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But please feel free to Ask here and I will answer on the Blog
I am tenor (33 years old) singing with a local choir here in Limerick Ireland. I have been singing for some time now with little success and like most amateur singers, I aspire to sing solo but have some difficulty with the upper register and gaining consistency with my voice (I am tempted to call it schizophrenic!) From reading your website I must say your references to the Italian techniques are of much help as I have realized that I am guilty of over thickening the voice for volume and subsequently struggle with notes from E upwards. Can you provide some information on keeping the “ring” in the voice as the register goes up? I seem to try and shift position and try to “find” the notes.
The upper register is generally the most common challenge. That was what I needed the most time to figure out in my training. That is because it requires the greatest level of coordination to be able to access it. The first thing I would try is to sing slightly quieter as you ascend in pitch, without disconnecting, in order to allow the vocal folds to thin out for the higher pitch. There will be a natural crescendo because of the higher pitch, which will make it sound like a consistent dynamic. The problems start when we actually crescendo as we ascend the scale because that brings the thickness of the lower voice up and makes the voice feel heavy. When we do this well it feels as if the vocal folds and the breath are perfectly balanced and just skimming each other.
I’m not sure what you mean by shifting position, but I would guess it is causing your larynx to move. And we do not want this to happen. We should try to “think” the larynx into a consistently low released position. This allows the vocal folds to be their most flexible and responsive. Also by thinking the vowel at the larynx we stimulate it to stabilize without any muscular interference. Then as we ascend the scale the vocal folds are in position to stretch for the higher pitch and tune easily without struggle.
As for keeping “ring” in the tone, that is a result of the things I have discussed. Ring is a part of resonance, and appears when we have a well-balanced and free production. I think of it in the same light as I think of vibrato. It is a symptom of a well-functioning voice. So the way to ensure it is there is to make sure the whole voice is functioning correctly. There really are no individual fixes to individual problems. We must coordinate the whole act of singing well to realize the qualities we desire. If it seems as if one aspect is missing we cannot try to fix that one thing. It is really telling us that we are not completely coordinated and some aspect is lacking. So we have to approach it from the viewpoint of making sure all of the parts are working together to give us the tone quality we are looking for.
We need to learn to balance two basic fundamentals, Breathing and Pronunciation. Pretty much any problem can be traced to an imbalance in one or both of these areas. The key point being to remain in the position you would feel when you are calm. This can be a challenge as we increase the energy but it is important to learn.
After practicing breathing a few times keeping my ribs expanded and my sternum relatively high, I find my hypo-gastric area move in and up quite early in the exhalation process….almost like someone has punched me in the stomach ! Is this normal? Also, I believe the lower abdominals are fueling the compressed air to the vocal cords, in my case they tend to become rigid at some point… once again, is this common or should I always keep them tonic but relaxed through out the exhalation process?
It is normal for the abdomen to move in and up as you phonate and the breath escapes. The key is for it to be smooth and slow. This should feel like a steady movement, not sudden. It is possible that your coordination is not built up yet and you are getting a sudden movement. I just realized if you are talking about just breathing, then yes the up and in movement is immediate and we need to practice coordinating it to slow down without stopping it.
As for your lower abs, I think we should try to refrain from getting rigid. They stay active in the act of compressing the air up to the larynx but it should not be effortful. It really is a gentle action in the lower voice. As we get higher in pitch it needs to be a little firmer but we must be careful not to get too aggressive. It is the deeper muscles that should be active and not the muscles closer to the surface, which we feel as a hard abdomen. In other words always try to remain flexible.
First and foremost I wanted to share my gratitude on your work posted in the website, I find the articles very helpful to my training. I have classically trained by a French student of Maestro David Jones for about 2 years now and I still can’t seem to figure out how to properly hold the breath pressure. I was hoping with your expertise, you could enlighten me on this subject and perhaps give me some exercises that would trigger this concept.
The concept of holding back the breath pressure is tricky. I would say to start by making sure you have some breath pressure to start with. In other words don’t try to hold the breath completely. There is a common misconception that we want to hold back all of the breath pressure. This is not correct. It is air pressure that makes the vocal cords vibrate. The key is to make the distinction between loose air pressure and compressed air. Singing on compressed air is the basis of the old Italian school, which we teach from the Swedish school. G. B. Lamperti almost based everything on compressed breath. Mr. Lindquest picked up on an analogy that Lamperti used comparing the voice with an old-fashioned reed organ. These organs worked on the principle of compressed air from squeezing an air sack causing the reeds to vibrate, which then was resonated by the pipe. Lamperti said the lungs are just sacks of air around which the body squeezes.
Now the question comes how do we do this correctly. The first thing to check is the posture. If the posture is elongated and stretched we will put our body in position to breath correctly. If we allow the body to sag or collapse then we will have a harder time. I have heard people explain their theory of pushing the abdomen out while singing to hold back the air pressure in order to sing freely, but what they are actually doing is causing air compression by pressing the chest down. It is a law of physics. Vibration cannot happen without air pressure. Our challenge is to apply it in a smooth and coordinated fashion. My other point refuting this idea is we can’t push the abdomen out while retaining our posture.
So what I have started doing is to make sure I stay comfortably uplifted, and then compress the air upwards by thinking of squeezing the lower part of the lungs with the in-and-up movement of the lower abdomen and the bellows-like squeezing of the lower-ribs. It is important to never press down with the chest, this is why we must not move the chest on the inhalation so we don’t press it down on the exhale. When correctly done you should feel a smooth movement of the lower ribs inward, the lower abdomen up and in, which causes the upper abdomen to firm and perhaps bulge a little, and the muscles in the lower back that connect the back of the ribcage with the pelvis activate. This is what causes the lower back to press outward some and makes us feel like we are “holding back the breath pressure”. Which we are, but more importantly we are coordinately applying compressed breath to the voice to activate the vibration and keep the throat open. We can practice this using a “hiss” sound while compressing the air. It is like imitating a bicycle tire pump.
