Singing 101: Breathing!

Singing 101: Breathing!

Demystifying The Diaphragm + Tips for Better Breath Support

Ahh, Breathing.

It seems to be THE central focus of so many of our conversations about singing, and yet I find that most people who come into my studio admit to being pretty damn perplexed, and completely mystified, as to what “breath support” really means, and how to do it properly. Isn’t it kind of hilariously ironic that the ONE piece of singing that should be the easiest, the ONE piece we’re already doing all the damn time, all day every day, is such a source of confusion? It’s talked about incessantly, and yet, most people seem completely in the dark about what breath support really means, what the role of the diaphragm is in singing (what the hell IS the diaphragm anyway?!), and how breathing can help or hinder our singing. So, let’s demystify all this breathing-and-diaphragm talk, mmkay?

I’m here to blow your mind, people. Pun intended. Okay, sorry. Let’s forget I did that.

Singing Breathing + The Diaphragm = Diaphragmatic Breathing

For a quick + dirty overview / in-depth breakdown of how the vocal mechanism works, please go here and read my post on How The Voice Works. At its essence, singing is the balance of our breath/airflow, to the muscle tension of our vocal cords pulling to different pitch openings.

Let’s start by talking about the Diaphragm. I’m sure you’ve heard all kinds of talk about “singing from the diaphragm” or “the belly,” or “breathing from the diaphragm” - you know it’s important, somehow, but you have no clue what it is or what it’s doing. The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle that sits at the base of the lungs, right beneath our sternums, and is the most efficient muscle aiding in the process of breathing. Note that I did not say that we breathe into our diaphragms (the air is, of course, going into our lungs, correct?). For singing, we want to use this muscle to help us, and so we position our breathing a bit lower than we might normally find ourselves breathing in everyday life. Do me a favor: go stand in front a mirror and take an inhale. Now take another and observe for me what moved when you inhaled. Did your chest and shoulders rise up as you inhaled? Did your belly go in, or go out? Take a few breaths and take note of this, because it’s really important. The proper way to breathe for singing, is that on our inhales, we want our bellies + ribs to inflate, keeping the chest and shoulders down. We then want our bellies to slowly come back in and up as we exhale our air. Say it with me now:

Inhale: Belly + ribs inflate

Exhale: Belly slowly comes back in + up OR (intermediate/advanced) stays inflated until the very end

A visual + physical exercise I sometimes give people to go through here is to place their hand on their bellies, right beneath the sternum (move that hand up, yep, a littttle higher than you probably placed it. It’s not the LOW belly, so much as the diaphragm, right beneath the sternum, that we want to feel). Inhale, thinking of the ribs expanding OUT to our sides (towards our elbows), and feeling the belly inflate out, so that our hand is being pushed away from us. The chest should be relaxed, and shoulders should be relaxed down your back. So where does the diaphragm come into play in all of this? Well, the diaphragm, sitting under our sternum, is actually dropping DOWN + flattening here as we inhale, which causes our ribs + belly to expand. Why is it flattening down? Why do we give a shit about this extra piece? Don’t we have enough to worry about with singing, without having to tweak our whole way of breathing?! The reason we care is because, with the diaphragm flattened down, the lungs are being allowed some extra room to hold some extra air “in the tank” whilst at the same time letting air out in a steady stream as we sing. Let me repeat that, because I think that is an important piece: the lungs are keeping some air in reserve at the bottom, AS they let out a steady stream of air on the exhale as we sing. We’re not just inhaling and exhaling all of our air out in one big breath all at once, right? We need this air to support us through our phrase as we sing - thus, thinking of our lungs similar to if we were pouring a nice beer into a glass (beer analogies work well for me, don’t know about you): we’re not just turning the bottle upside down and dumping it all out at once. We’re gradually - but steadily! - pouring the liquid out. Our lungs, in essence, are doing the same thing: gradually - but steadily! - letting our air out on a steady, free, active exhale. This support - from the “reserve” of air in the lungs supporting the air that’s leaving, to the diaphragm flattening to support the lungs doing this, is the essence of breath support.

So, to recap: inhale, diaphragm drops, belly + ribs inflate. Exhale, steadily + freely, and the belly slowly comes back in + up, returning the diaphragm gradually back to its start position.

Now, one more thing to note: eventually, the long-term goal is to strengthen the diaphragm enough that it can stay flattened + down AS you sing, and being enough in control of your diaphragm to be able to do this, so that it doesn’t pop-up automatically when you’re doing something difficult vocally. For starters, I’d say to be aware of this idea, but not necessarily worried about it too much at first. Initially, it’s just important for you to start to practice breathing in this deeper way, and being really honest with yourself about whether you are actually using your diaphragm to breathe properly for singing (i.e. belly is inflating on the inhale, versus going in, and into the chest). You may need to practice this in a mirror so you can really see what is going on as you’re breathing. I will cover the more advanced breathing (keeping the diaphragm flattened/belly inflated AS you exhale/sing) in a later post - for now, it’s just important to get this breathing, and coordination of the breath, dialed-in so it’s more second-nature. The ironic thing about this way of breathing is that it is how we breathe naturally when we are in an ultimate relaxed state - when we are sleeping.

So, the moral of the story when it comes to breathing: let it be free, let it help you, and (even though we’ve just done A LOT of talking about it), don’t overthink it or make it more difficult than it needs to be. As with most things with singing, try to let it be a little more, and you’ll be surprised at how much less you actually need to work to achieve a better sound.

Tips for Better Breathing + Breath Support

Towards that end, I have a few tips + tricks that might help you with simplifying the whole breathing portion of singing. These are some “best practices” I like to tell all of my students to help them relax around breathing a little more, and find a more intuitive, easy way of using the breath to help their voices.

1. Don’t take a HUGE inhale to sing.

This is the first thing I say to people that blows their minds. Let’s start with feeling something, again, shall we? Take in a BIG inhale - as much air as you can possibly take in. Then, maybe even gulp in a little more. What does it feel like as soon as you’ve taken as much air in as you can? You probably REALLY need to exhale now, right? Did you let it all out, finally, in one giant gasp, hoping to find some relief? This is exactly the opposite of what we want to do when we are singing. The truth is, conventional wisdom is once again the source of a singing fallacy that we all seem to get into our heads + bodies. It seems as if, if we are trying to support our voices, and have enough air to get through a phrase, that we’d need to take in as much as air as we possibly can, to carry us through the phrase. However, the reality of what happens in our bodies is, again, the opposite of what we want when we sing. When we take in as much air as our bodies and lungs can hold, it places an inordinate amount of air pressure underneath our vocal cords. Remember the piece where I said singing is about a balance between our breath/airflow + our vocal cords? Well, our vocal cords are pretttttty small. They do a lot of heavy lifting (god, they are SUCH champs!) - but they are small. They are about the size of a dime in women, a nickel for men. So. Putting SO much air pressure underneath them, in an unnatural way like this (who takes in a HUGE inhale to speak? Probably none of you, ever. And if you are - maybe check in with this in your speaking voice, too), will cause you to need to relieve this pressure in one of two ways: either by squeezing/holding the air back = holding the breath, or else will cause us to push/force the air out = overblowing the breath. Neither falls under the umbrella of a relaxed, steady stream of airflow, now does it?

Moral of the story: stop taking in air as if you’re about to swim the length of an Olympic-sized swimming pool on a single breath. You don’t do it to speak; don’t do it when you sing.

A normal, conversational breath (maybe a teeny bit bigger if you know you have a long phrase) should be more than sufficient to get you through a singing phrase. 

2. No holding breath BEFORE you start singing.

This one, dear singers, is probably the NUMBER ONE most pesky breathing habit I think I see in people. It drives people crazy because they a) never realize it’s even a thing to be aware of and b) when they are made aware of it, it seems like the natural thing to do, to “prepare” to sing: take in a HUGE inhale, and then HOLD IT. That’s right, y’all: #1 + #2 loooove to work together to impede our singing! The reason we don’t want to hold before we start to exhale/sing, is the same reason as above: it just places too much air pressure beneath our sweet little vocal cords. I liken this habit to running and building up momentum and then stopping short right before jumping over a body of water you’re trying to get across. It makes zero sense to halt all the momentum you just gained and then make the job even harder for yourself! So, what do we want to instead? What we want to do instead is take a (normal) inhale, and then simply start singing right at the tail-end of the inhaled breath. It’s a very free, circular sort of motion, the exhale simply a continuation of the inhale. Sometimes I tell people to think “air in, sound out” all as one seamless motion, to get them to break this habit. Or another visual is the idea of the surf coming in + out on the shore of a beach - the water flows in, and immediately flows back out, without break or stopping. Pick either one to visualize in your mind and see if it helps you relax a little into a more natural rhythm.

A special note for Breathy Singers: the “holding” right before coming in to sing (particularly in Head Voice) is a common culprit in causing our overly-breathy tone. When I am working with someone on strengthening a breathy tone I usually start right here, with checking out that moment between the end of the inhale and when someone starts to sing. If you hold your breath, even for a split second, it is too long. I can’t stress it enough: you want to inhale and then come RIGHT IN, at the very top of your inhaled breath, and not a moment later. Again, when we hold, we build up air pressure under the cords, which can cause them to open up too much to allow the air out that’s built up unnaturally underneath them. Our vocal cords being too far apart = breathy tone. If the cords aren’t vibrating against one another (where they want to be), and are too far apart, we hear more breath coming through than tone. So if you’re looking to strengthen a breathy tone (particularly in Head Voice!), check out this piece - it might be the small tweak you need to overcome that breathy tone, simply by coming into your first note a split second sooner than you think you “should.”

3. No Holding Air / No Overblowing Air.

This one seems obvious, though I still find so many singers are either holding their air as they sing to “conserve” + “get through” the phrase they are singing, or else they are overblowing their air by pushing it out in a misguided attempt to “support” with their breath. Again, neither of these falls under the umbrella of relaxed, supportive, + natural. Remember! The breath is here to help, not hinder. We don’t need to make this any more complicated than it is. The airflow should simply be a stready stream of air exhaling freely. Nothing more, nothing less.

You might be asking yourself, “Well, how MUCH air should I be sending out? Who’s going to measure that out if not for me, lady?!” To that, I have some good news! Your trusty vocal cords are in charge of measuring out exactly how much air they need. So, you can take that off of your plate! As long as you are taking proper inhales + breathing out freely, the vocal cords will do the rest. It really isn’t for you to “monitor” beyond the pieces we outlined above. Glory hallelujah.

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So there you have it, my darlings. Ultimately, I’m of the belief that Breathing should be the easiest part of singing: after all, you’re already doing it(!), all the time. The reason vocalists and vocal teachers obsess over our (and your) breathing is because we’re actually trying to help you return it to a more relaxed, natural state. If you feel like your breathing in everyday life and/or as it relates to your speech isn’t the healthiest (i.e. you notice you tend to hold your breath or overblow it when speaking, for example), then this is a great time to start practicing these better breathing practices, as you’re going through your day and talking to people. The great part about this is that it’s a win-win: you’re practicing your breathing and building better habits while you’re going about the things you already do every day. Add in some dedicated time to sit down in front of a mirror and really focus on this breathing, and you’ll be well on your way to healthier breathing that is actually supporting your voice, which is what it’s there to do anyway. Breathing practice + mindfulness is also a classic relaxation/grounding/centering + meditation practice, that aids in relaxation and lower stress in all areas of our lives.

At the end of the day, singing is (or should be!) natural and free. Never lose sight, when you get confused and overwhelmed and frustrated with your voice, of taking a deep breath and going back to the basics. Remember that at the root of vocal “rules” and “tips” is really just an urging to return to a free, natural, and relaxed state. Err on the side of that, and you’ll be in a good place. 

<3

Singing 101: Heavy Lifting!: The Muscles That Control Your Vocal Cords

If you were to do a quick Google search about singing, you'd likely see a lot of information of varying degrees of clarity/accuracy talking about breathing and "singing from your diaphragm" (which is a particular pet peeve of mine, as it is a fallacy - you do NOT sing from your diaphragm). Or using breath support to "get out" your high notes. Or some other absolutely unhealthy ideas requiring you to tense up, push your voice out, and continue to be in a vicious cycle of pushing more, and liking the results less. 

Because here's the secret: it's not about breathing. Well, not all of it anyway. Let's do a quick & dirty overview once more of how the vocal mechanism works. (For a longer, dorkier read on this particular topic, see my Singing 101 post about How The Voice Works).

When you go to sing, you inhale a new breath in, and your diaphragm (a sheet of muscle and tendon located beneath your sternum) drops down (this is why your belly inflates out). As your air passes between the closed vocal cords, they vibrate against one another, creating sound. That sounds then travels through the Pharynx (my favorite piece of vocal physiology, whoop whoop, nerd alert) and resonates in the throat, mouth, nasal cavity, face, chest, and skull to amplify the sound, and it then travels out of your mouth and into the ears of the listener. Beautiful, ain't it?!

Now. I bet there was a piece in there that you may not have ever even thought about. And that piece is the one we're going to focus on today: The muscles that control your vocal cords, pulling them together to create different pitches. These two muscle groups are called the Thyroid Muscles, and the Arytenoid Muscles. Oh yeah. I love these babies.

