Q. I’m FREAKING OUT. I have a performance about 10 days from now. It’s just one song that I have to sing the hell out of. I’m practicing my song and I can’t hit the notes, I’m hoarse, my voice is cracking, I feel out of breath, the muscles in my neck are all sore, I don’t understand what the hell is going on. Please help. What should I do between now and the performance? Thank you for your time.
A. Of course you know what’s going on – you said so in your email – you’re freaking out! So that means a tight throat, pushing too hard and missing notes. Since you can’t separate your emotions from your voice it’s best to focus on managing the symptoms I just listed.
Vocalize any exercises you know around the same pitches that are in the song. The exercises don’t have any emotion so it’s easier to stay calm. Practice your song at a much lower volume so you have some history with singing it easily. Practice the melody of your song at regular volume but just using LA LA LA instead of the lyrics – so you can get some experience with singing it out but not cracking. Run in place and/or shake your hands vigorously to get rid of all that freak out adrenaline – and sing your song at the same time. Don’t just stand there with all your muscles locked up. Record yourself singing the song (just on your phone) singing it at different volume levels. You hear that when you don’t “sing the hell out of the song” it sounds much better. People often mistake passion for push. Don’t make that mistake – back off the pressure a little and sing it open and loud but don’t drive it with all you got. After all that keep reminding yourself that this is exactly what you wanted – a chance to sing for somebody. The freakout is because you care. That’s a good thing!! Enjoy the stress!
Q. I’m trying to make a huge deicision. I’m stuck in between going to state college for medicine or to audition for other universities (like CalArts, Boston, Pace, etc.). If I stayed in state, I would major in medicine, but minor in vocal or musical thetre performance (I really like medicine and I think it would be an adventure, but I also absolutely love to sing).I think would rather do that becuase I’m scared to give my all to a college for the arts and never make anything out of it when I graduate. I’m deeply fearful of giving 100% of my life to major in vocal performance or musical theatre and never making it. I’m not scared of not making it becuase of fame, but for paying bills and such. I’m seeking your opinion being that you have more experience than I. Which do you think would be a bit more sensible for my situation and my fear?
Also, since I’m already asking advice… I have a question about my voice. It’s been weak and irritated for over a year. It hurts sometimes and I can sing with the strength I used to have and I cant hit the notes I used to. I feel constant discomfort in my voice, especially when I try to project my voice or hit high notes. It really depresses me that my voice, my instrument of self expression, isn’t working the way it used to. Do you have any advice on this situation as well?
A. Any possibility that the stress of your big life decision is clamping down on your voice? You wouldn’t be the first one if that’s the case! If your throat is irritated then you should see a doctor. If your speech is okay but your throat feels terrible when you sing then you’ve gotten yourself all worked up for nothing. There is no degree necessary to perform music. There is a degree necessary to perform medicine. So go for the medical degree but perform in both fields to fill your life with joy and passion.
Q. First off, I love your site! It is incredibly informative. The FAQ portion of your site was what initially drew me in, and I’m pretty sure I’ve read every Q/A posted. That being said, I have an interesting job, and I found nothing in the FAQ that applies to my situation. I work at a super theatrical pirate dinner show, and as a server, I have to yell in order to get my audience (customers) revved up for the main event. The job is about twelve hours, and there are four shows every day (so far, we’ve yet to slow down). So I have to do four extremely loud speeches every day. I am not the only one going hoarse.
My voice started going hoarse about a week ago (it would crack during the speech, throat would feel uncomfortable and dry, uncomfortable to speak and sing), and I started sucking on cough drops and drinking water like my life depended on it. Outside of this job, I sing in University’s choirs (lyric soprano) and… well, I love to sing! I rested my voice for two days (days off), and that seemed to help a bit, but tomorrow I have to hit the grind again. In order to make money to get me through school, I need this job, but I don’t want to lose my voice. Do you have any advice for me? Thank you so much!
A. The problem is the mind-set that goes along with yelling. It’s believed by every singer to be bad for the voice. We are warned about it from early on. So when it is required we automatically resign ourselves to the price. I’m sure you’re thinking “but I approached this with an open mind!” I’m also sure you never reminded yourself that you sing as loud as you yell – the only difference is that yelling is not “pitch specific.” When you yell you are telling your body to use every muscle possible. The back of the neck, jaw, forehead, arms and abs all lock in to brace for as much thrust as possible. You don’t do that when singing only because you know it will produce a random pitch.
They told you to yell during your speech because they want the audience revved up – not because they want you to use all the force you’re capable of. So switch the focus in your mind. Your job is to “appear and sound” as if you are a wretched pirate woman – and you do that with two membranes that are a half inch big. It certainly doesn’t take much to over drive them. Let your eyes and body language do the screaming and keep your voice at a controlled belt. Give the speech more animation and melodic sweeps. Release the back of your neck and abs as you speak so the air pressure is reduced to what’s necessary. Basically remember you’re acting a role! Your job is to get the audience to lose their voice – not you!
The dryness and hoarseness is tension and swelling respectively. Keep hydrating and remember to warm up and cool down before and after. Light vocalizing after a days work will reduce the swelling for the following day. Break a wooden leg!
Q. Hi, Mark. I found your site very informative. But I really didn’t see anyone with the same problem as I am having. I have pain on the left side of my chest after singing or yelling and no doctors can diagnose this. It has been going on for many years, and feel that I can’t sing any longer. It’s basically on the left side of my mid chest where the pain is. Do you have any ideas? I feel that I have done permanent damage to my singing muscles. One doctor said it was GERD but that doesn’t make sense. I do have GERD, but the pain I experience is only after chest singing. I appreciate any ideas you can give me.
A. If the doctors didn’t find anything wrong then you must have pulled a pectoral muscle (chest muscle) at some point and you are re-aggrevating it when singing. The thing to remember it that the term “chest voice” only means that the sound will resonate in your windpipe, which makes it feel like your whole chest is vibrating. There are no muscles in your chest that need to become active in order to produce that sound. You are adding that activity — and would be better off if you sang in chest voice without turning that muscle on.
Think of it like your hands. Lots of people make a fist when they yell or sing very loud in chest voice — but that obviously has nothing to do with making the sound. It’s more an emotional reaction to the desire for power. You are contracting that chest muscle when you want to sing with power and just like the hands, it actually subtracts from your control and projection to do so.
Q. … I realize you are extremely busy judging by how much great information you must convey every day. I have bought both the book and the DVD and I am about halfway through the book at this point. I’ll try to keep my background as brief as possible and hopefully you can point me in the right direction. I blew out my voice about seven/eight months ago preparing for a battle of the bands competition. Much has happened between then and now including visiting some of the top voice people at the Cleveland Clinic. I’ve seen the video of my vocal folds and know that I have no polyps, nodules, etc. So, here is my main problem. I feel that I have “lost my voice” so to speak. I struggle to speak in normal conversations but depending on the day I can sing close to what I had prior to my laryngitis problem. My very high end isn’t what it used to be. How well I’m able to sing does seem to be loosely related to how much of a problem I’m having speaking during the day. I’m so wrapped up in this that I can’t seem to find my real voice anymore. I admit freely that I’ve thoroughly “psyched” myself out over this but I think I’ve gotten my muscle memory for speaking so messed up that no matter what I try I can’t return to normal. I have another voice clinic appointment set up for February but I was wondering if you have anyone you know of in the Cleveland area that I can go see before that date? I’ve put up with this for so long it’s driving me crazy.(and of course the little hypochondriac devil in the back of my mind has me thoroughly convinced it’s still an underlying physical condition) > > Any help or direction would be greatly appreciated.
A. If you strained your ankle badly eight months ago – to the point where you couldn’t put any weight on it and developed a limp – everything could easily be back to normal anatomically today but you still may have a slight limp. You engaged compensating muscles when you were singing back then and they strained in the process. Now your brain is gun shy to use them again – so it throws off all other coordinations and the voice feels foreign. The best way to get through the psych is to explore the voice you have now – not the one you’d like to have. Most likely in the rebuilding process you will slip into old behaviors unconsciously and begin to incorporate them again. The focus should be on exploring what your voice can do without effort. Allow it to sound as bad as it needs to (cracking, wobbling, cutting out) as you focus on NOT rushing to fix the awkward sound.
Q.I have been singing Gospel in church, soprano since I was a little girl with no problem. In 2005 I developed a Thyroid problem and had to have my Thyroid removed with some Goiters, every since the surgery my voice has not been the same, I have tried the breathing tech. and nothing is helping. The other night yell singing with the choir it felt like every time I wanted to hit a note it felt like my voice was closing on me and after rehearsal my voice was kind of gone, I’m not a smoker nor do I drink. Please if you can tell me what I’m doing wrong it will help a whole lot. Because I love to sing and singing for Christ makes me happy. Thanking you in advance.
A. You are not doing anything wrong. Most likely what you are experiencing is a repercussion from the surgery. The thyroid gland sits right on top of the larynx and a nerve may have been snipped or damaged in the process of removing it. It’s been three years now so your behaviors have tried to compensate for the change and that’s why everything feels so difficult. I recommend going to see an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor and have him scope your vocal folds to evaluate their function. The doctor would be able to tell you whether the change is a permanent one or something you could over come with therapy.
