Q. I’m having trouble understanding what mix register is. How do I know when I’m doing it right?
A.You’re not alone! Registers can be a very confusing topic for singers – mostly because they are more of an anatomical issue then a musical one. I don’t recommend focusing on registers. I think your target when singing should always be the sentiment (or sound). Here’s a video of a workshop I did at Berklee College of Music where I spoke about this exact issue.
Q.I got in touch with you maybe 3 or 4 years ago when i was signed to a rock ban in LA. I had pretty bad nodules and was hemarrhoging. But i have been fine for sometime now and i am back in Australia doing really well on the charts and am about to release in the UK as well. But my nodules in the last few weeks have come up again. Any tips please. I have got your DVD and i left my rock n roll singers manual back in LA and that’s been 3 years now. So i am ordering it again this week as i loved that book and it really helped me in my dark times in LA when my instrument was down for the count!! I also just saw your youtube video and i noticed you left your contact number on there. Is that legit and do you actually take serious calls from people such as myself that actually is a fan of your teaching!? I am about to go on a 6 week tour tomorrow and in between that i am seeing a vocal doctor, but any tips while i am on tour to keep on singing over the nodules will be helpful! I have been practicing everything i have learnt from you on the DVD & book and it really has helped me over the last 3 years and i have been singing 6 -7 gigs a week at busy times doing 9 hours of vocals in a day and still coming out on top, using what i have learnt from your methods! I feel it’s time for me to review and re-fuel some more tips and knowledge from you! Any advice will help me as i go off on tour tomorrow!
A.For whatever reason you’ve left it to the absolute last moment to deal with the most important factor of your career — your voice. If you’re guitar had a warped neck and faulty electronics would you wait till the day before a tour to fix it? I bring this up because it’s the real issue you’ll need to address on the road. Your voice should come first. How much sleep you get (a lot) how much water you drink (a lot) what you eat and how much time you spend stretching and warming up should all be based on what your voice is telling you. And right now your voice is telling you that you have been abusing it in all departments.
Nodes are a symptom of too much pushing, so be very aware of your tendency to drive harder then you need to. Push does not equal passion. Back off your drive immediately. Watch for neck and jaw tension. Don’t grip the mic with all your might. Keep your head floating on top on your neck rather then locked in place. Watch that your abs are not in a constant state of contraction. Make sure they release on every breath.
Do the warm up exercises on my DVD very softly and allow your voice to crack and blank out rather then push it. Allow for extra time to warm up when the voice is very hoarse. Very gradually increase the volume during your warm ups until you’re at gig volume. Once on stage be very aware of pushing – especially in the beginning of the set. Hopefully by the time you see the doctor things will have calmed down a bit.
Q.I am currently doing one-man acoustic shows in Thailand. The problem I am finding is that I am forced to play extended times with no breaks here, and even though I am training my voice everyday (using the warmup cd that you sent me).. the 2+ hours without a break is a little hard on me. Basically I play from 9pm-10 and then take a 15min break.. and then sometimes have to play for 2 1/2 hours after that. I am used to doing 3 sets of 45min a piece, and have no problem doing that. Can you give me a little advice on what I should do? Should I do more vocalization on my days off, or more warmups on the day of the performance? Also, I was also wondering if you had any excercises specific to working on singing from the diaphram?.. not saying i’m not doing this, but anything I can do to help improve would be great.. in targeting this area. I have been working on doing motorboats while lying down, and trying to concentrate on not raising my adams apple as I sing higher.
A. The only adjustment you need to make is in your head. You’ve got yourself convinced that your gig is too long – and so you’re creating the evidence of fatigue and looking for problems that should be addressed. Your larynx doesn’t know if you’re singing or talking and if you’re doing it for 100 people or no one. It’s all just usage. On those nights when you did three sets you were talking and using your voice non-stop (sometimes vocalizing between sets – sometimes talking with people). The only difference is that you weren’t “performing” during those breaks. It’s the extra things you turn on to perform that are wearing you down – and the good news is they are not helping your performance. “Singing from the diaphragm” “Laryngeal position” “Placing the tone” “Connecting registers” “Singing in the mix” are all misunderstood to be necessary focus points when singing. They are not. They are merely areas to suspect if there is an issue of vocal fatigue. The irony is that it’s often the “things to remember” list in our heads that causes the fatigue – simply because it clogs the reflexes with too much conscious thought. Think of your long sets as a conversation with a friend. You have never worried about how long you may be talking when you visit or call a friend or loved one. The longer the better. Your audience wants to feel like they are eavesdropping on a conversation you’re having – the more intimate the better. Continue to warm up your voice as you have been but take the next week and explore this mind-set. Singing is incredibly easy – until we make it complicated.
Q. After a good warm-up, I can hit most of notes in my songs without pushing too hard, but after a run or two thru the setlist (of 10 songs) I feel my falsetto notes diminish (C#, D, and E above high C) and it is no longer an option at that point. Since those notes are integral to the music, I would like to know how I could maintain that “register” throughout the entire evening without losing the projecting power of my overall voice?
A. You’re attacking those high notes too hard. You do not have to “project” a high note as much as a low note. Nature does that for you. So even though the first run through is fine you are causing irritation which doesn’t show up right away — it takes about a half hour to swell up the folds. It’s hard to back off psychologically because the drums and guitars will be so loud, but the nature of the voice is that you don’t need to pump those high notes so hard.
Q. hey mark, i have a big gig coming up, so its right around the corner. i would like to know all the advice and tips, anything you can tell me about voice maintence and things that i can do, to allow my voice to be in the best possible condition for this gig. i really want to come off strong, and have by voice be as strong as it possiby can be.
A. Don’t do a thing. I’m not kidding. The worst thing to do would be to put all kinds of expectations and new routines in place. You want to ENJOY this as much as possible. Strong singing does not mean pushed or physical — it means present. So be in the moment and don’t over rehearse the band or your singing. Just keep you routine the way its been and rock out.
Q. i’m a 26 year old male (baritone) from Texas and i own the rock & roll singer’s survial manual. it’s the best vocal book i have ever read and i refer to it all the time. i’ve had i few lessons in the past but i still have some problems. i’ve played guitar for about 13 years or so and i play in a rock/punk band. i’m also trying to do main vocals. i do fine at writing songs on guitar, but when it comes to finding the vocal melody i have major problems. i always tend follow the guitar…also i have some home recording gear and when i’m recording it seems like i need to sing tru my nose to make my voice sound alive. kind of like (Billy Corgan) from the smashing pumpkins. live i don’t do this as much, i tend to sing more natural. also i want my voice to sound more raspy and raw. i don’t smoke anymore and i know this might sound funny, but if it well help me get that sound i might start up again. so if you have any tips at all for me or if you could point me in the right direction in terms of books or videos i would appreciate it so so much. i just wish i lived closer so i could take some lessons from you. once again thank you so much for your time.
A. The best way to write a good vocal melody is to put down the guitar and come up with the singing first. That’s the way every song was written before the mid sixties — that’s when the guitar became more popular then the piano. Nobody has any problems singing in the shower. Part of it is the great acoustics but the other part is that there’s no guitar to compete with. The key and pitches are all reachable. So come up with something cool without your guitar and record just the vocal so you don’t forget it. Then figure out what chords go with the vocals. I guarantee that will be your best song.
Don’t smoke to get rasp. Relax your jaw open, practice by just singing an AH and keep the vowel sounding the same as you travel up and down pitch. You’ll notice that if you add just a little more push you can effect the sound to get more edge.
Q. I’m a 19 year old female and I am just beginning to sing now. I have been doing the basics like breathing exercises and scale exercises. I want to sing rock and metal music so I want to develop a strong and powerful voice with a bit of rasp and edge to it. Right now, my voice is more sweet sounding and melodic and it lacks the power I am looking for. I have no idea how to achieve the sound I want and currently I cannot afford to get a teacher nor do I have the time to join a singing group. Do you had any tips or suggestions for me? Thanks a lot.
A. Start a band . . . with a hard hitting drummer and a guitar player who likes Marshall amps. You’ll get an edge to your voice real fast . . . for free.
Q. I am in a heavy metal band and I have a problem I was hoping you might be able to help me with. Ive been screaming for around 3 and a half years now and I have always felt confident with my voice through all ranges (of screams) on-stage. When we play live or jam I can hear my voice perfectly, it doesnt break and i’m not forcing out the power which is required, and can play our 40-50 minute set comfortably (3 or 4 times over in practices), however as soon as I try and scream on my own with little or no music in the background my voice starts breaking and I start forcing the sound, even using my face muscles which I know is wrong. Sometimes i’ll scream to myself on two different days and have two slightly different sounding screams, plus my voice is becoming slightly strained as I am practicing more now than ever to try and get my voice as good as it can be.
I am more confused and frustrated than anything else, plus we have to go in to record our new demo soon and I’m really not confident with my voice at the moment, I have only just found your site but have had a good read through some of the other peoples problems and the different advice, I know I am definatly the alter-ego vocalist, but even when Im alone and feel confident off stage, my voice is not the same, I know its not the music muffling my vocals making it sound smoother in practices etc, because I am standing near the sound system I use when we practice and can hear myself perfectly, it just seems like as soon as I try on my own I lose all the power and tone I have worked on for so long to achive, I dont know if its due to not having the vibe/ atmosphere when Im on my own, or pressure in the studio etc, I feel like ive taken the alter ego thing to the next step, I can hold a sream or bawl out in almost any pitch onstage easily, but as soon as I come off stage It feels like I cant do it anymore. I dont know if you have any ideas on this but any suggestions right now from someone like yourself on what im doing wrong and how to improve would be very much appreciated.
A. This is fairly common — you’re rising to the occasion with the band. Screaming without the band feels naked and exposed and so extra muscles join in un-necessarily. It’s nothing to worry about. The only reason you notice this issue is that you’re a little nervous about the up coming recording. Getting your voice as good as it can be is a form of sabotage. You’re already as good as you can be for this demo. Working on your voice will improve things for next year’s recordings. You can crank the volume in the headphones in the studio until you feel completely comfortable so there’s no need to practice in a different situation for recording. This is no time to inspect the flaws in your singing. Now’s the time to get crazy psyched about recording and dial up that swagger that you use on-stage. You are the almighty right now and you need to know that walking into the studio. Nobody cares if you can scream as well when you’re home alone. All people want to hear is your courage.
Q.how do you develop a wider range in your voice. and how do you get yourself to make a smooth change from your normal voice to your falceto voice? this is a big problem for me. i want to sing very badly but this is my biggest downfall.
A.The area between chest register and falsetto is everyone’s downfall. It takes a lot of patience and practice. Just the right balance of air pressure will let you go through smooth. The air needed is different for every vowel sound so it has to be a reflexive more. Keep you facial muscles out of the game and don’t push to stabilize your voice if it gets shaky. If you can put up with some bad sounds in the process you’ll get there.
Q. I was looking for some information on voice and vocal anatomy, and I came across your site. I have been playing piano for eight years, and was singing very little, except for when I was alone,until about last year So my I know my way around music, but there is something that my teachers, and I, can not understand. I’ll go into the story a little to show you what I mean. I am a sophomore in high school, and I was just recently cast in Carousel as ‘Julie Jordan’. I have always been an alto, and so this part is incredibly high in my range. When my musical director, or even my choir director, speaks of “head voice” I can hear the difference in sound, and I can understand the difference, but for some reason, I can not physically sing it. My director says that it sounds like I am singing in head voice, and that it is correct, but it hurts. And after awhile of singing, my throat hurts, and my voice is shot. Even when i get into range that HAS to be head voice, notes like F,G,A 2 octaves above middle C, I still feel everything in my throat area, and it is a very uncomfortable feeling. I am starting to wonder if my voice is even capable of this, and my hopes are sinking lower and lower. I am wondering if you have ever heard of anything like this. And if you had, what advice you could share with.
A.Yes I’ve heard of your situation . . . I deal with it a dozen times a day!! Read through my site and become more familiar about the voice. Learning to sing has nothing to do with understanding music. You are engaging the muscles which support the larynx and trying to lift the structure when approaching those high notes. The tension is the result of the inefficiency of the action. Learning to isolate just the muscles in charge of stretching the folds for pitch takes a little exploring and is best when you allow yourself to sound bad — something they never let you do in school. There is a genetic factor which may also be part of the issue, but I think your voice would gain a lot by exploring simpler behaviors. You should start with the warm up on my site titled, “K.I.S.S.”
Q.My question like so many others has to do with screaming. I’m 16 years old and I think I have a fairly decent normal singing voice, but I’m not into that kind of singing anymore, I’m more interested in learning to scream like otep. So i was wondering if there was any screaming warm ups i could do before i actually attempt to scream like otep or morgan landers? I was also wondering if the fact that I’m a girl is going to make screaming more difficult due to my slightly higher voice?
A.Yes it will be a little harder to scream with the depth of your favorites due to the size of your larynx. So make sure you warm up completely before attempting that kind of pressure. I have a warm up outlined on my site in the free lesson section called: “Screaming Shakespeare.”