Two Muscle Groups: The Thyroid and The Arytenoid

Think of your vocal cords like a rubber band. The only thing that creates pitch is your vocal cords pulling together to a particular pitch opening, which produces a certain pitch frequency. Therefore, every note you sing has its own specific pitch opening. The pulling-together is controlled by two sets of muscles: the Thyroid muscle group, which controls your Chest Voice (low notes), and the Cricoarytenoid muscle group (I sometimes use just "Arytenoids" to refer to this muscle group), which controls your Head Voice (high notes). If you look at this diagram of your larynx or Google it yourself (I'll wait while you sort through the inevitable "Eww!"-exclamations), you'll see that the Thyroid group is located at the front of your throat, and the Arytenoids are located at the back. The more taut the vocal cords, the smaller the pitch opening, faster the pitch frequency, producing higher notes. Alternately, the looser the tension, the slower the pitch frequency, producing lower notes. As you move through your Mixed Voice, the Thyroid group needs to be less and less active, acting instead as a bracing tension whilst the Arytenoids take over the pulling up higher. So:

Thyroid Muscle Group = Chest Voice

Arytenoid Muscle Group = Head Voice

Vocal Cords.jpg

 

So, what does all this mean? It means that working these muscles mindfully via scale-work is a really important, often not-discussed piece of working on one's vocal strength and agility. In this post, we're going to talk about how to place your voice properly in Chest Voice and Head Voice, and how to sing your scales with this "rubber band" & muscle groups concept in mind to help you build more strength in your voice. 

Chest Voice = Cord Effort

When I hear an undeveloped voice, I usually hear one of two things in the singer's Chest Voice. Typically, the Chest Voice is either pushed and breathy-sounding, or else it sounds as if the voice is "stuck" in the throat - resulting in a sound sort of like the notes (especially the lowest ones) are "bottoming-out" and the singer can't quite grab the note with the cords. Both of these can be remedied through an idea called "Cord Effort." Let's go to our speaking voices for a minute. Think of saying a sentence in a very breathy, Marilyn Monroe-esque voice. Try it out. Say, "I love to sing," or something equally as cheesy and ridiculous, in a really breathy voice. Overdo it. It feels kind of yucky, doesn't it? You can probably sense your voice is sort of hollow, feels unsupported, and like you can barely get the sound out without a lot of pushing. Now, say the same sentence in a clear, engaged voice, the way you would normally speak it. Feels a lot better, now, right? You can probably feel your voice is more engaged, and while there is vocal cord effort, it doesn't feel like you had to push, per se, to make the sound come out. That is what cord effort should feel like: like the vocal cords are pulled together, engaged, and you can make a clear, full sound that has some tone to it, as opposed to just hearing breath pushing through. Cord Effort is what you want to try to use when singing in your Chest Voice, to ensure your vocal cords are engaging properly and healthily. The more you get the cords together, so they can vibrate against one another and create a nice, balanced, full tone, the more you are strengthening these muscles in the right way. 

Now, I want to say a quick word here about "effort." "Effort" should not be confused with ANY sort of pushing or squeezing. Remember one of our cardinal rules of singing: singing should be more of a mental effort than a physical one. If you find yourself pushing or squeezing when singing, fall back for a second and check in with your breathing and placement. Ensure you are taking a proper inhale, exhaling freely as you sing, and that you are thinking of your voice being carried forward, out of your body, towards the opposite wall. When I say "effort" I am referring to the vocal cords being engaged, which is paramount in creating a nice, balanced, resonant tone - which is essentially what we're trying to do at all times. Creating a resonant tone is the first step to all the other pieces - volume, strength, power. 

So, when you're singing in Chest Voice you want to 1) think about singing with proper cord effort, and 2) now we need to address those bottoming-out notes. Many new singers (especially my women) are surprised at how many more notes they have available to them at the bottom of their range, simply because they didn't know the right way to "place" these low notes. For our Chest Voices, we want to think about our voices as being at Mouth Level - remember, another one of our cardinal singing rules is that we are no longer thinking of our voices as being down in our throats, where we need to push them out; from here on out, we need to have a mental image of our voices as up and out, starting with Chest Voice. So, Chest Voice is starting up at Mouth Level, now. When you are singing your low notes, you want to really think of placing the sound forward, outside and in front of the mouth. When done correctly, you should feel your voice "click in" to the pitch in a very solid way - not in the way you might have been trying to croak the notes out from your throat as before. My voice teacher (shoutout to Coreen Sheehan!) used to have me actually physically lean my chest forward to get the notes properly placed forward. You can try this as well; something about the physical action of leaning forward helps you to steady your larynx so the vocal cords can actually work themselves to stretch to, and produce, the note. 

This brings me to the physiological breakdown of what we are really trying to do here with the Chest Voice Placement. Your larynx should be sort of tilting, rocking backwards and forwards a little bit, as you are singing. It should not, however, be dipping WAY down, or hiking WAY up. When an untrained singer is trying to sing low notes, their larynx, trying to help, will bob too far down, which sort of gets in the way of staying steady so the vocal cords can pull to the proper pitch opening. Same thing with high notes: our larynx will jump way up, under our throats, as we start reaching up and up as our voices try to sing higher. Neither action will help you hit your notes. And so, we need to try to keep our larynx steady. Instead of focusing directly in to KEEPING THE LARYNX STEADY - which you've likely never thought about doing, ever, and have no clue HOW to do, at all (who does?!) - we focus on using proper Placement to achieve this goal of physically keeping your instrument steady as you learn to create the pitches. Voila - the result is a healthier way of going about singing, which results in a more balanced, resonant tone...and you know where that leads, by now.

Head Voice = Singing From the Vocal Cords

Head Voice is usually the register that eludes most people, and that usually needs the most love when new singers come to me. Think about it: we don't spend as much time speaking up in the Head Voice, like we do in Chest Voice, so the Cricoarytenoid muscles are naturally more under-developed than the Thyroid muscle group. On top of that, the sound feels "false" to many people due to how we hear and perceive our own voices (that whole acoustic perception piece is a doozy). Furthermore, there's this whole cultural narrative that not only singing is HARD, but that singing high notes is VERY HARD. All these pieces combined result in all kinds of incorrect and unhealthy ways that people try to muscle out their high notes, typically by pushing too much air (a lot of vocal coaches will tell you - inaccurately - to "send more air" which, unless you're actually holding your breath, will not help you with your high notes), or squeezing and reaching from the throat. 

The key to properly placing your voice in Head Voice is largely mental. We'll break down singing your high notes into a few different key parts:

1) mental visualization: singing down, rather than up

2) thinking the cords together: creating your notes from the vocal cords engaging and coming together to create pitch

and

3) not pushing as much air: creating an engaged, ringing tone, as opposed to allowing more air out in between the cords

Mental Visualization

The mental visualization piece is honestly a big game-changer for most of my students, and seems to make the biggest difference in the Head Voice. When we are singing in Head Voice, we want to flip our way of thinking about our high notes. Rather than thinking of singing UP to our high notes, instead, we want to either think of singing DOWN to the notes, or think of the notes as being right out in FRONT of us, as if on a horizontal place. Again, Placement isn't about some magical "The Secret" kind of thinking that will click everything into place instantly, but is more about our mental visualizations resulting in physical changes in our bodies and instruments, to get us to be able to utilize our instrument more effectively. When you think of the note as being "up" you are going to physically be reaching up for the note - your larynx will hike up, your jaw will tense and jut out, or you will squeeze and tense in the throat to try and push the note out. But. Remembering that the only thing that creates pitch is the vocal cords pulling together to a certain pitch (with the other pieces, the throat, for example, needing to stay relaxed and open so as to create a resonant chamber for the sound the cords are producing), you can see how this is flawed. Instead, we need to think of creating the pitch by getting the cords pulled together. We'll have an easier time doing this if we're not tensing to reach up to the notes, which is why we're using this visualization of the notes being DOWN, or horizontal on a straight line traveling straight ahead of us. So, pick one; try each one on for size and see which one makes the most sense to you, and which one results in you relaxing more:

1) Think DOWN: as you inhale, imagine you have caught a wave which perches you up already above the note. As you come into the first note, picture yourself singing or floating DOWN to it. Some people find that physically bending their knees to sink down (imagining something of a counterweight idea) helps them with this initially. Play around, use a mirror, and see what images help you to click into this "down as you go up" idea. 

2) Think HORIZONTAL: as you start to sing your first note, imagine this note (and all subsequent notes) are simply traveling out right in front of you on a horizontal line. Some people think of a laser cutting through the air, and all the notes stay on this plane. I've heard other people talk about thinking of a spot on the floor that they allow to "scoot" forward as they sing more notes. Again, play around with which images come to you naturally and make the most sense. 

Give yourself time and allow the process of undoing any bad, physically-tensing habits to take as long as you need. Remember, we're working on changing muscle memory and default physical habits - you've spent a lot of years learning to sing this way and, while it may not take years, per se, it will take some time to undo some of the knee-jerk habits, and then relearn newer, healthier ones in their place. So be gentle with yourself, and work with each piece one at a time before moving onto the next so you can be sure you're not taking on one too many things all at once. As always, a vocal coach who is trained in vocal technique can go a long way in identifying for you what physical habits you might be engaging in, and can zone in on these very quickly. And, again, usually when we're singing "correctly" and healthily, it will feel deceptively easy. 

Singing From The Cords

Once we ensure we're not reaching up and tensing by trying to push our high notes out, we can start to think of a "DO" action: thinking the cords together to ensure they are engaging properly. Again, I like to use a mental picture or visualization in order to do this. Let's go back to our rubber band analogy. Thinking of your vocal cords like a rubber band, you want to picture pulling the rubber band together so that both sides, or "cords" are pulled fully together, leaving no space between them (in reality, there IS a very tiny space in between the cords here - when we are singing in Head Voice, we're just using the very inner edges of our vocal cords to create our pitches; while the air vibrates the cords against one another, there is a tiny space in between. It's important to remember that while we are not pushing our air out, we do always need air blowing through, so as to not just rub the cords against one another. This isn't healthy singing either). Think the cords together, trying to not use volume or air pressure (which we will address in a second) to make your notes. The notes will likely feel light, and maybe even weaker than you'd like them to be. This is okay. Allow the notes to be light and floaty, and we will work on strengthening and filling out the tone later. What you are really trying to cultivate here is singing your high notes from the cords coming together. This is all about the strength of the Cricoarytenoid muscles, and allowing THEM the chance to pull together to create the pitch, as opposed to using volume and/or air pressure to do this. If you are always using volume or air pressure to blast and push out your high notes, you're never giving these little muscles a chance to do the heavy lifting, and you'll never build the muscle memory to be able to rely on them. We need to effectively "bench" volume and air pressure and give these muscles a chance to work and build up strength. Similar to when you learn proper form when working out with weights, you might feel like this is a less gratifying way of singing. As when weight training properly, to properly work the right muscles, you might find that the proper form and execution requires you to limit your range of motion - it feels similar with learning to sing properly. We may to reign it in a bit initially in order to ensure you're working the right muscles, as opposed to all the other ones that aren't actually going to help develop a strong, healthy, versatile voice. 

If you are finding this very difficult to do, you can use a little trick to get the cords together. I do not recommend using this trick for longer than a week or two - it can be a little too heavy-handed for the vocal cords, but can be a helpful way to feel the cords coming together. As you start to sing your first note (I recommend an OOH vowel for Head Voice work, as it uses a bit more air, and the smaller shape seems to be easier to work with for most people), you can think of almost stroking the cords together (it might be a little bit of a slam to start - PLEASE be gentle!), to really FEEL them come together in your larynx. You may use a little bit of volume here to get a little jump-start, but please make sure you aren't pushing or squeezing while you do this. When you get really good at this, you will be able to feel the cords engaging. Until then, you're trying to go for a really ringey, clear-as-a-bell sort of tone - this is how you'll know the cords are coming together and engaging. 

Don't Push So Much Air!

Lastly, something I see a lot of people do is push more air to try and muscle out those high notes. This creates a vicious cycle because the more air we push, the harder it is for the cords to fully come together and create a strong, full tone. Here's the thing about Head Voice: a strong Head Voice doesn't come from a big, heavy, voluminous sound like the way Chest Voice feels. A strong Head Voice comes from a strong tone cutting through at a higher frequency. Therefore, if we want to have a "strong" Head Voice, we need to focus on creating a strong tone, as opposed to focusing on volume and power. We're going to create a strong tone by ensuring that our vocal cords are engaged up there, and then we're going to repeat this action to build the muscle memory, and tune all of our 5 vowels (EE / EH / AH / OH / OOH) to teach ourselves how to sing each note in our range on each vowel sound we will encounter. 