Q.I was looking at your faqs section, and I didnt know if you would answer my question or not, but figured I would ask, Im self taught, I play guitar, and sing, I stopped for awhile,and now when singing my throat starts to hurt, and gets to the point where I feel like Im gonna gag, it seems the harder I try to sound my best the faster it hurts, it used to do this but not as fast, I havent smoked for a couple years. I dont do warm ups, before singing, and Im not a very outgoing person, I dont talk to much, I dont know if that makes my vocal cords not up to par. Do you have any tips to help me? thanx for your time.
A.You don’t need tips – you need to build yourself an instrument that can sing without hurting. You bought your guitar “ready to go.” Some people are lucky that their voices are built for singing. You and me were not so lucky. You can change that but it takes some dedicated work. Vocal exercises will train which muscles should be active when singing and which ones should not. There’s tons of advice on line so I would check that out first if I were you. If you want more specific guidance I’d be happy to help there too.
Q. i have been reading all through your site, it is a major source of information and peace. i feel like i’m not alone in my vocal issues! anyway, i have been singing all my life. in the early 90’s i toured full time with my band, playing about 300 shows a year. in the mid 90’s i got a full time job and gigged on the side. now at 36, i still work in sales and gig every so often, though i mostly write and record songs. i still pretty much sing every day in some capacity, even just around the house. on dec 9 i felt a tickle in my throat, and i suspected i would lose my voice. i typically get laryngitis associated with upper respitory infections once a year or so.. sure enough i lost my voice the next day- full blown no voice- and had a horrible cold, cough, etc. the severe laryngits persisted for more than a week in spite of methylprednisone. my dr gave me a cortisone shot the second week, and it did nothing. the upper respitory thing persisted another week or so- i was coughing, sick, and with no voice for 3 weeks. i saw an ENT- got another cortisone shot, more prenisone packs and some antibiotics for fun. on week 4 i go back to the ENT and they tell me i have vocal nodes. i need vocal rest, water and possibly a speech pathologist. i do not have any GERT symptoms, but i take some meds for that just in case.
i’m on week 6 now. my speaking voice is very very hoarse, i lose it towards the night. its an effort to talk, i feel like there is mucous in my throat and lungs, and cough a lot apparently. i take cough syrup every day, but i feel like i have to clear my throat all the time. sometimes there is stuff to cough up, but i’m not really sick anymore. i saw the vocal pathologist, who is way too expensive for me ( $200 visit) and she basically told me to do what i’ve been doing- water, rest, no talking or whispering, avoid caffeine and alcohol, stop coughing and clearing, sleep with a humidifier. i guess the next few visits will be re- training my speaking and singing- but i surely cant sing, and my talking is weak and i’m supposed to rest, which is really hard when you have to work every day.
now its coming up on week 7- singing is out- my speaking voice sounds like rod stewart and i’m worried sick i have permanent damage to my vocal cords. is there anything more i can do? could some of this be psychological- i released an EP in the fall and have been nervous about shopping it. In fact the fall release was because i was scared of releasing it earlier….maybe on some level i’m scared of rejection and gigging full time again? but the whole thing was brought on by an upper respitory infection. any advice or suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated.
A. I don’t blame you for being in a panic – it seems your whole world is coming apart. The answers to your questions are yes. There is a huge psychological element involved and there is more you can be doing. The psych stuff dates back to when you began singing. There was an element of imbalance in your behavior that was camouflaged by sounding good. When we’re young we can get away with singing too hard because the body is more resilient. Now that you have to pay attention to your vocal behavior it feels like insult on top of injury.
The cold created a terrible environment with coughing and mucous which lead to the vocal loss (like it usually does for you). You don’t mention whether you had been inspected by an ENT in the past but I’m assuming you had no reason to be. If you have had previous exams that were clean then these nodes are very immature and will reduce with behavior reduction. If they are mature then they’ve been there all the while and now it’s just the knowledge that they’re there that’s causing exaggerated symptoms.
Vocal rest doesn’t change abusive behaviors. Your body doesn’t care that you have to work. Vocal rest is only effective if you truly don’t use your voice. Then you do yourself no further harm and allow tissue to de-swell. I have had better success with very light vocal exercises to encourage movement and flexibility at the vocal folds. (think of the light rolling motion that would help a sprained ankle heal) Without much volume at all, I recommend you explore your voice with no requirement of the sound. It’s perfectly alright if the notes cut out and crack. What’s important is that the folds not be forced into an artistic standard (or an emotional communication when speaking). Those are the times we irritate without knowledge.
There is a warm up routine I have outlined on my site called KISS. I think it would be good for you to play around with. No force. Barely any volume, but move the pitch around playfully and start to regain vibration. Forget about shopping the EP at this point. The industry is in a complete free fall and definitely not looking to pour money into a 36 year-old musician who’s been out of the circuit for a while. No disrespect here (I haven’t heard your music), I’m just shedding a very sober light on your reality. Nothing is stopping you from singing well into old age. What it will take is a new respect for the instrument you’ve taken for granted and an appreciation that the next generation of successful performing artist will be self made from single songs released digitally and a fan base nurtured on-line.
Q. I find that stimulants like caffeine and ritalin phenomenally improve my singing voice, yet no one can tell me why. I know that people use booze for this purpose. My question is could the benefits outweigh the risks, since I’m considering them very long-term for my ADD anyway? Or will I wake up in 50 years with no singing voice?
A. Your singing voice will be mostly gone 50 years from now no matter what you do!! The caffeine is giving you a shot of adrenaline and the Ridalin is allowing the synapse in you brain to fire in an organized fashion in stead of scattered and with a loss of focus. I always recommend singers do their best to reduce the need for any substance connected with singing. Depending on something means a believe system is created and then you will always be a slave to these items. Focus your training on reducing the need for anything but water inside you and you will never fear singing.
Q. Hello I was surfing through the net to find exercises for damaged vocal chords and found your amazing site.I used to be a singer and guitar player for a rock band and never had any problem with my voice.I quit the band about one a half years ago to pursue my own projects and I remember specifically one day I was singing beyond my range without warming up(I never had vocal classes).Ever since that day my voice is not the same.Days afterward I would try to sing but my voice would really hurt and I would loose my voice.I got really scared a stoped singing because someone told me I will loose my singing voice forever.I did not sing for 6 months and when I started to sing again(this time softly and very gently with warm up exercises) my voice would really hurt and I would loose my voice .Even If I speak l long periods of time or raise my voice it hurts for days and even for weeks at a time and it feels as if there is something inside my throat and it hurts when I swallow.Then it seems as if it is getting better and then I do something different like laughing lowdly or speaking for long periods of time and there goes my voice again.I love to express myself through music and music is very important to me.Do you have any advice for me to help me to be able to sing again or is it the end for my voice?I will apreciatte anything you have to offer.
A.It is not the end, but the beginning of a new appreciation for the voice. First thing to do is to see a doctor. You’ve been wondering too long and re-aggravating your condition by laughing hard and bad speech habits. Singing is not the problem. You most likely did injure yourself but it is usually repairable by vocal therapy alone. It is your speech habits and lifestyle that are keeping your voice compromised at this point. Take that first step to healing and see a doctor.
Q. I love your website, and there is a lot of good tips on protecting and maintaining your voice. I had a quick question. Whenever I sing in falsetto I have a sharp pain, kinda feels like a french fry poking my throat. It is to the right of my adams apple about one inch. I can’t tell whether it is inside the windpipe, or out, it feels like its right on it. When I sustain the falsetto note, it seems to go away. My range is the same, my tone, nothing has really change. Singing in full voice doesn’t hurt, and even singing the falsetto notes in full voice doesn’t cause the pain very often. I have had it for about a month now, and it seems to come and go and also is there sometimes when I swallow. I would greatly appreciate a response as I depend on my singing voice. Thanks for your time.
A. The pain is a lifter muscle you are stressing. It is outside the windpipe and raises the larynx when you swallow. In certain situations you are using it to help hit the higher pitches. Air pressure will do the same thing so you don’t feel it on long notes. I recommend allowing the notes to sound bad when vocalizing in order to break the habit of using this method to boost pitch. Sound as bad as you need to in order to release this muscle when singing high. The more you practice without feeling this pain the easier it will be to access these notes when singing.
Q. Mark , I am a baritone with a sound like brad roberts of crash test with the range of an andrea bocelli in belt mode . Ive been heavily invested in my hopefully upcoming album , involving impressive talent from several well known major label groups . I had the opportunity to sing in a world renowned studio for a producer of several patinum records -on a bad throat day- and of course I got stupid , belted all 5 octaves and tried to impress those who’ve seen it all anyway ! I’ve not sang without pain since . Im very concerned [understatement] about being able to sing effortlessly again . the ent says after the videostroboscopy that the chords are beautifull but for surrounding redness , and that I have MTD . even speaking with any former resonance is painfull . the pain extends all the way down to the chest and I dont see any reference anywhere of vocal use triggering chest as well as throat symptoms . Have you ? I do belt out in power mode from the chest is there something in there i could have damaged? doc says not to worry and sing it out . Well its been over a month with no improvement and Ive postponed my recording and cancelled all my gigs -Im depressed as never before and freakin’ out will I ever get my voice back? please consider and thank you.
