelievable that happens. One is no longer thinking at all about the business of singing and how to do it (the body takes over completely, and since it knows what to do without having things interfere, things just happen), or the difficult passages coming up, rather you are “in the music” and buried in the moment of making music. Even the audience is not part of your thinking. You are completely wrapped in music. The end results are so moving for the singers, and incredible for the audience, that all are swept away with it. But it happens SO EXTREMELY RARELY. Very seldom does a singer experience that in their lives, where everything, everyone, and every aspect seem to merge completely into one. Usually the orchestra is not always right, or not all the singers are sure of what they are doing, or you have to hold back considerably to accommodate a fellow artist who simply cannot sing what they are required to sing, or what have you. As my career is drawing to a close, the issue I have now is singing with such tiny voices all the time, I am frightened I will drown them out entirely. Having to sing entire productions at a mezzo or mezzo piano is very fatiguing. The natural full voiced sound cannot be achieved or used because the up and coming singers haven’t developed that aspect of their voices, but they have developed the “operatic sound.”

  6. Thank you, Lorna. I use a little “oo”as a starting point, which is similar to what you describe with “who”. Perhaps this is part of your progression, but if you gradually eliminate the air of who while keeping the hollowness of the airway you will find the balance of the perfect vibration.

    Simon – I want to highlight the Shirley Jones example in the future. I feel that is just basically good singing. Not good classical singing or good musical singing. Just good singing, period. The voice is balanced, the words are balanced, and you get the impression of a person saying the words through singing. Nothing artificial. If only singers could figure that out now.

    Ron – Great story about Berglund. That would have been amazing to hear in person. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Nestor and Simon – You both have asked a similar question about how singers with less than ideal function survive as long as they do.

    Well, the quick answer is – I don’t know. There are so many variables involved I don’t think we can really answer that question. If the voice breaks down we can identify why. But if a voice seems to survive when it appears that it shouldn’t, what can we say then?

    I haven’t read Bea’s answer yet because I wanted to give my thoughts without influence.

    There have been voices throughout history that have been able to hold up against seeming constant vocal abuse. Some eventually break down. Some have problems relatively soon.

    But a couple points may be helpful in regards to the singers mentioned.

    First a recap of the basic situation involved when we sing. There are two basic forces that oppose each other but work in cooperation. The force of pressure from the breathing and the force of resistance from the vocal folds.

    These two forces can take a whole spectrum of balance relationships. Our objective is to find an optimal range of interaction that provides the most efficient vibration resulting in tone.

    There is another aspect that relates to the behavior of the voice in the context we are discussing. The confusion between tone and breath. Tone and breath are both air, but they are not the same.

    As I have discussed before, breath is the air we breath in and out of the lungs. Tone is air that is energized by the vibration of a sound source. In the case of the voice this is the vocal cords.

    The major difference is breath is air that moves and tone is stationary air with energy passing through it.

    Now how this applies to the singers asked about. There is some similarity between Jose Cura and Jonas Kaufmann. But the situation with Rolando Villazon is different. Just for simplicity, I’m going to leave Cura out of this discussion.

    The similarity between Kaufmann and Villazon is they both enlarge the pharynx in an unhealthy way. But that is where the similarities end.

    Kaufmann opens his throat in a downward direction and uses the root of his tongue to assist in the resistance of the breath, which is the responsibility of the larynx alone. This creates excess resistance so the vocal cords are able to stop more air pressure than they can naturally. It is pretty simple to follow that this makes a louder, more complex vibration and tone. That is where the richness and ring come from. But the fact that the tone is noticeably artificial because of the distorted vowels and confinement to the lower throat reveals the unnatural means of producing this apparent “helden-tone”.

    Villazon, on the other hand, allows the force of air pressure to over-power the resistance. Causing the glottis to be enlarged along with the mouth. He demonstrates a maximal opening of his jaw on every note. This is a sign of over-singing. His problems have been many, so I don’t think he qualifies for the statement made of how can he sing so much with a poor technique. He can’t. The last few years have proved that.

    The relationship of these forces ideally should be balanced. But in my view, the break-down of Villazon is further proof that it is most important to keep the breath pressure from over-powering the larynx. That is how Kaufmann seems to continue with little trouble even with poor technique. He over-resists, but doesn’t over-blow.

    The second aspect that I mentioned about tone and breath has an influence on this situation. Kaufmann demonstrates a condition where he holds back his breath, but also holds back the energy that should be released.

    Villazon is the opposite. He released the energy, but allows the breath to release with it. Making the tone too large to be healthy.

    What we are looking to accomplish is to retain the breath so it can feed the vibration and only escape as very rapid puffs as part of the vibration. At the same time we want to release the energy of the resulting tone so it can expand and radiate through the resonators. Then a true ring can exist.

    Ring is another misunderstood phenomenon. It is a sympathetic resonance that exists when conditions are right. It is not a buzz or something from the primary vibration. It is secondary and requires the right tuning of the resonator.

    Nestor – You also ask about Andrea Bocelli. I don’t agree that he is a high larynx singer. At least not generally. It is possible that he stumbles into that at times. But he isn’t consistently a high larynx tenor. He is unstable sometimes as well. But not necessarily high larynx.

  8. Thanks for the explanation Michael. And Beatrice, I find your comment very enlightening. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Nestor Gurry

    Dear Beatrice, thank you for your passionate post. You wrote with sincerity and rich details. I really appreciate your time and good will to answer in such a wise manner.

    Michael, I am very glad with your answer. I did know Villazón has been vocally ill sometimes, but I thought he was already active on stages…
    As for Jonas K. it is good to understand that he is not a real helden tenor, so he may have one of those ” iron throats ” to afford so many roles with an incorrect technique.

    On Bocelli, I got more confused now. I believed, he was a high larynx singer with a special capacity to ” adjusting” his instrument to pop music as well as to the classical repertoire. For me he could do this in such a way, that he sounds soft and ” familiar” to the big audience. He is an “easy to listen” singer …and sounds beautifully to most of the people. We all know that it doesn´t happen with the real ” classical singers…but again, the point is that according to your words, Bocelli sings with an open throat? Is is possible to change the position of the larynx during singing?

    Thank you!

  10. Nestor:

    Regarding your larynx positioning question, Michael wrote in the article:

    “I think part of the confusion is not only with the open throat issue, but with the low larynx. It is true that in a well-coordinated voice the larynx is in a low position. But it is not preset there. The larynx lowers itself as part of the vocal gesture. And only for the fully intensified vocalism.

    The larynx should always have stability. But the position of it depends on the degree of intensity. It sets itself in response to the expression. Doing any kind of preset lowering over-rides the instinctual coordination of the larynx.

    The natural positioning of the larynx is what allows the singer to still sound like a person when they sing.”

    In the case of Bocelli, the intensity is not that high (e.g the high A at the end of “Con te Partiro”), hence his larynx isn’t as low as is would be with higher intensity. That high A to me doesn’t sound like high larynx at all, but I’ll leave the assessment to our more experienced friends here. :)

  11. Nestor:

    I forgot to add, to answer your question properly: The position of the larynx does change during singing, but it isn’t really something that should be consciously done. Just focus on pronouncing with and at the larynx, then the larynx positions itself according to whatever you are singing.

  12. Thanks, Simon. Good job picking out a relevant quote. I think another thing to be aware of is just because a larynx isn’t low doesn’t mean it is high. I think this applies to Bocelli as well as most lighter style singers that still use their voice well. As long as the larynx is in balance with the air pressure it is well coordinated. If the larynx is low arbitrarily, like with Kaufmann, it is not good coordination. Just as if the larynx is high, because that is a sign of disconnection, or in other words the larynx is not doing its job.

    For me a high larynx would be accompanied by a closed throat. And you can hear constriction in the character of the tone. And as you pointed out, the high notes that Bocelli performs would not be possible with a high larynx. Now I’m not saying Bocelli has great function, because he doesn’t. He allows a lot of breath to escape that isn’t part of the vibration. Especially in the lower and middle ranges. But he doesn’t allow that breath escape in the high range, and that is why it works.

    So regarding larynx position, it is determined by the demands of the expression. The more demanding the expression, the more stability the larynx needs to counter-balance the air pressure. The lower the larynx will place itself. For a light expression there is less air pressure as well so the larynx doesn’t have as strong of a stabilizing force, so it doesn’t go as low. But it doesn’t go up either. That would happen if it doesn’t stabilize as necessary.

    This relationship between expression and larynx position is what tips off the case with Kaufmann. As we hear in the Pearl Fisher’s duet where the opening section is sung piano, the low larynx distorts the vowels and the tone so it sounds trapped in the back of his throat. Unfortunately, this is a very accepted way of singing piano in the Opera world, but it is completely unnatural.

    Compare that to more traditional singers where piano singing retains the clarity of pronunciation regardless of the dynamic level. This is the difference between a static condition that doesn’t change with the changes of expression and a dynamic condition that is always creating the necessary conditions for the different expression.

  13. Nestor Gurry

    Simon and Michael ,

    thank you for the answers . I really have this issue of larynx positioning as a must in my teaching, and for me as a singer , it is something I still work on. Unfortunately, during my University days as a student of singing, I was never taught about the larynx positioning, so I just learnt to deliver my voice in the way I felt better by then.As time went on, I felt I had some limitations for the high notes. I was a tenor with a light voice that could not sing opera. Then my teacher worked on the lieder and concert songs. For many years I thought that my voice was a voice that simply had no ring and was not appropriate for the opera sound.
    Unfortuately my larynx didn´t go for the right positioning, so many wrong concepts were preset when I was just starting to sing…but that is another story.
    I want to thank you Michael and aal the friends of our world of Good singing for sharing your precious informations.

    best regards!,

  14. This comment may have nothing whatever to do with “how not to sing opera 2,” but I think it is revealing. I was investigating some “other singing methods” out there, one in particular called the Per Bristow how to sing. Like so many, it immediately decries all the things that singing teachers have talked about for centuries. Of course, with all our “new ideas” we know so much more than they did. In this method, how a singer feels is more important than how they sound. I can get that. Understanding how the body reacts when singing is important, I fully get that. But basically, one no longer needs to understand support, no longer needs to learn vocal agility through scales (they are counterproductive, to him; yes, endless scales without a reason behind them or without fully understanding them can be a waste of time, but whether someone wants to admit it or not, you don’t learn to sing coloratura, trills, and all that unless you learn how to; they seldom just come).