So my last piece of best-practice advice for a properly-placed Head Voice is to ensure you're not pushing air, which will help you get your cords together and create a stronger tone. When you are singing high notes, try to focus on making a really ringey sound, like a bell, and trying to keep the cords engaged to not allow any breathiness into the tone. Breathy tones are created by the vocal cords not being all the way together, thus allowing more air than tone out. Of course, breathiness as a vocal effect is totally cool and can absolutely be used - as a vocal effect. But my goal with all the voices I work with is to have a default of a really well-balanced, well-placed voice, with other vocal effects being just that - effects that you add or subtract at will, and not because your voice isn't strong enough to produce notes any other way. So, once you're able to engage your first notes of a scale in a ringey tone, then the key to building the strength more is to KEEP the tone ringey as you sing through the other notes - this is the key to really strengthening. As we are letting off slack, or tightening, on the vocal cords to change pitches, it's really easy for them to let go, and lose the "stretch of cord." Our goal is try to keep the cords together - keeping the stretch of cord at all times - which is the true test of strength. Again, you can add breathiness, or weight, or different colors and textures to different notes, but first we must master a clean slate of a properly-engaged tone. 

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As always, I hope this has been helpful! There's a lot of information in here, so take it step-by-step and keep at it. Remember, the voice does take time to build, but it's also an instrument that intuitively knows how to sing itself. Try to let it do its thing, without trying to prod or force it into sounding a certain way, and you might just be surprised that singing becomes easier when you allow your voice to be what it is at the moment, and observe, and then use your tools to help guide it towards more strength and freedom. 

Happy Singing, songbirds. <3

Singing 101: Placing The Voice Properly

In this next installment of my Singing 101 series, we're going to discuss Vocal Placement.

Vocal Placement is one of those concepts in singing that seems to be a bit obtuse and vague - nebulous, subtle, confusing, and therefore, maddening. Fun, I know! But, as you will discover on your singing journey, there is much to singing that can feel like a slippery fish you're trying to grab a hold of....unsuccessfully....for weeks, or even months, until one day you grasp it, and everything clicks. With that being said, let's begin. Shall we?

The Muffled Box Idea: Why Placement? 

Here's another fun fact about the voice, and singing: you don't hear your voice the same way other people do. I don't mean that figuratively - I mean that literally. Think about it: have you ever heard a voicemail of yourself speaking, and wondered who it was, only to discover it was YOUR voice? You were probably taken by surprise by the sound of your voice. There's a reason for that. It's called Acoustic Perception. When you speak, you are literally hearing your voice in a muffled box - your skull. Therefore, what you are hearing is not quite accurate. I know. I'll give you a minute to process that one.

...And, we're back! R.I.P. to what you thought your voice sounded like! SO. Since we can't rely on our own ears to determine what sounds good or not while we're singing, what CAN we rely on?! Is there nothing to make this damn singing thing easier? There is. That's why we use placement, more accurately described as feeling the resonance of our voices and the accompanying sympathetic vibrations in our bodies and faces, to determine how to properly sing. 

If you think about it, your voice is an acoustic instrument and works much like an acoustic guitar. Your vocal cords (or strings) have a certain tension (or frequency) to pull to, to create a pitch. The sound then swirls around and resonates in your body (or the body of a hollow-body, or acoustic, guitar) - i.e. your throat, mouth, chest, nasal cavities, and skull. The sound then travels out of your mouth (like the hole in an acoustic guitar). The bones and flesh of your face and neck and body create a space against and within which your voice resonates. 

Vocal Placement refers to working with this vocal resonance - literally, focusing your sound into a specific area where you feel or "sense" the resonant sensations and vibrations. How you do this is largely through visualizations - visualizing your voice as less in your throat (which will lead you to trying to physically push your voice out more and more - not what we want), and more up in your face (at mouth level, in the face, or skull) and outside of your body, is a good place to start. Since singing is essentially playing with pitch frequency and resonance - and you have nothing, in essence, that is exactly "tangible" - your mental visualizations will send cues to your body to either physically tense (tensing your instrument), or relax (freeing up your instrument so it can work on its own). Think again about a guitar - when you get a new guitar, it was designed, crafted, built, and set-up properly as an instrument. The voice is really the only instrument we need to sort of "set up" on our own before we can fully play it. So think of placement as learning to "play" your instrument the same as you would learn to play the guitar - feeling out where to place your fingers and how much to press, etc. Pretty trippy - I know.

Mental vs. Physical Effort

Before we go any further, I also want you to let this idea sink in: that singing should be more of mental effort than a physical one. I know it doesn't seem that way. We've all gotten it so ingrained into our brains that singing is hard. We try and try and maybe haven't had luck in producing sounds or tones the way we'd like to. So, what do we do? What we do in most areas of our life: TRY HARDER. WORK HARDER. PUSH OURSELVES. PUSH OUR BODIES. SQUEEZE. DO, DO, DO. In fact, all this heavy-handedness, strain, and tension is the antithesis of good singing, and truly is (I promise you) only getting in the way. Instead, we need to learn to work WITH our voices, and, as scary as it is, allow them to be free, traveling outside of our bodies and thus our "control", allowing the voice to make its natural register shifts, allowing them to be lighter in order to build the proper kind of strength (from the muscles controlling the vocal cords). Think of this like proper weight-lifting technique. You can tense and strain a bunch of muscles and joints and cause strain and injury; or you can learn to lift weights properly to target the actual muscle groups you're trying to strengthen in the first place. This may require you to limit your range of motion, or be more mindful about your form - the same is absolutely true for your vocal cords, and your singing. 

I'm certainly not going to sit here and tell you that singing is, in fact, easy (it's not, and requires the same sort of dedication as any other instrument); nor am I going to tell you that by doing THIS ONE THING that it will all magically click into place. Any instructor who sells you snake-oil cures should not be listened to. But. Singing is NOT about exerting physical effort to push the voice out. I promise you this. While, yes, it is physical - I am absolutely of the belief that it shouldn't be a taxing effort. This will only continue to stress the voice and cause it to continue to elude you. 

Instead, you need to start to get comfortable with the idea of allowing your voice to sing itself - not by strong-arming or pushing it, but by working with its natural shifts, transitions, and resonance. 

You need to get comfortable with the idea of visualizing your voice in order to sing with it.

You need to get comfortable with the idea of it being a mental effort, not a physical one.

Again, think of your throat, mouth, chest, face, and head as a sounding board that the sound is bouncing off of. Since you don't have anything tangible to work with as a vocalist (strings to touch/fret on a guitar, or keys to play with your fingers on a piano), we work with our resonance in this sensing-vibrations/focusing the sound type of way. Of course, most people think of their voices as being in their throats, since that is where the vocal cords are housed. This is where the visualization piece comes in - we're essentially trying to focus and direct our sound to have an easier time feeling, and thus singing, our voices. Since our voices reside within our body, mental images (visualizations) can help us to subconsciously, and then physically, relax certain parts of the singing mechanism in order to produce a more balanced and pleasant tone. 

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Correct Placement

Since Placement is essentially a sensation, you might feel the vibrations or sensations of singing a bit differently than someone else. That's fine. I want you to get endlessly curious about, and comfortable in, YOUR voice. Really think about what you're sensing, where you're sensing it, what images or associations come up for you when you're singing. Where do you FEEL it? I know this sounds cheesy, but bear with me here. I literally mean to intuit where you are feeling the vibrations - not just spouting off some flowery bullshit (though I have that in spades, for those of you who are down to get philosophical!). 

As a good starting point, most singers (myself included) find that placing their voice in the mask is the easiest way to feel the voice, and to free it up. What is the Mask? The Mask is the area in the face around your eyes and nose - like where you'd wear a Mardi Gras mask. You can try to feel the vibrations of singing here by relaxing the throat, neck, jaw, and tongue whilst singing. Another simple way I try to get my students to feel vibrations up here is by having them hum - trying to think of feeling the vibrations on the roof of the mouth or higher. 

Another common sensation, or visualization, is the sense that the voice is even higher, above the head, and outside the body. Some singers find that high notes are easier to get out if they "send the notes" out the top of their heads. On the other hand: other singers find that this only causes them to tense and "reach up" for the notes. These students, I instruct to think of singing DOWN to their high notes (I know, I know - again, take a moment to wrap your head around that) - a visualization of singing DOWN causes them to physically relax (i.e. not tensing, reaching UP) - which allows them to get the notes out much, much easier. Another tactic is to visualize that your voice is just traveling out on a horizontal plane in front of you - that all the notes you encounter, whether high, or low, are just right straight in front of you, rather than envisioning them UP high, or DOWN low, where you'll be tempted to (and possibly in the habit of) physically either reaching up to push the notes out, or scooping/dipping down to get the low notes).

For me, the moral of the story is this: Do not think of your voice as being in - and only in - your throat. The best, most proper, and free placement usually comes from envisioning the voice "from the neck up."

Some Troubleshooting:

What Kind of Placement Am I Using, and What Can I Do About It?

First off, this is where I will say that a vocal coach can come in quite handy. As we covered previously, it can be really hard to hear your own vocal quirks and habits yourself. A well-versed and knowledgeable vocal coach is trained to listen for, and suss out, these exact things, and to give you specific and honest (though loving) feedback about what she or he is hearing in terms of Placement. Getting a trusted vocal coach, who can help you to understand when you are singing your best, and help you to discern when that is and why, is an invaluable investment for your singing and voice. Even one session is enough to get some answers, and a diagnosis. 

Barring that, I'd recommend recording yourself (though this is not meant to be used to judge oneself, y'hear?!) and listening back as a more accurate way to assess what you hear. Often, students don't/can't hear what I am referring to when I talk about certain tone qualities; it is only when they record themselves and listen back that they can hear a nasal tone, a trapped-sounding tone, a strained-tone, a shoutey-tone, breathy-tone, etc. 

Let's use a couple examples of different types of Placement that are quite common, and some visualizations I commonly use to help my students with these. 

Throaty / Shouting Quality

The most common placement issue I hear from most singers is this one. The sound is trapped down and back in the throat (think Kermit The Frog for an exaggerated example of this tone quality), causing the singer to feel the need to squeeze and push the voice to get it out. Relaxing the neck and throat in order to sing is a tricky one. I think this one depends on the individual, but a couple tricks I use are: thinking the voice higher, in the mask. Thinking of the voice more forward in face, or out in front of the body/face, or up at mouth level. Imagining the back of the throat open and sending the sound OUT (not open and choking the sound/vowel back). When ascending, thinking of singing on a horizontal line, so as to combat tightening the throat and reaching up to get to high notes. Practicing singing by allowing voice to go, to travel freely out of the body, relaxing the neck, throat, jaw, and tongue so you can feel the vibrations in the face more. Relaxing your tongue forward, against the gumline of your bottom two front teeth.

Nasal Tone Quality

The classic example that comes to mind when we think of someone with a nasal tone quality is Bob Dylan (though, for the record, I love Bob Dylan - and clearly this never, ya know, hindered the man's career). The voice sounds trapped inside the nose, giving it an overly-bright, almost tinny quality. One visualization I use for those with a nasal tone quality, is to get them to think of raising the roof of their mouths. Really imagine that the roof of the mouth is lifting and creating this big, cavernous (caveness? okay, sorry....) space, like a big, vaulted ceiling on an old church. This gets them to physically (though unconsciously to them) raise their soft palate - a collapsed, or too-low soft palate, is usually the culprit behind a nasal tone. Another visualization I might use is to get these people to think of singing in a more open, rounded way, like an opera singer might. Getting them to pull the sound a little bit back usually helps to soften the harshness of a nasal tone, and balances the tone. Another (sort of out-there) visualization I use is to get the student to imagine something that smells delicious (Thanksgiving dinner, anyone?), and to imagine they are smelling that smell. Inhale, as if you are really smelling that thing. This is what it feels like to have the nasal cavity open, an important part of resonating. Then, imagine that you are talking closely to someone who has bad breath. You know when you mouth-breathe, to avoid tipping the other person off to their faux pas? This feeling is what it feels like to have the nasal cavity closed off. When you're singing, try to imagine it's perpetually Thanksgiving dinner. As with anything having to do with the voice, pick one that seems to work for you, and produce the most pleasant sound and comfortable, easy way of producing the sound. 

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Placement & Muscle Memory

One of the coolest things about the voice is that it LIVES INSIDE OF YOU. It resides in your body. That's pretty damn awesome. It's why the voice is so expressive, personal, and dynamic. It is literally an extension of everything going on inside of you: your thoughts, feelings, body, all of it. The not-so-cool part of that is that your instrument LIVES INSIDE OF YOU. So all your thoughts, feelings, how your body's feeling, how stressed or tired you are, if you ate something that causes phlegm buildup on your vocal cords - basically freakin' everything! see, fun! - can have an impact (positive AND negative) on how your voice works, and how you learn to work with it. That being said, one of the biggest challenges to the voice is anxiety: personal anxieties, insecurity about our voices, or ourselves, pain, hurt, the vulnerability of letting our voices out; the list can go on. When we are tense about something, we physically tense. Even little muscles we didn't know were there can be tensing up without us even knowing it. This makes a huge difference in our voices, because the instrument is made up of so many little pieces in our bodies, all working together, and all living in our body. If we're feeling tense - and what can be more loaded than opening up our mouths and singing for another person, sometimes?! - then all those little pieces (which are the nuts and bolts of your instrument) are going to tense up. The result of this is that it literally changes the physical instrument. Think about it: if a guitar player or piano player is tense, or nervous, maybe their hands shake, causing them to have a harder time playing cleanly. But the instrument itself did not change because THEY were nervous, or tense, or didn't learn to fret the chords in the most successful way. The piano or guitar are exactly the same regardless of whether the player is tense or not. So. As a singer, add to the equation the fact that you are (likely) changing the physical makeup (albeit even slightly) when you are mentally and physically tensing, and you can see why certain notes or spots in our voices might continue to elude us. It's akin to changing the string tension on a guitar mid-song. After years and years of getting our voices out this way, most of us have ingrained this muscle memory for singing that is basically second-nature - and mosst likely is keeping us in a feedback loop of an improperly placed voice. 