Since this is a rather athletic action it is important that the throat stay completely unconstricted so the vocal cords can vibrate freely. What Lamperti recommends is to practice breathing slowly and silently to ensure a hollow airway. Then it can act as the resonating “pipe” of the organ. The slow silent breathing also helps us breath into our lower lungs rather than sucking the air into the top of the lungs, which is then not easy to control. The final challenge is to say the vowel mentally while compressing the air. If the vocal folds do not approximate we will get loose air pushed out. This can make tuning inaccurate because the folds vibrate in a thickened state.
I would like to ask you why pop and Broadway singers can sing beautifully and powerfully in their performances even though they don’t have any background with the Swedish/Italian Method of Singing? And it seems that more people prefer singers who sing pop and Broadway that always spread their mouth position and jut their jaws forward. It seems that pop is MORE beautiful to MORE people than classical. This is confusing me regarding the HEALTHY and MORE MARKETABLE way of singing. Please enlighten me on this.
First I would say that the principles of healthy singing, like any truth, are there for anyone to discover if they are willing to devote the time and energy to figure out and understand how they behave. So someone doesn’t have to know the Swedish/Italian school of singing to find balanced healthy singing. But the Swedish/Italian school is based on the principles of naturally balanced healthy singing. So following the concepts of this school has proven to be successful for developing healthy balanced voices.
You make some accurate observations about the popularity of pop singers but I question if it is accurate to attribute it to them being more beautiful. I suspect it is because it is less beautiful and thus more easily accessible that it is more popular. As far as singing powerfully you have to remember they are amplified, if that were taken away no matter how loud they sing it is not very powerful. Also not all classical singing is good, and therefore beautiful, and can turn off some listeners. Combine that with the fact that most classical singing is in a foreign language and it is not surprising that it cannot compete with pop music in popularity. As for people preferring singers that jut their jaws forward and spread their mouth is because people feel like the singer is “really getting into it”, even if it is hard on the voice and disastrous to tonal quality. And it is certainly not healthy, so I would never recommend it. I feel that it should be possible to sing pop music in a healthy and balanced way while still expressing the meaning of the music and text to be marketable to any audience. It is up to the singer to express the words and music and if the singer does that they will have people that want to listen.
What happens when you sing high notes and low? What is the correct medical term for the vocal folds?
The glottis is the space between the vocal folds that opens when we breath and opens (with the folds closed) when we vocalize. As singers we should be concerned with the size and shape of the glottis because it’s behavior determines our success at achieving an easy and efficient function. In general the glottis should get smaller as we sing higher and get a little larger as we sing lower.
Now whether this actually happens depends on the skill of the singer. The glottis could be large all of the time, which allows excess breath to escape, and then it requires a great deal of breath pressure to ascend a scale. Low notes also are more difficult with a larger glottal opening. The glottis tends to be smallest (and easiest) when using head voice adjustment, making it in our best interest to train the head voice and then learn to match the feeling of glottal size when singing full voice.
Actually vocal fold is the term used by medical professionals. It has replaced the term vocal cord in proper usage. There are different muscles that make up the vocal fold as well as cartilages that attach to them. Vocal fold refers to the whole structure, but for singing we are mainly concerned with the edges of the folds which can still be referred to as the vocal cords but are more accurately called the vocal ligament. This is the part that is most directly involved in the vibration.
I need to exercise my upper voice and smooth out my breaks for singing rock music. I figure you, as a tenor, would need upper voice training too. I was wondering if you had any training suggestions.
The first step in developing your high range is to make sure both registers are well exercised. Then we can learn to combine their action to get our complete function throughout the whole range of the voice. The key is learning the proper inclusion of the resonance of the head, which reinforces and amplifies the upper register. This can be tricky because the misapplication of this concept can cause nasality which is often mistaken for ring. To accomplish this we must make sure we open the head resonators by lifting the face as is done when we laugh. The muscles under the eyes lift the upper cheeks so it is like there are balls on the cheek bones which then lifts the upper lip a little. It should look like a pleasant expression. This opens the head chamber behind the nose and allows the tone to reflect off the inner bone surfaces of the skull. When sound waves reflect off hard surfaces they are amplified. When the sound waves from the voice are amplified it allows the voice itself to work easier, reducing strain and effort. An important thing to watch out for is that you don’t fall into the trap of “placing” your voice. This will cause your throat to constrict. Speak the vowel with your larynx and at the same time keep the head space open to allow a simultaneous sympathetic vibration to happen.
It really can only be introduced in words. You have to be able to see and hear someone do it to really learn it for yourself. It is like trying to teach someone to shoot a basketball with words. It is much more effective to just observe someone do it and explain the finer points after you make a few attempts yourself.
What do you think is the problem when you sometimes cant sing? (I have this situation, that SOME DAYS I cant sing! I run out breath in seconds! And I also cant do a comfortable vibrato, because since I use the diaphragm and I run out of air! , I push too much! AND I don’t know why this happens! is this normal?)
Regarding your question about some days not being able to sing because you run out of air, I would say it is probably after over singing the day before. The vocal folds tend to be fatigued after overuse and don’t come together easily so excess breath will escape. It sounds to me like you are using loose breath to sing and not using a balanced interaction between the breath and the larynx.
Also, since you are 15, I suspect that you are over singing for your young larynx. You need to treat your voice with respect and intelligence and at your age you just don’t have the experience to guide yourself through the amount of singing it sounds like you are trying to do. So I suggest finding someone you can trust to guide you.