Q.I read in your book that body building is not real beneficial for the voice. If I continue to body build what kinds of negative effects could I expect to see from it? Would I lose range, control, clarity, etc.? If I choose to stop body building I just want to better understand how it would help my vocals? Thank you in advance for any info you can provide.
A.Tension is the negative effect. Becoming muscle bound will interfere with the nuance necessary in the management of air. If you balance your workout with equal amounts of stretching you’ll be fine — it’s just that no one ever does. You need freedom to sing well. Be fit but stay loose.
Q.Mark, I bought your download MP3 sining lesson “The 5 Secrets of Screaming.” I’ve been singing for a while and took lesson over 5 years. I have a very clean voice, so I would like to dirty it up some for texture. After listening to your lesson, I still don’t get how you want us to produce the sound. When I sing, the sound comes out at the front of the mouth. I don’t use my throat at all. Maybe because I was classically trained I don’t understand. But how are you producing the rough tone? It sounds like your throat, but I’m not sure. Are you singing against the nasal passage, throat, or what. Where in the mouth or what in the mouth are you using? Thanks for you help!
A.What I say in the MP3 is that the roughness needs to be accompanied by a released throat. Your’s must be tight. I recommend placing your finger on your tongue and singing an AH vowel up and down through your range and keep the tongue absolutely passive. I also say again and again you’ll have to let yourself sound bad in order to access the sounds you’re looking for. You’re too caught up in placement and mechanics for the reflexes to do their thing for you. Remember, screaming or singing aggressive is the farthest thing from classical singing. The techniques don’t mix.
Q. A great resource, your site!! Thanks so much! I’ve got a question for ya… I’m a professional Rock/Metal singer. I’ve been singing for about 14 years, and I am very good at what I do. But I have an issue (I’m sure I have many that you would undoubtedly be able to point out to me!). I have a really soft voice when singing, even when “screaming”. I learned years ago that some of the best screams in rock and roll are little more than an illusion when it comes to the many of the great Metal “screamers”, like DLR, Sebastian Bach, etc. So I figured out how to do it myself without taxing my voice, and have so far been a fairly successful vocalist.
But after hearing a recent recording of a fairly good live performance I did, I can hear that my lack of volume in the upper registers of my voice seems to create some noticeable inconsistencies. It’s never noticeable in the studio, with all the compression toys that are used, but live… boy, it sure made me cringe when I heard it! I am afraid that people will notice this and the “magic” will be gone. Of course, everyone around me says it sounds great. But I know what I am doing to generate those notes and tonalities, and if they only knew what I know, I think they’d be pretty shocked at how quietly I’m singing through it all.
I have been concerned about this for years, but never really talked to a vocal professional about it. While consulting with a representative from Sennheiser at the NAMM show this year, I was told that Shania Twain has one of the softest voices in the business, so soft, in fact, that they had to engineer a special wireless microphone cartridge for her in order to overcome some related problems in her live performances (i.e. getting enough volume without feedback, etc.). He gave me one of her “pre-release” prototypes to try on my next tour. This gave me some confidence again, sort of letting me know I’m not alone, and knowing that I was using a cartridge made especially for someone with a similar issue.
But then I hear this live show from my last tour, singing into this new cartridge even, and wooooooo-doggies!! It’s now obvious to me (and of course, this is ME and I realize it’s impossible for ME to be a completely objective judge of my own performance) where in the set I’m “faking it”, making a really raspy, “strong” sounding run of high notes, but loosing like 50% of my volume until I come back down into my mid register. On some songs, I can hear a push of breath at the end of many start-high/end-high phrases, sort of like a grunt. And it’s just as loud as the notes I was singing sometimes! It’s really got me peeved and feeling extremely insecure and bummed, and I’ve got months of touring lined up starting in the next few days. I need some coaching, for sure, and I’m definitely interested in checking you out in that regard. I was just wondering right now if maybe you had some insight you could share with me before I hit the road.
A. Not to belittle your concerns, but place yourself on the other side of the spectrum for a moment. Never mind the canceled dates and surgeries, those singers who have not figured out how to create their desired vocal sounds without thoroughly abusing their folds have huge problems on the road. Imagine the paranoia and burden that comes with commandeering a blown voice — with surprise missing notes (sometimes half the range) and abysmal pitch control. Pushing through this mess causes migraine headaches (every song) and pain and stiffness throughout the neck . . . and that’s usually from the second night of the tour on.
The largest percent of my clients are the push-till-you-can’t push-no-mo types and they pay dearly for it . . . and they are just as appalled and insecure that the audience will hear their lack of ability as you are. EVERY singer harbors some complex about their voice. As you said in your email, you are aware of what you do to sing. The point to remember is that only you know (or care) about that. No one else has your awareness and therefore people always assume a singer is in complete control and is okay with their performance. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be singing (this is what non-singers firmly believe, and why they don’t sing). Those that push the piss out of themselves are embarrassed at their lack of skill. Those that reduce pressure are embarrassed that they are not “authentically screaming.” So there you have it . . . no one’s ever happy.
Balance is the key. I’m sure you could handle a little more pressure under your voice without dire physical results. I would adapt a reverse mic technique for now where you pull back on the mid notes and suck up on the mic for the high raspy stuff (opposite of a Vegas belter). I don’t recommend adjusting your technique while on the road. You need to feel familiar when performing and need to let things suck when exploring new behavior. Many, many famous singers have very soft performance volumes. You’re in good company. Just as I lecture those that push saying, “The audience is responding to your ‘sound’ not your effort,” I’ll say the same to you. The effort is perceived. Just as a guitar player barely supports the pick and presses the strings down lightly (watch Michael play) — and every air guitar player contracts every muscle in his arm like he’s lifting weights (watch the audience imitate him) — people are always shocked at how little effort is actually needed to sing or play an instrument. Beginners always apply too much pressure. As they train, the touch is lightened and the ability improves. It seems to me like you’ve done a great job training yourself — please don’t discount your technique. It’s far easier to add then it is to subtract.
You’re not faking it. You’re singing.
Q. I ‘ve been singing for about fours in an acappella group. I can hold a tune but I’m having difficulty harmonizing. For instance, if someone were to start singing a song and ask me to harmonize it with them I can’t. In the group they usually just give me the note to sing and that it. I know that you need an alto or tenor to have a two part harmony. How do I learn to harmonize?
A. Singing harmonies requires two things; the ability to sing and a knowledge or feel for music theory. Music theory is all about what notes work within the key of a song. Some people go by the sound of the intervals and others go by the rules they’ve learned. Either way the results are the same. The ability to sing a pitch independent of what being sung around you is the other vital aspect. Work on the two issue separately to avoid frustration. They will come together when they’re ready.
Q. Hey, just like to start off by saying great site and great FAQ section, your answers to other people have helped me along way aswell! Anyway my question is this…when i sing in my head voice it seems very weak, not airey but it doesnt sound like Steve Tylers head voice (eg) Im not sure if you know what i mean but say for instance you turn the tone knob half way down on an electric guitar…the sound is er more thicker than with the tone on full. if you understand. And after a while my voice seems to go really quickly, and the tone keeps getting thicker (in terms of turning the tone knob on a guitar). I’ve only been singing for a short while so is this due to my voice not being strong enough? I’ve been told i strain my voice aswell because im trying to get an Axl/Steve tyler type sound out of it. Any help is much appreciated if you have any idea what im talking about! Cheers bud…
A. To continue with your guitar analogy, think of vocal folds as guitar strings. (the throat and mouth are more like the tone knob) If you use super slinky strings, they are easy to bend a play but don’t offer much sound. If you use a thick gage they sound great but take real finger strength to play. In order to hit those high notes your folds must thin down — in order to have a beefy sound they need to be thick. See the problem? One goal counters the other. Keep singing and you’ll develop more strength which will allow you to thicken up your folds and still stretch them for high notes.
Q. I really need your help. I am in a band and I write our songs on acousti guitar and put vocals to that. However when we write the song with electric guitars and drums and bass, I cant sing the vocals the same way I do on the acoustic because its too low volumed. And when i try to sing louder I end up changing the melody because I cant do the notes that I do ont eh acoustic loudly on the electric version of the song. It happens to me with every song and I dont know what to do. WE have a show coming up soon and my band is counting on me but I dont think I can do it.I really need ur help. thank you
A. Not to point to the obvious but why don’t you write louder. It’s a very common problem, actually. I’m not kidding about writing louder — or playing softer — the voice has very different feels when changing dynamics so dramatically. Just like an acoustic guitar doesn’t sound like an electric, chest voice has a very different vibe than head voice. For the up coming show I would recommend altering your vocal melodies to something you can sing. The long term solution would be to develop your voice, learn to sing and write for the way the song will be played.
Q. first off i would like to say your website is great!!!! you can bet i will recommend this to friends. well my question is i now that i have singing capeabilites, but the problem is i cant keep enough air in my lungs. i am a female and ii smoke. also when i sing my abs hurt and my neck and head feels like it has alot of tension. please help me im working on my chest voice right now, buti can seem to keep air flowing so my voice can vabrato?….right? i am recently starting to get back into singing again . i am 19 yrs and i have not sang seriously in about 4 1/2 yrs not to mention i smoked at that time but i have QUIT! . Please give me some tips on rejuvenating my voice, but there is one other problem im having a problem finding my correct pitch. Because i can sing Shania twain but at the same time i can sin Alicia keys (on my good days) . please help me figure out where i can start and who to use as a guide.
A. It not that you need a lot of air in your lungs to sing, it’s that you need to be able to hold on to what you have. Your abs are getting tight because you are dumping all your air out too quickly when singing. Part of that is due to poor singing habits but mostly it’s because your body is not getting enough oxygen out of the air in your lungs. Years of smoking have damaged the ability for the lungs to transfer oxygen into the blood stream. The result is that you need to take many short breaths to equal what a non smoker gets when breathing slowly. I recommend you start a program of cardiovascular exercise (running, aerobics, swimming, etc.) Do it slowly and build up to more vigorous work outs. This will encourage a healthier relationship between heart and lungs. Then you can “barrow” the lungs for singing.
The question about singing on pitch is tangled with the breathing issue. So any vocal tips will not be effective until your aerobic capacity improves. You are young enough to completely turn both your health and your voice around. Get busy!!
Q. On you website and video, you mentioned most peoples bad vocal habits come from bad speaking habits. Just to clear something up, what are back speaking habits? slurring words? mumbling? talking to loud? I just was curious about this, and i hope to be able to change bad speaking habits, if i have any, which im sure i probably do.
A. The habits I’m referring to are the pitches we speak with. Most are too high or too low — and so muscles are always in use to create this sound we get so accustomed to that we call it natural. Also, some people force the sound of their voice up into their nose or choke it off at the throat. The obvious ones you mentioned are certainly problems too, but they’re easy to recognize. The origin of these habits is usually passed down from parents. Vocalizing helps release these habits and allows the body to settle into a more comfortable speech range.
Q. Hi Mark, sometimes when i vocalize, i activate my gag reflex! what am i doing wrong and how do i correct it?
A. You aren’t doing anything wrong, you’re just tight. The gag comes from extremely protective muscles that line the upper throat area. They are the same ones that rob us of tone and flexibility. When you trigger a gag reflex, it means you are trespassing into that area with your singing behaviors. It’s best to continue challenging those muscles by backing off slightly. Hover around the area without triggering another gag. The more you visit there, the more permission you will gain to release the throat. Better tone and flexibility await.
Q. Hi, I am having an argument about falsetto or head voice singing. I was wondering if head voice is condered to be called “real” or “true” singing to the voice or not. If it comes the natural voice and not considered as fake singing. If you could answer this question for me that would be great. thanks
A. All the registers are real. Think of chest voice as the low string on a guitar. Head voice as a middle string and falsetto as the highest string. All the strings are needed to make the guitar complete. Same is true for the voice.
Q. I just stumbled across your site and really wanted to hear your take on my problem.
I have been a singer since the age of 15. I played in bars for years, released 3 CDs with my first band and ended up going on the road full time at age 24. During this time I did all the wrong things (drank way too much, ate unhealthily etc.) and was still able to sing well 90% of the time. I am now 32, have released 3 more solo CDs, am still performing full-time (5-6 nights a week) and have just recently begun to have problems.
I went to an ENT two weeks ago and she discovered that my vocal chords were swollen. She put me on azmacort (an asthma inhaler) to relieve the swelling, and Nexium for acid reflux as a precautionary measure. Since that appointment, I found a vocal teacher and have begun to take better care of myself (no more alcohol, tons of water, throat coat tea morning and night, humidifier etc.) I have also cut my schedule down to a more reasonable amount of shows per week. For awhile there, I was doing up to 8 shows in 6 days…2 a day sometimes…and we’re talking three 45 minute sets per show!