The aim of proper placement is to see where we are tensing, how we are tensing, and replacing those bad habits with better habits that are more conducive to better singing. 

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Registers & Placement

In my next Singing 101 post, I'm going to outline how to properly place your voice in your different registers. The voice is typically divided up into 3 different registers: Chest Voice, Head Voice, and Mixed Voice (if you need a primer on this, you're in luck - refer to my Range & Registers post here). For our purposes here, we're going to start with just Chest Voice and Head Voice - these are the first two registers you'll want to develop and strengthen, which will in turn start to strengthen and fill in your Mixed Voice, or the Bridge of your voice. 

So stay tuned for that one and, as always...Happy Sangin'. <3

When Sickness Attacks: A (Busy) Singer's (Realistic) Guide to Preserving Your Voice

The Plague. Yes, getting sick is pretty much the worst. I grew up with a tough Mama who was of the belief that if you got up and got moving, you'd likely start to feel better; and I'm really thankful to this day for that mindset. But sometimes, we get sidelined by The Plague, and if you're a singer, this can be frustrating at best and highly inconvenient at worst. So. Here's the Singer's Guide to kicking those babies, and, most importantly, to preserving your voice if you've absolutely got to do a gig. Because time waits for no wo(man). 

First Twinge: H20 / Rest / Vitamin C

While we all know there's no cure for the common cold, there are a few things you can do during the first glimmers of a cold that I've found can nip that baby in the bud (ooh, catchy) and greatly reduce the severity and duration of it. This is my holy-grail-trifecta. Repeat after me:

H20

Rest

Vitamin C

These three seem pretty basic/obvious, and maybe you were looking for something more in the way of a magical healing spell (I'm working on it), but, as I usually tend to find about most things: they're classics for a reason. H20 obviously keeps you hydrated and yes, we all know water is the magical elixir of all of life's solutions, usually, but the REASON it is so important to take this seemingly-mundane and self-evident step is because it is the first crucial step in either a domino effect of very good things or very bad things. If you're hydrated, it thins out the mucus that is building up in your body. If the mucus is thinned, that means you won't have things like post-nasal-drip happening. If you don't have post-nasal drip, you won't be coughing as much. If you're not coughing as much, your vocal cords aren't slamming against one another with as much frequency and severity. If your vocal cords aren't slamming against one another, they won't get swollen. If your vocal cords aren't swollen, you're less likely to go hoarse or lose your voice completely. I think you see where I'm going with this. SO MUCH of what makes a cold miserable (and then leads to losing your voice), can be mitigated/eased by simply drinking, in completely-non-scientific terms, a metric shit-ton of water. Of course, all the caveats about not OVER-consuming water do need to apply here. Listen to your body and don't get crazy....but do get hydrated. 

Vitamin C is of course the classic cold-fighting hero we always hear about. And while Vitamin C won't eradicate the cold altogether, it can help, again, with decreasing the length of the cold and the severity of its symptoms, which are usually the culprits in voice loss and vocal damage. It's the symptoms - the scratchy throat (shoutout again to our bud H20!), the stuffed-up nose (shoutout to our bud H20!), the coughing (shoutout...okay, you get it) - that cause us to do all manner of overcompensating to sing around them when we're sick. So...best to minimize those symptoms as much as possible, so we're not having to twist ourselves into vocal pretzels to try and sang. Whenever I feel a cold coming on, I load up on Vitamin C. And get high-quality supplements, or better yet, get your Vitamin C straight from the source: citrus. Whole citrus (even more so than juice) works the very best to deliver you the maximum amount of Vitamin C's benefits, so eat your Vitamin C if you can. Otherwise, I use Metagenics Ultra Potent-C and love it. If VItamin C bothers your stomach, make sure to take it with food, and again, listen to YOUR body: don't take a ton if you know you don't absorb it super well. Find the dosage that works for you, and then take. that. shit.

Rest.....this one is, honestly, the hardest one for me to do. It was the hardest one for me to even try; but, I really do think it's the shining star that allows the other bits to get in there and do their work. Read above about by Mama, but also: I'm a hardworking, hustling, Virgo. "Doing" is in my nature pretty inextricably. It's HARD for me to allow myself to really just do....nothing. But I've learned over the past couple years that if I can take a day (or as much of a day) and REST, whilst hydrating and loading up on Vitamin C, that it does wonders for how my body responds in the next days of the cold. Your body is fighting off a supervillain -it needs to not be preoccupied with handling a bunch of other bodily tasks whilst it fights said supervillain. So...this is your chance to Netflix, or read a book, or just nap, or take a bath....whatever feels good and, most importantly, relaxing to you. 

Vocal Rest

If you're able to get away with not talking as much as possible leading up to the gig (this is your chance to be all overly-dramatic diva and ring a bell for someone to fetch you your water with lemon, or whatever strikes your fancy), DO IT. Your vocal cords need all the help they can get. Let them be divas. Move phone calls to emails or other chats if you can, and just try to generally reduce how much you speak. If you DO need to speak, try to speak "on your cord." This means slightly elevating your pitch whilst speaking so that you're not unwittingly speaking in that vocal fry zone. Elevating your pitch will mean you're more properly engaging your vocal cords, not pushing to get your voice out while speaking, leading to more strain for when you need to put them to work to sing. It's generally the way you should be speaking anyway....but really pay attention to it now while you're trying to preserve your voice for the heavy lifting. 

So....that's my initial one-two-three punch. 

Singing While Sick

Can you warm-up, and practice, sing a gig, or just sing in general while sick? The usual and most basic answer most vocal teachers will say right off the bat is: NO. However, I want to add a caveat to that, especially for my professional singers. Here's the deal: it is always better, if you can, to avoid singing while you're sick. Remember all those symptoms that cause you to overcompensate when singing while sick? Those conditions are not optimal conditions for your instrument to be playing around outside in. When you are sick, your instrument is literally compromised - so there's that. It isn't going to sound the same, or work the same. You will lose notes for the time being - either at the top or bottom of your range. Your mix will feel more strained. Bad habits of squeezing, pushing, and reaching will invite themselves back into the party because your good technique took the night off. The voice is a tough little badass of an instrument; but it's also very delicate. Vocal cords are the size of a dime in women, and a nickel in men: those little ladies are doing a whole hell of a lot of heavy lifting, and that's on a good day. Longterm damage can be (and has been) done with just a single night of bad technique. I don't say this to scare you, but to give you a reverence for, and proper understanding of, your instrument. So. These are all things to consider. 

However...being a professional singer myself whose voice is literally her livelihood, sometimes, I can't take a night off. Sometimes I am partway through a tour. Sometimes a rehearsal has to happen. Work must be done. So, in this case, here are some helpful tips for ensuring the least possible damage, while needing to utilize that voice. 

1. Warm-Up! I mean it.

Warming Up is CRUCIAL on nights you are not in best voice. Like stretching for a marathon, your vocal cords need to be (gently) stretched out, limbered up, and taken for a little vocal-walk prior to the show. Singing scales where you comfortably can (don't push voice too high or too low right now - this isn't your Mariah or Freddie moment, people) - and singing them on OOH or EE vowels will be the most beneficial. 

2. The Head Voice: Your Best Friend

Here's another mind-blower: when you're sick, The Head Voice is your best friend. I know what you're thinking, but check it out: the Head Voice is actually the healing part of your voice. Since you're only using the inner edges of the vocal cords to sing up here, AND the vocal cords get their full stretch from front-to-back, it's very healing for the voice to sing up here. When people come in with trashed and troublesome voices, I ALWAYS check in on their Head Voice - having them sing (lightly, but with engagement of the cords) up here, and diagnosing any technique issues associated with singing up here. A lot of the time, we find some major placement issues, or a lack of development in this register - and I make a game plan to get them working in their Head Voices, stat. So. When you're sick, warming-up, gently, focusing on OOH and EE vowels, and singing in Head Voice, are all good rules of thumb.

3. Don't sing your heart out (not this time)

If you have a rehearsal you just can't get out of, there is no shame in not singing to your full level when you're sick. Communicate to your bandmates that you are under the weather, but that you didn't want to bail (though is rescheduling is an option/it isn't an urgent rehearsal, I'd recommend that). Let them know you will do what you can vocally, but that you'll likely be sitting out parts to preserve your voice. Anyone worth their salt won't push you or press you on that. Your voice is YOUR instrument, and YOU are in charge of protecting it and advocating for it. Just as they wouldn't let someone haphazardly play their instrument, don't ever let anyone bully you into doing something you're not comfortable with (this extends to many things, but I'll stick to vocal health for the moment!). Now, heads-up: if your band is anything like my band, and are your best friends who also enjoy ragging on each other all the time, they'll likely give you shit. Especially if you're a female, and especially if you're the lone female in the group. Say something sassy back and stand your ground. They understand. They're just being jerks. ;)

So, what are you going to do? You mark your parts. Maybe sing just the starts of phrases or crucial words that the rest of the band may cue off of. Sing what feels comfortable, at a comfortable volume and dynamic level, but the point here is to keep it easy-breezy. They just need to hear the basic vocal structure; they don't have to hear you belt it out right this instant. You can communicate things verbally if you don't feel up to singing them. Don't sing the super-belty parts; utilize Head Voice in place of a belt or mix. And stop immediately if you feel anything whatsoever hurt or tweak: better safe than sorry when it comes to our voices.

When you have to sing at a gig, maybe you don't belt quite as much. Utilize your Head Voice more than Belting (remember who your best friend is right now!), which can be really hard on an already-compromised voice. Maybe you find ways to deliver a strong performance that aren't as focused on the vocals - tap into the emotion of the song in a different way; interpret the repertoire in a more intimate, vulnerable, stripped-down way. Maybe you can focus on standing and delivering your vocals more than moving around, if you're a very physical performer like me. Performing for me on a good day is already really physical; add sickness to the mix, and it's usually best that I am focused on delivering my vocals. So, you change it up a bit. This might even be a really great opportunity to connect with your songs and audience in a different way. 

4. Drink a ton of water

Just reminding ya.

5. Change the setlist

If it's possible, changing the set list to include less-vocally-demanding songs can go a long way, too. If it's appropriate for the gig, doing a bit more of a mellow set is a great idea (and sometimes gives you a chance to sing songs you don't normally get to do/sing them in a new and different way, all cool potential bonuses). Or, change keys if your band is willing and able. Sometimes the difference between success and failure is just a couple half-steps. 

6. Ensure you can hear yourself

Make sure you have an adequate monitoring and microphone situation so you are certain you can hear yourself. Since your ears may be clogged (thank you again, mucus!), a poor sound situation on top of this can make it extra-challenging to hear yourself. Do yourself a favor by getting a soundcheck (if you can), and asking for more of your vocal in your monitors if you need to hear yourself better. Taking a little extra time now to ensure you can hear yourself, and asking for what you need (don't be shy!), will help a lot when you're in the moment of the performance and potentially overwhelmed by all the things happening all at once. This is actually just a great rule of thumb for any performance, I wanted to highlight it here too so you remember - in the midst of feeling awful, it can be hard to remember all the differing factors happening inside your body. 

7. Be on your best behavior

I know, so boring! Being sick is BORING. I get it. But. You want to keep your voice and I want you to, as well. So....be on your best behavior. What does that mean? Well. I realize this might be a bit of an idealistic proposition, but I'll just say it, and then you can't say I didn't at least try to impart the good decisions unto you. Your best behavior means listening to your body and taking care of it. All the H20, healthy food, vitamins, salt-water gurgles (see below), sinus-steams (see below), and remedies that make you feel better are SO crucial to do. Remember, while you're not curing the cold, of course, it's those symptoms we are trying to manage. Eyes on the prize, babies. It also means refraining from things such as drinking the alcohol, smoking the cigarettes or the marijuana, or doing the drugs. Far be it for me to be your Mom, so I won't tell you how to live your life. But, maybe while you're sick, think about these things. K? And lastly, "best behavior" means sticking to your very best Vocal Practices behavior. Making sure you don't push your voice in ways that you know are harmful, or pushing yourself too hard/far because you *really* need to sing that gig or get that note out. No gig or note is worth potentially damaging your voice for life. So take it easy. Listen to your body. 