I am 15 years old of age and I would like to know HOW to create vibrato….This is difficult , because I have clear singing and my voice is in place. I know that singing without vibrato is harmful, so I want to develop it. I DO have a vibrato and it sounds good, but if it SOUNDS good, but is not done right, then I need to work on it! I have a very high voice too and I am working on the high notes …As I was saying , I HAVE a vibrato , but am I doing it wrong? Ok , when I do the vibrato , I HAVE TO add it to my voice ( by this , I mean that some teachers that have taken lessons or ARE singings coaches, have told me , that it must BE THERE and I don’t have to concentrate in having it or not ) because my voice did not come with a natural vibrato , I have to develop it . I will describe my vibrato : – its even – not overly fast , but not slow either ( my voice [or vocal cords] vibrate about three times each second ) * Although I know that the vocal cords ALWAYS vibrate….(but here we are talking about the singing vibrato! – it DOESN’T bother me or makes my throat hurt*** the important ( my questionable ) explanations of MY vibrato – it takes a very extremely small pulsation in my abdomen or DIAPHRAGM for each vibration, or “jump” (as I nicknamed it) – **and my throat “feels” like its also working WHILE these jumps take place…- ** my vibrato makes my notes shorter than when I don’t use it ( I run out of air a little faster ) ** is it obvious that this must happen? THIS IS ALL ! I sing very comfortable and I don’t get hurt or irritated ( except when I start to sing with full power without warming up because I really like it! I am sorry , I know I should ALWAYS warm up , but most of the times I do! I just run out of patience!) my diaphragm is also comfortable The questions that I have are: AM I DOING IT RIGHT?!* does the diaphragm have to be used or involved in the vibrato? like I do it ?
You are asking about vibrato and that is one of the most common questions. In general I would say you shouldn’t really try to develop the vibrato. It should come as a result of good balanced singing. I often describe vibrato as a symptom of our singing. The condition of the vibrato can give us information on the condition of the functioning of the voice. But you need experience to be able to tell what the vibrato is telling you. So I can’t confirm that your vibrato is right or wrong, but you describe a couple things that tell me it is not correct.
The fact you feel like you need to create it is the first clue. It should not be something we make happen or add to our voice. The second thing I hear you saying is your diaphragm is pulsing with the vibrato. This is also not desirable. A true vibrato is the result of free vibrations of the vocal cords and should not be linked to the diaphragm. The breathing muscles should be providing a constant and consistent balanced air pressure to the voice and not have any pulsing. You probably run out of air faster when doing this because you are pushing extra air out with each pulsation. This should not happen.
So I don’t think you are on the right path regarding vibrato, and since everything with the voice is interconnected several parts of the situation may be out of balance. Also you should not have as much of a vibrato at 15 as someone who is fully developed. So try not to worry about it and be focused on learning to use your voice as naturally as you can.
I am a 24 years old baritone, singing rock and metal, but now trying to learn to sing correctly in an attempt to lose the “day after” hoarseness.:) I have found that my voice often gets breathy on piano and pianissimo, especially on lower pitches. It only happens at low volume. My soft palate is raised, larynx lowered, tongue in ng, and the hiss does not diminish if I try to use the last small amount of air I can exhale (so it might not, perhaps, be the result of too much air); the air is, I think, loose in the larynx. I also have trouble with the control of air output – I am habituated to controlling the output at the glottis … what is the preferred exercise to start controlling it with the lower body musculature; lumbar area and abdominal muscles? Please give details. How do I learn to exhale stretching the back muscles so the diaphragm doesn’t ascend too quickly? On an unrelated note, what is the “bad” glottal shock, how can I diagnose it (produce it, feel it) -and eliminate it?
Regarding the “day-after” hoarseness, that is a result of the vocal cords being worn by too much air pressure. They tend to swell a little and not close easily for clean vibration. It goes away as the cords go back to normal. This will cause the cords not to close cleanly on low notes and make them breathy. Since you mainly notice it on piano low notes it tells me that you are depending on the flow of your breath to close the cords, which requires a significant amount of breath energy to happen. That is why you don’t notice it on fuller volume. But this is causing the glottis to enlarge, which lets more air out and you get a vicious cycle. So basically your breath is escaping loosely rather than coming out just as rapid puffs during the vibration. This would be the cause of your difficulty controlling the air output. If the vocal cords are leaking too much air then the throat muscles and tongue will help control the out flowing air. This is not desirable, and might be what you are referring to as using the glottis to control the outflow. Actually the glottis should stay closed during the sung phrase, so it does sort of control the outflow of the air. The key is only the vocal cords resisting the breath and not any other tissue or the tongue. Again, it is hard to explain without being able to demonstrate what I mean. I would say just focus on saying the vowel cleanly with your larynx, this thought is what stimulates the vocal musculature so the vocal cords close properly. Then make sure to keep the abdomen leaning in and up to compress the air so the larynx has sufficient energy to keep it vibrating. To coordinate that action we need to keep the ribcage open and stretch the back muscles so the diaphragm doesn’t collapse.
The bad glottal shock is like a cough. The cords close but there is too much air pressure against them and they pop open. What makes it bad is not the closure of the cords but the air pressure. We need to learn to keep the breath in our body and not push it out to make the tone. This allows the vocal cords to open and close very cleanly without excess breath disturbing the coordination. Then we are able to tune accurately, sing full without effort, produce high notes and low notes relatively easily, basically do anything we want. This is what was meant by the Coup de Glotte, before the term was changed to mean something unhealthy. We usually refer to it as the perfect attack.
My name is Bob, 22 years old. the lowest note I can sing is the E lower than the lower C. (the C lower than the middle C). I am having problem adducting (shortening) my vocal cords in order to sing in a commercial (Rock, R&B, Pop) voice. well I have been able to do that before in my trainings, but it seems like I have totally forgotten that sensation and I can’t do it easily any more. I remember it was very easy. very little amount of pressure, and I could hit the extremely high notes without struggle (and it was not falsetto). I want to know if I am using the grunt correctly or I have air over blow? Anytime I want to go up there is fatigue and I reach a vocal ceiling, and also it hurts and wears out my voice. I think I have to make the air coming out less…anyway, whatever I guess, I try, but nothing changes. Thanks for helping.
There are any number of possible issues going on and I can’t know what it is from what you have told me. It is possible that what you previously did worked but was not healthy and now you can’t do it anymore. It is possible that what you previously did was healthy and you have gotten out of balance so you can’t do it anymore. Then I would think that you are over-doing the breath and probably using too much vocal mass as you try to sing higher. Again, these are just my first thoughts of what is possible. I have no way to say with any certainty without observing your singing. But it is a good bet that you have gotten out of balance in some way and that is causing you difficulty. As far as the grunt, it should be very small and actually I like to use the laugh reflex instead.