    Like all singing teachers of this ilk, he will demonstrate; yes, he is interesting to listen to, but his voice is anything but good. Yes, he could probably get away with singing as he does in anything one would see on American Idle, or “the voice” but he would NOT get through a moment of any opera.

    I guess for me, just like those who study modern singing don’t trust teachers who were trained in the classical way to actually know how to teach them (the fear of “sounding like an opera singer”), these sites profess they can teach you how to sing anything, and in passing assume with their method you can sing anything in classical literature you want. At least Per Bristow admits he doesn’t work with those who sing classically, but assumes his method would work as it would remove tension from the body.

    I am all for removing tension from the body, but this is what is so confusing for so many people. We really are talking apples and bricks (they are not even in the same species). Like so many, he will demonstrate his “head voice” and tell you it isn’t a falsetto, yet to my ear, they sound exactly the same. The only difference was he didn’t crack into his head voice. The sound was no different. He believed in a dead-pan face so as not to strain. I agree a strained face usually indicates a strained production, but a dead-pan face creates a dead pan voice.

    His larynx was bouncing all over the place depending on what part of his range he was singing in, and of course, the evenly produced tone expected in opera was no where to be heard or seen.

    Again, like so many sites, he mentioned “Creating the sound you want.” And in his method, that sound is entirely up to you. As with so many such sites, we have testimony by the truck load of people who claim even after one lesson their voices were perfect, but as compared to what? That we can never know. And many people love their voices while the rest of us run in fright from the sound.

    Much of what he said will sound very much like what Michael is always talking about, but it isn’t the same thing at all.

    But this is where we get to all the confusion now days over how to sing opera. Most of those singing teachers out there (even in the classical world) are all about creating the sound, or this idea that we don’t need to work to sing, or that singing should be fun. While I don’t disagree with any of that, singing opera is something else entirely.

    The reason some teachers mention a lower larynx position (though not locked or forced)is opera requires the sound be even, that the same quality exist in the lower notes and in the upper notes. One cannot break off into the falsetto (though at one time, that is exactly what most males singers did, especially tenors — the even break through from normal voice to this head/falsetto voice used in Per Bristow’s method may have sound thinking when applied to how Rubini sang Bellini’s I Puritani with its high F), and one must have enough ring (a thing he doesn’t think is all that necessary, though one does develop it to a degree), and enough guts to ride over and cut through an orchestra. Even in the days of bel canto, men who crossed into the head voice to sing those super high notes, still had to have enough power to be heard over the orchestra and at times the chorus (in I Puritani, the entire cast, the chorus, and orchestra are all going on doing their thing when that high F arrives; the squeak we hear in modern singing wouldn’t have been heard).

    And this is the most telling difference: the two types of music have such different requirements. Opera requires “guts.” It requires that over the top emotionalism. It requires that bigger than life presentation. And, yes, it should be done without strain, with full awareness of what the body is doing, and with no strange tricks to get through.

    And although all these systems say they are attempting to achieve the same thing (even screaming like in rock music, but in way that will not hurt the voice), the type and quality of the sound is not the same at all. All their teachings prepare someone to sing well with the mike, to let the mike really blast the voice to the audience, and to let the mike add the ring.

    And although I don’t think all these systems are founded on bad principles, the music requires different, or rather brings with it, different expectations. Even his loud Rock and role scream he demonstrated (which did sound loud) wouldn’t have stood up against Joan Sutherland’s mezzo-piano.

    Now days I think students get so confused because they are really not aware of what the music requires, and they hear all over the place that this or that method will make you sing everything well. And of course, all these courses are all on CD or DVD and you simply buy the course and do it at home in your own leisure, and personally judge your own improvement, usually only by whether you can scream out this or that high note easier.

    And also, since so much of the language sounds the same, the intents behind the teaching become confused.

    The other problem is very few people now days studying singing actually know what the operatic sound is like in person. They know a few people who “sort of sound operatic or trained” who sing in church or places like that, but not the real sound. That lack of understanding also makes it so they believe that what they hear about doing this and you can sing anything could possibly be true. It is this idea that one doesn’t need scales nor does one need ear training (ear training has nothing to do with listening, rather it is all just reducing tension; tension certainly can make a person sing off key, or make it impossible to sing certain notes, but just singing without tension will not make a person sing in key; they do need to learn to hear intervals etc). Or this idea that one only needs to sound like is good to them. All those things do sell a program, but are they sound? Yes, we should sound like ourselves (a thing that is sadly becoming more and more removed from the world of classical singing), but can we really judge if we are singing with the quality that would actually make a difference when we perform?

    Many of the questions encountered do sound to me like people have attempted or at least looked into these “internet singing courses” and what they say is confusing them in their understanding of singing. It really becomes difficult when absolutely EVERYTHING that has been the foundation of singing for centuries (and they produced some really great singers back then, at least judging by the music written for them) is seen as “that is all wrong.” In fact, Per Bristow actualy says ALL OF THAT YOU HAVE HEARD OR BEEN TAUGHT IS WRONG. Can it really be all wrong, or is it that we are now in an age where good singing is so foreign a thing that no one has any understanding of what it is to begin with? 99% of the population sings and loves to hear singing that requires no quality at all. Squeaking, cracking, breaking, squacking are all acceptable ways of communicating. Singing loudly that is akin to yelling is OK because the mike will give it “thrust.” In the classical world, it is creating the “operatic sound.” Not a single word can be understood, and yet this is the time when more and more opera is being written in the language of the people (especially opera in English). How can anything be communicated, if the words are a mystery (and on top of that, most of the librettos are STUPID, or attempting to turn everyday things “I am going to the store, and the stairs are steep” into something of worth; at least the librettos of the past, silly as many of them were, tried to say those same things in a poetic way so they didn’t sound so “ordinary”).

    I have a conductor friend who actually believes opera as we know it will be dead in another 30 years. We will get used to washed out diction projected with mikes. If it matches the mushy diction of rock music, then people will be satisfied. If it is voice fully created through mikes, the public will be impressed. And modern opera, especially in English, will be here one day and gone tomorrow (but that is what happened in the past anyway, only the greatest works survived). it will be like movies; for the moment and nothing else. Composers simply will not write music that inspires singing or singers. It will be more and more toneless conversations filled with meaningless and boring words. Opera companies will spend millions creating these operas, only to see them never enter the repertoire at all. Even the old standards will become what they are not. They will be like broadway favorites all sung with mikes and beautiful people.

    Whether he is right, I cannot say, but there is a lot to what he is saying. What once made opera and opera singing what is was is basically gone. Where does one go from there?

  15. I hope this comment was readable. My name had to be reentered into the blank, and even then, the computer wrote what it wanted. I hope not too many mistakes were evident.

  16. Thanks, Bea. I’m familiar with the name, because of the thorough marketing he does, but I don’t think I have reviewed his course. You make many good points. You mention the issue of tension and agree that tension can cause one to be off key, which I also agree is true. But what so many don’t understand, and is also part of your statement, is that relaxation is just as responsible for singing off-key. I feel that is one of the biggest problems in voice training. It is a complete lack of understanding of the nature of the body and the requirements for a musical instrument.

    Tension and relaxation are not the only choices. There is rigidity, which is what we want to avoid. There is elastic, flexible tautness, which is what we want. But if we are drilled by our teacher to be relaxed we will never create flexible, active muscles. We will only create passive muscles, which when we try to be active the passive condition is insufficient. Which then ironically the body compensates by creating rigid tension.

    It seems to me that so few understand the way the body relates effective action with condition. Also the the difference between what the body is doing and what it feels like to the singer and what it appears like to the observer. They are not all the same.

  17. Nestor – You’re welcome. You are right that if the larynx is out of position it can completely negate any developmental progress. But the main point I want people to understand is if the larynx is out of position by being too high, we can’t fix it just by trying to get it into a lower position. Unfortunately that just doesn’t work because it is just a different version of the same thing.

    What I mean is that is just another version of being disconnected from the larynx. If the larynx rises it is because of being disconnected from the larynx, not actually using it. It is rising because of the air pressure that is necessary to phonate is pushing it up. It can also rise because of poor concepts that influence it to squeeze up. For example, thinking of pronouncing at the front of the mouth will influence the larynx to rise to give the singer the feeling of being at the front of the mouth.

    The body has a wonderful ability to fulfill our expectations. The problem with that is if our concept is misguided the result will be less than ideal.

    So like I said, the remedy for a high larynx isn’t to just lower it because we will still be disconnected. The remedy is to use the larynx in a balanced way so it will be connected to the breath pressure. This connection is like a fusing of the two forces that balance each other. By connecting to the breath, the larynx stabilizes and as part of that doesn’t rise.

    This is what I was talking about in an earlier comment. I’ll discuss this more in my next post.

  18. Hi.
    I’d like to make a little note on these “modern voice methods” that Beatrice makes mention of.
    It is true that lots of these methods make rather bold claims that seemingly debase centuries of vocal tradition while pushing the said-method as being the best. However, I do not think that this is the main intention of these “contemporary vocal coaches.” In fact, a lot of what they protest is the same that any of us here would disagree with – the manufactured, rigid, limiting “classical sound” that too many teachers advocate today. As Michael said in this post: http://vocalwisdom.com/swedish-italian-concepts-are-david-jones-and-i-saying-the-same-thing
    Is your technique fixing you into only one style? Free functioning of the voice should be flexible to respond to different degrees depending on the intention of the singer. If you are consciously lifting the soft palate there is a strong likelihood that the result will sound out of place for a non-classical singer.
    And that’s why these pop-oriented voice teachers seem to claim that “classical training” is limiting – because a lot of it, frankly, is. It is dependent on the singer producing a pre-conceived, artificial, “yawning” sound rather than using his/her own natural voice with correct function. Therefore, these vocal coaches market themselves as being able to help you find your natural voice and sing the songs you want to sing without sounding like an opera singer. And, when you think about it, many of these methods are probably based off “the right stuff,” but are just re-packaged so that they’ll cater to singers with more contemporary tastes – rock, pop, Broadway, gospel, R&B, country, etc. Many of these people probably don’t want to sing on the opera stage professionally, so sound projection and diction probably aren’t at the top of their list of priorities, so these popular music techniques are more focused on helping people get better at singing contemporary music in a safe manner (as opposed to developing the voice in an all-around fashion so that the person can project over the orchestra one moment and sing a country song the next).
    Truthfully, in some ways, it might be safer for a naive, new-to-the-business singer to get with a contemporary vocal coach who can actually teach decent singing than to go with a classical teacher who just teaches imitation (which is limiting stylistically and dangerous in the long-term). But that’s just my thinking.
    There was more I was planning to say, but I’m really tired, so I’ll try to follow up on this when someone has responded.