Sickey Apothecary

Salt Water Gargle

For: sore, scratchy throats

Things you'll need: salt, warm water

Dissolve 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water. Gently gargle the water. Guaranteed to make your raw throat feel instantly better. Not recommended for young children (read: under 6), as they amy not be able to gargle properly. I'm personally not a big fan of lozenges, as I feel like the sugar in them almost just perpetuates the problem, so try this instead. 

Herbal Steam

For: cough, congestion, sinus pressure, clogged ears

Things you'll need: a large pot or bowl, water, tea kettle (if using a bowl as opposed to pot), 1 tbsp. of desired herbs (some good ones are eucalyptus, lavender, rosemary, oregano, thyme, peppermint, basil), towels

Boil about an inch of water in pot or tea kettle. Once water has boiled, remove pot from heat and place on a flat, sturdy, stable surface. Place on top of a towel so its not hot on the countertop/surface. Add dried herbs you want to use. Stir well, and cover for 1-2 minutes. Lift lid, ensuring the temperature isn't too hot for your face. Lean down and place face over pot or bowl, covering your head with a towel to trap the steam in. Try to allow as little air to escape as possible. Breathe in the steam deeply and slowly for 10mins. You can inhale through the nose and out through the mouth, or just through the nose. Experiment to see what loosens things up the most. If mucus falls into the pot or bowl (I know, gross, but this is the whole point here!), just let it. Once finished, thoroughly clean the pot or bowl and dispose of the mixture. Of course, the normal caveats apply: be careful with heat and steam, and never reuse the water/herb mixture. Use caution with boiling water and any hot surfaces. This is also not recommended for young children, and pregnant women should consult their doctor before working with any kind of herbs. 

Tea

People frequently ask me about tea as a remedy for the cold. Tea is great, but do remember caffeinated teas are dehydrating; many people think they're also hydrating since they're drinking water, but this is, sadly, not the case. So just make sure you're still supplementing with the appropriate amount of water whilst drinking your tea. My favorite tea for singing is Throat Coat by Traditional Medicinals: made with slippery elm and licorice & marshmallow root, it's like magical slippery hydration for your vocal cords. I swear by Throat Coat when I need to sing on a ragged throat. 

Medicine: What Should I Take?

This can be a bit of a tricky one. You want to take something - anything - right now to alleviate your symptoms so you don't feel like death-warmed-over; and so that you can get back to singing already. The reason it's tricky is because a lot of medicines will either a) dry you out or b) exacerbate the symptoms down the line, alleviating them momentarily, but then bringing them back with a vengeance once the medicine wears off. My first line of defense is honestly to try to head the sickness off at the pass, as I detailed above. That's always been the best method for me. However, I get when the sickness sets in, and you have to sing, you'll pretty much do anything to get your voice to sound and feel at least somewhat normal. So, with that in mind, I'd recommend taking a decongestant about an hour or so before you need to sing, if you're really stuffed-up, congested, and it's causing you to sneeze/cough/sniff/blow your nose constantly. Make sure not to overdo it - the price you usually pay for drying the symptoms up momentarily is that they come back a little more intensely after the medicine has worn off, so keep hydrating and be prepared for that. Natural expectorants can be great for getting a lot of mucus out; just be prepared to be MORE snotty when using these, as their job is literally to get the mucus out. As far as lozenges and throat sprays go....I'm honestly not a fan. I know there are a lot of these "miracle" sprays out there that numb the throat, etc, and these sound like a great idea....but think about it. Numbing your throat is going to dull your pain response - making it that much more likely that you'll push your voice, without even the benefit of realizing that you could be hurting yourself. I also have found that they irritate my throat more. So. I'd recommend against them, and go the more natural route. 

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Well. I think that concludes this super-thrilling, super-fun manifesto about mucus and bodily fluids. Yay!

I hope you all have a healthy, herby, cozy Holiday Season. 

Creativity Sessions: Oblique Strategies

When I do a creativity/writing session with a student, I typically like to bust out my creative-secret-weapon: Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies. 

Brian Eno is a legendary music producer known for his work with David Bowie, Talking Heads, David Byrne, amongst many others. He's pioneered a lot of sounds in the musical world, and his Music For Airports (and other ambient/soundscape work) is one of my favorite albums for writing to. As a pioneering producer, Eno would use these "oblique strategies" with artists he was working with in the studio. When they'd hit a roadbump, or get blocked creatively, he'd try to help pull them out of said block with these very interesting prompts, to get them to think outside the box. Phrases such as, "Don't break the silence," "Is there something missing?," and What to increase? What to reduce?," were just some of the seemingly open-ended questions he would ask the artists. 

Creatively, I am a big fan of indirect routes. I can rarely come right at my creativity head-on; but almost need to trick my brain into a different wavelength or space to be able to really free things up to create. Thus: I love the Oblique Strategies. 

An old student gifted me a set of these coveted cards (Eno eventually made them into a set of cards, housed in an opaque and mysterious black box, that you can purchase on his website), and I swear by them. My love for them is further deepened by the fact that they are sort of like creative Tarot cards: pretty much every single time I have a student pull a card for themselves during a creative session, it is eerily on-theme with something we have just been discussing in terms of how they're feeling, what they're going through, what they know they need to be focusing on, etc. 

The other day, my girl Aimee T.  and I were doing a freewrite/lyric session, and I had her pull two cards, at two different times during our lesson, and after I'd re-shuffled the deck between each selection. These are the two cards she came up with. She told me she just recently had a conversation with a friend about how she needs to just "put in the work" on her creative endeavors. Serendipity! 

IMG_0399.JPG

I have much I can say about putting in the work creatively versus waiting for divine inspiration to strike us. I will likely write about this in a forthcoming Creativity Sessions post. But for now: just do the work, loves. <3

Happy Creating.

Singing 101: Vocal Type: Bass, Tenor, Alto, Soprano?

What Is My Range?

This is one of the first questions I always get from a new student, and I think it's a very important thing to determine. Determining one's vocal range can show us where our trouble spots are, and point us in the direction of which registers need further work and developing. It can also help us to understand why certain notes may be consistently difficult for us, and help give us a sense of which songs and keys may be best for our voices - after all, working within YOUR ideal range is only going to serve the song and performance the most, and that's what we're here to do. Yes, we should always be challenging ourselves and striving for growth - but knowing where your voice lies will help you to work more efficiently and productively (and, honestly, joyfully!) within your voice. I want to reiterate once again that this should by no means be seen as a limiting or static placement. As an Alto myself, there are certain notes and songs written for Sopranos that I will literally NEVER be able to sing (well) in the original key. I still challenge myself to work my voice out as low and as high as I (healthily) can. Vocal Classifications are a little more Classical than I usually subscribe to, as I think there can be a lot of misconception about Voice Typing, and it can lead to some rigid, archaic ideas about developing ONLY one register above all else. But I am deciding to include it in this 101 Series because I think it can actually be used practically, and can be a helpful guidepost along the way. If you read through my Vocal Registers post, you should know that all ranges are relative - meaning, a Soprano may be more comfortable singing in her Head Voice register, but she DOES have a Chest Voice register that is not only available to her, but needs to be worked-out and developed for a fully-developed voice**. Her Chest Voice register, however, will consist of relatively-higher pitches than, say, the pitches that make up the Chest Voice register for an Alto. If it helps you to visualize this, go look at a piano. A piano is a linear instrument, and you can see all the keys laid-out like a spectrum, which is why it's very helpful for many singers to visualize their range and registers on the keys of the piano. It will also be useful for the next section, coming up in 3...2....1....

Range Vs. Tessitura

Tessi-whaaa?! Tessitura, silly. Oh, right, it's 2017. No one uses these words anymore. So. There's an important distinction just to note between your Range, and where in your range your voice is gonna shiiiine like a star. Sing smooth like butter. Feel super-gratifying, fun, and easy to sing within. This is the sweet spot of your voice. 

Tessitura refers to a singer's most aesthetically-pleasing and comfortable vocal range (what I was just talkin' about!).

Your Range refers to ALL the notes you can sing (or "manage to eke out" - let's be real, here!). 

You have a whole range available to you, but where you FEEL the most comfortable, and the voice sounds its best, is how your Voice Classification is determined. This is actually a kind of cool concept, in that your range may cover some notes from different Voice Classifications! Nerdy excitement abounds. For instance: I'm an Alto, as I've (proudly - I just kind of love being an Alto!) mentioned previously. However, my full range contains some Tenor notes, Alto notes, Mezzo (Second) Soprano notes, and - wait for it - even some Soprano notes (there's where that "eke out" bit comes into play!). I can totally sing up in the Second Soprano range....but I looooove being in my full Alto, low, belty, full, sultry glory. It's just my jam. It's where I feel my girls (my vocal cords, duh) do their best work, and where I feel the most comfy when I sing - like I can really dig in. Therefore, I'm an Alto, baby.

All that being said, here are the Vocal Classifications, from lowest to highest:

Male Voices

Bass | Baritone | Tenor

Female Voices

Alto | Mezzo (Second Soprano) | Soprano

 

Voice Classifications: A Breakdown

A note on how ranges are listed: Middle C is commonly referred to as C4 (the 4th C note on a regular 88-kay piano, thus, C4). Anything below Middle C will be listed with a 3 (for example, the A below Middle C is called A3), and anything above it will be listed with a 4 (the A above Middle C is called A4). Once you get to C5, the notes are listed with....you got it: a 5. 

Bass

The Bass is considered the lowest male vocal type. Range is usually G2-E4, with most comfortable notes being generally between G2-A3.

Baritone

 The Baritone is higher than the Bass, and lower than the Tenor. Typical range is between F2-G4.

Tenor

The highest of the male voice types. Range is typically between C3-G4, although it should be noted (pun intended, ha) that their highest notes do tend to vary from singer to singer. Tenors may also possess notes from the Alto, or even Second Soprano ranges, that they can sing easily and clearly in Falsetto. 

Alto

The lowest of the women's voice types. Typical range for an Alto is between E3-E5.

Mezzo (Second Soprano)

The Mezzo or Second Soprano is higher than the Alto, and lower than the Soprano. Their range is usually between A3-F5.

Soprano

Sopranos are the highest female voice type. Their range is typically between C4-A5 (and, in Classical and Opera, typically even higher!) I know. The thought blows my mind.

Register Ranges.jpg

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Your Unique Voice

So, where do most people lie? The majority of people tend to fall in the middle: men are typically Baritones, whilst most women are typically Second Sopranos. Basses and Sopranos, for example, are actually more rare than one might think; though with popular music's focus on high notes/music written for Sopranos, one might think this is a prevalent vocal type. Not so.

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I have many thoughts on Voice Type, and embracing your voice. The voice is SUCH a personal thing - and part of the struggle to accept our voices, I think, is directly tied-in to our struggle to accept ourselves. Think about it. We spend an awful lot of time comparing ourselves to others, and having a general existential worry that we are somehow not "enough." That we should be taller, shorter, thinner, more muscular, prettier, tanner, paler, smooth-haired or wavy-haired, etc, etc. The list goes on and on. And I think that extends to our voices. I know it does. So. Something I really try to impress upon my students is this idea of what is YOUR voice? What are the colors/textures/tones/vibes that come out naturally in YOUR voice? What makes you really want to sing the hell out a particular song? And how can we best capture YOUR sound? Not someone else's - but YOURS? 

There is so much of a general competitive and mud-slinging nature to much of our mainstream discourse on singers, and singing in general. American Idol became a hit for the impressive singers, sure; but also because a lot of America liked to sit around snickering at the not-as-naturally-musical ones. So: everyone thinks they're an expert, though I guarantee you most people haven't really tried to sing in their whole lives. I think there's way too much of this obsession in our culture with "how high of a note can you hit?" - as if this is somehow a litmus test of real vocal prowess. Yes, high notes are impressive. Sure, we all want to be able to bust out a note most people can only dream of. But it isn't the end-all, be-all. Trust. There is SO MUCH dynamic available to you, whether you are a Soprano or not - how you develop the voice YOU possess is what counts. The voice is an extension of you, which really is the most personal instrument there is - to me, the true expression you can find within your voice, with all of its limitations AND its beauty - is where the magic really lies. Moral of the story: don't be so fixated on being one certain voice type, or sounding just like someone else that you neglect to really give the world YOUR voice. There's no other voice out there that is exactly just like yours. That may sound totally cliche (and I get it, it kind of is), but if you think about it, it is literally true: your voice is absolutely, 100% unique to YOU, because it has everything to do with how your body is built. That's pretty damn cool, I think. SO, let it out babycakes!

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(**Of course, I am speaking strictly from a Contemporary Vocal Technique point of view - if you are a strictly Classical or Opera singer, this may not be the proper advice. Unfortunately, if that is the case, this *may* not be the best blog for you - I don't want to contradict any of the more Classical technique approaches if that's what you are training for!)

Acoustic Perception: Why You Hate The Sound Of Your Own Voice

This article details it much more scientifically than I can.

Suffice to say, the struggle is real, babies. Out of character, I'm going to keep this short instead of being my usual verbose-self. But, for the TL;DR version: you hear your voice differently than we, the listeners, hear it. You hear your voice inside a muffled box (your skull!). We do not (duh). 