I am singing soprano (spinto) and I have such difficulties with the top notes. But now in these days I have also problems with my low notes. I don’t now what to do, some people says that I am a mezzo-soprano, some people says that I can sing Wagner and some people say that I am a high mezzo. SO I am in big trouble. I know that I have a good and big voice but it doesn’t matter even if you can not sing a high C or H note. can you help me about this I am searching documents and books about it.
The thing that matters most is not what others tell you or even what voice type you are, at least not right now. What matters most is to find out what good, natural singing feels like. Until you understand clearly how to sing in accord with natural function you will always be having trouble, and you won’t know truly what voice type you are. This cannot be accomplished if you follow the path of trying to sound a particular way. What I mean is attempting to do something with your voice rather than using your voice to express words and melody. This is one of the most common pitfalls for the aspiring opera singer. If you try to sing with a big voice you will invariably over sing and be out of balance. We must start with our natural voice, which may seem smaller to you than you want. It does not mean the voice should be constricted. Absolutely not. The airway should be completely hollow so there is no extra resistance to the smooth release of breath as the voice vibrates regularly. When this becomes a familiar function the range of the voice will start to normalize. Then the voice will tell you what it is as far as type and category. Then through improved coordination you will be able to increase the intensity of the tone, which is what a well-produced big voice really is.
I am a 15 year old singer in a rock band on the verge of getting a record deal, and I am becoming very anxious about the condition of my voice. My problem is that my once very rounded voice is suffering from a problem with my falsetto: it used to be very strong and I could hit a top b flat in falsetto range, but now I can rarely, if ever sing in falsetto. Instead of the desired note I literally just get empty space, and the sound of air coming out of my mouth. Am I losing my falsetto forever ?
It is very possible that your voice has temporarily worn out. This can happen if it is used too vigorously without good coordination. It is necessary to retrain it to sing full without over-working the instrument. This is also important because of your age. At 15 the vocal mechanism has not finished growing and settling into its final state. Because of this it is not strong enough to withstand the force of repetitive loud singing. I would be interested in hearing what you describe and finding out what the condition of your voice actually is. I can only guess and give you generalities until I hear you. Then I could give you much more concrete answers.
I’m a musical theatre actor and I’m 19 years old, and I’ve recently run into some voice trouble. I’m in the low tenor range generally, and in the past, I have easily been able to belt an E above high C. Recently, whenever I belt an E on the vowels “O” or “A”, the sound is accompanied by a crackling or popping sound, as if there is something on my cords. Have you ever encountered someone with this problem? Any idea what I should do about it?
I am a very skilled professional R&B/Soul singer in NYC. I am currently 29 years old and in the past 3 to 4 years I’ve found that I’m gradually losing my ability to hit high notes in my upper range in full voice. I also find that my speaking voice is becoming a bit deeper. All this while my falsetto is strong as ever. What can I do to sustain the upper range in my voice, and to counteract the deepening of my speaking voice?
My first suspicion is you are forcing your voice, which means the air is forcing the vocal cords too far apart so you need to use too much air to get them to vibrate the pitch. If this was the case you would be losing your falsetto. But you say that your falsetto is strong, so that makes me think that another possibility is your voice is actually combining the registers. This is a good thing. As the falsetto gets strong, over the course of a few years, it starts to match the chest voice and becomes the complete voice. What you think is full voice is probably pushed up chest voice. When the registers balance and work together you can’t push the chest voice up anymore and it seems like you’ve lost your full voice top. What you need to do is learn how to do full voice without making the vocal cords open big like chest voice but keep the opening small like falsetto while adding the strength of your body. We call this connecting the little head voice to the body. We do this by using the instinctive act of grunting. But it is a SMALL grunt, like imitating a baby. So we call it a baby grunt. This connects the small voice to the full energy of the body. This same coordination will help keep the speaking voice healthy and balanced.
I have recently begun to “teach” myself to sing. When I say “teach myself to sing” I mean tonally, as I could NEVER sing in tune, so far I’ve made good progress, however what I’m slightly worried about is that I play flute and recently I have developed a terrible sounding “false” vibrato, when I do it I can feel muscles in my chest contracting and the note vibrates far too fast and it’s ruining the complete sound of the note, it happens when I sing too and I have absolutely no idea how to rectify it.
I’m not clear if your problem started in your flute playing and then came into your singing. If this is the case you need to recognize that singing and playing an instrument have their similarities but also significant differences. When you play an instrument it is outside your body, while the voice is inside your body, so you are going to use the breath differently. Also, the nature of how you produce vibration is different with the flute and the voice. So you have to make sure that when you are playing each respective instrument you are obeying the rules for each. As I understand it when you play the flute you direct a stream of air across the hole in the mouthpiece causing the air in the body of the flute to vibrate. With the voice the instrument is inside and if the breath gets outside like it does playing the flute it will ruin the function of the voice. When playing the voice the breath should feel fused to the voice, not separate. This happens when you focus on actually saying what you are singing. Then the voice is activated by your nervous system and the breath supports the voice unconsciously.
I’m 20 years old and want to find out my vocal range. If I could sing the songs of ROB THOMAS, BABYFACE, BRIAN MCKNIGHT, USHER (I could hit “one last cry” and it doesn’t sounds forced). what do you think is my vocal range? thanks!
It is not really possible to give you an accurate answer without being able to hear HOW you are singing these songs. It is possible that you are a tenor, but I don’t ever categorize a voice until it is well developed and it becomes obvious what the voice is by how it behaves.
I have been singing for 13 years. I have been taught by many teachers and yet none of them have been clear or helpful on how to get the Vibrato going. I read the information on your web site which is helpful, but at the same time, I am struggling with my latest teacher because she insists that the vibrato comes from the diaphragm. Yet recently I have been having extreme difficulty getting the vibrato going and I think it is because of what you said on your web site. But now when I do not use the diaphragm for the false vibrato, my voice comes out straight, with very tiny quivers and I am flat or off pitch completely. I am singing opera, folk, and classical songs which demand a vibrato and in two months I will be singing for a professor who will grade me on my performance.