  19. Joseph, I hear what you are saying. The only fact about those methods is they DON’T teach you how to sing safely. Firstly, there is no one there to hear what you are doing. You are simply imitating what you are hearing on a CD. You can never hear your sound as it really is. You are right that most all modern music doesn’t need any projection, power, or any such thing that was needed in the past to sing, and not only opera, but in early Broadway as well. But preparing people to only be able to sing with a third of the voice god gave them is no better a method of teaching than to teach them to sing with a very wrongly produced operatic sound.

    Not all classical teachers teach imitation either, nor do they teach this “artificial operatic sound,” nor is it true that every type of voice can easily sing all types of music. While those methods really down the classical method as limiting, don’t think for a moment they are not equally limiting. There is not one in a billion who use those methods who can sing classical music. They may sing the notes, but they cannot begin to do justice to the music nor give it the life it needs. They rely on mikes, on all the fake trappings, and what have you to get through the music. Not a one of them can sing coloratura worth anything, nor can they trill, nor can they do anything that the actual music requires. Their technique is more than unbelievably sloppy at best. To sing any type of music, you must be able to master the requirements of that music, not just get through it.

    So, often they are nothing more than the pot calling the kettle black. They condemn classical training as “limiting you to classical music” but their training limits you to rock, or gospel, or country, or what have you, for seldom can anyone who studies with their systems actually move freely between even the entire range of modern styles.

    It all sounds good, but it is no better than nothing at all. And the only judge of your progress is yourself, and whether you like your voice or not. I have heard so many singers who have fallen into this trap, and they are the world’s worst when it comes to getting them to understand just what it is THEY DON’T HAVE.

    Even classical teachers claim that if you sing properly you can sing any type of music. That also is NOT TRUE! Some voices can master a few types of song: opera, lieder, art songs, and a few modern show tunes, but cannot do rock or acid rock or any such music like that. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with an artificial sound, or over production, or many of the things thrown around, even by classical teachers.

    There is a thing called, SINGING WHERE THE VOICE IS MOST NATURALLY SUITED. I take my own voice. Yes, when I was a kid, I sang Broadway, show tunes, jazz (my dad had a jazz band, and I also played piano with him). I learned how to croon, even use that earthy sound we associate with Eartha Kit. But the more I sang, even jazz, the more the voice grew. Pretty soon my dad didn’t want me singing with his band. The voice was just not suited to it. I still sang all the music well (and still can, and I have a great use of the chest register, which is a must in that sort of music — the only reason so many opera singers cannot sing jazz is they NEVER develop the chest register because of some weird belief it will damage the voice). The voice grew too large for the mikes and for the venues where the band performed.

    I always had a big voice, a huge voice actually. And I was kicked out of more choirs than you can shake a stick at. The voice itself was simply WRONG for that music and the vocal requirements related to it.

    I actually started training in opera at 12 and made my debut at 18 in Wagner’s Lohengrin as Ortrud. My mother, who was a trained violinist and pianist (and a concert performer in the classical world) would never have allowed me to begin to train so young, but she also saw just how the voice was growing simply by being used. My dad convinced her.

    Yes, it is true that classical singers can become limited to classical music, just as popular singers can become totally limited to popular music. We have people who sort of cross over now days (but not well) and great Broadway singers (Shirley Jones) who can sound operatic enough to sound cultured and regular enough to sound Broadway. She has a great use of her voice. But in reality, she cannot sing over an orchestra without a mike. The fullness of her voice needed a mike to be heard with orchestra. But it was a well produced voice.

    As a singer’s voice grows, and as they learn to use it to its fullest potential, it becomes super easy to use it that way, and most enjoyable. To hold it back to do popular music requires really concentrating, for the voice is by then used to actually going full-trottle. Popular music doesn’t require anything full throttle, not even screaming in rock music. Opera cannot be sung with half measures.

    Even an operatic pianissimo has more volume, ring, and carrying power than a fortissimo note in popular music.

    None of this is because the voice has layers of tension, or that it is manufactured, or that it is created through imitation, or any such things often thrown at operatic voices. Even though today we have many singers who do sing incorrectly and with an artificial sound, when you go back to the days when that sound was not at all the norm, you will still see that NONE of those singers really sang popular music in a way that was truly the way the masses would have it.

    The only classical singer who seemed to really master the different styles was Eileen Farrell. But even then, she couldn’t do all. She sang opera, and really quite well, but without the “personal involvement” often needed, and not with all the finess it often requires (her Elizebeth in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda is lacking in that area of clarity and coloratura, which becomes so obvious when she sings against Beverly Sills). Her Wagner was acceptable, as was her more verismo opera, but her bel canto operas were not all that well sung. Her modern blues was sung well, but again only certain types of blues songs did she sing. But she was still the most convincing of the classical singers that did both.

    Helen Traubel also sang all types of music, and one can hear her various renditions on YouTube. Her opera, of course, was incredible, but only in Wagner and maybe Gluck. Her attempt at the Casta Diva from Norma was not all that great and certainly wouldn’t make you want to consider her over many others of that time (and never over Rosa Ponselle). And her modern music was different from today. Back then, the difference between what was modern and what was classical was not so widely marked as it is today. But even then, her diction being great, her sound is simply TOO GRAND for the music she is singing (her “It’s a grand night for singing” certainly wouldn’t remind you of a country fair, yet, that is the background of that musical, which is actually called “State fair”).

    It is so easy to say one can sing everything, but then qualify it with “but you won’t be perfect in everything.” But that qualifier of itself shows that what you aren’t perfect at really means you can get through the notes and very little else.

    For myself, I can sing jazz today, but I ALWAYS sing it much lower than I would sing opera. In opera, I am definitely a soprano, but in jazz I am a contralto. It is easy to sing those caressing tones with melting words down there, as the tension of the upper notes in opera (the good tension) simply is not needed, so one can caress the tones.

    I have never had troubles singing the music from Phantom either, but in this case, a far more operatic sound comes out than one would hear in the theater, and again, mikes would not ever be needed. But with that musical (especially singing Carlotta’s music) the operatic sound is needed.

    The point of all this is too often people paint conclusions with a super broad brush. Just because a classical singer cannot sing jazz may have NOTHING WHATEVER to do with over production, or that fake imitation sound, or what have you. You will also notice that ALL the singers who could travel between many styles began singing many styles before the voice was fully developed. They can sing many styles because they actually understand many styles and how to do them.

    Many singers study classical singing with the goal of becoming an opera singer, and even if taught perfectly without any of this “manufactured sound,” they will never be able to cross over. The reason is they simply do not understand the needs or requirements of the different styles of music. And you can’t really learn them just by having a coach tell you to sing the words like this or that. I was raised in the world of Jazz and blues, and the world of classical music, so my ear was fully accustomed to the differences between the two.

    For a student that has never learned the difference, it is not the same. Whether that student sings modern music or classical, they usually cannot cross over one to the other effectively at all. Even if they are singing with correct method. The reason is they themselves cannot relate to the needs of the different types of music.

    And why should a person who wants to make a career singing opera have to learn to sing popular, rock, country, or gospel? If they wanted to sing that sort of music, then they would have gone into that sort of music from the start. This idea that they should be able to sing all of it is more than silly. It is also quite dishonest. Why should anyone want to work hard to open up a voice to its fullest potential only to use it at half measure all the time so they can cross over? Why would anyone want to develop their voice only partitially so they can really excel in jazz, blues, gospel, rock, and then torture themselves trying to give to opera what they have never developed in the first place?

    All this comes about because people are frightened they won’t make a living singing unless they can sing everything. But that is not true. Most singers who try to be so versatile end up singing no where at all. They end up learning how to do well at everything, but never quite good enough at anything to make a living out of it. It is like being a jack of all trades, and a master of none.

    Even opera singers who try to sing all types of opera end up not really excelling at any of it. They are what is called “serviceable singers.” But they never really develop into the singers that make the public sit up and take notice. Some of the greatest simply stayed within what was best for them. Even the great Maria Callas was NOT as versatile as people lead others to believe. She excelled in Bel Canto operas for a while while her coloratura held out. When that died, she turned more to verismo. Yes, she sang Wagner, but only in Italian, never German, and like with her Italian operas, heavily cut. There were many singers far more versatile than she, but we don’t really think about them much. They were good, serviceable, and reliable, but they had no fire. She found her fire in Bellini, Donizetti, and some Verdi. Tosca came to her late, and she hated the opera completely. The greats were great because they didn’t try to be all things to all people.

    So it is with the truly greats in modern music: they were great at the things they did, and didn’t mess around with the things they couldn’t do, or didn’t feel the need to do.

    I have enjoyed my operatic career, and I have never had any desire to sing in night clubs or any such place. People like Helen Traubel ended up singing in night clubs all the time, but we seem to forget that she didn’t make her operatic debut until she was 39, and even though she studied all that time, she also sang all that time. And night clubs is where she sang (along with some concerts) before she sang a note of real opera. It was only natural for her to stick with the people she liked.

    It is false and deceptive advertizing that states “with our method you will not be limited in what you sing.” For the truth is, either way you are limited. If you immerse yourself in the modern popular style, your voice will never develop the things needed to sing classical literature. And if you have made the choice to sing opera, the fact you are actually studying to learn to sing that sort of music instantly puts you in another room from those wanting to be on “American Idol.” Even if you are taught to sing with the most perfect and balanced way, without any manufactured sound, you will still be drawn to the grand way of singing. That will be what you want to do. That will be your orientation. And unless your background also gave you a super large helping of the other, you will not relate to it. So what does it matter if you can sing everything or not? It doesn’t. That is a false sales pitch promising everything but in the end will deliver nothing.