A. Don’t freak– you’ll get it back. The support muscles which anchor the larynx to the clavicle were strained when you were show boating. They affect the pectoral muscles as well so the radiant irritation can extend down into what feels like the chest cavity. It’s in your head now. You’re engaging more muscle then normal to even speak. Get back to light vocalizing and disregard the sound. Just start producing sounds which don’t trigger those muscles. Gain that ability first before you go chasing resonance again.
Q.Thank you so much for your site. I’ve got an emergency. I’m doing 8 shows a week at a big regional theater and it’s a solo show. I mostly talk for 70 minutes, but I also sing several songs. I also manipulate my voice to play different characters. The past week. I can feel raspiness and I can’t do much in my high range. Also, I feel as if one side of my nose and throat resonates much more then the other. I’m guessing from reading your site that I probably have inflamed vocal chords and if that is the case I’m thinking of getting a steroid shot. I don’t want to do that because I’d like to do it naturally, but I only have tomorrow( Monday off) I’ve got another 8 shows this week. What would you recommend. Please help.
A. Seems you’ve painted yourself into a corner. You definitely have inflamed vocal folds but the same is you don’t have to. I understand the show is very demanding on your voice but that doesn’t have to develop into swelling. The steroid shot is the only thing that will work as quickly as you need — but it won’t do anything to alter the behaviors which created the situation. If you don’t already, you need a very gentle warm up routine. Read through my free lesson “KISS”. One day is not enough to bring your voice back but today is a great day to start on a routine which will allow you to use your voice and never lose it again.
Q.Hi, I am a 24 year old singer who is considering having a tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy. I was just surfing the web to see if these types of surgeries can actually change or alter one’s singing voice when I stumbled upon your website. I did find a lot of helpful tips on singing in general however I couldn’t find any information on this particular subject so I thought I’d ask you myself. I figured since you’ve worked with so many singers in your career you probably have come across this question many times. So my question is can having one of these surgeries change your singing voice? And if so, which surgery is more likely to do so? It would seem to me that removing someone’s tonsils or adnoids would actually allow more room for sound to travel through the throat, therefore giving a fuller tonal quality to their voice. But I’m certainly no expert. Please help me with this one. I would sure appreciate any advice you could give me. Thanks!
A. You are correct with the theory that more room equals more tone. The only thing, which you can never know before hand, is whether scar tissue will be left behind. Scar tissue is less flexible than normal tissue so there will be restriction in the muscle’s movement. This restriction is not in the larynx but at the location of the removal. Sometimes this alters behaviors that are vocal related (high notes seem harder to reach). Vocal therapy or voice lessons can set things right pretty easily. There is risk with every operation — especially a tonsillectomy at your age. I’m sure you have consulted a few doctors and are well aware of what you’re doing. My only recommendation is that you not plan any singing for at least two months after to allow things to heal properly and let swelling dissipate. Give yourself plenty of time to re-acclimate your voice.
Q.Hi,I used to be able to sing quite high and comfortable, but for years never bothered much.Now with playing guitar I have started to sing again, but find That notes around E,F,G, above middle C are thin and sometimes I do not reach them. I have read the Q&A on this website about regaining flexability in the vocal cords, but at over 50 is it to late to regain my former range?. If not your advice on how to proceed would be most welcome.
A. It’s not your age as much as the years of non-use. Those that practice yoga in their twenties stay flexible through their eighties as long as they stick with it. You’ve got nothing to loose by trying to regain that elasticity. A warm up routine like the one outlined in the “Free Lesson” section (K.I.S.S.) would be the best place to start.
Q. I have been singing all of my life…literally. I started taking my singing very seriously when I was 25. I quit smoking and bought an air purifier and blah, blah, blah…and my voice was in tip-top shape. At 28 I started smoking again. My voice was still there and I had no problems. I’m 31 now and I just quit smoking again and I have no intention of starting – EVER. With that bit of info, here’s my problem.
Last April I lost my voice. I believe it’s because I screamed – at the top of my lungs and for at least 5 minutes – at someone that had pissed me off royally. After that, it was shot. I mean, SHOT. I am a television reporter and was doing a little bit of early morning radio at the time I lost it. My voice at work was terrible. People thought I had a really bad cold, it was so hoarse. And not just for a week. For MONTHS. Here I am, almost a year later, and it’s improved greatly, but I can’t sing like I used to. I went to an ear, nose and throat specialist. The first one told me I had small vocal nodes. I went to a second one who told me I had NO vocal nodes. I was also experiencing an extreme pain on the left side of my throat. I went through MRI’s that showed I had no vocal nodes. So what is it? The pain in my throat is finally gone. But my voice is weak. I try and sing every day to see if it improves, but my range just isn’t there. Will it improve? Should I be singing to help it along? I don’t want to lose my voice. I have always had a good voice until I screamed. And I truly believe that’s what did the damage. But if the MRI’s show nothing, what’s the deal, and what can I do to heal it? PS – I have no health insurance.
A. You pulled a supporting muscle (on the left side) when you screamed. The larynx is suspended in place from above and below by strap-like muscles. When pulled — they hurt. After pulled — they’re gun-shy. You apparently used these muscles to add strength and stability to your voice (many people do) and now that aid is gone. That’s actually good news. You’ll sing better without those muscles (they interfere with tone) but it’s difficult to release them when they already help you sing. You don’t have that option now. I don’t recommend singing as of yet, it will only frustrate you, but I do recommend taking some lessons and training with someone. If the MRI shows nothing then there’s nothing wrong. It’s all up to your behaviors now.
Q. I have been surfing the web for a week or so now, deperatly searching for a website that might be able to answer my questions, and your site seems to be the best choice so far. Last year i joined a hard rock band, and at the time, i was the only vocalist. All i was required to do was “sing”, which i learned to do with the help of some books i aquired from my local music store. About 3 months into the music scene, however, the band broke apart, and the lead guitarist and i formed a new band, with a female singer. Now, because the girl is an amazing singer, my vocals are maily centered around growls, and very very high screaming (compared to arch enemy, coal chamber, Lamb of god ext…). I find that naturally i am better than most at this “distored vocalization”, but it hurts my throat, and i lose my voice quite frequently, almost ever 3 weeks or so. I want to know if i am risking damage by this, and if so, how do i prevent it? And also, do you have any tips for going from a very low distored growl back to my normal singing voice, which is pretty high (think arron lewis from staind)?
A. You’re over addressing the growls. You should practice separate from band rehearsals and play with the line between clear singing and growling. Stay just on the other side of growl. The more you add after that is just beating up your throat. You’ll be surprised how much less push it takes — therefore how much less you loose your voice. Growling or screams shouldn’t hurt the throat. Irritation is a threat, but you should be very respectful of your pain signals. Stop when it hurts. Developing the right feel takes years, really. Always start by warming up and singing clean first. Think of the distortion as an effect over top — like a guitar pedal.
Q. Hello Mark, I write you from Panama, a nice little country in Central America. First of all I want to thank you for you great advices shown on your website, they are just as clear as your obvious love to music and singing…oh, by the way, my copy of your book will be landing here soon!!, Ok, here’s my question:
I do vocals and guitar for my band, we play some kind of alternative – hard rock mixture. My voice is under the name of baritone, and people say I´m a good performer onstage, in voice and/or guitar (thanx God) . However, I feel (when im rehearsing or gigging) that my voice kinda suck. Not in tuning or range, but in feeling. I came to that conclusion because I HEAR the difference in the moment I drop the guitar (and on recordings)…I mean, I´m very good playing both instruments at the same time, but my voice gets the worst part. Also we get very energetic during rehearsals so motion is a part of us..It makes me to sing from the throat sometimes. Can you give me an advice on how to develop a killer -singing/playing guitar- show, in a way that jumps and stuff dont affect my energy/air amount so I can sing properly from the diaphragm? And, can you give me some tips on how to gain success with the high register (yes, this is my weakness) notes, particulary how to sing high notes with a wide open mouth and making no stress to my larynx? I like the approach used by Incubus’ Brandon Boyd…so if you can help me I’ll be very pleased. Thanx for reading and for your advices, keep doing an amazing job!! and visit us soon!!!
A. This goes under the heading, “You don’t get to have it all.” It is impossible to run and jump around and not have an effect on the voice. Breath cannot be controlled completely when your heart is pounding because of physical activity. The more in shape you are the less you will be compromised. This is why lip syncing became popular. All those dance acts had to choose whether they wanted to honor the singing or the dance moves when performing live. The same goes for active rock bands. I think Steven Tyler is about the best at mixing the two. Of course he’s known for doing flips and running all over the place, but he also tags everything on his records. He does this by standing still for a moment while attending to the difficult vocal parts — then he’s off and running again. Singing high notes is best approached at a low volume first. I suspect you do not vocalize at all without the band. You should explore your voice every day before band practice.
Q. I’m a 20 year old male and never really sang during my youth. My girlfriend often starts singing to punk bands that we like, such as Yellowcard, All-American Rejects, and Matchbook Romance or even Evanescence.