The issue of vibrato is a popular one. Like many aspects of singing it tends to be misunderstood. The natural vibrato is more an issue of the free vibration of the vocal cords and an open pharynx than the diaphragm. (Technically it isn’t even the diaphragm but the abdominal muscles responsible for exhalation, but I understand what you mean.) The “false” vibrato that you describe is really a super-imposed pulsation on the tone. It can be effective as an exercise to free the throat and increase the energy, but as a technique to be used consistently it is a form of forcing the voice. (I find it more effective to use a laugh reflex to achieve a sense of freedom.) I notice by the way you use the phrase “get the vibrato going” that you have been led to believe that it is something to be done. I find it helpful to view the vibrato as something that happens when the conditions of the voice are correct. A key aspect of this is the idea of vocal tone being something that we release or emit, rather than something we produce or send out. The difference may seem subtle, but it is important. Unfortunately when we have one aspect of the vocal instrument out of balance it tends to be related to how we are doing everything in our coordination. What this means is we can’t fix it with just one remedy. We need to make sure all the parts are working together in the correct balance. This includes correct breathing, phonation, and pronunciation, which all traces back to posture. If our posture is correct then the body is free to function more automatically, so we don’t need to try to make things happen. The body already knows how to do everything, we just need to put it position to allow it to happen.
I am a classical singer, tenor. I study with a pretty good, well-known teacher in the area. I still have a problem though. Frequently while singing my larynx bobs up and down, which I know is not good, even though I produce a decent, and powerful sound. I think this is also causing fatigue. If you have any thoughts on how to stop that, that would be great. Thanx.
Your question concerns the stability of the larynx, which is a somewhat complex subject. What you describe is quite common. It usually doesn’t affect the quality of the tone, at least not to a noticeable degree. Although when the larynx is properly stabilized you will notice an improvement in the tone as well as in the ease of production. Now how do we address this? Obviously I can only speak in generalities because I don’t know your situation without hearing you. Given that obstacle let me try to give you something that you can use. The stability of the larynx is dependant on the musculature both outside and inside the larynx working together in the proper balance. The extrinsic muscles determine the placement of the larynx in terms of high or low in the neck. In a well coordinated tone production these muscles activate in proportion to the intensity of the tone to suspend the larynx from above and especially below against the increasing air pressure from the lungs. As I said, these muscles work in coordination with the intrinsic muscles. If the intrinsic muscles are not working properly then the coordination falls apart. This results in a bobbing larynx, or worse, a choked off, closed throat.
So this brings us to the importance of the intrinsic muscles in the stabilization of the larynx. The intrinsic muscles include the muscles that adduct (close) the vocal cords. This adduction, when done well, seals the glottis so that any air that passes through causes regular vibration. The sealing of the vocal cords provides a firm platform of resistance against the air pressure. This firm platform is the foundation to a stable larynx. (Laryngeal Appoggio-setting the larynx on the breath) If the glottis is open it allows excess air to escape with the vibration. When this happens the resistance to the air is lost, which causes the larynx to become unstable. This is what Gillis Bratt (the man whose teaching this school is based on) called “leaking breath” and “wild air” going through the larynx. I often describe it as being like a sail on a sailboat. When it is tied properly it catches the air and pulls the boat. If it comes untied it flaps in the wind. This is similar to what is happening when the larynx is bobbing.
Based on my description you may already realize why you also feel fatigue from this condition. If the glottis is open and allows excess breath to pass, then it follows that it takes more breath to get the voice to produce as much tone because of a reduced efficiency. So you are working harder than necessary, which causes fatigue. It is the balance of opposing forces, the firm platform of the closed glottis and the breath pressure, that makes things easy. Once something relaxes, like the glottis, the balance falls apart and the action gets fatiguing. This can also, over time, wear down the voice. If you have ever heard somebody say that a singer has lost the “sheen” from their youthful voice, this is the cause. Allan Lindquest (who brought the Bratt school of teaching to the US from Sweden) always would say that the biggest problem in singing is too much air through the glottis. I need to stress again that it is about balance, not forcing the cords closed. There should not be a great deal of tension at the cords, or a lot of breath pressure either. Realistically, the “how” of it really can’t be explained without hearing a demonstration. To put it as succinctly as possible, the vocal cords need to approximate so just their edges touch and then vibrate so they release a very small, consistent, stream of breath to keep them vibrating. This is what was termed the “perfect attack”. When done correctly it almost controls everything in the singing act. That is why Garcia focused almost exclusively on it.
I am recently retired and now have time finally to begin to practice regularly again. I have a lyric voice and it is in fairly good condition (lost good production of high C but it is still there). I have been in good choirs all along. I still do solo work and have a degree in voice so it will be a treat to now have the time to work. I am noticing a vibrato and really do not want to ever get to be one of those ‘quavering’ old lady singers. What could I do to prevent this? Also any ideas for coaxing back a good high C?
I assume when you say you are noticing a vibrato you mean an irregular vibrato. Perhaps the beginning of a wobble? To a great extant that is considered a typical process of aging. But this is because as we age there is a general decline of muscle tonus in the body. This affects our voice just as it affects the rest of our body. The only remedy is to consistently exercise the body through appropriate vocal exercises that keep the structure of the vocal instrument coordinated. I feel the most important aspect of this coordinated structure is to train the body to retain the necessary elasticity of the muscles involved in singing. As we age, or over a period of time with a lack of activity, the muscles increase their sag and slackness. Through proper exercise we can train them to remain vital so they contract and stretch as they need to when singing to coordinate breathing, tuning of the vocal folds and stretch of the resonating cavities. In my observation this is the main reason for the development of a wobble in older singers. The muscles involved in singing need to be elastically stretched or else the voice will have undue weight placed upon it, causing drag and making it heavy. This heaviness causes it to vibrate irregularly which is magnified into an irregular vibrato.