    If you find after singing an operatic career you would rather fade out of it and sing blues, like a very famous Canadian soprano has done (total disappointment and loss for opera, even though she was super; but what a gain for the blues), then more power to you. But it is by no means needed nor even desireable to sing everything and all styles. The fact is, you will never be good at all of them. You will simply get through them without too much embarrassment.

    You must choose your path, and then work like mad to make it a reality. And even those beginners, those naive starters, must come to understand that they must sing what is in their hearts to sing. IF it is gospel, then go to. If it is opera, then learn how. But never be deceived into thinking you must learn how to do it all. In the end, you will excel at nothing and become more depressed and disillusioned than you can ever imagine.

  20. I guess I think I should talk turkey about things. If one looks at the various methods out there, the illusion is they will teach you to free your voice, and of course, they are talking about freeing it so you can sing what most people listen to, popular and rock music. There is a constant backhanded cut to classical singing or even classical music for that matter. Also, nearly NONE of these supposed great experts on freeing your voice have ever had a career singing. Most of them are pathetic when it comes to singing, and their own demonstrations prove they are. They wouldn’t even make it in their own musical worlds.

    Before one even begins, we firstly MUST understand whether singing popular or classical, the idea of balanced function is NOT the end all, but only the foundation on which to build. Once you have balanced function and are using the voice correctly, THEN you are ready to begin the real work of learning how to sing. And there is much more to balanced function than being relaxed or singing high notes, which is all most of these systems talk about.

    Now we must consider, and it cannot be overly stressed, that styles of music now days are very much opposed to each other. Back in the early 19 hundreds (the beginning of the 20th century) whether one sang opera or popular, there was very little difference in the actual requirements — good sound, good pitch, and a pleasing tone. Melody was the name of the game. Singers of any type SANG. The music relied on good melody to carry the emotion. With the coming of Rock and Roll came a more intense reliance on rhythm, and the quality of the voice soon became far less important, if important at all. However, even during that stage, many rock singers still had really nice voices. Elvis Presley was incredible (self-trained, and using proper balance), so was Roy Obrason, and a whole host of singers. A good voice was still valued, and strange “sounds” were only something used occasionally. Even the “English invasion” with the Beetles and a whole host of English bands, sill had melody. In fact, the Beetles sang a song, and to some they wrote it even though they did not, which required excellent balanced nearly classical singing — “till there was you” from the musical “the Music Man.” And they did a super job of it. Real harmony and proper balance of tone was still imporant during that time, even if it also allowed for some way out vocalization from time to time. The Tolkin rocked the world with their rendition of “the Lion sleeps tonight” though the high soprano part is NOT sung by any of the men, but rather a woman they brought in who was noted for being able to sing that range in a very relaxed fashion.

    Even by the time we got to the way out sounds of the 60s and 70s the voice was still fairly good in quality. The only exception was acid rock and heavy medal. The “rock scream” was the norm. But since nearly NO popular singer had any training at all, they also faced a huge amount of vocal problems, usually nodes. It is not rare at all to read about popular singers, country singers (which came from a completely different vain of music creation quite apart from the usual popular music; now days it has wedded with the rock sound to create what we hear today), and especially rock singers who have had the operation a number of times.

    Most of these methods we see on the net now were created so that people could learn to “do the rock thing” safely. I am not against them at all, if they do that. Nor am I against them if they actually help singers of popular music have better function. Remember, popular music developed out of the untrained use of the voice, not out of balanced function or balanced function of a fully trained voice.

    What is misleading is the claim that they can teach you to sing anything. It is simply not true. Nor is the reverse true, where classical teachers claim that if you learn the proper balanced methods you will be able to sing anything. The preparation to learn how to sing anything may be established, but not the details of the style and the requirements of the music.

    And any singing method MUST be able to fully prepare a student to sing whatever it is they are wanting to sing. And to sing it as is expected.

    These internet voice lessons may actually teach you to free your voice so you can cross from a good solid chest sound into a falsetto without that “horrible break.” They may get you so you can use more and more of your range both up and down. They may get it so you can scream safely. They may get it so you can do all sorts of things with the voice that are commonly done with Popular music. But when all is said and done, you won’t sing opera or classical music at all. While “screaming high notes” are not only acceptable but desireable for most gospel, popular, rock music, such a sound is not at all acceptable in any branch of classical singing. While learning to sing through the break so a man can sing his low manly sounds and in the end sound like a four year old girl on the upper sounds is really quite an achievement, and has great use in popular music as an EFFECT, not as anything really musical, it has no place in opera or classical singing except as comic relief in some parts (like in La Boheme). The coming forth of the countertenor is about the only place where such a transition to falsetto is allowed, and even there, the singer NEVER changes from his normal voice to his falsetto voice. And also, the universality of such a sound is also very limited.

    The even scale required by classical singing is not even an priority or even a consideration in these popular vocal methods. It is not even something they talk about. In fact, it is something they work entirely against, as they teach a singer not how to sound like one even scale of sound, but to pass through all their various sounds.

    If you are taught that way, you will not be able to sing opera or classical music at all, even if you can get through the notes. You simply have not learned anything required by the music, by the standards set, or what have you. And the voice has not developed the needed energy of sound to fill the theatre which disqualifies you from singing opera instantly.

    To me, it is not a sin to bluntly state the truth. If you want to sing opera, learn to sing opera. Get a good teacher who understands things, and then work at it. If you want to sing popular then sing popular, get a good teacher who understands good vocal function and the requirements of the music and learn. If you want to do both, then get a very good teacher who fully understands both, not just has theories about how they work or what is similar. Learn the differences, and how you can transition from one style to the other. Remember that what one requires will be in complete opposition to what the other requires. 90% of what you have learned to sing popular will NOT translate into singing opera. And 90% of what you learned to sing opera will not translate into singing popular. The basic balanced function may remain the same between the two methods (and that should always remain the same) but the ultimate goal, sound requirements are quite different. Just because a modern method decries the limiting sound of classical training, don’t for a moment think that they don’t do the same thing. Their sound is equally manufactured, equally rigid, equally limiting, equally all the things they complain about with classical training. The only difference is what they are limiting you to is what most people want to be limited to. Most people who want to sing popular music have no desire at all to sing classically. And in fact, their greatest fear is they will sound classical no matter what training they receive. And since NONE of these vocal methods give a full balanced course on developing the voice, there is no danger of that. In fact, they don’t develop the voice at all. That is the point of it all, Joseph, that you have missed entirely — these methods don’t develop the voice, and they have no intention of ever doing so to begin with. They simply deal with certain issues that can be problematic for those wanting to sing popular music, like transitioning to head voice/falsetto and back. There is no development of the actual voice at all. And what you learn through them will NOT prepare you to learn more at a later date. You are not getting a balanced function, you are getting how to get through the problems in 4 easy steps and NOTHING more.

    The defense you write for such systems is based on a complete lack of understanding of either type of music, or on either type of singing requirements.

    Even vocal coaches now days DO NOT TEACH HOW TO SING, rather they teach you how to achieve certain effects to add to the music to create “the new sound.” That is not freeing the voice. It is limiting it, but in a completely different way, and a way just as damaging as the false manufactured operatic sound.

    But like I said in my last post; why would you care to sing popular music at all, once you have learned to actually used balance function and have developed the full potential of your sound, with all the required skills for singing opera properly? Popular music doesn’t need ring, it doesn’t need any volume at all (you would be surprised at how many big named popular singers can’t be heard even across your kitchen without a mike — the mikes and engineering have created what you are used to hearing), it doesn’t need anything that classical music requires. Because it really doesn’t need much of anything that is why one still finds the really great names in popular music are those people who were simply musical (and some unbelievably so) and who dwelled on singing what they wrote for themselves. Billions are taking these internet courses, entering things like American Idol, and NONE of them are really accomplishing anything. But what they are learning is something no teacher of music can teach, and no internet method will ever teach, and that is HOW TO PRESENT BEFORE THE PUBLIC. 90% of singing now days is not voice, but presentation. And people are molded into the vision set by producers and the like. Classical music is being affected by such attitudes as well.

    Consider a real “overnight sensation” Susan Boyle. She was the English woman who took the world by storm and YouTube as well when she sang in a TV show, “Brits got talent.” She blew the audience away in a way that has never been repeated. Yet, as the contest progressed, and as she was “coached” to sing the various types of popular music, she didn’t succeed as well as people thought she should have. was her voice bad? Did she not do the right thing? No. What was wrong was they were “remaking her” so she would fit the music they were assigning her (which she would NEVER have had to sing in a real career). The program was out for this all important “ability to sing anything” which is a really false idea to begin with. Even the greatest artist doesn’t sing everything. They specialize. They choose music that suits them and their talents. A wise performer will always do that. But in these shows, they are out to compare and see who can do the best with most everything. A person wins, and well, they do something, make a record, and we never hear from them again.

    Susan Boyle produced her voice properly, even if she was self-taught, she did things right. It took no time at all to turn her into what she was not. Her fire was gone, her out there sound was muted, and she was nothing but a shadow of herself. People awaited he first CD, which was lovely, but it wasn’t Susan. Here we had a typical contest winner CD. The songs chosen by someone without any consideration to the strengths of the artist singing. Her second CD was even more disappointing, but not because the voice was bad, but because in “turning her into a rock idol” they removed what was her. They killed her fire, her personality. Yes, they remade her and may even have made her appear pretty. But what was her was gone. I am so glad she made millions off her first CD (it is still number one in England) because the industry betrayed her.

    And all these vocal methods are not so you can really sing, they don’t teach you how to sing at all, they prepare you to get into the industry, to do the tricks that make popular music what it is. And since that is all they really give, isn’t it better to say that is what they do, rather than to assume they do so much more than they do? The claim is “you will sing anything” the reality is you will learn how to get through the most common pitfalls in popular music, and that is all.

  21. So you know, I am not speaking out of my hat. I have purchased 5 of these Internet singing programs now. I have gone through them because I have had people come up to me who really think they can sing, but simply can’t sing. The voice isn’t working. Yes, it was free in a way when they began, but then when they tried to sing a wider type of music, more than just gospel and pop, they found their voices rebelled. The “tricks” they learned in those systems made it so, yes, they were relaxed, yes, they could move through their normal voice into falsetto, yes, they could “scream safely” but they couldn’t sing. If they kept the breathy crooning sound on the quiet notes, they were fine, or the strained scream for the upper notes, they could survive, but when they had to actually sing without a mike, the voice crumbled to dust.