I would LOVE to be able to sing with her and the music, but my voice is very flat. I’ve tried singing and listening to myself in my room, but I just can’t get my voice to flow and go up and down with the music. These singers have such great, clear sounding, sweet voices. I don’t need to emulate them exactly, but I at least want to be able to manipulate my voice and sing along when in the car with my girlfriend who loves to sing.
A. I’m sure there are things that you can do easily that your girlfriend finds difficult. It’s not that she can’t do these things, but she would have to work at it. This is what singing is for you . . . and me. If you want to sing better I recommend taking singing lessons. Don’t be embarrassed that you just want to sing for fun. Lessons will be the only way you’ll see your way to a better voice. There’s nothing wrong with you — singing is just a coordination of various muscles. Training these coordinations to act the way you want them to is what lessons are all about.
Q. Mark, Your free lessons aren’t helpfull at ALL. I have seen many sites that give free lessons and yours is exactly the same as theirs. I’m sure your videos and books or whatever it is your selling is helpful, but your free lessons do nothing to prove that. Imagine a grocery store, if you will, and you see an old lady giving away free samples of pizza. You take a bite, you like what you just eaten, and so you buy the product next time you stop by. Now you come along, and I’m the customer . I’m browsing along and I see you standing around the corner inside the same grocery store. You have a sign that says “Free Cookie Samples”. I walk over to you to find there are no cookies, not so much as even a crumb. I ask you ‘where are the cookies?’ and you tell me what a cookie is and what it taste like. That, my friend, is the extent of the helpfulness of your website. I have for the past 5 years been desperately trying to sing, to find this ‘voice’ everyone refers to. I occasionally find it, then it’s lost again. I’m trying to learn to sign like Dave Mustaine (megadeth), James Heitfield (Metallica), and that guy from SoundGarden. I’m trying in vain to hit those high pitches, and maintain a sweet melody. And, with the help of your web page/web site I am no closer to where I was than when I first started. Give some real advice! Quit wasting peoples time. Thats all I have to say.
A. Wow. . . thanks for sharing.
Q. Hello Mr. Baxter, I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’ve followed your advise in your free lesson guide and my vocals have improved almost 100%. I drink more water, I eat more raw vegetables, I vocalize everyday. I had a gig this past Sat, and the audience was standing on there feet. They told me that they have never heard me sing like that before. They told me that I sang the cover song as if I wrote them myself. That made me feel real good. Unfortunately I cannot afford the video tape that Iwant at this time, but I do plan to get it as soon as I can. But for Know I just read your monthly free advice. Again THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU.
A. Wow . . . thanks for sharing.
Q. Mr. Baxter, you are wrong about Chris Cornell. He is NOT a baritone. Your talking voice has nothing to do with your singing range. If a person “pushes” their chest voice to tenor range, that obviously makes them a tenor.
A. Hummmm. So you’re saying that all somebody with a 36 inch waist has to do is suck in their gut and they are legitimately a 32 inch waist? That their measurement has nothing to do with their “resting” dimensions? I’m sure a lot of people will be happy to hear this. Actually, how high someone sings is not what makes them a tenor (lots of baritones can sing high notes). It’s more the ease in which they produce the notes and the lack of low range. Chris Cornell is a baritone because, although he can sing high, he can also sing very low — which a tenor cannot. A baritone sax can play many of the same high notes as a tenor sax, but a tenor sax cannot play as low as a bari. A person is not a tenor if they can sing below a tenor’s range.
Q. I look forward to the beginning of each month to read your new advice on singing. I am really impressed with who you have taught in the past, it makes me wonder are all the top band singers coached ? Was Scott Stapp with Creed or Brett Scallions with Fuel or Chester Bennington with Linkin park all coached before they debuted? Like I had mentioned to you last month, I am going for the above band vocals, but it is indeed a task. I still feel dizzy and out of breath after some extended lyrics as well as cough for days afterwards. I am far from perfect and have a long road ahead of me, but hopefully by my mid twenties I will be ready. I am really anxiously awaiting your comments on how to become a “screamer” with passion and power. I know the above groups do alot of bad habits and I just may be attracted to those “bad” habits, but I sure would like to know your take on this style of singing. Mark, once again, thank you for your time it is appreciated. I have one favor, if possible check out Chester Bennington with Linkin park, this guy must be a an exceptionally gifted yeller, I think you will find that true when you hear him. But in the off chance he isn’t maybe you can decipher how he does his extended range with rasp.
A. Every person has something unique to offer. When we copy others, we camouflage our gift. Inspiration form your idols is what drives us — imitation is what makes us generic. I assume that none of the singers you mentioned above trained before their debut — because none of the national singers I’ve worked with have. They train afterwards because of the toll their bad habits brings upon their livelihood.
The singers you mentioned all have favorite singers — people they wished they could sound like. As your exploring your voice and music, just remember that you can love other peoples talents — you just can’t be them. The good news is that there is no reason too. You are just as gifted a singer as Chester Bennington — you just haven’t found what is unique about yourself.
In the future, I may be writing a response like this to some teenager who idolizes you. I will tell him how you so admired Chester and how he should find his own way of singing. He won’t believe me, though. He will think he needs to learn to sound like you in order to become as famous as you.
Q. I was just recently in a jam session with my brother and a drummer and I must say I sounded really, really bad. I heard you say that you shouldnt need moniters but I couldnt hear myself and I was really out of key. I like to write songs by myself with my acoustic and I am always in key but when I went and played with LOUD drums and distorted, and cranked guitars, I was overwhelmed and the only time I could really hear was when I yelled or was out of key. This was VERY discouraging for me. So anyways I have come to the conclusion that I will write songs for them on my acoustic and their singer will sing them, seeing as he has been doing this alot longer than me but his ideas arent as new and fresh as mine. I have lots of songs that i have written on my acoustic that I really enjoy singing live on Mplayer etc. I was wondering if this is a common problem….. oh ya that was the first and last time i sing with drums etc. I like acoustic because it seems i have more control over my voice when i can hear it clearly. And I heard that if you cant hear yourself then you are in key? hmmmmmm thats cool but if i cant hear myself then what enjoyment do i get from singing….? Im really discouraged and confused.
A. It’s not confusing — it just takes time to develop. Did you play your guitar well the first time you picked it up? I noticed the singer who is already in the band has been doing it longer than you. Was he good the first time he tried? There’s nothing wrong with only playing acoustically, but if you want to sing with a band it might keep eating at you. Don’t feel discouraged — roll up your sleeves and try it again.
Q. Hello Mark! I’m only a 16 year old female, but I’ve been singing and dancing since i was around 3 years old. Just last year I started having trouble with my voice. I went to an ENT and had my throat scoped, they said there was no damage and no inflamation so I took Speech therapy for 2 weeks, but still no improvement. I had an allergy test done and I’m not allergic to anything for the problem to be caused by allergies. My voice cuts out, best described as “Pitch breaks” but the thing is, it happens most in my normal pitch. My talking voice and mid range singing voice. I don’t understand it and my family and I are very worried. I’ve changed my diet, am drinking a TON of water, and getting more rest. This has been going on since Oct. of 99′. Please help, I don’t know what else to do. Have you ever heard of this before? My voice coach says I have tension but i try to relax when singing and it happens even when I’m talking, no stress involved. I’m not afraid or nervous to sing or perform, any advice?
A. You are experiencing growth spurts which throw off speech coordination. It is very common for teens to experience. It is best to lightly vocalize through the crack area every day. Try to connect the voice below the crack with the one above. It’s okay if your voice wobbles when doing this. Try not to squeeze your face to avoid the crack, that just causes problems down the road.
Q. My voice used to have a rich tone, but since I’ve moved I haven’t had a chance to sing due to my neighbors and work schedule. But when I do get the chance, my voice sounds good to me while I’m singing, but when I listen to the recording it sound dull, lifeless, and nasally if though I try to put feeling into my sound. How can I brighten my sound and stop being so nasally?
A. Stop worrying about the neighbors and sing out. I suspect you are withholding on your voice so as not to disturb those around you. It’s like driving a car with your foot on the gas and the brake at the same time. Introduce yourself to the neighbors — ask their schedule — let it fly when you know they’re not home.
Q. My question relates to making a change in career. I am actually working in career based full time IT/Computer job and I find if I get to the stage of getting serious about this then I would have to make sacrifices to maybe getting less pay for a part-time job for more time to practice my singing. Can you advise of some way I can support myself during this transistion period. It is not something That I am thinking of doing at the moment but when the time comes how do I prepare my self for it. I still need to pay for my bills, etc. I’ve heard that Crystal Waters used be into the computer field and then became a singing star (I guess she had a music background within the family that helps) but for some who’s parent’s think it’s silly for their son to be in this business how can I stay positive and think that hard work and dreams can make it happen for me?
A. A career in music is a venture into the unknown. Every musician is self employed. If you’re used to working for a pay check, this is a hard concept to swallow. Think of it as opening a restaurant. You have to build it first, with no guarantee that people will like it. The only advantage that a restaurant background in the family provides is the knowledge of how crazy the business is. Out of the hundreds and hundreds of bands I’ve worked with, I’ve never seen a smooth transition into the music business. There always seems to be a couple years of chaos and poverty (that sounds a lot like marriage, doesn’t it?). As with any venture, you have to ask whether the risk is worth the reward. A passion for music is what keeps people positive. How strong is yours?