SO. Making peace with this (I know, it's a tough pill to swallow), and then learning how to properly calibrate your own perception of how you're singing, and the sound/tone quality that that results in, is an important part of your vocal journey. Particularly in Head Voice (see my Range & Registers post for more info on Registers), we often perceive our voices as too light/weak, and therefore overcompensate to make the sound more "full" and "powerful." This is a seductive and disastrous trap. Working with a knowledgeable voice teacher who can help you determine when you're singing in justright, or when you might be overcompensating (resulting in a strained quality/unpleasant tone quality/pitch issues/etc), is invaluable.

Inquire within with more insight/help with this. 

<3

Singing 101: Range & Registers

Chest Voice, Head Voice, and The Mix, oh my.

I'm gonna come right out the gate and say it: when it comes to Vocal Range, contrary to popular (and very stubborn) belief, size does not matter. It's about what you do with your range that matters.

Yes, really. 

Vocal Range refers to all the pitches a person's voice can produce, from the very lowest note, to the highest. There are a few genetic and determining factors that relate to an individual's Vocal Range (which I won't get into right this moment), and how high or low their voices will sit, as well as how many pitches they can produce. I can certainly jump down this rabbit hole in a future post, but for now, it's important to know that a person's vocal range is 1) somewhat genetic/pre-determined/set and 2) malleable, in the sense that, once properly developed, and with correct technique utilized to create pitches, one's perceived range may either shift, or notes can be added, etc. 

That being said, ALL OF US (yes, even you, Basses, and Sopranos) have three Vocal Registers available to us. And I absolutely insist that every one of my students builds out all three. Even if you never want to sing high notes, even if you never want to sing anything other than ridiculously-high-glass-shattering Pop songs - it's absolutely imperative for a well-rounded, well-developed, dynamic voice to have your full range developed. I've written previously about how ridiculous it would be to build a house without a roof, or a foundation, for that matter. And the voice is kind of the same way. Want to be able to belt, to sing with power, to *sound like your voice is one register all the way up? Then you gotta put in the work, babies. 

First Things First: What is Pitch? What Is Tone?

Pitch and Tone are two different things. 

Pitch is the actual note (or frequency) you are singing in a melody or scale. Very simply put, it is the "highness" or "lowness" of a note. When you sing, you create pitch according to the speed at which your vocal cords vibrate.

Tone is the color of a pitch. Tones can be described as warm, bright, strident, clear, ringing, rich, shrill, breathy, smoky, etc. Tone is partly innate and personal to you, but different tones can also be honed as vocal effects. 

How We Produce Pitch

Pitch is sound frequency - the highness, or lowness, of a note being sung or played. This waveform is created by how fast or slow our vocal cords vibrate. A faster vibration creates what we perceive to be a higher frequency/pitch, whereas a slower vibration creates a lower frequency/pitch. As mentioned above, there are a couple genetic/physical factors that determine the physical makeup of our vocal cords (these involve the thickness and length of the vocal cords), but for our purposes today, I only want to focus on Tension.

Thinking of our vocal cords sort of like a rubber band, imagine tightening and loosening a rubber band to make a looser or more taut opening. This is basically how our vocal cords work. As mentioned in my Singing 101: How The Voice Works post, there are two sets of muscles that control the vocal cords: The Thyroid Muscle Group and the Arytenoid Muscle Group. These muscles are responsible for the tension of the vocal cords. The tighter the tension means less slack, which means the vocal cords vibrate at a faster rate: creating a higher pitch. Alternately, looser/less slack creates a slower vibration, creating lower notes. It is very important to teach our bodies how to effectively and properly produce these notes so that when we hear a note we want to sing, we have built up enough muscle memory for the brain to send a signal to the Thyroid and Arytenoid muscles to create the EXACT amount of tension needed to create that note. 

Let me pause to say: Don't overthink this too much. This is an unconscious physical act that your body KNOWS how to achieve. It isn't your job to intellectualize pitch and thus get all tense about it (which will make it harder to hit the note, frustratingly). You only need to get comfortable with relying on your ear and trusting that you KNOW innately how to match a pitch you hear. If you find you cannot do this reliably, Ear Training is a good fix for this. :)

The Three Registers - All The Notes In Our Range

Let's start by thinking of our voices as a spectrum, with a multitude of colors, tones, and textures throughout. I'll let you pick the color scheme that best suits you. Have a ball. It can be rainbow-colored or totally morose. I'm into 70s, Frank Lloyd Wright tones myself, but I can get down with some sparkle in my vocal-color-scheme. Anyway. 

A spectrum, and it is sort of loosely divided into three different sections: Chest Voice, Mix, and Head Voice.

Chest Voice

Chest Voice refers to our low notes. Think warm, full, heavy tones. This is the "bottom" of our range, and is likely (though not always - Sopranos and Tenors - lookin' at you, maybe) pretty comfortable for most of you. We speak in our Chest Voices. It's a pretty full sound, and we can feel it resonating in our bodies (namely, in our chest cavity) when we are singing or speaking here. 

The Chest Voice is controlled by a set of muscles called the Thyroid Muscle group. The Thyroid group is a heavier set of muscles than the Arytenoids, which control the Head Voice. The Thyroid muscle group is located in the front of the larynx (the front of the throat). Another interesting (super cool) fact about Chest Voice is that we are using the full vocal cord (called the Basic layer - there are also three layers to your vocal cord) when we sing down here. That's partly why the sound is so much more heavy and full.  

Head Voice

Now, on the opposite end of the spectrum, we have our Head Voice. Head Voice is our high notes. (This is what most men commonly refer to as "Falsetto", although Falsetto is truly another register/technique altogether, and has been pretty widely misused, causing a lot of confusion). For our purposes, I am going to refer to Head Voice for both men and women, to describe our higher register. 

Head Voice is experienced as a "lighter" tone quality than the Chest Voice. This is the spot in our voices that is light, floaty, ethereal, bright. You may feel it in your forehead, temples, or top of your head when you sing up here. You may even experience feeling lightheaded when you start singing up here - this is normal, and the sensation will go away the more you train the voice. 

The Head Voice is controlled by the Arytenoid Muscle group - a smaller set of muscles at the back of the larynx. Another thing to note when singing in Head Voice is that only the inner edge of the vocal cords is vibrating together, creating sound - we are no longer using the full weight of the vocal cord (known as the Basic Layer) when singing our high notes. Again, think of how this translates to how Head Voice feels: lighter, and almost as if it is coming from another place almost outside of our bodies. 

Mixed Voice

Now, imagine there is a little bridge connecting the Chest and Head Voices. This is your Mix. This is commonly also referred to as your Middle Voice, Break, or the Passagio, for those Classical peeps out there. Simply put, this part of your voice is a "mix" of both Chest Voice and Head Voice. This is the spot in most peoples' voices that feels strained, weak, or may even crack or break. This is NORMAL and it is OKAY. The reason the Mix is often so hard to sing in is because if you think about a bridge, the middle part is the most structurally-weak. If you think of it from a physiological standpoint, this is the point in your voice where BOTH sets of muscles need to be working equally - each pulling their own weight, so to speak. If one of them is weaker than the other, it makes this part of the voice - and the ensuing just-so tension required to sing successfully here - very challenging indeed. I usually like to use the analogy of doing a push-up. If I told you to do a push-up and then asked you to pause - and hold - halfway back up, it would be harder than getting the full extension and release. It would require a different kind of strength and training to hold the tension just so. It's kind of similar with your mix. 

So....how the hell do we work through this? The answer is to first ensure proper development of both the Chest and Head registers. Head Voice, in particular, is critical to developing a strong Mixed Voice. Most people's Head Voices are under-developed due to the simple fact that we don't spend a lot of time up in here - we don't speak up high at these higher pitches, so those muscles don't have a lot of strength or even opportunity to really work. Therefore, they're not really holding up their end of the bargain. This is why I make everyone, regardless of how high or low their natural voice is pitched, work on developing a healthy and strong Head Voice. 

Vocal Cracks: A Note 

I want to pause really quickly to say something about Vocal Cracks. I get it. NO ONE likes to hear (or feel) their voice crack, or break. Some people's "break" manifests in literal cracks or breaks; other peoples' do not. Whether yours does literally crack and break or not, it's important to know that vocal cracks are caused by nothing more than weak muscle groups. Again, going back to the idea of both muscle groups needing to be holding their own weight and tension to create a certain pitch frequency: if one of the muscle groups is too weak to "hold" their level of tension, they will fatigue, and basically "drop" the tension, throwing the entire job to the other register. This is what causes the voice to crack. Imagine if you and your buddy were moving and carrying a heavy couch. Now. imagine one of you drops your end of the couch unexpectedly. Aside from this being decidedly not cool, it would cause the other person to have to take on ALL the weight of the couch, and they'd stumble under this sudden weight shift. Developing strength in BOTH sets of muscles will help to smooth out vocal cracks. If cracks persist, placement (how you are approaching a certain pitch - another post coming soon on this idea!), and tension need to be looked at, as well as any psychological blocks around nervousness and singing. When we're tense, this can lead to cracks, too. We'll discuss further at a later date. 

*Sounding Like One Register All The Way Up: A Fallacy

One more note on this notion of your voice needing to sound like one register all the way up. 

I pretty much wholeheartedly disagree with this notion. I think it is not only incredibly misleading in terms of how the voice actually works, but has even caused A LOT of damage and unrealistic expectations for a lot of singers. 

Sure, I understand what people MEAN when they express this desire. You don't want your voice to sound powerful, and then, all the sudden, flip into a weaker place that is jarring and unsupported-sounding. I get this. I don't want that for you either. But the idea that your voice should sound like one register (i.e. Chest Voice) the whole way up is going to lead to some majorly problematic vocal approaches - namely, taking your Chest Voice up way too high, which can result in a strained tone quality at best, and some significant vocal damage at worst. 

As described above, your voice is a spectrum, and it NEEDS to move through different pitch frequencies in order to move through itself. Therefore, what works at one frequency is not going to work successfully for another. The voice needs to be able to move freely, make adjustments, and explore (and express) a wide range of sounds and colors. This is literally how it works. Trying to force it to all sound like a Chest Voice is not only vocally unhealthy, it is very one-dimensional. This idea of one whole register seems, to me, to be rooted in Musical Theatre, and has permeated popular opinion so much that people spout it off as "good singing" left and right. I am by no means vilifying the Musical Theatre community, but an important thing to understand about a lot of those badass Broadway singers is not that their voice IS one register the whole way up, but that they've TRAINED to make it SOUND AS IF it is strong all the way up. There is a big difference here. You can absolutely do this, too - if you (you guessed it) do all your vocal technique due diligence and develop a voice that is healthy, well-balanced, strong - and ready to learn these techniques. 

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Returning to the idea of everyone having these three registers available to them, it is important to note that everyone DOES indeed have a lower register, upper register, and a combination of the two. If you are a Bass, that will be relative to the potential range of notes that are physically  available to you to produce. This will be entirely different for you than it will be for someone who is a Soprano. Your Head Voice will exist in a certain range of pitches, just as your Chest Voice will, and Mix. But it is still a Head Voice - it is where YOURS sits. Once Chest Voice and Head Voice are properly developed, that will start to fill-in some of these Mixed Voice notes. At that point, you will be ready to deepen your Vocal practice by diving into the murky (but exhilarating!) waters of the Mixed Voice, where you can start exploring different sounds, tones, and timbres, as well as other really cool vocal techniques such as Belting and the Pharyngeal Voice (an advanced vocal technique, not another register, per se). 

I hope this was illuminating, and can explain some of what you might be experiencing with your voice but might not have been able to put words to. 

As always, keep kicking ass and singing your damn hearts out. <3

 

 

Singing 101: How The Voice Works

One of the first things I go over with all of my students is how the voice works. 

I know, it seems like that should be a given, right?! 

You'd be surprised how little most people know about HOW the voice works. I've even run across voice teachers who, somewhat perplexingly, don't know how it works. How can you properly assess what's holding a student back, and effectively guide them towards better tools and habits, if you don't know how the instrument works? How can YOU use your instrument if you don't know how it works? Any other musician playing any other instrument knows how their instrument works - the nuts and bolts that make it tick. The same should be true for singing if you are to use your voice the way you want, and have a longlasting relationship with it (whether it be professionally, or just personally!). 

So. Let's talk about how your voice works, shall we?

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The Players: How The Body Produces Sound

When you start to sing, air comes up from your lungs (no, not the diaphragm!), travels through the trachea (your "windpipe"), comes up into your larynx "your "voicebox"), and passes between your vocal cords. When the air strikes the cords, they begin to vibrate. The cords, meanwhile, have stretched to a specific pitch opening, thus creating pitch. The vocal cords produce the sound, and the air propels the sound out of the body. 

The Larynx

What the hell is a larynx?! In short, it's your Adam's Apple (more pronounced in men than in women, but we can still feel it in the same spot, ladies!). It's something of a cylinder in your throat - a cylinder made up of cartilage and muscles. 

Okay, but what the hell is it?! It serves as a little protective box for your vocal cords to be housed in. 