I was prompted to see an ENT because I felt as though notes were getting choked in my throat, and I’ve never experienced that before in my life…even at the height of my bad habits. Now that I’ve been on the medication, I’ve noticed that my falsetto has come back like a champ, however, lower notes are still choked at times. I’ve had good shows and bad though, and it’s confusing me. Am I just psyching myself out, or is there some other problem? I’m a stressed person by nature and am wondering if some of this is just a result of tension. Since I rely on my voice as my living, I put a lot of pressure on myself to deliver the goods night after night. It’s just wierd that at certain times in my set…and only on certain songs, it’s like someone has placed a ceiling on my voice. I can hit higher notes and falsetto with ease…but lower things that were once effortless are now “choked” sounding. My vocal teacher told me that my breathing needs a lot of work and maybe that’s part of what’s going on. If so, why wasn’t this an issue in the past? Any ideas?
A. If you haven’t noticed yet, you can’t eat or drink like you used to either. When you were young the body was strong and resilient. You punished it and, because things sounded good, never thought twice. You folds were swollen every night. The same reckless mind set was behind your diet and lifestyle too. Flash forward ten years and you metabolism, strength and flexibility have changed. If you don’t adjust your diet, singing style and drinking habits you’ll wind up like . . . well those forty year-old guys who drink and eat too much and don’t sing very well.
Yes it’s all about your breathing — which right now is all pushing from the abs. You are driving way too much air pressure and your folds are swelling due to the friction. Depending on the vowel and consonant combinations, certain words or phases in songs will be better than others — but that’s a crap shoot. Work with your teacher and break down those old habits. You can sing well into your sixties and seventies if your smart about it.
Q. In attending symposiums and the like on the voice, especially the one about vocal accoustics, have you learnt what the key is to getting the best, ringing/warm tones in your voice? I am not a natural singer and after 3-4 years of singing, I’m looking at giving up. I don’t feel I ‘ve progressed greatly and I’m taking lessons for the past 2 years. It doesn’t come naturally to me. Am I suck with my natural tone or am I able to enhance it?
A. The key is a loose and open throat. The key is to have an independent vibrator (larynx) suspended inside the resonator (throat). The key is not tensing your jaw, tongue, facial muscles, neck and shoulders when practicing no matter how bad it sounds. Oh yeah, and the most important key is not giving up!
Q.I have a question about vocal technique. While singing I”ve noticed that my larnyx area (Adam’s apple) ascends when I hit higher notes going towards and at falsetto. I have been told this is not good form. Can you recommend any possible excersise to isolate this habit. Any help would be greatly appreciated. P.S : love the book and video
A. Reverse your approach. Rather than singing the same way and wondering how to lower the larynx, lower the larynx (which you can do easily when not singing) and see what sounds are available.
Q. i’m also a vocalist, and a voice teacher. I heard so much about your profound voice teaching. I know how busy you are, but i will really appreciate of you answer my e-mail. I’m trying to develop my hard rock singing, the coarky hoarse sound. It’s going really hard, and i feel like my high notes become thinner, with no richness in them. Does a classical voice technique disturb to develop rock singing? And do you agree that hoarse sound is natural, you can’t really develop it, it’s a part of the style? Are their specific exercises for that? Thank you in advance, I’ll appreciate a lot, if you answer. I have no chance to come to your studio right now. I’m located in Europe.
A. Classical singing and rock singing are completely different. It is possible to develop a rock voice but not from classical technique. It doesn’t mean you can’t sing rock. It just means you can’t borrow from classical.
Rock singing is an extension of personality. The hoarse sound is not natural to anyone, meaning nobody is born with a voice like that. Our personalities shape our voices and some people are more aggressive — they push their voices even when speaking. This disturbs the voice and often is uncomfortable for the person. Aggressive or competitive people don’t care about discomfort. They sing hard anyway — no matter how it feels. They push and force and sometimes they loose their voice and they don’t care. It’s like a tattoo. If you’re concerned that it will hurt — then you don’t have the personality for one.
However, you do not need a raspy voice to sing rock. Rock is all about personality and being honest and exposed. If you are faking a hoarse voice it will not convince a rock audience anyway. Explore your voice and discover what is your sound when you are passionate. Many rock singers do not have raspy vocals. Most have an occasional rasp during a phrase but it’s not planned — just like when you’re yelling at someone. In the heat of the moment — you don’t plan what your voice will do — you just speak from your heart.
The exercises I have in my book and use in my studio are to build a vocal instrument that is strong and flexible. An instrument that is able to sing rock but not built only for rock. Just as a piano is capable of playing many different styles, the goal of vocal training is to create a neutral, free environment. That way your personality can come through without compromise. Most people are afraid or reserved or unable to let themselves go so they create sounds they hope will be dramatic. In the end, nothing is more powerful or dramatic than the truth.
Q. Hello there, my Name is Wyatt and I am putting together a Death/Black Metal band. I REALLY want help on Screaming, I have the growling thing done pritty good, my friend said I sound along the lines of Cannibal Corpse. But I want to Get more of a Hollow sound expample is Glen Benton (Vital Remains). I also want to know who to train my voice to get the sounds of Carcass, or Dimmu Borgir. I am 15 and I have tried Looking ALL over the net for some help, so far I havent really found anything. I also know the Dangers of The sounds I want to get. BUt I dont really care. And I have kind of taken your advice with the whole “Stunt man” anwser. So if you could help me out, It would be greatly apresated. Also no advice on going to a singing teacher becuase I am fround a small town(and lost of people here are “Small minded” and only into pop like Britney Spear). Thnx for your time, and I hope you can help me, or put me onto someone that could.
A. Good job, Wyatt. By telling me what not to tell you, you’ve taken away any possibility of me helping. You want me to suggest someone to train you but don’t want me suggesting you take singing lessons. The help you need is not going to come wrapped in a bow with your name on it. You will have to put together little pieces of the puzzle from a bunch of different sources — just like I did. Consider everything you hear about singing, even from small minded people, before you discard it. Even though they are not into your music, there may be some clues in their info. If you stick with it you will figure things out and settle into a vocal sound you’re proud of. As time passes you will see things differently. You’ve got a lot of fire in you and that’s good. The only obstacle in your way at the moment is your 15 year-old mind.
Q.When singing through out your entire range is it the case that the vowel should sound and be “shaped” the same? An example may make this clearer. In speaking with someone who sings and studies opera he said that he had been taught to add an oo sound to his ee vowel in his higher range. He said this therefore makes it a much rounder ee. Well, to me it is no longer an ee sound but, an ee with an oo sound in combination. What are your thoughts on this sort of production or alteration of vowels at different points in a singers range?
A.The rules of classical singing are to modify the vowel in order to extend chest register and maintain a cultured tone. The rules (if there are any) for popular singing is to sound “real.” That means don’t modify a vowel. To a pop listener, it doesn’t seem as if the singer is “feeling” the lyrics in a modified sound — it sounds like the singer is more concerned with the voice. I don’t modify vowels when I sing — I let the registers adjust.
Q. I’m a 15yr old guy and i recently started getting really into my music. I love singing and i have done since i was about 5 or 6 and i am having problems with keeping tone in my voice. I can get some nice even low tones going well but I’m having trouble with shifting notes quickly and i hit flat notes constantly. I’m into metallica which is what i practice with most of the time and i do that pretty well but anything faster or more disproportianate in range makes me sing flat notes. I just wanna know if there’s anything i can do to keep the changeovers nice and even?
A. Your flat notes are caused by your jaw and tongue bracing in anticipation of the push that’s about to come. Don’t practice with any CD’s for a while — learn to sing first. Vocalize at a moderate volume on scales so that you can observe and adjust your behavior. Allowing the voice to falter when developing is the fastest way to your goal. The key is to stay loose at all times — no matter how hard or fast you sing.
Q. At our church there are a few singers who sing a little (not much) too sharp (on certain songs only) and loud too so they lead the singing off. Will listening to such singing and singing along with such singing harm my own pitch by incorrect ear training? I have noticed that when I record myself singing these songs and then I play them back while playing the piano that I do notice a slight variance (my voice is too sharp). What are your suggestions?
A. It may become a problem if church is your only musical experience. The fact that you can identify the problem means that your sense of pitch is still intact. As you noticed, sharp singing usually is the result of pushing too hard from the lower abdominal area. (The singers who are sharp in church are also the loudest ones) Watch the tension in your abs as your singing. Bend your knees a little. A good reducer of abdominal tension is to practice singing while pretending you are using a hula-hoop (gyrate your hips around). If the other singers at church will listen to your suggestions — have them do the same.
Q. In the FAQs section under the heading Technique you answer someone about air pressure under the vocal cords and say that you can place lots of pressure under the folds and still have it low in the throat. You say that blues and gospel singers are able to get their distorted tone and deep resonance by doing this. Isn’t this extra pressure harmful in any way to the larnyx? I know that keeping the larnyx low is obviously a good thing. How do blues and gospel singers produce this extra air pressure and also keep the larnyx low at the same time? Are they hurting or stressing their voice in any way doing this? You also mention in one of your answers that most of the singers that you work with that do hardcore produce most of their sound through the false folds and don’t harbour much damage to the true folds. How do you sing through the false folds, I have never heard of this before and was always under the impression that any sounds we make come from the true folds which are the muscles that are in the larynx are they not? It is also interesting to note that you said they produce sound through the false folds as opposed to sing through them. Are they actually singing in some kind of fashion when producing sound through the falsefolds or doing something else? What do their voices sound like when they produce these sounds? Are they able to produce a variety of sounds such as growling, yelling and screaming some how without doing much damage? Is it safe to say that most of them do the excersises that you suggest? And, if so, especially if they have warmed up and down after a show doesn’t this eliminate vocal damage if done correctly? Sorry about all these questions but I don’t exactly understand how they use the false folds etc, it’s new to me and interesting. I usually stick with the kind of excersises we’ve discussed but have inquired about this kind of thing before.
A. These are great questions. It does seem like a contradiction to keep the larynx low yet give it a lot of air pressure. The key is proportion. Think of your arms. We are supposed to isolate the arms when lifting weights — not arch the back for more support. However, when lifting a lot of weight the body naturally tries to scoot the back underneath the weight to give us some leverage. This strains the back. Yet, when Mr. Universe lifts a dumbbell his back does not try and help out — it stays relaxed. The reason is that his arms are strong enough to handle the weight he is lifting all by themselves. He got them strong by lifting on a graduated program. A small increase in weight each week allowed him to stay in good form while lifting — which delivered the benefits of the exercise to the arms rather than just strain the back. When we sing we generally ask for more than the body can handle — we want our high notes loud and we want them now. An exercise routine is needed to develop internal muscles (the ones that do the singing) and release external ones (the muscles which add themselves in when strength is needed) Neck, jaw, tongue and facial tensions are all signs that someone is overextending themselves. This can cause problems in singers as well as body builders. Moments of exertion are okay but not a basis for strength.
Gospel and blues singers who have been at it a while have thick vocal folds. Like the thick arms of a body builder, they can handle placing extra air pressure against the folds without needing external tension to support the effort. The hard core singers I mentioned have not developed their vocal folds and so their bodies look for alternative routes for strength. The false folds sit just above the true folds (the ones that sing). Because they are so thick, they do not vibrate in fast frequencies needed to sustain high pitches. The sound the false folds produce, when forced to, is guttural and noisy — just what a hard core singer is looking for. The fact that the hard core singers I’ve worked with have no damage to their true folds is a benefit they are not concerned with. Most would sing as they do no matter what it was doing to their bodies. They are usually intense people, but ironically, extremely polite and mellow off stage. They obviously get it all out when they perform.
Q. I want my voice to sound fatter..with less highs in it…is that something that a tutor can show me or something I can do on my own?
A. Yes, you got to open your throat. The more space you create inside you, the bigger your voice gets. Think of a grand piano. They are over six feet long for a reason. No matter how hard I play my upright, it will never sound as rich as a grand. For that tone — you need space. Lower your jaw and relax your face. Practice this in the mirror. The looser the visible muscles are the looser you’ll be inside. Remember Loose means big.
Q. I take weekly voice lessons and have been for a couple of years. I have come a long way and can sing well. I have been doing karaoke frequently and used to sing back up with a band. So I believe I am over my stage fright. My problem is that, although I can reach high notes without a problem and it is not difficult for me, I have trouble doing so in front a microphone. I don’t know if I am subconsciously nervous about it, but it’s literally physical (I think). I just can’t do it. I have asked my voice teacher, who is great, and she thinks it probably is just nervousness of singing in my head voice….nervous of what it will sound like. Do you have any suggestions? I really appreciate you taking the time to read my long question.
A. What sense does it make that you can sing a note well at home but cannot sing the same note when using a mic on stage? It is obviously psychological. Of course the symptoms of your problem are physical, but the root is in your perception. Do you worry about how others are judging your voice? Do you have the same problem when using a mic at home? I suggest to practice with a mic turned off. Hold it often so it looses its meaning to you. Warm up with a mic. Sleep with the thing if necessary! The point is that the mic means nothing. Use it enough and your behavior will remain the same.