Q. I am a 13 year old male singer who has recently (last 4 months) been experiencing problems in controlling my vibrato, and I have noticed a severely decreased range. Do you know what this could be?
A. You are going through puberty. The larynx drops a little down your throat and its size increases. More low notes become available due to the growth spurt. However, this does not mean you lose your high notes. The reason for your decreased range and limited vibrato is tension. You are using throat muscles to avoid the cracking which normally accompanies this period of change. Stay loose. Keep singing but don’t force the upper range. The behavior should be the same to sing high notes as it was in the past. High notes are all about flexibility, as long as you continue to stretch the vocal folds you will keep the high end of your early years and add many rich low notes to the range. Watch for facial tension and abdominal pushing — don’t allow either.
Q. I have always been short on confidence, and when I sing around the house, my parents (I’m thirteen) tell me to go in the basement and close the door. I take this, somewhat, as a sign that my parents don’t like my singing. However, they have been paying for an excellent voice teacher, and they say that if I want to become a professional (I do, always have) they say they will back me up 100%. Do you believe that they don’t like my singing, or am I just paranoid. They say that they wouldn’t let their favorite singers go singing around the house, but I still don’t believe them.
A. You’re just a little insecure about your singing that’s all. What if your parents didn’t think you looked good wearing a particular outfit you liked. Would you thrust your opinion and wear it anyway? There will always be people who won’t like your singing. The question is whether you like to sing. If so, then do it. Incidentally, I’ve spent half my life in a basement somewhere making music. It’s the dues you have to pay.
Q. Hi, I have been singing for a couple of years and I am currently in a rock band. I have never sang using a microphone before and when I did my voice sounded dull and lifeless to me. However, when I asked for my bandmates opinions and other people who were around they tell me that I have a relly good voice. I told them not to sugarcoat anything and they still stuck with their original opinion. So, am I deaf to my own voice?
A. Lots of people don’t like the sound of their voice. I suggest you stop arguing with people who say you sound good. After a while, you will sway them into thinking you suck. I guess the vocal folds are always golden on the other side.
Q. Lately, my chest voice has been getting stronger higher, as I mentioned. However, my head voice seems to be cracking more and feeling weaker. Now, I will tell you that our furnace (blower motor) had been slowing dying for weeks, finally giving up the ghost on Christmas eve (of course). There was no heat moving through the house, and apparently no humidifier running for God knows how long. The skin on my knuckles had been cracking and bleeding unlike ever before. Temps have been running in the single digits outside for many days. Can extreme low humidity really affect your voice or is it just my imagination?
A. Not your imagination. Your folds are covered by mucus membranes which need to be constantly lubricated. Cold air is dry. Forced hot air is dry. The coating of the membranes evaporates and leaves the folds dry and inflexible (like your knuckles). However, you will be able to pilot through your voice even in these conditions in the future. The goal of a singer is to read the internal conditions as you’re singing and make the micro adjustments necessary to remain in balance. The equivalent is walking on a ship. Your legs make the adjustments, compensating in the moment for the rolling of the sea. The dug in behaviors of singing compromise the body’s ability to adjust to changing conditions. Strike a balance and you’ll sing through anything except laryngitis — which is rare.
Q. Yesterday, I was in the studio, and I was singing a song that one of the producers wrote. After hours of singing, I was so out of it. He asked me if I knew what was a pitch. I could not answer his question because I did not know what a pitch was. When I sing to music, I sing according to the chords I hear. But for some reason, he said I wasn’t hearing the pitch, on some parts of the song. Not only that, he had several request, like Sing with the pocket, He said. Sing a little more seductive, and several other request. All this stuff had me confused, when I would start to sing I’m thinking about all this stuff at once, and it just made it a little more difficult. Anyway my question is, how can I improve my singing as a far as my pitch; singing and being able to concentrate on what I’m singing, and the music I’m listening to at the same time, without ripping my head off?
A. It’s great you were in the studio yesterday but not so great that the producer did not see that he was asking you to do things that were over your head at this time. Being able to sing well and emote on command is the highest form of the art of singing. IT TAKES TIME. He could have gotten the results he was looking for a different way. He was obviously inexperienced — that’s why he put it all on you.
Think of when a film director is working with a child actor. Not that you’re a child, but without a lot of experience it is overwhelming to keep track of everything expected of you. A director will play association games with kids and get the results they want on film. The director of “Paper Moon” pinched Brooke Shield’s foot to get an expression of passion on her face. Watching the movie, you think it’s sexual — but it really just hurt. Smart director.
Don’t freak out. Lots of people just expect singers to be able to do everything. Keep singing — take as many recording projects as you can. You’ll get better. I did.
Q. I would like to ask you a question and would greatly appreciate a response if you could find the time. Have you ever come across someone who was able to sing beautifully without fear or any kind of problems their whole life then one day they couldn’t sing anymore? Keeping pitch became a horrible struggle and all confidence completely gone. There is no known medical reason for the problems. Doctors can not find a physical reason so far. I am asking you this in desperation. I have been seeking help from a very competant vocal instructor who’s mentor was Seth Riggs. I have been struggling with this very problem for the past 2 years. I am the first person my teacher has come across like this. At first I think he thought I was tone deaf but he tested my ear and I brought old tapes from the past to prove to him I was really able to sing at one time. It is like night and day. I think he is stumped but not ready to give up just yet. He and I are both very determined to get through this. So I was just wondering if there were other people out there like this. Thank you so much for your time
A. Yes. Meatloaf went through this hell to record his second album and the singer from Cinderella last his singing ability with absolutely no physical explanation. I have work with several singers (unknowns) with your plight. Have you suffered any trauma to the head, auto accident etc.? When was the last time you remember singing well? What circumstances have changed? Married? Divorced? Recent death in the family? Feeling old? Does you voice jump randomly form pitch to pitch? Is your speech robotic? Do you play any other instruments? There are a thousand questions which need to be explored. I don’t mind exploring this with you if you would tell me a little more about who you are.
Q. I would first like to thank you for your warm up tips. they have helped alot . I have a country band and we work 4-5 times a month . I am the shy singer you described who dosent have much faith in my voice, but I love the music and love to sing the songs I write . I have alot of people tell me that I have a great voice, but just as many tell me that im just ok or that I just suck. I have made a few demos and havent really impressed myself . and have often thought of going back to just playing . I guess my question to you is how do I know if I should quit? I have never had any formal training . Would I get a honest opinion from a voice coach ? do you ever tell your students they just dont have it. any suggestions would be greatly appreciated
A. If you can simply stop singing and not feel a sense of loss, you should. There is certainly no shortage of singers out there. However, I don’t think you’ll be able to. The only thing required of a singer is their heart. You don’t have to love your voice (most singers I know don’t), but you do have to love singing. I’m sure there are a few singers in the limelight these days who do nothing for you. Yet, they’re out there doing their thing. They don’t need your permission, nor do you need anyone telling you to continue or to quit. I would never encourage anyone to pursue a life in the music business — it’s mentally and physically punishing. Yet I cannot think of a healthier (both mentally and physically) thing to do than to pursue the art of singing. Somewhere in the middle, will be your life.
Q. I manage a band. Our lead vocalist founded this band and is very committed and a great songwriter. But singing is not his natural talent, and although he’s been working with a vocal coach down here for over a year, I’m not seeing much progress. His range is limited, and I find that gigs are a hit and miss with him. If he’s on, he’s great. If he’s not, it’s pretty bad stuff. If he can’t hear himself through the floor monitors, he sings flat. And at this stage of the band’s career, crap monitors and lousy sound techs is pretty much par for the course. I’d hire you in a minute, but this band is still very young in their development. But if you wouldn’t mind, perhaps you could give me some quick feedback 1) Can someone learn to sing well, or does the voice have to be there naturally? 2) Do you know of a good vocal coach in San Diego County? 3) Is it normal that a vocalist must rely so heavily on his monitors to hit his notes? 4) What else can I do to help his growth as a vocalist? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
A. 1. Yes, people can learn to sing well. Think of it as any other instrument. Some people have a raw talent for drums or guitar but that doesn’t stop the rest of us learning to play them very well. It takes time to coordinate and develop specific muscles for any instrument. (ie finger strength for guitar and piano) Unfortunately, most people begin performing as singers without exploring their instrument much, so bad habits are developed and ingrained.
3. Because of this leap into performance mode before skills are developed, many singers rely heavily on monitors. When they hear themselves clearly, they don’t push as hard. Singing flat is a result of neck, jaw and tongue tension. Your singer is intending (thinking) of the correct pitches, but adding way too much pressure to achieve them when he can’t hear the monitors. There is an internal feel which should guide the singer through a melody, in the same way a drummer feels the tempo when not playing to a click track. It takes confidence and sound mechanics for a singer to trust this feel. In other words, time.