    One of the biggest disappointments sang in church. Yes, he could bellow and squack his way through most gospel singing and rock, but when asked to sing a real church hymn which was more traditional, he couldn’t stay on pitch, had the most strained sound, and was a total mess.

    Repairing this man’s voice had been a real nightmare! Oh, so much of what he learned all “sounded good”, like balanced function, not stressing, support but not really worrying about breathing, and who knows what. But in the end, all her really learned was how to gloss over problems he would face singing certain types of music, but he didn’t learn any foundation of real sound vocal use at all.

    He constantly complained that he did what he was supposed to, to which I would ask him, “and who said you were doing it right?” The answer was always the same: But that is the sound I wanted, and that is what the course said, it was helping me free up my voice for the sound I wanted. In otherwords, no one oversaw anything. He simply did what he heard on the CD and when he was satisfied he had achieved that sound (completely through immitation and nothing else, a thing, Joseph, you contemned in classical training; seems both sides want only immitation, not real understanding) he felt he had arrived. There were no other ears to make sure he was actually doing what he thought he was doing, or achieving what he thought he was achieving. he was his only judge.

    That is the biggest fraud with these programs: the student is also his own teacher, and his own judge of progress, and has absolutely NOTHING that qualifies him to do any of those things other than he bought some CD that claimed it could teach him to “Free his voice and sing everything.”

    The reason classical teachers teach the classical sound is THAT IS WHAT THEY LEARNED. That is what they studied, and their goal was to achieve a classical sound. The only real limitation to that is it completely trains the voice, and fully develops it. When done right without manufactured sound, there is nothing to compare with it. No, such singers won’t be really able to sing popular because they have not learned anything about how to sing popular music. But conversely: no one who specializes in popular will ever be able to teach a student how to sing classical music either, and most especially NOT opera. I can’t see your argument for “rigid limitations.” Both systems create and maintain rigid limitations.

    The only reason we know more about how many people who study classically suffer from poor training is because we see those who graduate from instituations of learning who cannot sing. But we have no set place to turn to see the vast amount of want-a-be singers out screaming their lungs out striving to sing popular with no hope of singing anything and with even more damage to their voices. That is because that they are left to train themselves with bogas “teach yourself to sing in three lessons” Internet courses that help them do certain things, but don’t help them really develop the full voice.

    So the question still remains: what is the student’s goal? If it is to sing popular, then do so, but make sure you have a good teacher who is there to instruct you, who really understand the functioning of the voice, and who can help you learn how to do everything well and with proper function, and you will NOT find that on a tape, a CD, or a DVD.

    If you want to sing opera, then get a teacher who is very learned in that field, who can teach you how to sing with correct balanced function, and who can help you train your voice to do everything the music demands, which includes proper diction in at least four languages (fluency is much better), every musical decoration mastered, even if most of the music you sing doesn’t require it, a full understanding of how to add emotion to the music, and a whole list of things that go so far beyond simply singing with correct function that you had better be prepared to study a long while.

    And that is the issue that is causing all this trouble with singing and teaching of singing; students want it now. These internet courses promise Instant results, in no time at all and with minimal effort you will sing wonderfully. That is selling snake oil. Even popular musicians who are really well established will tell you EVERYTHING TAKES WORK, and lots of it. And NONE of them were “overnight sensations.” Most of them had sung for years before they made it to the top. They paid the price, they put in the time to learn, they learned from failures, nothing came in five easy lessons.

    It is that lack of commitment that has made such programs money makers in the world of song. Students don’t want to work at anything. They don’t want to take the time it takes to actually develop their talent. They think they are ready to be before the public even before they have learned a note. It is all pandering to fantasy. It is pandering to the lowest level of human creativity and accomplishment. It is all get it now without any work at all. Any program that encourages that, even if it has some sound ideas, is a waste and deceives the student in the worst way.

    I base what I am writing on buying and actually going through those systems and seeing just what they really don’t offer, and how little sound advice you actually receive. It all is packaged well, but there is little substance within. If that is how students these days want to learn, I pity them. Their lives will be filled with endless disappointment, and a complete lack of ability to see that they are the source of that disappointment, not others, all because they simply are not willing to do the work to accomplish the goal.

  22. I certainly am dominating this discussion. I just thought I would share what I saw growing up. After I started studying and was no longer singing with my dad’s band, I asked my teacher if my dad was wrong to tell me to stop singing with him. She said he was very right to do that. I was an opera singer, the voice was that of an opera singer, it had the qualities and the power of an opera singer. I told her I liked singing with my dad, and she told me that in time I would become frustrated. I would resent him. I would feel he was not giving me the greatest opportunities. I asked why. She told me: “In time your voice would be crying to get out of the box you had placed it. In time, the love of jazz you have would die because the music would not be speaking to you through your voice. Your talent was elsewhere.”

    I think that there is a great amount of truth in what she said. I still love jazz and can sing it, but as I look back, no, it wouldn’t have filled my life. I would have become resentful and frustrated because what I was singing would not have really been moving me, completing me. I don’t know how else to say it.

    After I left my dad’s band, he hired many singers, and all of them were fabulous. I would listen in awe to how they turned a phrase and what they did. I really began to see that even though I did well, I really didn’t feel that music quite the same way they did. And there was a rawness to their sound that seemed to really work with the music. My sound was always too cultured right from the start.

    But my dad had a super good ear for sound and for what the voice was doing (so did my mother; the death of my parents certainly was a great loss personally and musically for me). He could hear troubles developing in the vocalist’s voices long before they were even aware of anything. And he sent them to my teacher. I found that odd. She was an opera singer and a very famous one, what would she know about jazz?

    I was amazed at the things she shared. Firstly, the basics were exactly the same. They learned support, not wasting air and allowing too much to pass through the folds, they learned to think of tone escaping the body not breath and all that. But she never worked on their diction (not the same way she did with me, to have it clear, yes, and reminded them that their mouths don’t need to open any wider for singing than they would to talk). She never worried about open throat per se, but of course would help them if they were closing things off. There were many things she did that were not exactly the same, and I asked why.

    She told me, and many may not agree with this, but it is what she said; “It is all a matter of degree. Their voices are singing what is natural to their voices, what is natural to people who sing because they love to sing. They don’t need to learn how to protect their folds from such huge amounts of air pressure that an opera singer must learn. Yes, they learn it to a degree, but no where near the same level. Such strength is not required and would only destroy their sound.”

    So, even though they learned good balanced function, they didn’t learn all those things that opera singers must learn. She didn’t work at developing the full even range with them as she did with me. The music required smooth breaks, but not even scale. And she worked at that. She had to help many of these women find their falsetto. Yes, women have one. And then blend it to the dark chest voice. But there was no desire to turn it into a well developed head voice of the same quality as their chest voice. That was wrong for the music, which did have much “shifting” between head and chest for effect. When I asked how come I didn’t have one (a falsetto), she said I did, but that it was long since developed into a real head voice needed for opera. She used many of the same exercises with them as with me, but never to quite the same degree. Again, she said, they don’t need to have such deeply developed abilities. They needed the bodily function of those things, but not developed to the same degree I would need them.

    Some of her exercises were quite different. She used a belting exercises which I found fascinating. I asked her why such an exercise and she said that there is a placement of sound that is needed for safe singing in jazz, Broadway (and then it wasn’t miked like today), and more modern music. If it isn’t done, the voice will fall back into the throat and the singer will be in big trouble.

    She explained what belting was, and it is NOT what we think belting is or what belting has become today. It has no relationship to screaming, though some form of belting exercise is often used now days to protect the voice when doing the modern scream.

    Since she never talked of placement with me, I was sort of shocked that she was mentioning it now. She said that she didn’t believe in the “forward, backward, or what have you placements often spoken of by music teachers as they limited the voice.” However, there is a forward awareness that a jazz singer needs or they will press the voice too much, even though they have a mike, or they will draw back too far and end up with a super breathy tone that really is evident to the listener. Neither one is healthy. Also, since so much jazz is sung in a half whisper, the singer needs a protection, for whispering is about the most destructive thing to the voice, far worse than overblowing it. Whispering causes the folds to NEVER approximate at all.

    Her exercises were super simple. One sang with their nose plugged a descending scale singing MEE-O on each note all the way down, but keeping it smooth. The buzz in the nose and face certainly was just as horrible as when talking with your nose plugged. It was intended to be. Then one did the same thing, keeping the nose plugged, but this time sang the descending scale (same mee-o sound; the purpose of the eee-o sound was to take the most forward vowel and most back placed vowel and have them both vibrate in the same spot) and made sure that there was absolutely NO nasal buzz at all. Everything was well back in the pharynx but not down in the throat. It is like the entire back wall of your throat simply vanishes and the sound fills that area, down to the vocal folds, and clear up to the top of the head with sound and as wide as from ear to ear.

    Now you simply sang the same exercise again, but this time without the nose plugged, but the goal was to get the voice as close to the nasal ring one had at first without it actually having that closed off nasal sound. Slowly one would continue singing the exercise allowing just a touch more of the back sound to enter into the main sound, but not enough so that the real forward ring was gone. That was the belting placement, and as long as the singer kept it there and not in the throat (which was the greater danger than having it push out the nose) belting was safe and the “ugly sounds” often needed in jazz and other popular music wouldn’t hurt the voice. And so that you know, there were a series of exercises to achieve this, not just this one mentioned.

    I asked her if that exercise would help anyone singing opera. She said it would. So I learned it. The ring in the voice, which was already very powerful doubled in size. But her warning to me was to NEVER TAKE IT TOO FAR. What I was singing required that I use the entire sound and that I not limit it to any one placement. And when she used it in classical singing, she always had me do a series of NG exercises so I could learn the NG placement and ring, for the belting ring must never go further forward than the “saddle of the tongue.” That was only an image, the center of the tongue in the NG position. If I felt or imagined the sound banging into the nose, I was pushing it too far forward and cutting off other aspects of the voice.

    I was always amazed at how much improved these jazz singers sounded, but at how they never lost anything that was naturally theirs. They didn’t sound operatic at all. They simply sounded better. Yet, they would study with her three or four times a week and they did many of the same exercises, including scales. But my teacher seemed to always stop at a certain point with them. As long as they were using the body correctly, weren’t leaking air, and were functioning well, that is all she asked, and that is where she stopped.