Q. I’ve been checking your FAQ section on your website and I must say its pretty good. I was born and raised in church so I have sang all my life. I used to be a soprano then alto and finaly I moved to tenor at age 15 and my range kept on going down for a couple of years until I was about 18 it started moving up and finally I could hit A obove middle C full blast (when I say full blast I mean really full and extremley loud)I am 20 I have already recorded… I can hit high falseeto at girls range especially on oooo’s and I’ve been working on control, breathing, on my own by listening to good singers and I have read your insights on these subjects and am constantly trying to emprove plan on lessons soon. My problems is that I loose my voice if i have to sing at the top of my range for a long period of time which you would say is from pushing too hard, but yet I don’t want to sing high by making my falsetto strong to where it is high and semi-strong but it doesn’t give the full blast effect(which I’m learning anyway for variety). I don’t want to sing full blast all the time either. anyway I was listening to Brian Mcknight and i noticed that his full chest tone doesn’t go up to his high notes like C above middle C… (if I’m wrong aobut this observation let me know how he does it) its not strong fallsetto either but its loud and gives the effect that I want. I can’t reach those notes unless I tighten my stomach really hard and have this shrill strong high sound come out of my thorat it doesn’t seem to hurt except my stomach is pushed out really tight. Is this a bad way to hit those extra note that I don’t want to use my full speaking voice for, or is it ok and I need to work on it, sounds sick sometimes but I keep thinking I just never used it before so I have to develop it. Right now there is a big break between that tone of voice and my normal one and I haven’t been trying hard to blend it…because I don’t know if its right or wrong. however I feel like thats kind of what Brian Mcknight(I’m not sure if he is the best example) and gospel high singers seem to do because its almost required in church atmosphere to give the high,loud, tare it up boy! kind of sound , and I feel they just found a good way to blend it with their normal voice. Please help!
A. It seems you already know what I’m going to say so I’ll just add that no gospel singer worth their salt is thinking about their stomach muscles when singing high notes. They are testifying. If I were you I’d stop worrying about what sounds good and start feeling the lyrics. Every singer has things they do well and some they don’t do well. Those that get behind their words are memorable. The point of singing — especially gospel — is to move people. Nobody cares how high. If what you sing means something to you — you’ll move mountains.
Q. There is a thing pop singers like Christina Aguilera and Whitney Houston do where they change notes in their voice VERY quickly, basically improvising, singing blues scales at high speeds (I don’t know if you know what I’m talking about). I don’t know how I can develop that skill. Should I just sing scales at increasingly fast speeds, or is there something else I could do? Thanks a lot for your time.
A. You have the right ide
A. Also, practice these scales at a low volume. Flexibility is needed as well as some standard riffs in your repertoire. Both singers you mentioned repeat a lot of the same riffs in their songs. Listening to jazz sax players will open you to phrasing and new riffs.
Q. I was born and raised in church so I have sang all my life. I used to be a soprano then alto and finaly I moved to tenor at age 15 and my range kept on going down for a couple of years until I was about 18 it started moving up and finally I could hit A obove middle C full blast (when I say full blast I mean really full and extremley loud)I am 20 I have already recorded… I can hit high falseeto at girls range especially on oooo’s and I’ve been working on control, breathing, on my own by listening to good singers and I have read your insights on these subjects and am constantly trying to emprove plan on lessons soon. My problems is that I loose my voice if i have to sing at the top of my range for a long period of time which you would say is from pushing too hard, but yet I don’t want to sing high by making my falsetto strong to where it is high and semi-strong but it doesn’t give the full blast effect(which I’m learning anyway for variety). I don’t want to sing full blast all the time either. anyway I was listening to Brian Mcknight and i noticed that his full chest tone doesn’t go up to his high notes like C above middle C… (if I’m wrong aobut this observation let me know how he does it) its not strong fallsetto either but its loud and gives the effect that I want. I can’t reach those notes unless I tighten my stomach really hard and have this shrill strong high sound come out of my thorat it doesn’t seem to hurt except my stomach is pushed out really tight. Is this a bad way to hit those extra note that I don’t want to use my full speaking voice for, or is it ok and I need to work on it, sounds sick sometimes but I keep thinking I just never used it before so I have to develop it. Right now there is a big break between that tone of voice and my normal one and I haven’t been trying hard to blend it…because I don’t know if its right or wrong. however I feel like thats kind of what Brian Mcknight(I’m not sure if he is the best example) and gospel high singers seem to do because its almost required in church atmosphere to give the high,loud, tare it up boy! kind of sound , and I feel they just found a good way to blend it with their normal voice. Please help!
A. It seems you already know what I’m going to say so I’ll just add that no gospel singer worth their salt is thinking about their stomach muscles when singing high notes. They are testifying. If I were you I’d stop worrying about what sounds good and start feeling the lyrics. Every singer has things they do well and some they don’t do well. Those that get behind their words are memorable. The point of singing — especially gospel — is to move people. Nobody cares how high. If what you sing means something to you — you’ll move mountains.
Q. 1. WHEN I SING, EVEN THOUGH I AM NOT NERVOUS OR SCARED, MY VOICE IS A LITTLE SHAKY. HOW CAN I GET A ROUND CONSISTENT VOICE WITHOUT SHAKINESS WITH IT? 2.I CAN SING IN HIGH NOTES, AS EXAMPLE, “STAR-SPANGLED BANNER,” WHICH IS MOSTLY HAVE HIGH PARTS, BUT THERE ARE HIGH NOTES THAT I CAN REACH, BUT I SOUND THAT I AM STRUGGLING. HOW CAN I HAVE THE HIGH PITCH VOICE WHEREIN I SOUND LIKE I AM STRUGGLING, LIKE IT IS MY VOICE’S NATURE? 3.WHEN I SING IN LOW VOICE, I CAN’T SING IN HIGH NOTES WITHOUT PUKING, IS THERE A WAY THAT I CAN SING IN HIGH NOTES IN A LOW VOICE WITHOUT PUKING. 4.STEVEN TYLER IS A GREAT SINGER, WHEN HE FIRST BECAME YOUR CLIENT WAS HE ALREADY GOOD JUST TRYING TO IMPROVE HIS VOICE A LITTLE BIT, OR WAS HE STRUGGLING TO BECOME GOOD? I JUST WANT TO KNOW IF A NOT-SO-GOOD ORDINARY SINGER CAN BE REALLY, REALLY GOOD IN ONE-YEAR’S PRACTICE.
A. One year is way to short. Do you think you can become a great guitar player in a year? Practice is the answer to all of your questions. Watch your face when you’re practicing. Don’t let any tensions show up when singing the high notes. My book would be a lot of help to you.
Q. I’m just a amateur singer, I sing mostly for myself and definitely love singing. I also play the piano and the guitar. I believe to have a serious problem with my voice and so far, I did not find any remedy. The problem is in the range between the 4th C and the 5th C, I can sing it in two ways. The first way is to rise my larynx a bit and I have to force on my throat, a little bit, but more and more to hit the higher notes (it’s very bad, I know, all the teachers say that the larynx need to be lowered when rising up in pitch). With that way, I can only reach the 4th G at most. It’s bad but still the sound produced is full, round and has good resonance and even some quality, albeit a little bit squeezed for the 4th F and 4th G. The other way requires much less effort with a lower larynx, but the sound is much more nasal, weaker and does not sound rich and full of quality resonance. Actually, it corresponds to a complete different position of my larynx and maybe mouth as I can feel it. And specially, when I sing the lyrics of a song for instance, it does not seems to be very nice at all because it seems to be too nasal and the consonnes are not well pronounced and articulated. But with this way of singing, I can reach easily the 5th C and even further. But then, this way of singing does not blend at all with my voice in the mixing range (the one below the 4th C). I need to change totally and abruptly the voice and it sounds very weird and ruin all the beauty of a phrase of a song. I believe that the change of voice correspond to a completely different change of the position of the larynx. I’m just afraid that I don’t have the anatomy to be able to sing well from the lower range to the upper range. Anyway, how could improving my singing? Which voice shoud I go for? How could I blend the mix voice and the head voice? How could cross the bridge? And why my ‘nasal’ voice sounds to nasal and lose all its quality and resonance and power. I do have a lot of vocalise material at home and try to exercise them everyday. I drink a lot of water and I never smoke and never drink alcohol.
A. Your tone is the result of behavior — not anatomy. To solve all of your concerns, practice singing in a voice that is common to all pitches. This will be a low volume head voice at first. When practicing, watch your form. It will not help you to vocalize using the same old tensions over and over. It’s HOW you vocalize not WHAT you vocalize that will bring about change. Once singing through the break becomes trusted (meaning you don’t add facial muscles) at a low volume, gradually raise the volume without changing your form. Watch yourself in a mirror and deny external muscles from joining in. Allowing your voice to sound bad for a short while is the quickest way for it to sound good forever-more. My book, “The Rock-N-Roll Singer’s Survival Manual,” and video, “The Singer’s Toolbox,” would help you very much.
Q. What causes the breathy quality in voice? How can it be eliminated? Is it a result of bad technique? Thanks for your time
A. A breathy quality is caused by an opening between the vocal folds. During each single phase of a vibration, the folds should close completely. Excess tension or overload of air pressure (bad technique) will cause the folds to remain open slightly and essentially become a leaky valve. This can be eliminated by developing the diaphragm’s ability to reduce how much air is presented at the folds. A good way to start is by taking a huge breath and sustaining a barely audible hiss for 60 seconds. This way you’re using the tongue as a crutch while asking the diaphragm to reduce the load at the larynx.
Q. Please describe the technique used be Merle Haggard, George Jones, David Allan Coe, ect. Why (how) do they sound as if they are “biting” off their words, yet still project and deliver full, rich tone? PLEASE explain. Any good exercises to develope this.
A. These are not techniques, these are people. How can they walk the way they do and still get anywhere? They all have stiff jaws and rigid tongues (not good for singing) but also have thick vocal folds which produce a loud sound to begin with. It is there personalities which overcome their limited techniques, and it is their personalities which have thrust them into your life. There are many men with voices as big as these, but there is only one Merle Haggard, George Jones and David Allen Coe.
Q. Hi ive got two things that i was wondering if you could help me. I am 15 years old and I got involved in this rapcore group, in which im suposed to be the vocalist but I need to develope more on some things, such as my range or learn to scream the way Fred does in Limp Biskit for example. I was wondering if there is any way I can do this without doing damage?
A. It hurts Fred to sing the way he does and it’s going to hurt you. He’ll say it doesn’t, but it’s the same as an athlete playing through pain in order to stay in the game. There are plenty of things he can’t do with his voice because of the way he screams. This doesn’t matter to him or his fans. I’m only bringing this up because I am frequently asked how someone like him screams without hurting themselves. The answer is they can’t. Athletes who play in aggressive sports loose their knees, elbows and backs routinely. It’s the risk they take. You have to ask yourself is the passion worth the cost. Are you willing to except the limitations that come with expressing yourself by screaming. There are some throats that can handle it and some can’t. Just like with knees and backs, though, we usually find out the hard way.
The smartest thing to do if you’re going to express yourself aggressively is to maintain a healthy and strong instrument. This is the same philosophy athletes assume with their bodies. Build your voice by taking lessons and vocalizing every day. That way when you scream, the odds are in your favor.
Q. Im 18 and I am trying to sing now and forever by Richard Marx but When I hit the high vocal lines I dont get the desired effect of my voice as I do in my lower ranges. I was told from my father to just sing them low for now and I will probably have the higher pitches sometime next year when my voice is more matured. Is his advice factual in any instances will my voice become much more averse as I get older?
A. Approach the song two ways. Sing it low, as your father suggests and sing it soft in the original key. You’ll need to learn to release your throat on high pitches in order to create the tone you want. Learning to release the throat on high notes does not get any easier as we age. Singing softly, though, allows you to experience the correct pitches with free muscles. Gradually increase the volume and watch out for added facial tension. In time, you’ll be able to produce both the volume and the range you want.
Q. Greetings from ireland! i am writing to you as a last resort, i will try to briefly outline my history. i am a 44 year male, who has been singing/guitar playing for the last 20 years. from 1980 to 1990 i was the lead singer on a four piece band, playing covers in the local pubs and clubs. from 1990 to the present i am a one man band using midi file backing singing 60′ & 70’s music in the same venues small to medium in size. i work as a sales rep during the day. my voice first started giving troube in the early 80’s, i would become hoarse, and then my voice would go altogether for a few weeks at a time. i even attended a faith healer in the early 90’s and my voice seemed to improve, i never lost it again, although this is probably down to a big improvement in equipment. at present i seem to be “husky” a lot, with hoarsness very close at hand. i dont know anything about warming up (or down) and deep breathing is something i do when i sleep!! i have attended several ENT specialists who said i had no growths, but i was very, very red, and they said my problem resulted from abuse. i am begging you to help, i will buy the video, and hope and pray that it will help. i like to sing, everybody tells me i do it extremely well, but i have to turn work down, because of my unreliability. please forgive this long winded tirrade, any help that you can give will be greatly appreciated! ps the venues i play are always very smoky, and i normally drink a few pints of beer while performing.
A. Start by drinking at least 2 liters of water per day. Read and follow the warm up routine on my free lesson page. My video, “The Singer’s Toolbox,” will help if you make the necessary changes. The length of your e-mail suggest that you’re fond of talking — which would make sense for a natural born entertainer like yourself. unfortunately, our speech habits are often worse than the singing. In other words — it’s not what you’re doing on stage that’s hurting you — it’s what’s happening during the breaks!! A few less pints will help.