So the remedy is to keep the vitality and elasticity of the vocal instrument. One way this is done is by exercising the emotional inspiration, or stimulus, for our singing. When we feel a heightened emotion such as joy or excitement the whole body is vitalized. This vitalization includes an uplifted feeling in the posture, the ribcage, the face, the inside of the mouth including the soft palate, the tongue, and even in the level of energy we feel throughout the body. It is this kind of vitalization of the whole body and emotional personality that can make singing easy. This uplifted emotional feeling also causes the desired physical effects that I described which eliminate the heaviness of the voice, making it weightless, so it vibrates regularly with a natural vibrato that is not unpleasantly noticeable.
This is the same remedy for regaining your complete range, including high C or higher depending on what your instrument is capable of. A specific exercise that you should try is more of a way to prepare to sing than a vocalise. You can do any kind of scale that you are comfortable with, but before you sing prepare by imagining a situation that causes positive feelings in you. Some examples may be the joy and surprise of unexpectedly running into an old friend. Or the inspiration of a beautiful sunrise, the awe of the Grand Canyon or other natural vista. The love for a child is effective because it tends to conjure up feelings of inspiration as well as gentleness, which is ideal for the feel for singing. One of the old Italian schools was based on “smelling a rose” and the positive connotations of that. After you find something that works for you, let that inspiration be the stimulus for your sung exercise. If it has been successful you will feel a new level of completeness of tone and ease of production. Then you just build on that.
One technical key is to make sure that you are not trying to make the voice “go” with your breath. The saying that was used in the Swedish/Italian school was “the breath comes because you have something to say”. Say your vocal phrase with your voice freely and let the breath come on its own. This is necessary to make sure we don’t over-pressurize the larynx.
I have been singing (rock ‘n roll, blues, ballads) professionally since 1986. I have never had a very strong falsetto, and as I grow older (I am now 42), it seems to even be weakening. At times, when my voice feels fatigued, I cannot even sing falsetto, air will come out, but no sound. I feel as though I’m in a catch-22, because I think I need some serious rest for my voice, but my singing is how I earn a living… What tips or exercises can you suggest for me??
Thanks for writing. Your question goes right to the heart of what I consider to be the foundation of a healthy voice. I consider the condition of a person’s falsetto to be a major indicator of the health of the instrument. The fact that you sometimes even lose your falsetto function tells me that your voice is not as healthy as it could be, and in extreme cases may even have some damage. But there is no way for me to know without hearing you and then having a doctor look at your vocal folds.
I have found that exercising the falsetto is imperative to developing balance in our singing. And good singing can be defined as balanced physical functioning. Unfortunately, the styles of music you sing tend to be performed without much concern for the health of the voice. So that can be a challenge for you. But I strongly feel that it can be done. It just requires educating yourself on how to meet the demands of your music while staying within the boundaries of balanced function.
The simplest exercise that I can give you to get started is to imitate an owl in a falsetto function. At first it will probably be too breathy, but that is OK for now. The most important thing is to start developing a feel for that kind of function. While you are doing that, observe the state of your vocal parts. (jaw, tongue, larynx) If you notice tightness or constriction, try to take steps to release them. An exercise for this is to swallow. When you swallow there is a constriction phase and a release phase. You want to become very aware of the feeling of the release and try to maximize the release. Then go back to the owl sound while retaining the released feeling. This should include the jaw being slightly down as well. As you progress the owl sound should gradually be fine tuned into a “coo” or whimper. Sounds like a baby makes. This is how the voice functions the easiest. It is then possible to teach yourself to sing full or complete while retaining the feeling of the coo.
I want to ask if it is possible to sing pop music with the way of training that you are teaching, according to the principles of the Swedish/Italian school? If yes, the big question in my mind is HOW is it possible in such a classical or operatic way? I wish that you enlighten me on this TECHNICALLY.
Absolutely yes. The key is to recognize a difference between technique and style. Technique is HOW the voice functions, style is WHAT you do with it. An analogy would be a trumpet or violin. They both function essentially the same whether they are being played in a symphony or in a jazz band. The basic action of the instrument to produce sound is the same in both instances, the player just expresses differently when they play one style versus the other. It is the same with the voice. Sound is produced the same way, the singer just expresses differently according to the music they are singing. No matter what music is being sung it is always based on words and melody, or vowel and pitch. These are the basic elements of singing. Our job is to produce these with the least amount of effort. So we develop the skill of producing the pitch by saying the vowel completely, which causes the vocal cords to vibrate completely. We then learn to coordinate the pronunciation of vowels so that it does not interfere with the regular vibration of the vocal cords, which is the foundation of our sound producing instrument.
I am practicing to become a tenor, does singing with falsetto hurt the voice? My teacher told me that by singing falsetto you are developing other muscles in your larynx.
To answer your question, no, singing falsetto does not hurt the voice. At least it doesn’t if done correctly. If you sing with a weak, breathy falsetto it could over time cause problems. This would happen because the muscular system is not working, so it would weaken and the throat would close. But if you think of speaking clearly in falsetto, or what I like to call head voice, it works to balance the chest voice. It is true that it is working different muscles in the larynx, and that is desirable. If done correctly the different sets of muscles become equal in strength so they can balance each other, allowing the singer to access the whole range with ease. If you only exercise the chest voice, especially for tenor, it will be very difficult to sing in the high range of the voice. I should point out that we only sing in pure head voice as an exercise, it is not meant as a final singing method. To sing for performance we want to use the voice so that both registers are participating. I try to use the position of head voice combined with the strength of chest voice to get complete voice. When that is done successfully it is an incredible result.
I am a High-School Choral director and I have a male student who insists on using vibrato on every pitch for its entire duration. Since I am looking for a pure choral tone, I prefer a clear, straight tone with some vibrato on long tones to create crescendo. He also sings with a very heavy, dark vocal color on EVERY piece of music, even if it is a vocal jazz arrangement of Christmas Carols. He insists that his voice hurts if he sings with a straight tone. My voice doesn’t and I have been singing and teaching for 40 years. Am I right or is he? I would appreciate your feedback on this.
You ask “Am I right or is he?” Based strictly on the words I read I would say he is, because singing straight tone can be harmful, but if I read into the situation deeper I would say you are. Perhaps what I mean will be clearer if I clarify some terminology that I use first.