    With opera, that foundation of balanced function became the rock on which the mansion of operatic power was built. And in case some think this is adding all those layers of tension, that is not what I mean at all. There was the learning the vowels, remembering the layrnx position, allowing the full tone to vibrate, learning the languages, keeping a very even scale so there were no differences between my low notes and the high, they would all be of one quality. There were those sorts of things. There was learning to use support to regulate the breath pressure around the folds, especially as one ascended the scale to the highest notes. There were those things which she didn’t have to teach any of those jazz singers. And there were exercises aplenty for the purpose of building physical strength to endure the work load of singing opera. The need to learn movement so as to keep excellent and correct support while moving, running, fencing, etc. Jazz singers were lucky, they only had to either stand somewhere and not move, or sit on a chair like they were cozying up to someone. I had to learn how to fill the stage, the entire theatre with my presence. I had to learn to express emotions on a grand scale, and also give the appearance of intimacy even while being so grand (I can assure you, no jazz singer had to do that, they were lucky, everything was already intimate), and of course body movement and acting.

    Unlike these programs I have purchased and what we are discussing, my teacher did train the jazz singers’ voices. They were taught how to use them completely and effectively for what they were doing. They didn’t learn “tricks” to get through those issues, rather they learned proper foundations on how to conquer those issues. But like she said to me, it is all a matter of degree. I had far more to learn and far more bodily development needed to sing what I sang than they did. But they still had to learn how to do everything they did the right way. They couldn’t fast track it with tricks that simply cover up the issues and maybe cause worse things later.

    And these vocalists who sang with my dad’s band, they all continued singing the entire time they were being trained. I was always in awe of the raw earthiness of their music. There was a raw humanity to it that was not really in opera, and really isn’t always in the music we hear today anymore. Gimmicks have replaced the real authentic core of what they sang. And sadly, gimmicks is what most of these programs give. Gimmicks that will help you appear like you know what you are doing, but not really build the foundation so that you actually do.

    While my training took over 6 years (I continued to study all the time, long after I was singing all the time to make my daily bread, so my training was more like decades), those singers who sang with my dad took only about a year, but like me, if they needed refreshing, they took the time to get some.

    I guess what gets me about these programs, whether it is singing popluar music or opera (yes, I found one that will teach you to sing opera in just a few lessons! this one is frightening, the popular ones simply annoying), is they really give the impression you can achieve something by doing nothing. The selling feature is the lack of real work. We live in an age where so many young people don’t want to have to work at anything, whether it is getting grades in school or what have you. They want everything at a click of a button. They want it all just there for them to enjoy without real personal commitment. And they want it to be a painless as possible. Now, singing should NEVER be painful, but I think you know what I mean. But these programs are catering to a generation that want everything to take no more time than a sound bite. Anything more is too invasive to their important social lives.

    What is even sadder is these type of people are also the ones who will absolutely NEVER actually listen to the explanations, pay attention the the warnings, or what have you. They are already the type that want it all for nothing and for no effort, and when they do buy such a program to learn to sing, they put into it exactly what they think it needs — nothing. The programs are marketed as “get allt his for so little, all the work of learning to sing is not needed, just do this or that and you are on your way to fame.”

    But nothing of value comes without real dedication and work. And it is that pandering to this attitude that it takes nothing, or you can accomplish all this by doing basically nothing, or don’t worry if you do nothing, you will succeed; that is the attitude that I really hate about these programs. Some of them, once you start them do say now it is time to work, but then imply the work is only about 5 minutes a day and within a month you will be great, or if you work a little harder, in one lesson you will see miracles happen.

    That to me is almost more dangerous than the faulty vocal methods. The attitude of getting something for nothing, or the world owes me this because I am alive, is a disease with many young people (I do not say all, for there are many who really strive to do the best and put in the work needed in all aspects of their lives).

    The world of music is filled with “fantasy dwellers.” They live life really fantasizing about being great stars and famous, and have little to no talent. They see tons of people now days parading celebrity who simply have no talent at all. They see fame based on nothing but created image and publicity. They think because they love to sing around in the shower or in the yard they have something the world is dying to hear. Their friends like their singing, their neighbours don’t complain, but they really don’t have any talent at all. There is nothing wrong with singing because you love to sing to yourself, that is great, and peopel should do it. But to live in a fantasy that they will be showered with fame, money, and celebrity because they can croak out a few notes is self-deception. And the saddest thing of all is these programs pander to this sort of person. And that is not what the young people of today need to have. They need and deserve more.

  23. Joseph – I agree with your points. The circumstances you describe are possible, but not necessarily likely. It is difficult to speak in generalities about things that are actually dependent on individual specifics. What I mean is, you describe a situation that would be totally dependent on that individual teacher. It is very difficult to make a general statement from that premise. If a beginning singer actually could find a teacher that qualified for that description, then yes, that would be preferable to going to a teacher that was a classical imitator. But that wouldn’t really be an issue of contemporary vs. classical. That would be an issue of a good teacher vs. a bad teacher.

    I think that is really what is the main point people need to understand. Much like I talk about in singing. It is not really an issue of style or technique. It is an issue of the truth vs. opinions. The truth of the voice is true regardless of the style of music you want to sing.

    Bea – what you talked about with you teacher working with Jazz singers was great to read. The things you describe are, at least in principle, much like how I would do things as well. And it pretty much supports what I have said in the past about training for non-classical styles. It is still about the voice and how it works. They may not need to deal with the same challenges to the same degree as an opera singer. But the principles are the same.

    That is what I mean when I say a singer should be able to sing any style. I don’t mean the same singer should be able to sing every style there is. It might be more accurate to say the vocal coordination applies to any style, so in theory a singer could do it. But obviously no singer is going to have the feel to do many styles equally well.

    You do tend to be drawn towards certain ways of doing things. But I don’t agree that there has to be a rigid separation, or however it was put. Because all singing basically comes down to saying a vowel and a pitch. It is not easy, but it is not that freakishly difficult either. Like you said, you just have to train. You have to train yourself to do what is necessary to fulfill the needs of the music.

    Those needs will demand more from the singer doing opera than intimate cabaret. Perhaps not everyone is suited for the highest level, which opera would be. But whatever your highest level is, I feel there is no reason one shouldn’t be able to deal with anything that is less than that. The same principles apply, just to a lesser degree.

  24. Of course, Michael, I do tend to be drawn toward certain things. One would when they have had over 40 years of success doing it. Theories must have practical application, otherwise they are just talk and assumptions without any real substance behind them.

    You misunderstood me if you think I was saying there HAS to be a rigid separation between things. What I said was there IS a rigid separation between things by how they are taught. Just as people complain the way classical training limits people ONLY to classical music, this modern training limits people only to popular music. It isn’t that it has to be that way, it just ends up that way.

    I have never questioned your premise of TRUTH verses OPINION, but truth must be evident and verifiable. I have yet to see anyone, not even the great Jussi Bjorling, sing all types of music in all styles just because he used correct function. When he was younger, perhaps he sang a popular type song acceptably, but by the time he was famous as “the tenor” NOTHING he sang sounded any less than operatic, no matter what the music was from song to aria. Yes, he sang the music, but he didn’t respect the style or the requirements of that style. He may have sung things “less than his highest level” as far as content, but he sang it decidedly the same way he sang his “high-brow” songs. To the average person (and I stress that, Michael, because they are not academics like you) that isn’t crossing over, or actually singing different styles. That is simply singing the songs the way you would sing anything you normally do. Style may have nothing whatever to do with function and true function of the voice, but it has everything to do with how people hear what they are hearing. That may be ignored for academic discussion on truth of vocal function, but it cannot be ignored when talking about actually SINGING the music so it sounds like itself.

    That is where we don’t see things exactly the same. I hardly care if someone can sing the notes of all types of music and all styles, if in the end I hear no real style at all, or if all styles basically sound the same. Basically, if you sing a country song to me, and it has even a hint of “operatic sound” (especially all those open rounded vowels, or correctly functioning vowels, or pure Italianate vowels) you have not sung it correctly, no matter how correct your vocal function was and no matter how perfectly you reflected vocal truth. That was the point.

    But the clarification that a singer should be able to sing any style is/was necessary. You see, the very thing you write that “I don’t mean that the same singer should be able to sing every style there is” is a statement that MUST and should be repeated often. And until this post, you yourself have NEVER made that clear at all. Rather, you have implied something quite different.

    The exact opposite is ALWAYS implied by teachers when they make claims that their system of teaching will make it so you can sing anything. Perhaps the basic function does apply to all styles of singing, that I have no issue with. What I was expressing which you didn’t seem to catch (after all those posts) was that the way things are worded, even on your homepage, implies that if a person is taught correctly, they should be able to sing in all styles. The internet singing programs, which all this comment was based on, also imply the same thing. That is why they are right and all other programs are wrong, for the other programs limit you to one type of music, while their program makes it so you can sing anything and everything.

    The entire posts were simply to illustrate that that statement is false, totally and completely false. But EVERY teacher out there makes that claim, whether teaching modern singing styles or classical.

    I guess to me an ethical teacher, or a good teacher if you want to use that term, would tell their students that the way they teach, the truths about how the voice works, will make it possible for them to sing the type and style of music they like safely and in a healthy way, rather than implying that their method (I can’t think of a better word) makes it so they can sing everything.

    That is all I was illustrating.

    I fully agree singing is not freakishly difficult, nor did I say it has to be. I have always agreed that truth about voice is truth about voice and outweighs opinion. I also have agreed that how the voice works has nothing to do with style. Yes, I suppose that singing can be reduced to nothing more than vowels and pitch. But for something so simple, it certainly takes far too long to master. And by what we hear nowdays, most people don’t think it is worth it.

    Any rate, you missed the entire purpose behind the posts. You read a whole lot into it that simply wasn’t there.

    Again (quoting you), “That is what I mean when I say a singer should be able to sing any style. I don’t mean the same singer should be able to sing every style there is. It might be more accurate to say the vocal coordination applies to any style, so in theory a singer could do it.”

    “Perhaps not everyone is suited for the highest level, which opera would be. But whatever your highest level is, I feel there is no reason one shouldn’t be able to deal with anything that is less than that. The same principles apply, just to a lesser degree.”