Q. Mark, I am a 19 yr. old, and ever since i was a kid ive always wanted to be a rock star, but it wasn’t till i was about 17 that i actually got serious about it, i have always sung at home in my room listening to my cassettes and cds and have always been a good singer according to my music teachers and family, Problem is at age 16 i started smoking and have attempted many times to quit some times i quit for a month but then i go to a concert or something and i smoke because i am high or drunk, im trying incredibly hard to quit right now and i am down to 5 – 6 cigarrettes a day, and i don’t buy them anymore i just get them from my dad or other people, but aside from that i have a chronic bronchitus do to my shitty habit and i get bronchitus a lot because of my smoking, My question or rather questions, are 1 is it possible for me to quit now and repair my voice to the way it was, because i have noticed a big diffrence in my singing and for about 2-3 weeks i wasn’t singing at all because i kept getting cut off on the high notes. question 2 i want to be able to sing dark and spooky like marilyn manson how do i sing like that? or is it just something he can naturally do, i would also like to be able to scream like that or just scream like rob zombie and all the other guys out there, is there a technique to this or what?
A. Yes, if you quit now your voice will be fine in about six months. Singing is an extension of personality. Marilyn sings that way because he is that way. Technique is what allows you to express your emotions — not create them.
Q. When I sing into my higher range the Ee and Oo vowels are thinner and tighter sounding than other vowels like A, Ah, and Oh. In my lower range all the vowels sound half decent. Why is this, and what things can I do or allow to happen to get a fuller sound?
A. You are closing your jaw on EE and OO which is absorbing overtones. Practice leaving your jaw in a relaxed, lower position for all vowels. Sing a high note on AH and gradually raise your tongue only (not your jaw) until you hear an EE sound. Don’t make a smile or over enunciate. Try the same with OO. Your mouth is a major resonator; it should be kept as similar as possible for all vowels.
Q. “When performing death metal, grindcore, or black metal vocals, it is important to remember that believe it or not, one is still singing. The harsh sounds in the throat are produced by the aggravated resonance of the vocal cords, but the cords themselves will be damaged unless given amplification by a whole lot of wind from below. This brings in the diaphragm, a beltlike muscle around the base of the lungs which allows for external pressure to work the dual sacs as a billows. Contracting that muscle is as easy as deep breathing; once you’ve memorized that feeling enough to reproduce it, you can control this muscle to shove more air across your vocal cords and thus to pre-amplify your sound.” …What do you think of this? I was looking for more info on heavier vocals without losing range after growling/screaming/pretending to be cookie monster. By the way, I own your book and love it.
A. I don’t like to contradict other instructors, if that’s who this person is, so I’ll just comment on the facts. Every muscle in your body works in one direction only. The diaphragm is a dome and it contracts to cause an inhale. It cannot contract in the other direction to drive air outward — that is the role of the abdominal muscles. If you look up the definition of amplify, you will see that it is impossible to pre-amplify sound. A “pre-amp” on a stereo doesn’t amplify, it adds tone.
When someone is growling heavily, they are closing their false folds. These are the thick membranes above the true folds we sing with and there presence allows us to exert a lot of force against the larynx when lifting something heavy. Most of the singers I work with who are hard core don’t produce much sound from their true vocal cords, they do most of it with their false folds. Consequently, they don’t harbor much damage. They also don’t sing very well. It’s ironic, but as strong as they seem, when they try to sustain a single clear note, something which requires balance, they sound incredibly weak.
Singing hard requires you embrace proportion. To survive, unlock your thinking. I know singing hard core has to sound a certain way but does it have to FEEL a certain way? Essentially, that kind of music is the same as screeching your car tires as you pull a turn. A kid thinks the car has to be going as fast as it can to make this sound. Often they crash while showing off. A stunt driver who screeches tires for a living knows exactly how little speed he can get away with and still make the necessary sound. He wants to go home at the end of the day. Use band practice to discover how little pressure you need to apply and still sound the way you need to. You don’t have to be as loud as you can — you’re singing into a microphone. You do have figure out a way to survive the way you sing — your career hasn’t even begun yet.
Q. I want to ask like in my case I have not so good voice, but not really bad, and whenever I sing on high notes, I end up puking, so how can I avoid that and increasing my range with a good voice. And can a not so good and not so bad voice turn into a voice that can be really excellent in years of practice (two years specifically). Thank you very much, I am looking forward soon for your answer.
A. Sing your high notes at a softer volume until you develop control (translation stop puking). If you practice smart, you can have a really excellent voice in two years.
Q. Thanks a lot for the prompt information provided. I like your approach very much, and really liked your book. I’m interested in taking some ‘video lessons’ with you in the near future, but I still want to get better to make it really worth it. I have a question anyway which I think you only can clarify. I know you are Steve Tyler’s teacher, and that you also recommend no raised larynx at all. Also, in your book, when you show that chart on how far we should take head voice, you talked about the balance of air blow and cords resistance and that it’s possible to balance that to take head voice higher than generally accepted. I can’t help asking you the following how can Steve Tyler produce those distorted high pitches without raising the larynx, and how can you blow the cords harder without lifting the larynx? Aren’t his (desired, I should add ) distorted high pitches the result of doing that, and therefore harmful according to the principles you seem to defend in your book? I must make clear that I’m not confronting, only trying to clarify something that’s very important for rock singers but that most teachers say shouldn’t even by tried.
A. Lifting the larynx is a function of swallowing. Air pressure is not making it rise. You can place lots of pressure under your vocal folds and still have it low in the throat. This is how gospel and blues singers get their distorted tones and deep resonance. Tyler is imitating these singers. He is trying to keep his larynx low but it often rises because of old habits he developed regarding pitch. Most people, like him, raise their larynx to hit a high note. Pitch is a horizontal stretch of the folds — there is no need to lift the larynx.
Be clear that over-blowing your folds will stress the muscles. Since you called this a desired sound, I’m sure you will over-blow no matter what I say — and so does Tyler. My job is to clarify the laws of physics, anatomy and sound. The reality is, the fewer muscles you use to produce a driven sound, the less stressful it will be on your larynx. Many people over blow a sound, thinking it takes more force than it does. Always practice using as little facial and throat muscles as possible to insure you’re using the minimum effort for whatever sound you desire. Incidentally, waiting to get better before taking lessons is like waiting to get stronger before joining a gym.
Q. well first of all i just want to say i have your book and i love it. it has transformed my singing ability more than i couldve imagined. but, as always, i have a question still. my question is that when i hit high notes and falsetto, i find it easier to start the note with an somewhat heavy “h” sound. this helps me keep my larynx down but it decreases my overall breath intake by a measurable amount. im wondering if this is a step in the right direction or just a bad habit. i still have alot of trouble keeping my larynx down on high notes and i was just experimenting and this seemed to help. let me know, thanks alot.
A. The heavy “H” just dumps the air pressure that was forcing the larynx higher. It is a temporary avoidance of air control problems but by no means a solution. You own the muscles that are sending up too much air in the first place. Instead of dumping the pressure by splitting your folds apart, why not send up less? Watch your abs. don’t let them punch high notes — no matter how wimpy they sound at first. Getting the air pressure proportionate is the first step to vocal control.
Q. I’m 19 years old and I sing and play the guitar. I have been in a number of rock bands and have been the lead singer of two. People tell me I have a nice voice and I think I do too, except I have trouble hitting a few high notes with my chest voice. These few notes are keeping me from singing some songs I really want to sing, and it is really discouraging. If I could just reach two or three more notes I would be the happiest person in the world. Also, I’ve asked some people about this before and the best people can tell me is that I’m pushing, but I don’t really understand what they mean and I really don’t know how to fix it. Please help me. Thanks
A. Those few notes are like a few pounds that keep people from wearing their favorite clothes. If they could just lose that weight they would be the happiest in the world. When they do, they discover that there are still things which keep them from being happy — and so those few pounds come back. What is stopping you from changing the key of those songs you want to sing? Why wear pants that don’t fit?
Pushing means that you are sending more air pressure into your larynx then the pitch your trying to sing needs. That imbalance causes the muscles of the neck to tense and therefore deny the pitch. It’s like squeezing the guitar pick to play faster. All that does is tighten your arm and slow you down. In the end, you learned to have a specific touch on your guitar pick. You’ll learn the same thing with your voice. It takes time. Read through the free lessons on my web site. By a book on singing. Dive into the whole subject — not just the part about high notes — and those few notes will be yours. In other words, be happy first and those pounds will disappear.
Q. When i sing it seems like i’m not singing what i feel like i’m singing. Like it seems like people are hearing something off key when i feel like i’m singing on key. Does this make sense or am i tone def or somthing?
A. People can’t hear what you intend to sing . . only what comes out of your mouth. Lots of times, we think something and it comes out different. The mind didn’t play the body correctly. Example I can see the dart board — I intend to hit a bulls eye — but I hit the five. I don’t need better eyes, I need to practice throwing darts. You need to practice more — perhaps take some lessons. It takes time to have everything come out just as you intended.
Q. I have lost my tonal center. I am a classically trained singer. When performing classically, I never had any pitch issues to speak of. I did even a good deal of a cappella cantor solo work. For about a year now, i have been working in a rock band and with the electric instruments i have had some real problems. i don’t know if it is the distortion or the abundance of harmonics-rich bass. but i have tended to be very off. Perhaps something that aggrevates this is that i am currently playing bass guitar for this band also. i didn’t know if this were a common thing for crossover classical singers, but it is something that i am very concerned about it affects me deeply as a performer. I can’t trust my own instincts. i am unsure about what used to be my source of deepest confidence.
A. Your situation is extremely common for crossover singers. Your instincts are being bombarded by external stimuli, luring you out of your form and causing the undesired results. Your agenda should be to reduce as many external muscles as you can. Rock singing requires one to drive the folds, but that doesn’t have to transfer to neighboring muscles. It’s much like playing the bass. There is a specific touch needed to depress a string onto the fret board. Not enough pressure and the string buzzes; too much pressure and dexterity and control are shot. My book and video would help you a great deal. There are available through my web site or in stores everywhere. I am also happy to answer any questions you may have. It seems like your question here is whether your situation is common. . . . and it is.
Q. I am a female singer and have been singing for many years, starting out classically, but now singing pop professionally for the last five years. I have gotten pretty adept at “speech level singing” (what some may refer to as belting) in my lower range, but as I hit D above middle C, my voice makes an obvious adjusting sound–I continue with the same air pressure, but somehow, my voice loses that pop edge in my upper range. Any suggestions? Thanks!
A. The pop edge comes from extending chest voice into those upper pitches. Coming from a classical background, it would feel unreasonable for you to sing this way. Your folds are thinning (correctly so) as you access pitches higher than D. Keeping them thick will create the upper overtones you’re looking for but will also cause throat tension. Releasing the muscles of the pharynx, jaw and tongue as you overdrive the folds will allow you to find an acceptable balance. When I work with singers looking for this, I take away their tensions first ( don’t allow the jaw to alter or facial muscles to change). This usually causes a short term loss of control. It’s okay to sound really bad when exploring new behaviors, but most of us demand every note attempted sound performance ready. If you can put up with some horrendous cracking and wavering of pitch, you will quickly access the sound you’re looking for. Controlling the cracks and wavers takes a subtle adjustment of air. We usually overcompensate.
Q. Love your site. Can you address falsetto in the male voice in a future issue? Looking particularly at quality, control and appropriate usage. I’m a female voice instructor with a 16 yr. old male student who has just discovered his falsetto register and I need all the tips I can get. Would also be neat if you could include info on the whistle register in the female voice (i.e. Mariah Carey and the “singing dolphin” sound), kind of as a companion.
A. Blend, blend, blend. That’s the best advice you can give your student. Falsetto is nothing more than the release of the vocalise muscle within the folds. Most males, especially sixteen year-olds, push their voices down and loose the flexibility. Encourage him to sing in falsetto and to bring the light, effortless feeling down into the lower pitches. There should be no difference in quality between any registers.
Whistle register, however, occurs when the folds stiffen and “whistle” as opposed to vibrate. Also unlike the other registers, air pressure controls pitch in whistle tones. I will definitely put these topics on my list to write about – but it may take a while. There’s been so many requests! Best of luck with your teaching.
Q. How do you sing vibrato? What are the techniques?
A. No one technique per se. Vibrato is a small fluctuation in pitch and volume caused by minute movements within the larynx. So anything that’s loosens you will help promote vibrato in your singing. If it’s unavailable, you’re probably pushing too hard from your abdomen. Watch out for neck, jaw and tongue tension as they are all signs of too much force. Sing very softly and you’ll see what it should feel like to sing loud but free. In general, trill exercises also require you to be loose and so will help promote vibrato.