The Vocal Cords

Yes, it's spelled "cords" - and yes, it's one of my major pet peeves to see this spelled incorrectly. Nerd alert. 

Inside of your larynx, are two vocal cords, right next to each other, running from the front of the larynx to the back. Think of these like a rubber band. It will help later. It's this stretch (like a rubber band stretches) that creates and modifies pitches while singing. Depending on the pitch, the size of the teeny-tiny opening between the cords will shift. Every single has its very own size stretch, therefore its own size opening through which the air passes. The stretch of the cord is what determines how large (lower) or small (higher) the opening or pitch will be.

The Muscle Groups

I know what you're thinking now: there are MUSCLE GROUPS?! I thought I just needed to take a big old breath and push my air out and hope for the best!

Nope. There are muscle groups that control your vocal cords, and they, my friends, are YOUR friends. 

There are two main muscle groups responsible for what I like to call the "heavy lifting" of singing. Remember, these muscle groups are what stretch the vocal cords to create different pitches, as the air passes between them, causing them to vibrate. These muscle groups are called the arytenoid (head voice/high notes) and thyroid (chest voice/low notes) muscles. The arytenoid muscles are smaller, and are located at the back of the larynx and control the head voice. The thyroid muscles are heavier and are located at the front of the larynx. They control the chest voice. 

Resonators & Articulators

This is just a fancy way of referring to all the other players. We'll get more in-depth with these guys as we discuss tone and resonance, which are absolutely key, key, key in singing well.

Your resonators and articulators are basically the tongue, teeth, lips, jaw, palates, and pharynx.

ARE YOU NERDING OUT YET?! I am. The voice is so cool, and while it may seem right now like there are about one million moving parts, I promise you'll start to see them all grouped together as part of one big, beautiful, well-oiled machine. 

The resonators and articulators are responsible for taking the sound you're producing down there in the larynx with your vocal cords, and creating a resonating chamber (think of a big, old church with high, vaulted ceilings. Don't those places sound gorgeous? That's sort of what we're going for, but in our bodies. COOL.) in which to build on that sound. If you think of your body as an instrument, like an acoustic guitar, you'll see that the way everything is shaped in there can make a HUGE difference in the kind of sounds you get. 

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The cool thing about all this is now you know how this amazing instrument of yours works! Again, I know it may seem overwhelming at first, but I encourage you to look up some pictures online (erm....pictures of actual vocal cords are sort of NSFW....just a warning....you'll see why) or diagrams and really try to get a sense of how all these little pieces and pulleys work together. The sort-of-frustrating-news is that, since there ARE so many little pieces working all at once, there could one or a few that are sort of getting in your way, and it can be challenging to parse out which ones those might be, if you're not a trained vocal technician. Finding and working (even for a few sessions) with a well-trained voice teacher, who knows her (or his) vocal pedagogy is a great way of getting feedback about any bad habits or tension you might have in any of these areas. And of course, any voice teacher worth her (or his) salt will be able to offer kind, compassionate, and constructive feedback towards that end, as well as ideas and exercises to help steer you towards healthier habits. 

Happy Singing and Vocal Pedagogy study, my dearests. <3

Spoiler Alert: There's No Such Thing As A "Quick Fix"

I know, I know: I hate to burst anyone's bubble here, or be the bearer of the bad-news-you-already-knew-but-wanted-to-pretend-you-didn't news. But, I am here to officially tell you:

There are no "quick fixes." 

There are no "shortcuts."

There are no magic singing-pills that will miraculously eradicate the vocal issues you struggle with (though if there is, someone get me in on that so we can split the profits 50/50, yeah?). 

When it comes to pretty much any skill we want to learn and hone - and most especially when it comes to that most elusive of instruments, the voice - it takes perseverance, practice, and patience. See, the voice, as I'm sure you're well aware is such a special and unique instrument, but along with that comes a lot of slippery slopes. Singing is HARD! It won't always be, but let's just take a moment to collectively give ourselves a damn hug and remind ourselves that we're working on something that is, indeed, tricky. No shame in admitting that. But, I have a lot of people come in here looking for advice on a "trick" to do this thing or that with their voices and while I do have a slew of tricks in my bag 'o tricks to help you clean out those bad-habits and build better ones, there isn't really any one trick that's going to just click it all in. If you think about it, the voice is really the ONLY instrument you have to actually build before you can use it the way you want to. No one hands guitar players (okay, unless they're a Luthier) a hunk of wood and tells them they have to learn how to build the guitar before they can even start learning chords! But with the voice, it's critical to build and establish a strong foundation and good vocal habits. You only get one voice, and if you blow it, you can't swap it out or buy a new one. It's also a *really* delicate instrument doing a lot of heavy-ass lifting. That's why it's so important to learn HOW it works, identify certain habits that YOU have when it comes to singing, and then do the work to replace the unhealthy habits with healthier ones. It's why, in m personal opinion, YouTube tutorials don't exactly cut it when it comes to the voice: everyone's voice, body, mental and emotional lives, and beliefs about singing are SO vastly different and subjective, that it really makes the "one-size-fits-all" approach not work so great. There's also a wealth of inaccurate, misunderstood, and just plain bad information out there about singing.

So. What to do about building your voice? Here's my steps for getting started with every student I see:

1. Get a professional opinion. You don't need to sign up for long-term lessons, per se; but I believe that it is crucial to have a voice coach give you an assessment of what you're doing healthily, and what you're doing unhealthily - and to explain to you HOW this is holding you back from singing the way you want to. They can give you a game plan based on where you're at now, and within a couple lessons. A note on this: beware ANY voice teachers who do promise a "quick fix" or any "this ONE trick transformed my voice!" rhetoric. While it may be true that one adjustment of a poor habit can vastly improve the quality of your singing, there's really not just "one" trick that will work for everyone. There are certainly best singing practices, but just be wary of someone who sounds like they're selling snake oil.

2. Learn how your instrument works. You'd be surprised how many singers don't even have a correct (or healthy) grasp of how their instrument works. There's no other instrumentalist in the world who plays their instrument without having a basic knowledge of how it works. Educate yourself - I promise it will make your navigation of vocal troubles SO much easier. A couple instructors I can personally vouch for and have studied with on Contemporary Vocal Technique are Dena Murray (Musician's Institute), Coreen Sheehan (Musician's Institute), and Anne Peckham (Berklee College of Music). These women really know their stuff - Dena Murray, in particular, has several amazing books that really make the voice easy to understand and tackle. 

3. Get the girls (or dudes) working! As I said above, there's no substitute for putting in the time and work on your vocal cords, and correcting any bad habits. It has such huge, long-ranging, and long-lasting effects on your voice and abilities as a singer - vocal health is no joke, and I know I sound like a stuffy, boring-ass Virgo here (guilty as charged!), but treat your voice like the precious damn thang it is! Practice doesn't need to be a long affair, either. I advocate for regularity in shorter bursts of time - but with focus on whatever concept or technique you are working on at the time. 

Here's an awesome TED video about practicing effectively - it doesn't have to be daunting, just focused, mindful, and done with some regularity. 

Happy singing, my loves. 

Practice Tip: Be Realistic

Hello my amazing singers! I hope everyone has had a magical summer filled with all the things summer dreams are made of (insert summer dream here). I've been touring and teaching and traveling a lot, and so I haven't updated on blog posts in a little while - but I am back now with a vengeance with a new website(!), and with Autumn on my side. Oh yeah. Get ready.

With the spirit of a new season upon us, and with Fall always seeming like a time to settle in, hunker down, and get to steppin', I wanted to throw out a quick tip on practice. Ahh, practice. Always necessary, and yet stealthily avoided (believe me, I know). I've been having this conversation A LOT with my students - questions of how much to practice, how TO practice (read your notebooks!!), and "what if I'm practicing the complete wrong thing?!" have been coming up lately. 

My answer: practice always seems to work best when we're

1) realistic and flexible about it and

2) we do it.

Not meaning to be snarky there, really! What I mean is this: it's highly unlikely we're ever going to have all the long, leisurely time we want to devote to our creative & artistic pursuits (and a funny phenomenon happens even when we do - the ability to avoid doing something you know you need to do can be impressive, y'all; I know it first-hand). So, instead of saying we need to practice for an hour every. single. day. and then inevitably falling short of that goal is only going to set you up for failure. Instead, try just 10 minutes. That's right - anyone can do anything for 10 minutes, and chances are, once you get into it, you'll turn the timer off and be really in the vibes, and you can keep going. The important part is to just get started - if, after 10 minutes, you really need to move on, or aren't feeling it, then that's fine too. Maybe your practice for that day isn't about doing scales or singing through a song you've been working on - maybe it's about feeding your creativity in other ways, by taking a walk, listening to new music, reading some poetry - anything else to feed your inspiration well. 

The other important piece is the "what if I'm not practicing correctly?!" concern. While a valid concern - I always say I want you guys to be mentally vigilant with your own, individual singing "bad habits" - I know for a fact that part of the process is trusting in the process. I know that so much of singing or anything creative, really, can feel sometimes like you're feeling around in the dark - but that stumbling, and trying, and failing, and then the A-HA! moment, is all a part of the learning. So just DO it - something, anything. Even if you have to just go back to basics and focus on proper breathing for a few minutes, and then gradually upping the ante by adding trills, and then sung notes, and then singing a few lines of a song, all the while focusing on your breathing habits - is enough.

Trust your voice and let it show you some thangs. 

Singing 101: Breathing!

Singing 101: Breathing!

Demystifying The Diaphragm + Tips for Better Breath Support

Ahh, Breathing.

It seems to be THE central focus of so many of our conversations about singing, and yet I find that most people who come into my studio admit to being pretty damn perplexed, and completely mystified, as to what “breath support” really means, and how to do it properly. Isn’t it kind of hilariously ironic that the ONE piece of singing that should be the easiest, the ONE piece we’re already doing all the damn time, all day every day, is such a source of confusion? It’s talked about incessantly, and yet, most people seem completely in the dark about what breath support really means, what the role of the diaphragm is in singing (what the hell IS the diaphragm anyway?!), and how breathing can help or hinder our singing. So, let’s demystify all this breathing-and-diaphragm talk, mmkay?

I’m here to blow your mind, people. Pun intended. Okay, sorry. Let’s forget I did that.

Singing Breathing + The Diaphragm = Diaphragmatic Breathing

For a quick + dirty overview / in-depth breakdown of how the vocal mechanism works, please go here and read my post on How The Voice Works. At its essence, singing is the balance of our breath/airflow, to the muscle tension of our vocal cords pulling to different pitch openings.

Let’s start by talking about the Diaphragm. I’m sure you’ve heard all kinds of talk about “singing from the diaphragm” or “the belly,” or “breathing from the diaphragm” - you know it’s important, somehow, but you have no clue what it is or what it’s doing. The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle that sits at the base of the lungs, right beneath our sternums, and is the most efficient muscle aiding in the process of breathing. Note that I did not say that we breathe into our diaphragms (the air is, of course, going into our lungs, correct?). For singing, we want to use this muscle to help us, and so we position our breathing a bit lower than we might normally find ourselves breathing in everyday life. Do me a favor: go stand in front a mirror and take an inhale. Now take another and observe for me what moved when you inhaled. Did your chest and shoulders rise up as you inhaled? Did your belly go in, or go out? Take a few breaths and take note of this, because it’s really important. The proper way to breathe for singing, is that on our inhales, we want our bellies + ribs to inflate, keeping the chest and shoulders down. We then want our bellies to slowly come back in and up as we exhale our air. Say it with me now:

Inhale: Belly + ribs inflate

Exhale: Belly slowly comes back in + up OR (intermediate/advanced) stays inflated until the very end

A visual + physical exercise I sometimes give people to go through here is to place their hand on their bellies, right beneath the sternum (move that hand up, yep, a littttle higher than you probably placed it. It’s not the LOW belly, so much as the diaphragm, right beneath the sternum, that we want to feel). Inhale, thinking of the ribs expanding OUT to our sides (towards our elbows), and feeling the belly inflate out, so that our hand is being pushed away from us. The chest should be relaxed, and shoulders should be relaxed down your back. So where does the diaphragm come into play in all of this? Well, the diaphragm, sitting under our sternum, is actually dropping DOWN + flattening here as we inhale, which causes our ribs + belly to expand. Why is it flattening down? Why do we give a shit about this extra piece? Don’t we have enough to worry about with singing, without having to tweak our whole way of breathing?! The reason we care is because, with the diaphragm flattened down, the lungs are being allowed some extra room to hold some extra air “in the tank” whilst at the same time letting air out in a steady stream as we sing. Let me repeat that, because I think that is an important piece: the lungs are keeping some air in reserve at the bottom, AS they let out a steady stream of air on the exhale as we sing. We’re not just inhaling and exhaling all of our air out in one big breath all at once, right? We need this air to support us through our phrase as we sing - thus, thinking of our lungs similar to if we were pouring a nice beer into a glass (beer analogies work well for me, don’t know about you): we’re not just turning the bottle upside down and dumping it all out at once. We’re gradually - but steadily! - pouring the liquid out. Our lungs, in essence, are doing the same thing: gradually - but steadily! - letting our air out on a steady, free, active exhale. This support - from the “reserve” of air in the lungs supporting the air that’s leaving, to the diaphragm flattening to support the lungs doing this, is the essence of breath support.