4. To speed his process along, encourage him to sing in many different environments — to explore his instrument. Acoustic gigs, vocal only rehearsals, and recording will allow everyone in the band to see that he can sing well. The goal is to have him recognize the common physical feelings present when he is singing well. What does it feel like to sing when he can hear well? Since it is impossible to recall the same acoustic environment in different clubs, he must focus on recalling the same internal environment. That will produce great singing, no matter how bad the monitors are.
If he doesn’t already do so, he must warm up for every gig. Show him the free lessons section of my web site, www.voicelesson.com. Give him a copy of my book and video (also available on my site) and basically encourage him to explore his potential. His good performances are proof that he can sound good every gig. Learning to sing is a long and frustrating process because it involves aligning many coordinations with emotion. However, I stand firm in my belief that the only ingredient required to excel as a singer — is a belief in what you’re singing.
2. Sorry, I don’t know of any teachers I could personally recommend in your area. I offer video lessons which, along with local lessons, would expedite his development. In any case I am always glad to answer questions. Best of luck with the band.
Q. Please help – I have always had a poor singing voice and have always aspired to be have a good one and be in a band. All the pieces are now falling into place – me and a friend, someone who has been drumming for a long time, are going to try and form a college band this fall. I am going to learn guitar – we’ll get a more experienced one for the band – and have been writing songs for a long time. But there is one problem – I still can’t sing. I’m sixteen and it has always been my dream to be able to sing. When I was younger I was okay (just) at singing – certainly still not band material – but since my voice broke I haven’t been able to carry a tune at all. I have a great passion for singing and I have a rather loud personality (certainly I have a loud, booming voice), and I sing a lot but either get annoyed and distressed because I can’t do it or get told to shut up by my parents. I am a huge rock fan, bands that have inspired my songwriting include Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Queen and the Stereophonics. So I am asking [PLEADING!] for your help. I cannot afford lessons (I can’t even afford an electric guitar, I’m only sixteen) and my parents are not encouraging in the slightest. According to them, if you can’t sing when you pop out of your mother’s womb then there’s no hope for you. Please can you give me any free help you possibly can? If I could pay I would, because this is very, very important to me. But I regret that I cannot. In a couple of weeks I will have finished my final exams and will be able to devote lots of time to my music, if you are willing to help, or can suggest someone who will help.
A. Don’t panic. You can sing, you just don’t like the way you sound because you’re comparing yourself with singers who are at the top of their craft. All the singers you mentioned as inspirations all sucked when they were sixteen (except Freddie Mercury). Your parents are wrong, you can develop a voice — it just takes time. Find a private place and practice singing softer. The problem right know is you are over driving your larynx — pushing way to hard. There needs to be a balance inside to control the voice. Your voice hasn’t even begun to settle down in terms of maturity. You don’t need lessons, you need time.
Q. Hey Mr. Baxter, Went into the studio today to begin cutting vocals on my big project, and it was not happenin.’ I need to finish this thing soon. HELP! Need serious assistance!!!!!
A. You have to take the pressure off. It’s your project and it’s done when it’s done. It doesn’t matter how many times you go into the studio and suck. Only the good takes remain. Just keep going over there taking shots at the songs — different times of day, different head spaces, different songs. The best takes always come when least expected ( little sleep, ate wrong, didn’t eat, hung over, drunk ). Ironically, a special warm up before going to the studio can also trigger anxiety — the extra attention placed on the voice puts self-imposed pressure on you to sing well. So don’t warm up. Don’t do anything differently and see what happens. There’s absolutely nothing to lose. After a few good takes you’ll get into a groove and start feeling like a singer.
Q. Firstly, I have been reading your column in GetSigned.com. It’s great to find a source of information where the vocalist is as important as the guitarist! I have a question regarding something you wrote in an article a few back. You mentioned the voice having memory for anxiety. I really believe this to be true because I have a song that is in my higher range that I get really stressed about singing (which doesn’t help things) even though it is still a tad lower than a couple others that I can do without any problem. Any suggestion, short of psychotherapy, to get over a single-song stress out? I excercise my voice every day for about 1&1/2 hours and I know it is in my range…I just can’t hit those high notes on the one song!! Finally, any excercises you can recommend for pushing past my range (both directions) I am at almost 3 octaves, but I’d like to make the ends stronger and move past those points.
A. The best way to defeat a bad frame of mind during a song is to focus on the physical. Practice the song in many different keys to confuse the memory. Also, replace the words with a single vowel, AH, and vocalize the song as an exercise. Just sing the melody — no words, and focus on keeping the neck and facial muscles absolutely relaxed. Then add a “L” where each syllable would be. Now you’re singing melody and rhythm — still no words. Then, rap the words without melody to make sure there’s no tension associated with pronouncing certain vowel/consonant combinations. As a final challenge, sing the song but replace the words with gibberish — same melody and rhythm, but nonsense language. The point is to break the recall the body has established for the song.
The secret to unlocking range is in your language. You can’t push past, you have to release. High notes are stretched folds, pushing on them will make them rigid. Low notes are loose folds, draped across the windpipe. Pushing here creates a wash of air and no projection. A balance between air pressure and vocal folds is all that’s needed to access your full range. You can do plenty with an imbalance technique, but it will always compromise you at the bottom, middle (transition) and top of your range.
Q. I found your article truly insightful and realized that I, too, suffer somewhat from the Imposter Complex when I sing. I have gained confidence in my singing from voice lessons and more performances in front of an audience. However, I sometimes feel that I lack a discernable vocal style that distinguishes my voice from others. Can this be taught? That is, can a teacher help someone evince his own style? In addition, sometimes my throat(no matter how much I relax, tighten my diaphragm, or sing on the breath) tightens up and is only relaxed when I hold it lightly with my hand. What am I doing wrong? I realize you probably charge big bucks for this kind of advice, but I figured it’d be worth a shot. Again, thanks for the column.
A. Style is invisible to the owner. Few people think of themselves as unique. However, if you could be a fly on the wall during your funeral, you would hear testimonies detailing your one-of-a-kind ways. Only then would you notice your habits and think of them as style. Record twenty-five songs. Listen to them in a row and then re-record the first ten. Play one hundred gigs and video tape them. Disregard what you see on the first twenty but watch every gig. Obviously this will take time and time is all it takes for a style to emerge. Your identity becomes more unique and defined from doing less. Less tricks, less imitating, less posturing. Therefore, if vocal (mechanical) inabilities are preoccupying you when singing, you should work with a coach to improve your vocal reflexes. Learning to sing in pitch with power and projection is as simple as learning to hit home runs. Yes, some are born with better skills, but there is a science the rest of us can follow.
The tension in your throat is a sign of imbalance. Too much pressure would be my guess. I am suspicious that you are driving the air via your abdominals, thinking that you are engaging your diaphragm. You cannot feel your diaphragm; it has no nerve endings. Therefore, it is typical for people to “support” with the abs and end up overcompensating the air pressure required to sing. The other possibility is that your tension is held over from old habits. Even after learning the correct or balanced feel of singing, local muscles can be very stubborn at recognizing the change. So that boils my expert advise down to two cliches. For style less is more. For the throat old habits die hard. Now aren’t you glad this e-mail was free?!! Kidding aside, I seems to me you are short selling your attributes, both mentally and physically.
Q. I’m very happy that I found your website and I am looking forward to ordering your books. I will also share this information with many other vocalist that I know. I’m also interested in the video as well, even though I would prefer to attend one of your sessions. I know you’re probably a busy person, but I have one more question? I specialize in R&B music, and from what I was told I am a second soprano. I was reading your free lessons, and even made copies of them. On lesson two for stage freight. Before I get called up to go on stage, I always seem to get just a little nervous. When I get up on stage finally, I lose my concentration and when I start to sing, I feel nervous and it doesn’t come out as I had practice. However, I can sing off stage in front of hundreds of people, and not feel nervous at all, I get like that only when I get on stage. When I approach the audiences, and I introduce my self every thing works out great. I don’t understand why this happens to me.
A. Every performer has some little thing which bugs them out. Even Michael Jordon. He had to wear his old college shorts under his Bulls uniform or else he wouldn’t play well. It is purely psychological, of course, and there is no convincing the mind that it is being foolish. The best solution is to break down the fear by disproving it over and over. Obviously, it’s the formality of the stage that gets you nervous, so do something that you don’t normally associate with performance. Try walking of stage and singing a verse while walking around the audience. Sing a chorus from your knees on stage. Close your eyes until you feel you are singing well.
Everybody thinks they have to behave a certain way on stage (or they are told to) and it’s not true. The audience wants you to win! They want you to be powerful and great. Why else would they have come? Breaking down the barriers takes courage but is not life-threatening. Do it a few times and the stage will be your home — no different than singing anywhere else.
Q. Can you help with stage fright ? Sure the waters great after you jump in but when asked by friends and fellow performers to perform at the last minute I freeze and give a as many reasons as possible not to.
A. Me too, and then I’m miserable on the drive home. The best plan is to offer to sing before anyone asks you. I have no problem singing in front of 5,000, but an intimate setting, like a party still freaks me out. So now, as soon as I arrive and someone is tickling the ivories or strumming a guitar, I start singing as I walk over to them. I know it will leak that I’m a voice teacher and then the spotlight will be on — so this way I act before the nerves have a chance to interfere. You know you want to sing — otherwise you wouldn’t have written to me. So, act before you can react.