Q. I don’t quite know if i’m stepping out of place by asking this question since I sing opera and musical theatre, but it’s extremely relevant to me. I was wondering if you could please touch upon the technique for producing vibrato. As a classical singer, it’s imperative as well as other forms of music such as pop. However, I’m never fully able to achieve a steady, pleasant-sounding vibrato. I’ve been told that you must remain perfectly relaxed in the jaw and throat area. But despite many attempts to relax and maintain support, the vibrato just doesn’t surface. Could you please help me with this dilemma? I’d appreciate any help you could give me. Thanks in advance and thanks for having such an informative web site!
A. The clue to your elusive vibrato is the phrase, “. . .attempts to relax and maintain support.” I suspect you are equating support with abdominal tension. Many are taught to keep a firm midsection. Unfortunately the body cannot deceiver when we are doing so to sing and when we are doing so for leverage. Therefore the throat and jaw will always tighten to some degree in response to abdominal tension. Excess air pressure is causing your folds, throat, tongue and jaw to brace. The more we “support,” the more rigid the area around the larynx becomes. There are many tricks for countering this local tension but none are as effective as sending up the proportionate amount of air in the first place. When the folds are fed the exact amount of pressure for a given pitch, the surrounding area does not engage. The resulting freedom is what allows one to fluctuate the pitch slightly on command.
Keep in mind that you have established a history of tension (slight, I’m sure) around the larynx and so, even when the proper amount of air is dialed in, there will still be tension in the throat and jaw. You’ll need specific exercises to teach those muscles to relax. The idea of sending a specific amount of air for every pitch we sing sounds complicated — and is. Luckily, we are born with reflexes which control these functions perfectly. Think of the complexity involved with walking or focusing the eye. We tend to not trust our reflexes when it comes to singing and overcompensate both in thought and mechanics. Notice how your vibrato seems to be there when your not thinking about it.
Focus on less abdominal tension, especially on the onset of a pitch and keep you head and jaw in motion when vocalizing. I’m sure exploring in this direction will feel like a loss of control in your mind. We are very invested in muscle activity equaling control. However, it is the absence of muscle activity that truly indicates the presence of control. When it comes to vibrato, nothing says it better than the old saying, “less is more.”
Q. I would like to ask you a question about singing. The question that I would like to ask you is that I have practiced and practiced and practiced until I became frustrated withsinging at a high ranged voice while I was singing. The band “Fastball” is my favorite rock and roll band and the vocalists and bassists of the band Tony Scalzo can make a tight tone with his voice and that is what I would like to accomplish. If would please give me a hint or a technique on how that is gained. Thank you for your time.
A. I suspect you are practicing songs rather than singing. It’s best to focus on your form rather than your sound when practicing. It’s easy to get tied in knots chasing someone else’s sound. We all have different instruments, and just like our faces, they’re all beautiful to someone — but not usually to us. Most people long for someone else’s sound, or look, and fail to appreciate all we have to offer. I would bet any amount of money that Tony Scalzo of “Fastball” does not like his voice nearly half as much as you do. The grass, or voice, is always greener on the other side of the fence.
The more important issues about singing are whether you are losing your voice too quickly, or worse yet, not moving people when you sing. Try releasing as much muscle as possible when singing. It’s fine to be inspired by other singers but not smart to imitate. Develop your own style and you’ll stand beside the singer’s you admire.
Q. I’m 18 and I live in San Diego. I’ve always wondered this but have always been afraid to ask because I fear it may be a very stupid question. I listen to heavy music. It is my passion. One of my favorite bands is the deftones. The lead singer, Chino Moreno, to me has the best voice in all of music because he can scream, he can yell, and he can sing. I was wondering if there was any way to model oneself after someone like that. I was looking around for “metal singing lessons” and your site popped up, so I figured I would give it a try. Tell me what you think. Thank you for your time.
A. There aren’t metal lessons, but there certainly are metal people. Chino’s personality drives his voice. People like me just show him how to survive the fury. Basically, if you’re worried about hurting your hand when you go to punch someone, you probably will hurt it and not the other guy. Training provides strength, stamina, flexibility and projection. What people do with that power is their statement. My book would be a good place for you to start exploring the subject.
Q. I’m in sort of a dilemma with my voice……I perform in a regularly gigging blues band and I am not the lead singer but I do sing about 10-12 songs a show and aspire toward singing full-time. But, I have some problems that maybe you can help with….first of all, this is my first experience singing and have never had any formal vocal training. Actually I had no idea that my voice would adapt well to this kind of music but it has very well. I have a good “singing voice” with plenty of strength but it seems as if I use it up too quickly……I use a lot of “growling” i guess you would say and emotion behind my singing and sing loud. My problem is that the feel of the songs draw me into singing with such emotion and I use up my voice too quickly. I personally think I’m damaging my voice even when I belt out those notes and sound good. I don’t know what kind of breathing exercises I might do to help with stamina or if just backing off would help, but I would like to get to a point where I could sing 30 songs a night no problem. Also I play sax in most all of the songs we perform and I’m wondering if that might be causing a problem too because of the constant airflow through my throat. My voice has a naturally deep pitch and most of the songs I sing have to be mid-range A or G, B and C can be a struggle………do you know of any techniques to increase my vocal range without hurting my vocal stamina. Thanks for any sage advice you could give, I’ve just never been a singer and love it now and want to be good at it and have that strong blues voice.
A. The problem is that your playing your voice like a sax — and it’s not. I’m sure you play the sax with emotion but don’t let it squawk. In other words, there’s a specific amount of air that triggers the instrument and any more will over-blow the note. Same goes for the voice except it’s far more forgiving with the over-blows. Your throat, jaw and tongue are picking up the excess air pressure for a while and then they tire. When they do ( probably about six songs) they leave your vocal folds un protected. The result is that the folds swell and become rigid. Like an old crusty reed, they will require twice the effort to make them sing.
To break the cycle you’ll need to vocalize. I suggest finding a teacher and getting a few lessons. You can also learn a lot from my book and video. In the end you will have learned the threshold of the voice just like you learned the sax. You can play it aggressively, but not overly so.
Q. How do i know if i’m singing from my diaphram and if i’m not how can i start?
A. If your throat hurts while singing you are not using your diaphragm properly. You can’t “sing” from your diaphragm but you can use it to control the air pressure used when singing. When the pressure is just right, the sensation is very free and slippery within the throat and it seems your voice is coming from somewhere else. If you feel you are doing it wrong, place a hand on your belly button. This area should expand when you inhale (don’t lift the shoulders). As you sing a note, the area around your belly button should go in very gradually — not gri[p like you’re doing a sit up. Practice this smooth in and out motion while singing at a low volume. Once you get it correct, turn the volume up slowly without sacrificing form. Best of luck.
Q. What can l do to be a good singer? l mean how can you get your voice to sound the best? can everyone sing as good as they want if they work hard enough on it?
A. How do you get your body to look its best? Can anyone get the body they want if they work hard enough? The answers are the same with singing. If you work out for a while your body is going to look pretty good. Work hard enough and you can get pretty close to the body you want. The bottom line is, you have to love working out to make it stick. The larynx and throat are made of muscles, membranes and cartilages. Coordination, strength and flexibility are vital elements of vocal control. There are vocal exercises which can isolate and develop specific muscles just like going to the gym. You can speed the process by working with a coach, or, learn by trail and error by singing for years and years. Either way, the most important element necessary to become a good singer is to simply love to sing.
Q. After a long show (usually 9-1), is it better to drink a hot or cold drink? Would also like to know what you have heard about ginger for a sore throat. Recently I started using Entertainer’s Secret because it was recommended to me as a protectant against smoke. What is your opinion of this product? I appreciate what you’re doing with the web page and offering free advice. I’ve told all the singers in my band about you and the web page. Thanks.
A. I have always maintained that room temperature water is the best drink — anytime. It is the act of swallowing which is good for your voice (by relaxing the muscles) more so than what you drink. There will be a short term effect from hot or cold drinks (hot increases circulation in the area, cold moves blood away — so it reduces swelling) but we are warm blooded, which means the body works hard to maintain the same temperature inside. A cold drink won’t stay cold for long enough to make a difference and same goes for hot. What works best if your tight is to alternate heat and cold on the back of the neck. This releases the grip of external muscles and allows for the necessary repairs to occur while you sleep.
If you feel better while using Entertainer’s Secret than continue, I don’t see anything wrong with the product. However, the coating it provides is absorbed and/or evaporated fairly quickly. So to protect against airborne irritants, it would have to be re-applied constantly. If your eyes are not irritated by smoke than I wouldn’t worry about your throat. Most likely, if you are experiencing difficulties singing — it’s in the technique.
Q. Is there an exercise you can give me that will help with keeping my larynx low. As i watch myself in the mirror.. i notice when i lean my neck back a little and sing higher .. my Adams apple goes up.. My guess is i might be pushing too hard and not changing registers soon enough? I am trying to relax the neck muscles and work with scales.. Curious though if there was anything else that would help? Would this method i am using of leaning neck back with mirror be an appropriate means of determining a rising larynx?
A. Tilting your head back while singing stresses the vocal folds. You are correct to suspect that you are probably not changing registers soon enough. And that, incidentally, is the best way to exercise a lifting habit out of your style. Try this: Leave your head in a neutral position and either watch in a mirror or place a finger lightly on your Adam’s apple. Slowly, sing a scale on an AH vowel with a loose, open jaw. Start on a fairly low pitch, one that does make your larynx rise to begin with. Then, as you change pitch, monitor any movements which occur to support pitch. As soon as you feel a rise, hover around that area of pitch. Turn the volume down, check to make sure your jaw is loose, and, above all, let your voice crack if it has to in order not to lift the larynx. Remember, pitch change is a horizontal stretch which occurs inside the larynx. No visible muscle activity is necessary. Being a rock singer, you’re bound to get some. But, your goal should be as little as possible. Keep experimenting!
Q. I will be taking voice lessons as soon as I find someone where I live. But I was wondering if it was possible to extend your voice a whole one octave or more with lessons.I have just read that the average untrained voice can sing twelve notes,which is where I’m at,but with lessons you may be able to extend your range to fourteen or sixteen.I have heard of quite a few people with three and four octave ranges and while that alone obviously does not make a voice beautiful (or interesting) it does sound freeing to have that much to work with. Hope you can respond.
A. Absolutely. What training does is establish a balance between the forces required for singing. Air pressure and resistance are the two major components. When they strike an equilibrium, flexibility is the natural result. Range is flexibility. How easily, and to what extent, your vocal folds stretch is what determines range. Yes, everyone is born with a certain limitation but rarely do people sing up to their potential. Often, everyday tensions create rigid conditions around the larynx and restrict freedom of vocal muscles. Training will help you find a balance and therefore realize your genetic range rather than the compromised one you now utilize.
Q. I have been singing and playing guitar since i was 6 years of age I am now 19 years of age and I just joined this really good band they have been receiving lots of industry attention from several major labels. They have fired there old singer and i’m replacing his spot, we have been writing and rewriting songs since the winter and we are just about ready to showcase the band in front of some record executives in Toronto.. but i’m constantly in a struggle with my voice it seems very strong for certain notes that i hit but sometimes my voice will crack in the middle of the note it happens quite often and it is really discouraging my confidence level. People tell me voice sound really good but i don’t think i can even last through 45 minute set without it cracking i don’t scream or yell allot. I need to learn how to preserve my voice and i need to learn how to stop the cracking.
A. Cracking is nothing more than hitting a pitch with too much air pressure. You’ll need to establish a “feel” for your voice. Make sure you warm up and vocalize often. Lots of people make the mistake of dealing with vocal issues only during rehearsals. This needs to be done in private — so the cracking won’t embarrass you. For warm up ideas, I would suggest my video, “The Singer’s Toolbox,” distributed by Star Licks.
It’s important to understand that the same vocal folds which sound good on some pitches are creating the bad pitches, too. In other words, the problem is in the way you sing — not the instrument. Try to release as much tension as possible. Keep working at it — you’re very young and your instrument is not even close to developed yet.
Q. How long should you sing at one time? How can you learn to hold a note longer? How do you get to a higher range ? How do you stop your voic from cracking?
A. A typical wedding or function singer routinely sings 4 hour gigs (sometimes two in one day). Obviously, there are breaks taken, but in the studio I’ve done 6 hour sessions where the time passed like minutes. Vocal stamina is directly tied to proper technique.
To sing a note longer, take a big breath and sustain a barely audible hiss until you run out of air. 60 seconds is a good target. The hiss should be absolutely smooth (no erratic jumps or spikes). This is a beginning diaphragm exercise from my book, “The Rock-N-Roll Singer’s Survival Manual.” Control of the diaphragm is crucial for holding notes long.
A higher range is developed by stretching your folds in the same way you would learn to do a split with your legs — very slowly. Singing in falsetto or head voice without stress (meaning no visible facial tension) at a low volume allows the folds to experience the pitches you want minus the load of volume. Gradually increase the volume once the softly sung high notes feel comfortable. Never sacrifice form for the sake of hitting a pitch.