So, to recap: inhale, diaphragm drops, belly + ribs inflate. Exhale, steadily + freely, and the belly slowly comes back in + up, returning the diaphragm gradually back to its start position.

Now, one more thing to note: eventually, the long-term goal is to strengthen the diaphragm enough that it can stay flattened + down AS you sing, and being enough in control of your diaphragm to be able to do this, so that it doesn’t pop-up automatically when you’re doing something difficult vocally. For starters, I’d say to be aware of this idea, but not necessarily worried about it too much at first. Initially, it’s just important for you to start to practice breathing in this deeper way, and being really honest with yourself about whether you are actually using your diaphragm to breathe properly for singing (i.e. belly is inflating on the inhale, versus going in, and into the chest). You may need to practice this in a mirror so you can really see what is going on as you’re breathing. I will cover the more advanced breathing (keeping the diaphragm flattened/belly inflated AS you exhale/sing) in a later post - for now, it’s just important to get this breathing, and coordination of the breath, dialed-in so it’s more second-nature. The ironic thing about this way of breathing is that it is how we breathe naturally when we are in an ultimate relaxed state - when we are sleeping.

So, the moral of the story when it comes to breathing: let it be free, let it help you, and (even though we’ve just done A LOT of talking about it), don’t overthink it or make it more difficult than it needs to be. As with most things with singing, try to let it be a little more, and you’ll be surprised at how much less you actually need to work to achieve a better sound.

Tips for Better Breathing + Breath Support

Towards that end, I have a few tips + tricks that might help you with simplifying the whole breathing portion of singing. These are some “best practices” I like to tell all of my students to help them relax around breathing a little more, and find a more intuitive, easy way of using the breath to help their voices.

1. Don’t take a HUGE inhale to sing.

This is the first thing I say to people that blows their minds. Let’s start with feeling something, again, shall we? Take in a BIG inhale - as much air as you can possibly take in. Then, maybe even gulp in a little more. What does it feel like as soon as you’ve taken as much air in as you can? You probably REALLY need to exhale now, right? Did you let it all out, finally, in one giant gasp, hoping to find some relief? This is exactly the opposite of what we want to do when we are singing. The truth is, conventional wisdom is once again the source of a singing fallacy that we all seem to get into our heads + bodies. It seems as if, if we are trying to support our voices, and have enough air to get through a phrase, that we’d need to take in as much as air as we possibly can, to carry us through the phrase. However, the reality of what happens in our bodies is, again, the opposite of what we want when we sing. When we take in as much air as our bodies and lungs can hold, it places an inordinate amount of air pressure underneath our vocal cords. Remember the piece where I said singing is about a balance between our breath/airflow + our vocal cords? Well, our vocal cords are pretttttty small. They do a lot of heavy lifting (god, they are SUCH champs!) - but they are small. They are about the size of a dime in women, a nickel for men. So. Putting SO much air pressure underneath them, in an unnatural way like this (who takes in a HUGE inhale to speak? Probably none of you, ever. And if you are - maybe check in with this in your speaking voice, too), will cause you to need to relieve this pressure in one of two ways: either by squeezing/holding the air back = holding the breath, or else will cause us to push/force the air out = overblowing the breath. Neither falls under the umbrella of a relaxed, steady stream of airflow, now does it?

Moral of the story: stop taking in air as if you’re about to swim the length of an Olympic-sized swimming pool on a single breath. You don’t do it to speak; don’t do it when you sing.

A normal, conversational breath (maybe a teeny bit bigger if you know you have a long phrase) should be more than sufficient to get you through a singing phrase. 

2. No holding breath BEFORE you start singing.

This one, dear singers, is probably the NUMBER ONE most pesky breathing habit I think I see in people. It drives people crazy because they a) never realize it’s even a thing to be aware of and b) when they are made aware of it, it seems like the natural thing to do, to “prepare” to sing: take in a HUGE inhale, and then HOLD IT. That’s right, y’all: #1 + #2 loooove to work together to impede our singing! The reason we don’t want to hold before we start to exhale/sing, is the same reason as above: it just places too much air pressure beneath our sweet little vocal cords. I liken this habit to running and building up momentum and then stopping short right before jumping over a body of water you’re trying to get across. It makes zero sense to halt all the momentum you just gained and then make the job even harder for yourself! So, what do we want to instead? What we want to do instead is take a (normal) inhale, and then simply start singing right at the tail-end of the inhaled breath. It’s a very free, circular sort of motion, the exhale simply a continuation of the inhale. Sometimes I tell people to think “air in, sound out” all as one seamless motion, to get them to break this habit. Or another visual is the idea of the surf coming in + out on the shore of a beach - the water flows in, and immediately flows back out, without break or stopping. Pick either one to visualize in your mind and see if it helps you relax a little into a more natural rhythm.

A special note for Breathy Singers: the “holding” right before coming in to sing (particularly in Head Voice) is a common culprit in causing our overly-breathy tone. When I am working with someone on strengthening a breathy tone I usually start right here, with checking out that moment between the end of the inhale and when someone starts to sing. If you hold your breath, even for a split second, it is too long. I can’t stress it enough: you want to inhale and then come RIGHT IN, at the very top of your inhaled breath, and not a moment later. Again, when we hold, we build up air pressure under the cords, which can cause them to open up too much to allow the air out that’s built up unnaturally underneath them. Our vocal cords being too far apart = breathy tone. If the cords aren’t vibrating against one another (where they want to be), and are too far apart, we hear more breath coming through than tone. So if you’re looking to strengthen a breathy tone (particularly in Head Voice!), check out this piece - it might be the small tweak you need to overcome that breathy tone, simply by coming into your first note a split second sooner than you think you “should.”

3. No Holding Air / No Overblowing Air.

This one seems obvious, though I still find so many singers are either holding their air as they sing to “conserve” + “get through” the phrase they are singing, or else they are overblowing their air by pushing it out in a misguided attempt to “support” with their breath. Again, neither of these falls under the umbrella of relaxed, supportive, + natural. Remember! The breath is here to help, not hinder. We don’t need to make this any more complicated than it is. The airflow should simply be a stready stream of air exhaling freely. Nothing more, nothing less.

You might be asking yourself, “Well, how MUCH air should I be sending out? Who’s going to measure that out if not for me, lady?!” To that, I have some good news! Your trusty vocal cords are in charge of measuring out exactly how much air they need. So, you can take that off of your plate! As long as you are taking proper inhales + breathing out freely, the vocal cords will do the rest. It really isn’t for you to “monitor” beyond the pieces we outlined above. Glory hallelujah.

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So there you have it, my darlings. Ultimately, I’m of the belief that Breathing should be the easiest part of singing: after all, you’re already doing it(!), all the time. The reason vocalists and vocal teachers obsess over our (and your) breathing is because we’re actually trying to help you return it to a more relaxed, natural state. If you feel like your breathing in everyday life and/or as it relates to your speech isn’t the healthiest (i.e. you notice you tend to hold your breath or overblow it when speaking, for example), then this is a great time to start practicing these better breathing practices, as you’re going through your day and talking to people. The great part about this is that it’s a win-win: you’re practicing your breathing and building better habits while you’re going about the things you already do every day. Add in some dedicated time to sit down in front of a mirror and really focus on this breathing, and you’ll be well on your way to healthier breathing that is actually supporting your voice, which is what it’s there to do anyway. Breathing practice + mindfulness is also a classic relaxation/grounding/centering + meditation practice, that aids in relaxation and lower stress in all areas of our lives.

At the end of the day, singing is (or should be!) natural and free. Never lose sight, when you get confused and overwhelmed and frustrated with your voice, of taking a deep breath and going back to the basics. Remember that at the root of vocal “rules” and “tips” is really just an urging to return to a free, natural, and relaxed state. Err on the side of that, and you’ll be in a good place. 

<3

Saving the Most Valuable Teaching Tool -- Teachers' Voices

I’m currently dealing with the plague (aka a nasty cold that has morphed into a cough) and my voice is pretty hoarse- a pretty sticky problem for someone who makes their living with their…voice. Uh-oh. I ran across this article on teachers and some methods they can use to save their voices. My favorite part (aside from their correct spelling of vocal “cords” - as opposed to “chords”, one of my biggest pet peeves!) is this quote: “Teachers should think of themselves as vocal athletes, and should give their voices the same care and attention that athletes give their bodies.”

YES! I love this! I frequently am trying to get my students to think of their voices as a muscle, and to condition and care for their vocal cords as such. So, if you’re a teacher or someone who needs to use their speaking voice a lot during the day, or even just a chatty Cathy, take a look at this here article for some tips on preventing vocal tiredness before it happens. Hallelujah.

The Head Voice and Building a House Without A Roof

Hello there my little songbirds! I realize I have been away from this blog for far too long. However, in my defense, I’ve been so busy teaching, singing, touring, writing (er, songwriting, as opposed to blog-writing, obviously), and gaining new insights as a teacher and musician - which I think serves me and my students. So, I feel okay with that. I’m making a concerted effort now, though, to throw some of those thoughts up here on the blog for you to take note of if you’re not a student of mine (which brings me to: why not?!). Okay, okay, I’ll share a few snippets with you anyway, as no one like a greedy Gretchen. :)

One idea I find myself coming back to time and time again is the importance of your head voice register to the entirety of your voice. I know there’s a whole school of thought out there in which we all want our voices to “sound like our chest voice” all the way up our range. I can certainly understand the sentiment behind this- after all, who doesn’t want their voice to be powerful all the way up their range? However, the problem here is that this mentality makes it all too easy to then take the chest voice up WAY too high, straining to get to those higher notes when what we need to be doing is popping up into our head voices to access them. This idea, I’ve come to realize, is like building a house with a flat ceiling as opposed to  vaulted one. When you’re straining at the top of your chest voice, you start to get that “throat singing” feeling and tone. It’s as if you’re maxing-out at the top of your chest voice by hitting up against a flat-top ceiling. Ouch! Now, what if we’d built a nice, roomy, spacious, vaulted ceiling into which we could float up, giving those higher notes some clear, bell-like, overtones? Your voice would no longer be in your throat and strained and restricted but…in your head. *mind blown* See how that works? By giving your high notes some space you are also giving your tone more resonance, and unbeknownst to you, using your vocal cords in a much more healthy way. You may not realize it, but your vocal cords are very very delicate. When you sing in your chest voice, you use the whole vocal cord, which gives it that rich, warm, full sound. To sing in the head voice, on the other hand, your vocal cords are only vibrating on the very inner edges of the cords. Taking your chest voice up too high results in too much weight and pressure being put on your vocal cords, which as you can imagine, does not make for happy vocal cords at all.

So the next time you feel as if you’re straining for your high notes, why not think about vaulting the ceiling, getting up and OVER the note, rather than trying to reach from below? Vaulted ceilings are kind of prettier anyway, don’t you think?

Signing off for today as I’ve gotta go vault some vocal-ceilings,

Tracey

Why Voices of Singers Like Adele and John Mayer Are Stilled

Recently, I’ve had a lot of students come to me saying they want to sing like Adele. I am always more than happy to work on other artists’ songs with students, but with Adele especially, I’ve been compelled to point out that while she’s a kickass singer, her technique *might* not be the perfect example of how to maintain vocal health. I know, nerd alert here to ruin the fun. 

While I obviously have never worked with Adele (I’d likely be in a much different demographic and tax bracket than I’m in now!), I often wondered to myself how she managed to not blow her voice out by singing the way she does. Then I heard she had to cancel a slew of shows and performances to deal with a bleeding larynx. Yikes. In Adele’s case, it sounds like she takes her chest voice/belt up way too high- when instead, she should be flipping to her head voice. I have a lot of students who, when they come to me initially, are realllly reticent to sing up in their head voices. Truth be told, I used to be the same way until I strengthened my head voice and got comfortable with the tone and sensation of singing up there. I think the first step to approaching your head voice is really going for it (note: that doesn’t mean blast with volume or air pressure; keep reading!). What I mean by that is that you have to sort of give up control in order to gain it. I know…how philosophical of me. When working with the head voice, it can feel slightly unhinged, and as a result of that, people don’t open their mouths and actually SING, or they shy away from going up that high because they don’t like the tone. But by avoiding strengthening your upper register, you’re going to really hinder a lot of what you can do with your voice. Practicing somewhere that you feel comfortable singing out in (ie., you aren’t going to warp your placement, etc, by being shy/trying to be super quiet), taking it slow and really focusing on bringing the vocal cords together- not cheating by using volume or air pressure to squeak out notes- and going back down if you start to feel like you’re straining to get to the notes, are all really good tips for working with your upper register. 

That was just a little rant on your head voice; but article might make you feel better in general about why more singers seem to be canceling shows, etc. Not everyone needs a technique brush-up, but then again, it never hurts.  :)

So, the moral of the story: Have your idols, sure, but make sure you’re not just following blindly whatever it is they do. Take the good and use it for yourself, and let the less-than-optimal parts be.