Q. Please help me. I just ordered your book Rock n Roll Singer. I am currently a smoker, but I plan on getting on Zyban this week to quit smoking. I am taking voice lessons once a week and recording them and practicing every night at home or day in the car. I have a kearoke machine and I sang on it tonight and it’s the worst thing I ever heard. My voice sounded so weak and off key. I really want to sing professionally. Is it possible that the machine made me sound worse..I don’t seem to sound quite so bad when I tape the voice lesson…and that smoking is affecting my singing? Is it possible for anyone..with enough practice done the right way…to have a great voice? What else could I do to improve my voice? I was in chorus 10 years ago, but it’s been a long time since I’ve used those muscles that way, but it sounds really bad. How long does it take to start seeing improvement? I know that I have a lot of questoins, but I am very discouraged although I won’t give up ( I want this too badly), but I need help. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
A. Slow down and take a deep breath. You are being too hard on yourself. You cannot judge one example of your singing. Get in the habit of recording Karaoke as much as possible — the same song if you can. That way, you’ll have many examples to judge. Some will be bad but others will be okay. Just think if someone took your picture everyday. I’ll bet some of those photos would get ripped up fast!! No one has to hear the bad performances, but you need to get through them. It takes time, but anyone can sing. Quitting smoking is a big plus.
Q. dear mark, i am 14 years old and in a punk rock band. now before you discard this letter i would like to tell you my situation. i have allways wanted to sing and to be good at it but i am not the greatest at it. i can do it but have no clue what i am doin and nothing to guide me. the other guitarist and bassist want to have me stop singing all together and the drummer is cool with my voice. well i was wondering if you could just help me maybe discover my real voice cause i allways feel i am trying to hard and what is coming out isn’t really what is supposed to. i also have no clue on how to stay on key or whatever so whatever you do is appreciated greatly.
A. All your problems are related. Number one, you’re very young to expect so much from your voice. It hasn’t matured yet. Number two, you are pushing way too hard. Competing with the volume of the band and wanting a dirty sound has you overloading your larynx. That’s why your control is shot. You’d end up with the same lack of control if you squeezed your pick and choked the guitar neck too tight. But truthfully, number three is your biggest problem of all. All the guys in the band have to be behind your singing. You need all the encouragement you can get at this point — your just learning — and the knowledge that some don’t like what you do is enough to pull your strength. You might say you don’t care what they think — but you do . . . that’s why you wrote to me.
My video will help you warm up, which I’m sure you’re not doing, and find some consistency. It’s available through my web site. Now before you discard my advice, think about this You had to develop a relationship with your guitar BEFORE you learned any songs on it. Learning to hold the pick, striking the correct strings, where to put your fingers for a chord — you didn’t get that stuff overnight. When it comes to the voice, people expect it to just come out great without ever working on the skill of singing separate from band practice. If you want to sing better — you’ll have to work on it. If those guys don’t want to wait for you to improve, find another bass and guitar player.
Q. Hi Mark, Well last night I did my first gig since I found out about the nodes. Everything has been going good with the vocal exercises and I’m really focusing on releasing the tension, etc, as well as eating right, drinking tons of water and avoiding loud bars. The first few songs felt really great to sing and then… it happened again, the hoarseness came right back. I think I sang a total of 6 songs (I didn’t plan on singing a lot) and the last one was extremely difficult. The one thing that I think could’ve caused this is that a few times during the night I would talk (more like yell) to the guys in the band during the set to call out a song or something similar – not like a full blown conversation. But this seems a bit much, doesn’t it? No one else is hoarse like me even when I’m not singing as much, probably not speaking as much and the only one who studies voice. Its been over a month since I’ve sang out and I’ve been doing all this therapy and it seems like nothing has changed … I’m back to where I started! Right now it just feels like I’m wasting my time not to mention tons of money. I just don’t get it!! Its completely frustrating beyond belief. Any words of advise???
A. Ever have a sports related injury? Sprain an ankle? Tear a rotor cuff muscle in your shoulder? Athletes go through this frustration all the time. An injury not only sets them back physically but puts a doubt in their mind about ability. No question that you fell back on old behavior when singing. It will take lots of time, not necessarily money, to change the foundation of your technique. The big question here is — How much do you love to sing? Some athletes spend incredible amounts of energy rebuilding themselves and some quit the sport. Who are you? There’s no doubt in my mind you can champion this. There’s also no doubt you will be humbled in the process. The only thing I can’t tell you is whether it’s worth your attention.
Plenty of non-singers develop nodes. Their voices give out on them at the end of the day and they just shrug it off. The fact that this upsets you leads me to belive you will miss singing too much to give up on rehabilitating. The game is not over. Keep the faith
Q. I am a 21 year old male. My wife’s cousine won some national contest and is going to record an album in Nashville in the spring of 2000. She said I could sing with her but she had to here the tape first. I sent her the tape, she said she liked it. I was so happy, music is my heart. I have not heard from her since though. I don’t know what to do, Should I call her or what? This is the best oppertunity I have ever had. This is what I have dreamed of. The only thing is is that I had never had any voice lessons or I don’t really know how to play any instruments. Also I get a little nervous singing in front of people. ( Ok maybe a little more then a little, is that normal? What should I do about it?) I know I will get over the fear, it is only in front of people I don’t know. Well I suppose I better stop with the questions. Thank you for your time,
A. It’s great that she liked the tape and you should leave it at that. There are so many details that go into organizing a recording session she may be regretting the offer. Don’t forget this is her moment — she worked for it. She may be too intimidated to ask if you can be included in the session. She may have also learned that the prise was not all it was supposed to be. Many times these things fall apart and she might be embarrassed — since you are family. If she wants you — she will call. She knows you want to and i assume she has your number.
Meanwhile, you should be pursuing your dream. The only way to break your nervousness is to do what you fear the most — sing in front of strangers. Learn a popular song and then find a Karaoke bar where no one knows you. If you screw up badly you’ll never have to see those people again — go find another bar. If you don’t do so bad, learn more songs. There’s no way you can be a singer without singing in front of strangers.
Q. A little over a year ago, near my 50th birthday, I developed a persistent light to heavy coating of mucus, and associated hoarsness, which usually just causes unannounced voice-breaks at various pitches but periodically makes it impossible to sing comfortably at all. I have always been able to sing effortlessly for a couple of hours, without strain or tension until this happened. I never strain or force,- my style is not loud or harsh, I don’t push my range at all. I’ve been to allergists and an ENT. I’ve had all of the tests and examinations you mention in your online lessons. I discovered low level allergetic reactions to a few seasonal airborne substances and a few foods which I am taking shots for and completely avoiding respectively. There is no detectable pattern to my condition and increased or decreased ingestion of any of these substances. I have gone on the strictest “boy-in-the-bubble” isolation room for weeks and stuck religiously to elimination diets that were medically safe but horror stories where a normal diet is concerned. I work out regularly, eat the healthiest foods imaginable, don’t smoke, drink, or use drugs of any kind, get tons of rest and sleep well, have no emotional problems, happy marriage , kids healthy and happy, and successful,- even this condition, which I describe as ‘desperate’ in the header to you, has presented me not with a panic attack, but with an ‘interesting’ problem to solve,- I’m still intent on figuring it out. I don’t have acid reflux problems. I hydrate at least 2 liters a day. I use entertainer’s secret throat spray with very limited success. The ENT shrugged and said,- you have perfect vocal chords, not damaged in any way. No diseases. A real baffler.
My immediate motivator is the fact that I have copyrighted some songs which an RCVP is drooling over,- and at just the moment in my life when I have the leverage (that only great songs can give you) to get my average voice into a studio, this curse has descended on me! I’ve been putting off a dream contract offer for over 9 months now trying to solve this puzzle. I’m not hungry, my wife and I are financially set and secure. I retired very young. I’m not scared,- I am a fearless performer and public speaker. I’m a healthy egomaniac,- I don’t fear failure. (I’m trying to convince you this is not a psych problem!) I have had absolute control over humidity, HEPA filtered air. The works! Decongestants control the mucus at the expense of creating hoarsness. That’s no solution. Perplexingly enough, periodically, my voice will clear completely for as few hours or a day or two,- again with no discernible connection with any variables I can detect. Full strength, full range, effortless singing during these times.
My questions are 1) Ever heard of this? 2) Any solution to the excess mucus coating,- I’ve seen it in the video tape the ENT did with a fiber-optic camera, he said, see there that glistening coating? that shouldn’t be there! Boy, don’t I know it! Thank you for reading this,- I know you can’t give medical advice, but I’m asking for a suggestion on how to improve my ability to sing past, through, around, or without, the mucus, not a medical question. Thank you for your trouble.