The voice cracks when the vocal folds are burdened with too much air pressure. There is a point where the mass of the folds needs to increase of decrease (depending on whether you’re singing up or down) and this is a vulnerable moment for everyone’s voice. A balance needs to be struck at all times between air pressure and the vocal folds. Any imbalance will result in a crack. To smooth the crack, relax your face and sing through the break over and over. By subtracting all other muscular aids, the diaphragm will have to get its act together and coordinate with the larynx. Imbalance usually exists throughout a singers range, but is only exposed at the break between voices.
Q. my vocal performance suffers during pms and . time — what gives?
A. During menstruation the body retains fluid. The vocal folds are mucus membranes, which are very sensitive to the body’s water level. Just as your fingers can swell during a bad period, your vocal folds are slightly swollen before you sing a note. Not addressing this situation (meaning no warm-up) will cause you inadvertently push a little harder for notes that are usually easy to sing. A chain reaction begin throat muscles brace against extra pressure and more effort is applied to overcome the resistance. It’s the perfect scenario for a lousy vocal day. Please refer to my lesson on warming up on the “Free Lessons” page.
Q. I have this obsessive desire to add vibrato (with consistency) to my singing voice. Please advise me on how I could best reach this goal (right now I don’t have the time to take formal voice lessons) ! Thank you for this opportunity and am looking forward to your reply…
A. I’ll bet anything the key words “obsessive ” and “the time to take lessons” are keeping you from your goal. Vibrato is the sound of the natural fluctuation between muscle groups within the body. A slight variation of pitch and volume. It enters when your throat is relaxed and a balance has been achieved between air pressure and resistance. Tension kills vibrato. Release the jaw, neck forehead and abdominals and slowly move your voice up and down in pitch. Any visible aids in pitch change must be relaxed. In time, the slow movement of pitch should yield to a faster ability. Your personality type may keep this an illusive vocal quality. However, there certainly is no harm in pursuing balance. I think the simple routines in my video, “The Singer’s Toolbox,” would help you a great deal.
Q. dear mark, I am from Melbourne Australia i am a singer songwriter guitarist. I found your articles on getsigned to be enlightening and i like your approach. I have been attending singing lessons for about 10 years now and have a 3 octave range but i still feel i struggle in the higher register i have a strong head voice up to an a above middle c but the next two notes i seem to struggle to achieve well and strong . do you have any advice.
A. Struggling on the high notes usually means you’re lifting your larynx. We think of pitches as going up and down the throat when, actually, pitches are the result of a horizontal stretch of the folds. If you raise the larynx, the muscles above will close the throat. This is a swallowing action and cannot be turned off. Instead, we can leave the larynx in the resting position and never trigger the swallow mechanism. Watch your Adam’s apple in the mirror as you sing up a scale. Does it rise? If so, that’s your problem. Leaving your finger on the Adam’s apple, release your jaw and face and allow your voice to sound shaky, but practice singing higher without lifting. Allow falsetto. The ability to sing softly needs to be in place before power can be added. The other solution, of course, is not to worry about those higher notes. Change the key of whatever song is giving you troubles and enjoy singing.
Q. Mark, my daughter is 25. She has been working with a vocal coach down here, but the song that was given to her is very difficult and high. “How Do I Live” by Leann Rimes. It seems to be throwing her vocals off somehow and she has been straining to the point of a strange vibration in her throat. I am worried that this coach is pushing her out of her range. Can you give me some advise?
A. I’ve always thought it best to train the voice via exercises rather than songs. That way, you build and coordinate your instrument to embrace every song. It’s like the saying, ” Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, show him how to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” Learning to sing on a song by song basis limits development. There is too great a temptation to “perform” a song before you’re ready. Consequently, people tend to push and strain and learn to camouflage problems rather than alleviate them. Like working out, vocal exercises are always focused on form. Athletes train in the gym. They build strength and gain flexibility which gives them an advantage in their sport. Singers should think of their training as building an instrument –by exercising and developing the muscles within the larynx first. Then they are more internally aware when singing songs.
If your daughter is interested, my book, “The Rock-N-Roll Singer’s Survival Manual” provides an in depth overview of the singing process. It’s not just about singing rock. I take the same approach with every singer. Build the instrument first, learn to play it second. It’s a lot easier in the long run.
Q. Mr. Baxter I am a 26 year old attorney aspiring to be come a recording artist. I have been singing since I was two (before I could walk I could sing). I have a very powerful voice (I think I have mastered the art of using your diaphragm – so much so that I even SPEAK loud now – smile). The reason I am writing you is to get some vocal tips. I have read a few of your articles in Getsigned and I was impressed. For example, I really never warm up before a performance because I thought it would take away from my ability to sing “hard” for long periods of time. Now, due to your article, I have begun to rethink that strategy. However, by the same token, I have a few problems.
The first problem is that I have bad sinuses and allergies. It seems as though I always have a cold or something. hence, I constantly have mucus in my nose and throat. Any suggestions on what I can do to help this problem? also, this often leads to me losing my voice. any suggestions? Next, although I have a powerful voice, my voice gets fatigued very quickly. Any suggestions for that? I figure that I just need to do more shows and strengthen my voice, but that isn’t much of an option right now. I try to sing SOMETHING everyday, but I was just wondering if you had any more in-depth tips. Lastly, I would love to hear any other singing or songwriting tips you can give someone starting out in the business.
A. I’ve never had anyone tell me that they have mastered the art of using MY diaphragm! And, unfortunately, it appears from the description of your vocal issues, you have not mastered the art of using YOUR diaphragm either. What you have developed is abdominal strength, which now places too much air pressure under the vocal folds. The volume is a desired result of the air pressure but the lack of longevity will handicap your chances at a career in singing. The air pressure must be proportionate to the pitch you are singing. Any imbalance will cause fatigue. The nasal drip is an irritant, no doubt, but its negative influence on the voice can be overcome by a good long warm-up. See a doctor regarding the sinuses. You may have a polyp or an allergy which can be rectified. Drink 2 liters of water per day. At the risk of appearing self-serving, my video, “The Singer’s Toolbox,” deals with your vocal issues directly. There is an explanation about balancing air pressure and warm-up/warm-down demonstrations. It’s only $14.95 (produced by Star licks – available at stores or on my web site). I think it would help.
As far as songwriting tips, www.Getsigned.com and www.jpfolks are both chock full of great tips. The only thing I could add from personal experience is to sing where you are most comfortable. Your ability to convey emotions is more important than range or projection. Try writing a song by vocal melody first, that way it is sure to be easy to sing. Best of luck on your journey! If I can be of more assistance — let me know.
Q. First of all, I want to thank you for the excellent book that you’ve done. I bought it about five years ago, and I still use it all the time. I also recently got your video which also gave me some insights that I needed. I’m the lead singer of the national Alice in Chains tribute band called _____. I usually sing two one-hour sets with both our bass player and guitar player singing harmonies in almost every song. Right now things are kind of slowing down, and I want to do originals, so I’m looking for a day job to pay the bills while I’m writing. (We’re still doing the tribute thing on weekends.) My main question is how concerned should I be about any job that involves being outdoors. It’s hard enough to find work when you have long hair, a goatee, and earrings, and then to be choosy on top of it. I personally hate winter, but I was just wondering how bad it is for my voice. By the way, I live in Chicago,IL. Please let me know as soon as you can, so I can figure out where I can work. Thanks a lot for your input.
A. I know your dilemma first hand. When I was between bands I usually wound up working outdoors as a landscaper. There is nothing particularly bad about being outdoors — it’s all about not getting sick. Being broke usually makes you tough, though. Anyway, cold air is dry, so breath through a scarf. Dress as warm as possible in general. Your body burns energy to stay warm (i.e. shivering) which lowers your immune system and allows illness to take over. The body doesn’t like a lot of change, so a job where you are in and outdoors a lot is not recommended. Dangerous fumes like varnish, paint thinner, inks, etc. will strip your throat and make singing difficult at night. No matter what you do, you can make it work to your advantage. I always managed to use whatever job I had to prep for my bands — singing in a delivery van, playing sax in the back of a dry cleaner store or catching up on much needed sleep in the back of a warehouse or in the landscaping truck. Mind you, I got fired a lot.
The only thing to watch for coming out of a tribute band is the inevitable comparisons to Layne Staley. The hardest thing about singing in an original band is being original. It’s tempting to fall back on vocal sounds which provided success in the clubs — but that will bury you when approaching record labels. There already is an Alice and Chains sounding band. It’s your job to do something new. Best of luck with the switch. Keep the faith.
Q. I was wondering, have you heard of rib cage expansion, something I could never really catch on to or know if I was doing them right. Do you believe in this theory? I’m just now starting band practice back up since the nodes are gone. My voice was extremely dry and started to hurt just a bit from singing, so I mixed lemon with honey and was eating it by the spoonfuls, is that a good idea or not. I don’t know why it was so dry beings the only thing I drink anymore is water, water, and more water. I did have a decaf Latte earlier that day, but only as a treat. If I buy your book, is it necessary to get the video or is it the same info?
A. Yes, I am familiar with the rib expansion technique but not a fan of it. As you explore different methods you will notice a lot of overlap. At the core will be breathing and here’s where singers divide into two camps: 1. The body should influence the larynx. Or, 2. The larynx should influence the body. I’m in the later camp. No doubt, you will relieve excess pressure on the throat by consciously expanding your ribs, but I feel it is unnecessary to think for a reflex. The goal is always to dial up the appropriate air pressure per every note we sing. There is an over-all feeling when this goal is reached. It’s balance — equal an offsetting actions. Ask a weight-lifter to pick up an egg and he will not crush it. The task doesn’t require much effort so he doesn’t engage his bicep (naturally). My point is that he does not have to think to WHAT to do to not break the egg, simply use appropriate power. In singing we often incorrectly anticipate what physical force a note or sound will require. Overcompensating the air pressure commits many extra muscles and causes tons of compromises (your nodes). Techniques are born to counteract the overcompensation. What about addressing the anticipation? As with the weight-lifter picking up the egg, I don’t believe the body needs to be told how to back off. The reality is you won’t know exactly how much pressure to apply until you sing. Then, the body’s reflexes should take over and adjust, just as the body would if the egg happened to be filled with lead. The adjustment is reflexive. Something to think about.
My book and video are not the same information. They work separately or together. The dryness you experience is caused by tense muscles lining the throat, denying lubrication. Swallowing (anything) momentarily releases the muscles. Nothing we swallow touches the folds — it’s the act of swallowing that helps. As long as what you’re ingesting doesn’t compromise singing. Is the honey dripping down causing you to clear your throat later? This is all discussed in my video.
Q. Hello Mr. Baxter. I am a young experimental/electronic musician who has good pitch etc, but am not loud enough, and it sounds alot worse when I sing louder. I’ve had very little vocal training, and I’ve read your columns which have helped me to a great extent. Could it be too much to ask to give me a really basic way to get louder but keep my pitch?
A. It takes time to build the internal strength required to sing loud and stay on pitch. Right now you are turning on external muscles when singing loud and that throws the balance off. Think of juggling. People usually start with tennis balls because they’re light — like singing at a low volume. Once the feel is established, you can graduate to heavier items, say bowling balls. Obviously there would be lots of steps in between, and that’s what you’re missing.
A gradual increase in volume while making sure your face, neck and jaw stay loose will assure you stay on pitch. Reverse your agenda and you’ll reach your goal as quick as possible (What is the loudest I can sing and still be on pitch?) Ask this question every day. Your threshold will rise. It takes years of singing before everything falls into place. To speed things up, I would suggest reading my book, “The Rock-N-Roll Singer’s Survival Manual,” which is available through my site or at book stores everywhere. It provides an important overview of the voice and its properties.
Q. I recently bought youre book and Im very pleased with it so far. I am fairly new in this crazy monstrosity known as the music business but its the only thing that I really have a passion for persuing. My voice seems to be getting better and better the more I use it but I do have some questions. Youre book covered a little of my question but if you could spare more info I would greatly appreciate it..My question is about vocal cracking. Sometimes my voice cracks and makes a rediculous sound..almost like I suddenly experienced reverse puberty!!! This doesnt occur all the time but the times it does, it puts fear into me that it will happen again..like during a performance. Your book said that it is mostly from bad posture so ive been straightening up but I would like as much info as you would care to share with me about vocal cracking…why it happens….is it inevitable on occasions….do many people experience this same problem? What are some of the major reasons it occurs, little tricks to keep it from happening etc..Thank you for your patience in reading this.
A. Cracking is the result of imbalance, of which posture may or may not be a problem. When the air pressure is more than the vocal folds require, they make a reflexive jump to brace against the load. The real problem is the fear you mentioned. Everybody struggles with this issue and the most important thing is not to fear the occurrence — it is not the end of the world. Cracking is the equivalent of playing a wrong chord, dropping a drum stick, over throwing first base or missing a free throw. These things happen when you put your heart on the line — which is all an audience cares about. Playing it safe will not only raise the likelihood of more cracks because of a paranoid technique, but also punish the audience by not connecting with your heart.
My video, “The Singer’s Toolbox,” has examples of singing through the break. The exercises in the book will also lead you there. Keep singing and you will find the balance I am referring to. Continue holding back because you fear another crack and you may never find your comfort zone.
Q. Could you shed some light on how one develops or controls their virbrato. Why do some have it and others don’t? Singing harmonies and using or not using virbrato. Thank you very much.