    These statements contradict each other: either one can do every style or they can’t. The theoretical possibility is a slippery slope. In my view, that shouldn’t even be held out as a possibility nor even be a goal. Instead, teachers should concentrate on the simple fact: based on the truths of singing, you will learn to sing in a balanced, healthy, and functional way. Then leave it to the student to decide which way he wants to learn to sing, and guide him to use balanced function and vocal truths to achieve that end.

    I do tend to be drawn toward certain ways of doing things, that is true. I guess that is because to me all theories, all mystical descriptions of singing, all understanding of the body and anatomy, all this how things function had better produce a real outcome. I have never really cared about theoretical possibilities. To me, they are like castles in the sky without foundations. I have to see a real practical application, in a way, proof that what is claimed works and is real. That is how I am. And those Internet singing programs make great claims, and there is no proof at all to back up the great claims. And that is basically all I was saying. And I said it ONLY because a comment was made defending the these systems as perhaps less damaging than having a teacher. These systems don’t use teachers.

    Oh well, such is the discussion.

  25. Beatrice: I certainly appreciate you sharing your knowledge and personal experiences here for all of us to read, and I do not mind standing corrected if I learn something from it. However, while I agree with almost everything you say, I think you have mischaracterized what I was trying to get across in my last post. I was not advocating modern vocal coaches and their methods per se, and I certainly wasn’t defending these “study at home” courses – I don’t think I even mentioned anything about Internet courses. I may have not worded my statements in an ideal way due to being tired at the time, but I was simply trying to point out how some of these vocal coaches (which seems to be the new popular term used to refer to “voice teachers”) have the right ideas and would agree with us in some ways.
    That isn’t to say that these guys are correct in everything they do. Do I think there are vocal coaches out there who can teach good singing? Sure. But you are absolutely right that many of these people promote themselves as providing “quick fixes” to people’s vocal problems – they’ll probably help a guy bridge his falsetto and chest voice or eliminate some tension around the neck, but probably won’t build a voice from the ground up. And as I’m sure many of us have noticed, lots of the singers who these vocal coaches help “improve” were already talented before they ever took a lesson.
    But when I said that I would rather a young singer study with a “modern vocal coach” than with a classical yawn-singing imitator teacher, I was not trying to bash classical training in any way, nor was I saying that these contemporary methods are better than real classical training. As Michael said, it really boils down to a question of good teacher vs. bad teacher. There are good teachers and bad teachers in the contemporary coaching world, just as there are good and bad teachers in the classical world. That doesn’t mean that even the majority of contemporary methods are based on good foundations, but there are good coaches out there.
    There is more I’d like to say, but I have to be somewhere very soon. I’ll return later, though.

  26. I’m sorry, Bea. But you are the one who has misunderstood, on many points.

    When I said “you tend to be drawn to certain things” I was meaning all singers tend to be drawn to what they are interested in. It was not a statement about you individually.

    It is true that there tends to be a separation and limitation, regardless of style. I did misunderstand your meaning there. I agree and don’t believe there should be.

    You did misunderstand Joseph’s statement. He was talking about seeing a vocal coach in person. You told him he was wrong because you were thinking from the point of someone buying some DVDs to work on their own. A very different circumstance.

    Third, I take great exception to you calling me an Academic. I absolutely am not. I don’t work at an academic institution. I don’t write for academic journals. I don’t use academic terminology like TA and CT and this cartilage and that ligament. I don’t have a Doctorate. And I feel that the academic approach is largely resonsible for the degredation of the level of singing.

    I write and teach completely from a practical viewpoint. Everything I understand I have learned through old-fashioned research. No fancy computer porgrams, no scopes. Just simple experimentation and observation. I hold no opinion based on anything I learned in Academia. Everything I speak on is what I have gathered through years of observation. Just because I am intelligent does not make me an academic.

    Another thing you have misunderstood is that when someone makes the statement that the training can help someone sing any style, they are not talking about one individual singing many styles. They are speaking to an audience of thousands and saying that the training can help them sing any style that they are looking to perform. Meaning each individual has a style they want to do and the vocal principles can help them do that, regardless of what style it is.

    That is what I mean, at least. It IS theoretically possible that someone could have the ability to express themselves in more than one style. Just because you (who it seems holds the only valid opinion) decide that they do one style less well than another does not determine that they CAN’T perform that style. It is up to them to decide that.

    (And if we haven’t actually seen it ourselves then it has to be theoretical. If we haven’t witnessed something we don’t know that it has happened. But it is certainly possible. That is what I meant by theoretically possible. Just because I haven’t seen someone do something I can conceive of it being possible.)

    Even if they are not good at all, that is not for you to say they can’t do it. There are plenty of singers who can’t do ONE style to my liking. But that doesn’t mean they have to quit singing. There are some out there who still enjoy their singing.

    Domingo was questionably effective in his cross-over attempts, in my opinion. But there were millions of people buying his albums which made them very happy. Was he going to quit doing that because you or I said that he was not good at it?

    Michael Bolton was a train-wreck as an opera singer, again in my opinion. But he ejoyed it and there were some I suppose that liked it. He worked hard on developing his coordination to sing operatically. Was he successful? I would say not so much. But he still was able to do it.

    It is much harder to prove that something is NOT possible than to prove that something IS possible. It only needs to happen once to prove it is possible. You have to prove that it can’t happen ever to prove it is not possible. That is why I disagree with you. And I would prefer you stop bringing up that point.

    I also request that you stop trying to find any and all opportunities to knock Jussi Bjorling. He was the singer he was. Period. He did things better than any other singer I have seen or heard. Period. Did he or could he do everything the world has ever known in singing? No, of course not. He sang the way he sang because that is how he wanted to do things. Later in his life he sang everything very operatically because that is what the audience wanted from him. But he did occasionally show he could still do the light, tender expression.

    But that isn’t even the point. The fact that he is a great example and model for singers doesn’t mean he used, or could use, that exemplary function to sing all styles of music. To think that is something I claim or have said is completly false.

    The biggest point that I want you to understand, and it seems I have to tell you this every six months or so, is you are a guest here. A very welcome guest and I appreciate your contribution. But it is inappropriate for you to tell someone they are wrong. It is inappropriate for you to criticize me and what I discuss.

    You are a guest and I think you should know how to act like one. This is not a public forum and this is certainly not your blog. Frankly, I didn’t read all of your comments because I just don’t have the time. Perhaps that is why you feel I haven’t gotten your point. You say so many things I can’t get your point because I just don’t have the time to sift through all of the details that you put out.

    Discussion is great. But I fear the sheer magnitude of your comments make it difficult for others to participate. Again, I always find it amazing that you state you agree with everything I said but then go one a ten page diatribe about all of the things that are wrong.

    This is not the place for you to vent. If you write something on my blog it will reflect on me, whether you are talking about me or not.

    I want you to rethink how you participate here. It is not OK for you to write 10 times more than I do. I value your experience and viewpoint, but you need to keep in mind your role and the appropriate boundaries that go along with that.

    You accuse me of not being clear because of being too academic, but you are not clear because of being too verbose. There are just too many things for me to respond to. So I don’t. But every point you made in this last comment has the attitude of knowing what I’m thinking and that it is wrong. You have no idea of what I am thinking, which shows that I haven’t been clear enough. But that is the limitation of the written word. But I think it is more an issue of the ideas you have in your head being projected onto what I say.

    But just because you do not understand what is meant doesn’t make it OK to tell someone they are wrong. The things you describe as being what you support actually represent my meaning. For example this paragraph about singing a country song,

    “I hardly care if someone can sing the notes of all types of music and all styles, if in the end I hear no real style at all, or if all styles basically sound the same. Basically, if you sing a country song to me, and it has even a hint of “operatic sound” (especially all those open rounded vowels, or correctly functioning vowels, or pure Italianate vowels) you have not sung it correctly, no matter how correct your vocal function was and no matter how perfectly you reflected vocal truth.”

    That is exactly what I’m always talking about. Rounded vowels would be inappropriate in a country song. But that would be part of the pronunciation I am always talking about. We must pronounce to sing. A rounded vowel in a country song would be an example of a pre-conceived idea. Not what we want to do.

    Style is a product of the individual expression. If someone can’t express in a certain style that is not an issue of function. That is an issue of the individual. That can’t really be taught. And that is something I barely discuss at all. It is certainly not something I talk about as being part of the training I provide. The functional training I do is based on natural behavior of the vocal system. Which morphs itself to the style the individual wants to express.

    I have seen it happen in people I worked with. I have worked with Opera and Classical singers. But also Musical Theater, Pop, Rock, Folk, Jazz, R&B, Choral, Prayer Leaders and even Chant, Hebrew Cantors, both traditional (which is quite operatic) and contemporary which is also like a Prayer Leader. Then on top of that Actors, Public Speakers and Business Porfessionals and rehabilitation for vocal damage.

    Just about any style there is I have worked with it and applied the principles of natural function. I don’t teach the style very much at all because the people I work with tend to already feel that. I think Style needs to be developed by the individual and not taught. It can be encouraged but not taught.

    So don’t tell me what I know and don’t know and what is possible and not possible. Just because you haven’t seen it doesn’t make it impossible. And these comment sections are not here for you to try to discredit what I am talking about.

    Also, if you think I read things into your comments then don’t write so much negative stuff. Like I said, if you write it here it should relate to me. Much, if not most, of what you wrote has nothing to do with me. Why should I take my time to go over it then? It shouldn’t be here. I want to help people understand their voice, and I believe that people come here to get that from me. If you feel that I am not doing a good enough job at changing things like Internet teachers that sell DVDs, which has nothing to do with me and this site, than please either write about that on your own blog or keep it to yourself.

    I am upset that you insulted one of the other participants here. It is also inappropriate for you to make statements like “go get a teacher that does this or that”. This blog is not about other teachers. It is about my teaching. If someone wants to learn something and the concepts presented here interest them they should inquire about working with me.

    So think about what you are saying before you say it. This is my business. It is not here for you to chase potential clients away with your venting. If you have a complaint about these programs you purchased to review, then fine. But it shouldn’t take 10,000 words to do it. And it certainly shouldn’t lump me in with these people you are referring to.

    I believe myself to be a quality alternative to these programs. I am protective of my business, which I have every right to be. Stop infringing on it. Please.