In the way that I use the term vibrato, it corresponds to “vibrant”. It is a natural vibrancy from the complete vibration of the vocal folds during phonation. This is somewhat different than the popular use of this term. I am assuming that when you say your student is using vibrato it means a noticeable movement of the voice and pitch. I feel that if a vibrato is noticeable or distracting it is no longer a natural vibrato, but has moved into the realm of a wobble. I suspect since you describe him as singing “dark and heavy” he is really singing with a wobble, which is what happens when we add weight to the voice. A healthily functioning voice should never seem dark and heavy. It should have a beautiful weightless buoyancy that sparkles. So I agree with you on the point of him being on the wrong path and the teacher misinterpreting healthy vocalism. I consider vibrato to be more of a symptom that tells us the condition of the singing. It is like in medicine when people talk about treating the symptom instead of the cause of disease. I think of vibrato as a symptom of the condition of the vocalism, not a cause to be directly dealt with. So we shouldn’t try to directly influence it by making it or eliminating it. The absence or over-pronouncement of the vibrato is not something that should be directly altered. It is a symptom that tells us we are singing out of balance. The vibrato will be balanced if the vocalism is balanced.
So this brings us to your desire for straight tone. This actually is also a misinterpretation of healthy voice use, but in the opposite direction. I would encourage you to explore the idea of a STEADY tone rather than a straight tone. The vocal mechanism should be stable while in use, which results in a steady tone. If the vocal mechanism is too relaxed or too tense from pressure by the tongue it will be unstable. This gives a tone that is noticeably unsteady. A straight tone is caused by a talking type of singing. The tongue and throat muscles are holding the pharyngeal space closed, which doesn’t allow the voice to vibrate naturally. This puts excessive pressure on the vocal folds, causing them to be over tense and disturbing the natural register balance necessary for healthy functioning. This will significantly reduce the functional range of the instrument. The closed throat also acts as an increased resistance which can allow the body to push more breath pressure against the voice turning the singing into belting. This is a dangerous temptation, because it can cause long term damage or at the least long term muscular imbalance which can take years to repair, if the student has the patience.
There has been scientific research into the acoustic qualities that best blend in a choral situation and the straight tone actually doesn’t blend well because of the lack of overtones in the voices. It is true that wobbly voices don’t blend well either, but they are also lacking overtones. The best choral blend comes from well produced voices with natural vibrancy (brightness) and relaxed throats (darkness) that gives a balanced acoustic result. Some simple key concepts that help in achieving this are the inspired-uplifted posture and the pleasant facial expression. This energizes the body and lifts the soft tissue of the face and throat up off the voice mechanism so it can function freely. I would guess your dark and heavy student has a drawn down facial posture to add the weight to his voice. This can be a clue as you watch your singers. I know it is hard to do with that age group, but they should look like they are enjoying what they are doing. This will improve their singing more than anything I know.
I hope this gives you some idea of where I am coming from. In my opinion the solution lies in the concept of balance. I would suspect that even though you use the term straight tone, you don’t mean an overly tense production which would make me think you are closer to balanced than your student. It sounds to me like the young man has been trained into a preconceived idea of how his voice should sound. This can also be a dangerous situation for his long term vocal health. But I see it all of the time, especially with lower voiced singers. As I tell my students, you should always sound like what you are. If you are a high school student you should sound like one. If you don’t, then you are artificially altering your natural instrument. This is a common misconception among voice teachers, our job is NOT to teach singers a way to make their voices sound better, our job is to guide singers to FIND OUT how their voice works naturally (which then sounds even better) and then make that a habit. This results in a singer sounding like themselves rather than some artificial imitation of a preconceived idea.
I want to sing Musical Theater, but I am hesitant to take voice lessons because I don’t want to sound like an Opera singer.
This is a very common misconception, and I have to say it is not completely inaccurate. Unfortunately, because of the methods of some teachers, people who want to sing non-classical music are led to believe that to sing healthily they need to sound classically trained. Since this is not the way they want to sound they feel conflict between what they want and what they are being taught. The problem with this is the assumption made by many teachers that the “classical sound” is the only healthful way of singing. In many cases, what is considered a good classical sound is actually an artificial, or unnatural, quality. In my observation of singers, there is just as much “wrong” with those singing classically as there is with those singing with a “Broadway” style vocalism. The “wrongness” just happens to be in the opposite direction. My general feeling is anything that sounds unnatural is incorrect. What is most natural is what is most balanced. We can have degrees of imbalance, but we should strive to minimize this imbalance. What is generally categorized as “Classical” singing is often overly dark in color, which reduces intelligibility of the text, in an attempt to improve quality of tone. This is compared to the typical “Broadway” sound which is often overly bright in color, reducing quality of tone, in an attempt to emphasize the words. There is nothing wrong with these different attempts if that is what the performer wants to express with their interpretation. The problem comes in how they execute these. First, the “classical” singer overworks to make up for an inefficient phonation because of the dark tone color. An efficient production has a naturally bright color that carries with ease. Second, the “Broadway” singer overworks because of a constricted throat resulting from over pronouncing the text. A healthy production is perfectly intelligible without effort. Both of these results stem from an attempt to do something with the tone. In the first case to make it “better”, in the second to make it more intelligible. A perfect vocal production is a result of just saying the word and the pitch without trying to do anything extra. (I will go into this in greater detail in my future article on Phonation) We can say it loud, we can say it soft. We can say it high or we can say it low (in pitch). We need to learn to sing in a spontaneous, non-manufactured way. Because of this I feel that good training can help singers in any style of music. The voice is the musical instrument and has it’s own nature of functioning which should not change based on style of music. Much like a trumpet or violin, which have their place in the symphony orchestra, can also play jazz or fiddle music. The production is essentially the same, the musician just expresses differently according to the feel of the music. I have taught classical singers as well as people interested in musical theater, pop, rock, jazz, R & B, folk, country, cabaret, night club, traditional cantoring, modern cantoring, and even chant. I said the same thing to every one of them, style should not determine function. Function is a product of the instrument, style is a product of what you feel as a performer.
How can a beginning student tell if their vocal cords are closed?