A. Vibrato is a fluctuation in both pitch and timbre caused by a slight variation in the tension of the vocal folds (pitch) and position of the larynx (timbre). The speed should be approximately four beats per second which mirrors the pulse of the nervous system. Electricity travels up and down the nerves relaying information, causing a minute shake in the extremities. Tension squashes vibrato. In pop singers, vibrato tends to come at the end of sustained notes because their throats often don’t release enough until the lungs have lost pressure. Classical singers cultivate their skills until an even and proportionate air pressure allows for vibrato at the onset of every pitch.
Vibrato comes naturally to those that are free of throat tension. It is dampened by the smallest of efforts, more of a thought than an effort. One develops a free throat by striking a balance between air pressure (diaphragm) and resistance (the folds). So, it’s easier to think of vibrato as a signal that all is well inside. Use it as a gage for releasing tensions. It’s not a bad idea to fake it until it comes naturally. Any movement allowed around the larynx is healthy for the voice.
The movement in the sound caused by vibrato excites the ear makes it easy for the listener to focus on the voice. This is why it is not recommended when singing harmonies. It is far easier to blend several voices when they are straight tones. When vibratos match, as they often do in sibling harmonies, the effect is super tight. If, however you desire a chorus effect, purposely mis-match vibrato pulses in the harmony parts. The harmony won’t sound as tight but the illusion will be that more people are singing than in actuality.
Q. I am in the middle of reading your book “The Rock-N-Roll Singer’s Survival Manual”. So far so good. I for one appreciate you taking the opportunity to help some of us who look to you as an authority in Rock and Roll Singing and vocal styles.. My question is pertaining to a habit I formed a long time ago. It’s actually a two part problem. Part one I get dry very very fast. I need to keep drinking fluids when I am performing. I don’t really notice most front guys running off in between songs to get something to drink. I have gotten in the habit of even drinking during a song. I am not referring to alcoholic beverages. Actually, I prefer drinks with bubbles. It feels good on my throat. Which leads me too Part two. Part two Cola (non diet) helps me sing better. I have stopped drinking regular soda for about a month now and it has made a drastic change on the agility of my voice. I drank a coke at a show the other night and BAM.. it was back. Like magic. I used to drink pitchers and pitchers of coke each show. Kind of an odd drinking habit huh? I understand it isn’t good for me or my chords (or my teeth). Why do you think Cola would have this effect? Do you have any suggestions as a substitute?
A. I did the exact same thing for years. I plotted and planned to make sure I had water and cokes placed strategically around the stage so I could always grab a drink whenever I wasn’t singing. I would completely freak out when someone took one of my drinks and yes, it also bothered me that I never saw other singers doing that.
Tension in your throat is cutting off the saliva ducts which lubricate the folds and walls of the throat. The most important saliva glands for singing are in the false folds (located right above the true folds); they are in charge of keeping the are larynx wet. Nothing we swallow every touches the folds. It’s the act of swallow which releases your muscle tension for a moment and allows some lubrication to escape. Coke syrup simply coats the lining of the throat in the way honey does, which has been used by singers for centuries. This reduces irritation and allows the muscles to relax a little — which always improves singing.
Make sure you’re warming up and working on releasing as much as possible while singing. As your technique becomes more proportionate, or balanced, you will find less need to drink. You will, however, need to wean yourself off this habit. Even if you didn’t need a drink, you’ll still take one unless you force yourself to wait. It wasn’t until I was rushed on stage without my liquids (I didn’t think I would make it through the set) that I discovered I was just drinking out of habit — not need.
Q. I’m an ‘older’ beginning singer; not old, but 40’s. I do not have a verbrato-also not a born singer, ha-. Can you “Get” one or develop one? Also, I have a TERRIBLE problem with drainage down my throat! I’ve tried many over the counter remedies that didn’t help at all or very little. How do I combat this? It really, really inhibits me from jumping up into my head voice or rather higher notes at my break point. Help! If you answer this, I can’t tell you how greatful I am! I really need help on these issues and am afraid I’ll have to quit singing (trying to sing, ha) if I don’t resolve these problems.
A. You are not too old to develop good vocal habits. Vibrato is the result of a natural fluctuation in pitch and volume caused by a release in the walls of the throat. You gain vibrato from a balanced singing style which allows you to release at will. Your drainage is causing swelling and tensions which are half the problem. Your reaction to the drainage is the other half of the problem. Explore your options to reduce the drip. Have you made any major changes in diet? Asked a doctor if an operation could open your sinus and allow for proper drainage. Meanwhile, do not try and force high register notes. They are the result of the very same vocal folds which sing low notes, except they have thinned to allow a higher vibration. Pushing with your abdominal muscles only closes the throat and thickens your folds. This result denies the flexibility required to sing the higher pitch as well as squashing vibrato and irritating the delicate throat tissues. Back off your air pressure and look to release your neck and facial muscles when singing head voice. These ideas are discussed in my book, “The Rock-N-Roll Singer’s Survival Manual,” which is available through my web site or book stores everywhere. I think it would help you.
Q. hi mark. i am an amateur singer in a rock band.(probably get a lot of them huh) and i have a few questions for you. when our group began about 3 or 4 years ago, i was only 15 and my range was very good. i am 18 now and i have lost quite a bit of my range. granted, i don’t sing very often now, and when i do, i tend to blow out my voice for a couple of days because i try to put everything in to it that i can. ( which is too much, it turns out) i know that my loss of range is due to my natural voice change, but i was wondering if you had any tips or exercises i could do to improve my range. i realize that it wouldn’t be a quick fix to pick up a couple of notes on my top end, but i would be willing to do the work, if you wouldn’t mind helping me out. also i smoke, and i was wondering if you think that greatly hurts or affects my voice. at first thought, i thought it might, but i noticed that it didn’t seem to hurt a lot of my favorite singers.(mccartney, lennon, and especially robin zander of cheap trick) is this just because they were lucky to get born with great strong voices or did the smoking hurt them too.
A. You did not lose your range due to a natural voice change. It is restricted due to smoking and a lack of elasticity due to pushing when you sing with the band. Muscles that surround the larynx clamp down and brace against the pressure when we push, this inhibits flexibility. Flexibility is range. To regain your high notes, vocalize in falsetto as much as possible. Don’t push the volume — you want to sing in the opposite manner you do with the band. Once you get comfortable with falsetto, you can gradually bring up the volume until you’re back into chest voice. The trick is to maintain the right balance between vocal fold strength and air pressure. That’s what McCartney and Zander have down — despite their smoking. It would help you a great deal to quit.
Q. Hi, I found your article on warm ups very helpful and interesting and the info has greatly helped my singing. I sing contemporary rock, but i find that after a good sing, even if I’ve warmed up, my voice feels really sore and i speak with a croak, how can this be remedied? also a friend told me (who happens to sing choir type music) that singing along to the radio and your favorite bands as practice is bad and can harm your voice. is this true for rock vocals? Lastly I think I have a pretty good vocal range, but there are still some songs that I want to cover that I cant quite reach the high notes, do you have any tips for hitting those notes?
A. You are pushing too hard when you sing. That’s why your throat becomes sore. Muscles which surround the larynx are tightening and causing friction which heats up the area and swells the vocal folds. Wear ear plugs when performing with the band, they will reduce your pushing. Singing along with the radio will not harm your voice if you are aware of pushing. The car has ambient noise which makes us add a little force when we sing (just like with the band). For you, singing in the car would be a good way to practice NOT pushing as much. Do not compete with the road noise — sing softly and learn the feel of a relaxed throat.
High notes are the result of elastic vocal folds. Pushing too much air pressure will thicken the folds — denying range. Again, learn to sing the songs you want to cover in a low volume, falsetto voice first. This will allow the folds to stretch without the burden of volume. Gradually, increase the volume, watching that you don’t add any facial or neck muscles. Eventually, your folds will become strong enough to sustain those high notes in chest voice. Just remember, flexibility must come first — that’s why a warm-up is so important.
Q. Is it a bad idea to practice the set before the gig? And if not what’s the best way to stay warmed up between the time you stopped practicing & the time you perform?(aprx.5 hour down time) You had mentioned in one of your lessons that it can be good to warm up all day without over doing it.
A. I don’t practice with the band the day before a show just because I think it fools people into thinking it will be a good set. There’s no guarantee that a good rehearsal means a good gig. On the contrary, too many times I’ve seen the band slack due to over confidence. I’d rather people be a little nervous and therefore on their toes.
It’s much better to get warmed up early and than stay that way all day. Light vocal exercises every hour, nothing which should interfere with whatever else you’re doing, will keep things flexible inside. If it’s a long show, then you’ll only need a quick booster before going on. But, if you’re doing a short set you should increase the intensity of the warm-up for a good half hour. Get your voice up to performance level and sing a few songs back stage somewhere. There’s not enough time in a short set to warm-up on stage.
Q. I read your column at getsigned.com and it was very informative. I’m wondering if you know of any other vocalists with TMJ problems (the jaw joint) and if so what is your opinion of it’s effect on the voice and do you have any advice on how to successfully treat it?
A. I have dealt with TMJ syndrome all my adult life. It’s a pain (no pun intended) but can be managed. The tension which builds from the misalignment of the jaw effects the entire vocal tract. The good news is that after working with chiropractors, masseurs and dentists, I have found vocal exercises to be the most affective at releasing the jaw. I now loosen my jaw during my daily vocal warm up. The days I don’t warm up my voice, I notice much more jaw tension by evening.
I don’t know where you live, but I teach in Los Angeles, New York and Boston. If these aren’t convenient, I also work with singers via video lessons. My point here is that you should not allow your TMJ issue stop you from singing. Work with a voice teacher and learn what a loose jaw feels like — your jaw will thank you.
Q. How do I get more air for high notes?
A. High notes do not need more air — they need less.
Q. I read with interest your article about the ‘imposter syndrome’. I am a songwriter and singer and often feel exactly like that- an imposter! I am often told that I have a beautiful voice but it won’t seem to sink in. On the other hand, there are times when I am performing my songs and I feel that I have ‘come home’. I know that when I am feeling confident I can hear that I sound good and then I feel more confident and the positive cycle begins. But often I am less than satisfied with the sound. When I am singing a bit higher I sometimes lose the warm sound. Do you have any suggrestions for retaining a warm sound in the voice? Thankyou for your time. I will continue to read your informative articles.
A. A warm sound is the result of a relaxed throat. When you sing high notes, practice using less muscle. Nothing should show on your face or neck. At first your voice may seem weaker without the added tension. But in time you will have both the correct note and the warm sound.
Q. I am by no means a professional singer, but have always loved to sing and have even been the lead singer in my church’s contemporary band. I have not sung much for several years and guess what? I’ve lost it! Wow. It never occurred to me that the throat and vocal chords could get out of shape just like the rest of your body. I would like to start singing in the church band again, but many of the parts are too high for me and we have too many altos. If I could just go half an octave higher, I could do it. A whole octave would be better. Right now, I can only go two octaves. Yuck!
I experience the “crack” you talk about when I go for the notes right along the “break.” Everyone I talk to (all of whom know nothing about singing) say that there is no such thing as “falsetto” for a woman. But I find that at a certain pitch and above, there is a very different technique to get the notes out. One is from the chest and the other is more from the back of my throat. Is this normal? Or does my range end where I have to switch voices. The higher end voice sounds more operatic, whereas my lower end voice has a rock and roll, gutsy quality. I am currently an alto. With daily practice using the technique you outlined in your FAQ (singing the high notes at low volume until you become accustomed to them,) and if I do this for, say, six months, how much can I expect to expand my range? Half an octave, a whole octave? Of course, I will continue to do exercises even then, but I just want to know what is a realistic expectation for someone with a fairly decent voice and a willingness to practice.
Thanks for any help you can offer.
A. Technically, your range is the same as it was when you were at your vocal peak. Range is determined by the size of your larynx and the flexibility of your vocal folds. The size has not changed, the flexibility, unfortunately, has. If you are diligent, you should be able to return your voice to its glory days. As we age, it seems that we lose range when the culprit is really flexibility. Think of your limbs. A fifty year-old normally experiences much less mobility in their limbs then a twenty year-old. Normally does not mean naturally. Lack of use allows muscles to atrophy, which burdens neighboring muscles and causes rigidity. Constant stretching and activity, from age twenty on, would allow a fifty year old to retain complete mobility. Same is true for the voice.
The reason you need to approach your higher notes at a low volume is because the rigidity which has taken up residency in your throat will inspire you to push more air than necessary. This is why your chest voice is gutsy. Those same muscles relate differently to your head voice (which is caused by the folds thinning) and therefore the sound is operatic and feels like it’s coming from the back of your throat. The same folds produce every note we sing — a change in behavior is what creates the difference in registers. And yes, females (altos) do have a falsetto. Blending your upper register with your chest voice should be your focus. Bring the light feel down to your lower notes first. Once your entire range feels consistent, then start increasing volume gradually and uniformly.
Let this be a lesson to all of you . . . don’t ever stop singing !!!