  27. Chris Byrne

    I think it’s fascinating how many ‘operatic’ singers simply cannot sing without distorting their throats. I have mentioned this before to Michael, but I happened to catch Renee Fleming singing a jazz number on television once, and I was shocked at how bizarre her production was. Here is the clip (I hope this is okay to post): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bY1unOjt7w&feature=related

    Compare this with Anthony Warlow (another operatic singer who transitioned to Musical Theatre) singing a pop ballad:
    (Apologies for Olivia Newton-John – this is actually one of her better numbers from the show.)

    Okay, so he won’t be collaborating with Gaga any time soon, but for a guy who usually sings classical musical theatre repertoire, I think he does a great job making the transition to pop. You can hear he is well-trained and has that operatic intensity at certain points, and some of his vowels are too pure, but I doubt many laymen would easily tell he was trained as an operatic baritone. When I listen to Warlow, I hear somebody whose technique allows him to sing many different genres without really changing things all that much. I hear pretty much the opposite with Fleming. Surely that’s what learning to sing correctly is all about – not whether you are any good at lots of different genres, but rather that your technique isn’t based on some gimmick that traps you in any particular one. I’d rather sing correctly and do McCartney numbers well than distort my voice so I can ruin Wagner. But that’s just me – I really liked Kaufman’s old voice. Now he sounds to me like yet another ‘PVC pipe’ opera singer.

    When I was 16, I was in my first musical and the director gave me a book on singing: it was Seth Rigg’s “Singing for the stars”. If anyone has ever actually learned how to sing from that travesty, I’ll eat my hat. I don’t completely blame Riggs, though. The problem with any commercial product is that it has to sell, so the complexities involved usually get simplified and further simplified until the original intended message becomes some unrecognisable gimmick – “Learn to sing reasonably well by doing lots of careful work over a lifetime of sacrifice” does not have quite the same ring to it as “Master singing opera in 5 days from your couch without doing ANYTHING AT ALL!!”. I very much doubt that a single person who makes the effort to seek out and read this blog has been swayed by those sorts of marketing spiels.

  28. Thanks, Chris. Well said. The thing I appreciate about Anthony Warlow (not having heard him before you asked me about him previously) is the simplicity of his pronunciation. That is the key to finding balance. I do feel he could improve his vibration, but it isn’t terrible. The big thing I hear is there is no exaggeration either forward or back. That should always be the basis of our singing, in my opinion.

  29. Well being a tenor (age 19) and currently studying Music Education (Voice of course), I am noticing that I am becoming more aware of the vocal traps that singers and aspiring singers and fall into before their career takes off. I know that vocally, I am just a baby and my voice is not even no where near being fully developed. Yet, one thing my voice teachers in college prevented me from doing right after I graduated high school was what a lot of young singers do when they first start their studies: Making themselves sound older than they really are. My voice teachers call this and “artifice”.

    I agree with your “Bjorling” post earlier last year. The more natural, the better. What I noticed, is that the less I tried to sound like a “typical” opera singer, the more my voice sang naturally, without tension, without artifice and I noticed my tone became more resonant and warm.

    Being a current sophomore in college, I am glad that my teachers are from the “old school” you might say. They introduced me to singers such as Jussi Bjorling and Fritz Wunderlich and Sopranos such as Kiri Te Kanawa and Arleen Auger.

    Yet even I can say that there is no one trick to sing opera.

  30. Matthew – Thanks for joining in. It’s great to hear from another college age singer. It is encouraging to hear that you have become aware of these traps. Good for you. Singing with your voice, rather than an imitated one, will allow for a more complete development. I hope to hear more from you.

  31. As a 24 year old low voice, I readily identify with the pressures of prescribing to a fixed laryngal position as a means of effectively producing a dark and ominous sound. I feel this kind of tone is so incredibly prevalent in the singing today. Distorted vowels, muddy diction, loss of any feeling of real lyricism in the voice, I feel as young people we are pulled every which way. Most of the techniques and methods that are out there are really just temporary fixes, or a means to improve upon some kind of sound .

    We live in a country where young people can sing nessun dorma and o mio babbino caro poorly and be championed for their bravery. How can we combat these trends? How can we change the climate of singing as a whole? Sometimes I just feel despondent over the entire situation, but I need to believe that we can do better.

    This blog is a huge resource for me. I consistently find the articles and reader responses to be right in line with what I am studying and what I fervently believe in.

    Michael, you illustrate so well the incredible difference between a system of fixed resonance versus a condition of balanced vocal production. I believe Kaufmann’s singing is a perfect example of this dilemma. I know for me, I have always preferred the voice Kaufmann once had. I cannot pick apart his technique now, because he is working consistently at a very high level, yet I know, that I would not ever be satisfied with myself if I was forced to sing that way.

    Please keep writing and know that there are those out there that feel just as you do. I hope you have a wonderful day!



  32. Christian – Thank you very much for your comments and feedback. I appreciate it and hope to see you in more discussions in the future. And please pass the word to other singers you know.

  33. Christian

    Just wanted to post this link. I think his production is much more in line with the singers of the past you are mentioning. I notice how he uses his mouth very little while pronouncing, the result is a beautifully clear and vibrant baritone sound.

    Russell Braun- “Mab, la reine des mesonges”

  34. Hi Christian – Good to see you thinking about this. You’re right that he is better than many these days. But he still doesn’t quite represent what we’re discussing. He doesn’t go far enough. It is true he is not going down in the way I’m talking about related to modern singers. But he also is not going up, or lifting, like I’m recommending.

    If you visualize, and pretend you can see the tone, his tone is still in the mouth. The positive is it isn’t coming out of the mouth. That would sound spread or “white”. Another positive is it isn’t down in the throat. That would be overly dark.

    But what I’m talking about that older singers had was the tone in the head or behind the face. Above the mouth. It is important to remember that we don’t accomplish this by trying to place the tone. It is accomplished by setting up the proper conditions. If the structure is arranged appropriately the tone will place itself, like water runs where the terrain provides a path.

    This is why I’m always talking about lift in the face. And unfortunately Russell Braun does not have lift. The lift allows a path for the tone to resonate in the head behind the face. This makes the tone weightless and removes any difficulty transitioning into the high voice.

    It also gives the tone great acoustic energy so the tone appears to be big, but not heavy. A great combination. Hope this makes sense.

  35. Christian


    I appreciate your thoughtful response. Who knows what Braun’s vocal quality could be if he implemented this concept of “lift” into his singing? I guess I offered him as an example because I felt he lacked the overblown quality of many professional low voices. But I agree that he could go further with intensifying the vibration.

    Looking forward to your next article!


  36. I agree, Christian. What you say is true for many, if not most, singers. I mean, how many have really maximized and realized their potential as a musical instrument? Very few. I include myself as well. It takes an ongoing commitment to developing and coordinating these physical traits to make them come together and “blossom”.

    I think because of the traits you identified he would require very little adjustment to really find a great result. Thanks for sharing him with us.

  37. Hieu Nguyen

    Thanks for your post! Very interesting to see many debates on Jonas’s voice. I agreed that his voice sounded very distorted sometimes, especially with lyric arias. But do you think that could harm his voice at all? The question about the vocal health related to this “counter-natural” sounds? I remembered he always mentioned that he didn’t feel comfortable about his earlier voice, and had troubles with it until he found the new techniques that he is using?

    Or do you think that it is just the matter of interpretation and that his voice is somehow “naturally” dark now, and that Faust is just not the right song for his voice anymore?

    I personally didn’t like his romantic arias CDs, but I quite like him singing lieder.

    I am a 21-years old singing learner. I think I have a potential spinto tenor voice, but now I sing in baritone keys just to save the voice as it is not mature up top yet. Hence, Jonas is quite an interesting case for me to look at. I would love to hear you to analyze further on this case. Not to criticize but truly learn from this debatable tenor.

    Thanks in advance.

  38. Hello Hieu – Thanks for your comment. I don’t know if what he is doing will harm the voice. In general any unnatural use will have some kind of effect. But there are degrees of harm. What he is doing is less harmful than other ways of doing things.

    In fact, although his earlier vocal coordination was less distorted, it very well may have been more harmful. Which may sound like it doesn’t make sense. The key aspect is the larynx to the breath pressure. Now he has a better connection. (Some call it connection to the body) But he is distorting his resonators to help accomplish the connection.

    His earlier singing he didn’t distort, but he lacked connection. Which would explain why he felt uncomfortable.

    Like I said in the post, on the surface he does sound pretty good. Especially in Helden-type rep. But if you listen deeper the defects are too distracting to enjoy.

  39. Hello Leo – I feel like I have listened to her before, but I don’t really remember clearly. She has a good voice and generally sounds good. But I can see why someone might say she has technical problems. She does rely on the breath too much, which puts the voice out of balance. I think she is pretty good in an overall sense, but functionally she could definitely improve. That would allow better dynamic control in the high range and make the words more intelligible.

  40. What I’m hearing in Kaufmann is a phenomenal combination of thinned vocal folds (light mechanism), full laryngeal pivot, and fully widened pillars of fauces (wide soft palate). Laryngeal tilt can sound VERY, VERY similar to tongue suppression, as can widened pillars. Early in my study, that was EXACTLY what I thought it was. I was very very VERY critical of most professional singers in that regard. The better my understanding of the voice becomes, the more I respect the techniques of the great singers of our time and the LESS criticisms I have. In academia, I have seen endless numbers of singers with TRUE tongue suppression, and the results are pretty much the same: entirely damped/muted overtones with virtually no carrying power and very often a complete loss of high range. Yet here Kaufmann is with a career that is snowballing bigger and bigger into the history books across many years and all of the top world stages. The houses he sings for are unholy monstrosities, and it’s very, VERY unlikely that he would be satisfying in any one of them with the problems you describe that DO often plague young singers. At the end of the day, Jonas Kaufmann makes more money in classical singing than you, me, and everyone in these comments combined.

  41. michael fattizzi

    I studied voice with a fine teacher, Charles A. Zerffi. He gave a good idea of how the mechanism works. When you sing you must relax the soft pallet in the upper mouth. Putting too much breath on the tone causes a wobble as per Callas. Forcing will cause the cords to scrape together and eventually will cause a polyp as in the case of Jonas Kaufmann. The operation to remove it can cause loss of quality. Ettore Bastianini suffering throat cancer refused the operation fearing loss of quality.

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