This is a very important question, because it lies at the core of everything we do as a singer. The first thing is we must remember that we are looking for balance. We must not habitually over-do anything, although it is inevitable that we will at the beginning. So allow yourself to do too much at first so you can develop a sense of balanced phonation. I feel that so many teachers are afraid of pressed phonation that they teach a sighing technique which will rarely elicit balanced results. Singers then end up singing with too much air flowing through their glottis, which then leads to many problems including poor registration, muscular atrophy, poor intonation, inconsistent vibrato (wobble). This is because when we phonate with a flow of air the folds vibrate in a much thicker configuration than just on the thin edges. An effective approach is to experiment with the natural act of moaning. With some repetition you begin to sense that the vocal cords are vibrating close together without being held or pressed together. (You can check this easily by completely covering your ears with your hands so you can only hear the internal sound of your phonation. If you hear unvocalized breath, you know you aren’t phonating completely.) As a result there is not any excess breath flowing through the glottis, although there is feeling of freedom and ease. Best of all the vibration has intensity to it that seems to spontaneously wake up the resonance of the throat, mouth and head. As the singer’s skill increases they are able to develop the ability to vibrate on just the anterior edge of the folds. This has a similarity to the “coo” of a Dove. When this happens singing becomes very easy and the voice is able to pass through the registers seamlessly without resorting to pushing large amounts of breath or singing loud all the time. This is what we refer to as the perfect attack.
I often run out of breath before the end of the phrase when I sing. What can I do to help this?
Well, I think your instructor is correct in that your vocal cords are not closing properly so you are leaking too much breath as you sing. We want to work towards a perfect balance between the vocal cords and the breath. If there is an imbalance in either direction we will have problems. For most beginners there is a need to strengthen the instinctive response of the vocal cords to close. This response needs to happen before the tone starts or else there will be too much air passing through the glottis, and it needs to become a reflex. The most important thing is to think the vowel and pitch clearly in your mind, and then speak them just as clearly. In the beginning stages it is helpful to feel like your are speaking on a little mini-grunt. Experiment with speaking vowels on the natural functions of grunting and moaning. This is in opposition to sighing, which most people teach (and is only appropriate as a balancing exercise and not as a phonating exercise). But the cords never learn to come together through sighing. Now, this grunting should be extremely gentle. Singing is really a gymnastic activity of the body, but always remember that it is gentle. Never get rigid. Then you just keep the feeling going for as long as the phrase is. Balance of registration is imperative to perfecting the closure of the glottis, and I will be going into that in detail in my article on the perfect attack.
I am a beginner, how long should I practice?
In the early stages of your development it is a good idea to break up your practice sessions so you don’t go too long at one time. A good suggestion is to practice half an hour, but break it up as three sessions of 10 minutes each. This is to ensure you don’t over work the muscles that make up the voice. These muscles are small and are strengthened in a much more subtle way than the skeletal muscles. Once they are fatigued they are no good until rested. Progress is much more certain with this practice regimen. As you get more advanced you can lengthen each session gradually, until you are doing three sessions of 20 minutes. That is probably the maximum you would want to do of complete voice singing. But practice also can be done silently and with just piano. It is important to be imaginative with your practice to keep your voice fresh. A singer is an athlete, but the muscles we use are very small by comparison. Learn to work them in proportion to their size.
What do you define as breath support? I have been told to hold my stomach out when I sing a phrase but I still don’t feel like I’m supporting, and I’m not getting the results I want.
Yes, this is a very elusive and misunderstood concept. I have to admit that it was not clear to me for a long time because of how many different explanations there are out there. The idea of holding your stomach out is very common and stems from abdominal breathing. This in and of itself is worthless, because it is directly opposite to good posture. First, let’s define what support is not. Support is not a conscious propulsion of breath to make the voice go. It is also not a conscious gripping of the muscles around the midsection associated with breathing. In fact, the more our vocalizing is balanced the less we notice any “supporting” happening. What most people are being taught regarding the act of supporting is an attempt to make up for imperfect phonation. The body should participate in the singing act more or less unconsciously. The vocal instrument, which includes the body, should be stimulated by our desire to express something through singing. The abdomen plays an important part, but it shouldn’t be conscious. And it won’t make any positive difference if the larynx is not working properly. The only conscious feeling I recommend is a feeling of outward stretch all over the body in every direction with the exception of the abdomen. It should have an inward direction as part of the natural posture and to provide air compression in the direction of the voice.
What do you tell a student who refuses to use ANY effort to support?
First they need to understand the basic fundamentals of how the voice works. Vocal sound depends on energy that is obtained from the breath that is inside the body. I would say you need an inexhaustible supply of energy that never crosses over into becoming effort. In that sense your student is right, but I suspect what you are saying is she refuses to provide a sufficient amount of energy to produce free vocal tone. There are many little “tricks” that can be employed to support the voice, but the bottom line is the individual singer must decide to “put out” as I say. This means that you have to make a conscious decision to make singing an active, and not a passive, activity. I would compare this to actually playing a sport rather than just watching someone else play. I have encountered this in my own teaching, and it is very difficult to remedy because it is not about what they are doing. The problem is they are not actively participating sufficiently. You said that she thinks singing should be as natural as speaking and she doesn’t want to cause tension. This is true, as are many things that have been misunderstood. Singing should be as natural as speaking, although multiplied a thousand times. And it should be added that the speaking we are talking about is well-produced speaking, which is rarely found. It has to be accepted that healthy singing requires a greater level of energy than that required for conversation, and that no trick is going to do any good until the individual decides to be actively involved. The Italian school considered singing to be a gentle athletic activity. That is why the exercises were called gymnastics. Energy must be accumulated from the whole body and be coordinately released to furnish the vibration in the throat, which through proper vowel shapes we maximize resonance. This coordination makes singing easy and gives the impression of relaxation. If the body does not become involved the throat takes on the job of providing the vibration and the energy, and this will eventually cause the voice to collapse. So to get back to your question, I would explain the facts and ask them to try things out. Hopefully from experiencing a more active body connection they will start to change their views.