A. This is one for the “life is not fair” file. I deal with these sorts of problems all the time. You make it clear that you do not suspect your condition to be psychological (don’t fear failure), but a common syndrome in my experience has been a fear of success. You seem very well adjusted — I know you are not depending on the recording for income or fame but in your subconscious I’m sure this is a culminating event. You have been writing and singing a long time, all the while knowing it was to lead to this moment. What happens if it is a screaming success? Musicians, in general, feel more at home fighting the good fight — always working against the odds. When things shift in their favor, it creates an alien experience which often causes some sabotaging. I’ve worked with many cases of dysphonia where seemingly healthy singers can’t sing a note. These always coincide with big record contracts, important tours and follow ups to successful first records. Just something to consider.
Regardless of why your folds become coated, you can definitely sing around the problem. I wouldn’t worry about getting rid of the condition. Instead, learn to produce the sounds you need with the coating. Just like singing when you have a cold, you’ll have to adjust your warm up routine. Lots of low volume EE vowel scale work should help reduce the mass of the folds and alleviate the overcompensating air pressure which is causing the hoarseness. To keep your folds thin and flexible, vocalize constantly using glissandos and trills from falsetto down through chest voice. (There are routines and pointers my video, “The Singer’s Toolbox,” which I think would help). The fact that the condition clears occasionally is a very optimistic.
I would record often in mock situations. Try different warm up ideas — including not warming up. Sing at different times of day and different keys. Keep recording even when your voice sounds horrible — it may “lift” in the middle of a session. Get used to the new condition. Embrace it. Chances are if you redevelop your voice around it — it will go away. I used to catch colds routinely — before big recordings auditions, etc. Once I learned how to sing through the symptoms I stopped being so paranoid about catching colds. Funny thing, no worries — no colds. Let the songs carry you for a while. After all, they are great and your voice is average (your words). So put the spotlight back on the songs. It’s surprising how fast a condition will go away once it no longer interferes. I hope this helps. Keep me posted on your progress.
Q. Please help – I have always had a poor singing voice and have always aspired to be have a good one and be in a band. All the pieces are now falling into place – me and a friend, someone who has been drumming for a long time, are going to try and form a college band this fall. I am going to learn guitar – we’ll get a more experienced one for the band – and have been writing songs for a long time. But there is one problem – I still can’t sing. I’m sixteen and it has always been my dream to be able to sing. When I was younger I was okay (just) at singing – certainly still not band material – but since my voice broke I haven’t been able to carry a tune at all. I have a great passion for singing and I have a rather loud personality (certainly I have a loud, booming voice), and I sing a lot but either get annoyed and distressed because I can’t do it or get told to shut up by my parents. I am a huge rock fan, bands that have inspired my songwriting include Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Queen and the Stereophonics. So I am asking [PLEADING!] for your help. I cannot afford lessons (I can’t even afford an electric guitar, I’m only sixteen) and my parents are not encouraging in the slightest. According to them, if you can’t sing when you pop out of your mother’s womb then there’s no hope for you. Please can you help?
A. Don’t panic. You can sing, you just don’t like the way you sound because you’re comparing yourself with singers who are at the top of their craft. All the singers you mentioned as inspirations all sucked when they were sixteen (except Freddie Mercury). Your parents are wrong, you can develop a voice — it just takes time. Find a private place and practice singing softer. The problem right know is you are over driving your larynx –pushing way to hard. There needs to be a balance inside to control the voice. Your voice hasn’t even begun to settle down in terms of maturity. You don’t need lessons, you need time.
Q. You may remember I sent you an email at the back end of May requesting advice regarding with my voice (it is the question above). You gave me some, and it did help. I cut out coffee (of which I drank lots) and drank more water. I even looked at your free lessons, the most useful of which was the one about warming up your voice – I tried it and was amazed at how clear my voice became after just a small warming up. However, just when I get more confident about singing, and develop much more optimism about my voice, someone – usually one of my parents – comes out with a really ignorant comment. For example, just an hour ago I was singing along to Nirvana’s “Come As You Are”, and I had started singing softer but as I began doing something else on the computer (and not concentrating on singing), my voice got louder and my dad came out with something like “Christ, it’s no wonder he committed suicide, singing junk like that, but now you’re singing it he’s probably spinning in his grave”. Even though it was probably a harmless comment (it’s so easy, and so normal, to give out petty abuse that no-one thinks anything about it), I can’t help feeling like giving up on my dream because I’m wasting my time. Am I wasting my time? I hope not, I REALLY want to be able to sing.
Also, after warming up I find it very easy to be able to slip into my ‘high voice’ (is that what it’s called?). It’s very easy to sing like this, but I tend to do it even when the singer who I’m singing along to hasn’t slipped into it. It’s like I can SEE the note I’m supposed to hit, I can HEAR it in my head, I just can’t HIT it. Do you know what I mean? Will it be possible to hit these notes eventually? Also, my songwriting is coming along well, and your lesson about ‘wearing the song’ certainly helped there. Thank you. And I have not been able to buy your book yet (I was hoping to own it by now), but I have had several job interviews and hopefully I will be able to afford it soon. Any general help with teh problems above would be appreciated.
A. To this day my father tells me I can’t sing. This is because he is using Pavarotti as the measuring tool. It used to hurt a lot. I am sure, in some ways, I became a big know-it-all vocal teacher just to prove my father wrong. How about proving your father wrong by selling a million albums of your own? And, yes, keep the light feeling a gradually experiment with louder volumes. The singers you are copying are singing very loud. Best of luck.
Q. Hi Mark, Just somehow got linked to your web page. It is really great. I’m a singer who unfortunately found out that I have nodes. The doctor said that they’re not too large but I have to go to a speech therapist. Any words of wisdom for me to follow. This comes at the worst time. I was just about to go into the studio to record. Is singing with nodes bad? I’ve been studying voice now for about 7 years so I don’t think that its improper singing. Alot of it is speaking loudly over music, poor monitors and bad speaking habits. Hope to hear from you soon!!!
A. Fear not, nodes are not necessarily the kiss of death to singers. A node is a callus which forms on the fold due to friction (your speech habits). I can’t say until I hear you regarding your singing. I am suspicious, though. Usually bad speech habits leak into singing. Listen to your therapist and do the exercises routinely. My video, “The Singer’s Toolbox,” would also be a help. In it, I discuss nodes and ways to warm up in order to avoid them.
Q. .My problem and my question is about singing on stage or in front of people.How do I stop my voice and MYSELF from shaking when I’m singing because I think I do have a nice voice but when I’m all so nervous it’s a big disaster.I’m quite shy(reserved) and I sing very well when no one is listening,what exactly can I do when this happens or is about to happen? Ps, I’d also like to have tips on song writing,how does one go about it?and about breathing techniques?if you know about any…
A. Use the warm up routine outlined in the free lesson section of my site. Do it all day long if need be. Occupying your muscles with a positive behavior will keep them from storing the nervous energy which recycles back to the mind. Stay physical. Join www.jpfolks.com (it’s free) to explore song writing ideas. There’s lots of writers and producers who are happy to share what they know. The breathing is not as big a deal as you think once the muscles surrounding your larynx (throat) relax. The best way to start each day is by making a very low volume hissssssss. Make it smooth and last at least thirty seconds. This is good training for the diaphragm.
Q. Thank you so much for your quick response. I was “freaking out” about this whole ordeal all night. Your e-mail this morning was very comforting. I just ordered your video. I am interested in your private lessons (even a private consultation as to what’s going on with my voice) so if you could put me on your list for an opening that would be great. So with proper exercises, the nodes can go away? Is this true? and do you know how long it takes approx.?
A. Yes, proper form is really the only way to rid yourself of nodes. Surgery can not remove behavior. You’ll need to play detective and observe when you are irritating the folds. I’m sure there is neck and jaw tension to go along with your vocal condition — that would be a great place to start. Surround your bad behaviors with good and you’ll lose the nodes in a month or two. Fall back on bad habits and the nodes will return. I will contact you as soon as something opens in NYC.
Q. Hello Mark, I am 17. I don’t know if you actually get to read this or if you have like an office that gets it but I am having such a big problem, well at least for me its a big problem. I have always loved to sing, ever since I was 6, I know that when you are small you can sing anywhere but as you get older your mind start to really think and connect good and bad things together and then you say to yourself what if they laugh at me or what if I sing off key. In the past I always ask my mom to send me to vocal classes and or to try out for this and that but she never had the time or the money, so I really have not gone any where with music, but now I am really trying to do something. On August 28th there will be some talent scouts coming to Miami and I don’t know what they do, I don’t know what I have to bring, I don’t know anything about talent scout, the only thing I know is that you may or may not get singed up with a contract. I feel that I am very talented and can have a future in singing, but my problem is that I can’t sing in front of just a few people, I have no problem singing in front of an auditorium (can’t move a muscle but I can sing) but when it comes to like one or a few people even my mom, my voice just will not let high notes come out. Do you think you can give me some advised. Thank you, I am very glad to have found your site, and if one day I every make it in music I know you would be the number one person to come to for help. Thanks for reading.
A. I have the same hang-up — a few is much harder to get into performing mode. I was relieved to find out that Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler have the same hang-up, too. So you are not alone. Start by singing in a room where you know your mom can hear you. Once you get comfortable, open the door — leave it to chance that she might walk in. As soon as you work up the nerve, walk out to where she is while you’re still singing. It easier if you’re already going. When you think about it, if you can do it in front of mom, you can do it in front of anybody. Best of luck.