What an interesting night…..

It’s never a dull moment in a dementia unit. Staff is constantly dealing with a wide variety of issues. Some residents don’t talk at all, others talk too much and too loud. Most residents are cooperative but you know, everyone has a bad day once in a while….right?

It’s a dance, for sure. Now it’s my turn to “dance” so the staff can have a few moments to do their charting or planning for other activities. My intention is to satisfy all, and leave in an hour seeing smiling faces and happy eye gazing.

Of course, I mean it’s my turn to “sing” not “dance”, lol.

I arrive to meet a new gentleman, Ken, who is happy and quite talkative. He doesn’t look a day over 70 or 75. He is sure he knows me from his high school days. I go along with the idea in general, but mention where I’m actually from and where I went to high school. I try to engage in casual conversation about other things in an effort to change the subject. (He will continue to talk a lot, and to mention that he knows me throughout our music time together…even while we are in the middle of a song…and I will smile and look him in the eye and nod a happy acknowledgement back at him).

We start out pretty lively….residents are revved up so I take that as my cue. I constantly look into their faces and see who is ready to engage. One lady before we even start, is asking for the Beatles. Yikes, I never start with the Beatles.

First song…I Wanna Hold Your Hand. They love it. Most are taking my cue, and moving to the beat. I look around and make eye contact when I can. If they are looking at me, I make it last. I smile and let them know I’m singing to them…..it matters…and it works. They are listening. They are trying to sing back to me. They are happy. They are feeling they are part of this moment…..that’s my job……that’s what really matters.

When the song is over, I start to clap. Sure, I guess it seems like I’m clapping for myself, but before long others start to clap. That’s it. We’re off to the races. Everyone is having a good time.

Jean gets up from her chair. Jean is a walker. This is common. She can’t sit still for long and constantly needs to be on the go. Each time I’m here we deal with her attempts to walk behind me and my piano. I’ve tried a variety of things to stop this…but the challenge is constant. Luckily I have the ability to maintain the beat and rhythm of a song, and deal with Jean at the same time. I actually sing to her in fun with the melody of the song. Instead of the real words I sing….”Jean is behind my piano….where are you Jean? Come over here Jean….”

This draws the attention of the staff and they come over and help to maneuver Jean back to her seat. The song has continued, and the residents are engaging as though nothing has even happened. Gotta love the power of music….

I stick to the 60’s for a few songs….The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Young Love, Happy Together. A few of the older residents seem a little bored…it’s time to redirect so I turn to the 50’s with Amore by Dean Martin. This is a show-stopper for all ages, and sure enough everyone is engaged.

Ken, the new gentleman mentioned above, has quite a loud speaking voice, and he is talking frequently while I’m singing. I mention before the next song that I want to hear everyone singing on the next song. (If I can get him more focused on the songs and music, he will stop interrupting as much, and everyone will be able to focus and engage more in the music).

It works. Everyone is singing It’s a Long Way to Tipperary. Ken has a nice singing voice. I smile at him as he sings all the words. I sense he is happy that I am paying attention to him. I continue to sing directly with him to the end of the song.

I fill the space between songs with light banter. Everyone is with me. It’s time for another old-time favourite…..Side by Side.

It’s amazing how old songs work to bring everyone together. Now they are singing more, and not just listening.

There is a wide range of ages in the room….probably 70 to 95….that’s two to three generations.

I jump back and forth between the 50’s/60’s, the 30’s, and then sing Country Road by John Denver.

Easy listening from the 70’s/80’s works nicely. It’s calming. Everyone has heard the songs before.

Wow, an hour has flown by. We’re down to the last couple of songs. I decide to sing “Show Me the Way to Go Home.” I joke with them and tell them I gotta home to feed my cat. Everyone is content. Everyone enjoyed their sing-along with Susie Q:)

Smiles

Smiles and singing go a long way together. They are like a marriage. They are certainly both contagious.

I arrived Tuesday morning at one of the local dementia units to sing with the residents. One lady, Hilda, who is non-verbal, was visibly sad and crying, and her mood was affecting the entire room.

She was sitting in the front row to my left. I made sure I didn’t set the speaker too close to her, and was careful setting my volume. I knew the importance of having the music just loud enough to create engagement, but not so loud to be bothersome.

I say hello and smile to everyone. I always look around to see who is making eye contact. I can then interact easily with those residents, and create easy banter to start shifting the mood in a different direction.

I consider the mood of the room as I pick the starting songs….not too slow, yet easy to sing, usually works. Sure enough, three or four ladies are singing along with me to the first song “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree”.

Hilda is in her own little world. I regularly glance over and hope she and I will lock eyes. But at the same time, I carefully consider not to single her out…..I only want to be there for her if she wants to engage.

A few songs go by and then we sing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”. I sing it with all the passion I can muster.

She looks at me and I sing straight to her.

She doesn’t smile, she doesn’t sing, but she does lock eyes with me. She stays looking at me until we finish the song.

At the end of our sing-along time, she isn’t crying anymore.

Before leaving, I go to her side and touch her on the shoulder. “Hilda, have a nice day. I’ll see you again real soon”.

She really was listening….

I have told many of you my story before. I started singing for the elderly when my grandmother, who had dementia, was in a nursing home. I would regularly visit her, and we would sing our favourite songs together.

Sometimes, however, grandma was not in the mood to sing. I always felt a little disappointed, but I would sing all our favourite songs anyway.

I assumed grandma wasn’t listening. She certainly seemed to not be listening.

I would often mention to the staff, on my way out, how grandma was doing. Either “she was singing and smiling up a storm today”, or “no, she wasn’t in the mood for singing today.”

Then the nurses started noticing that actually I was wrong….she was singing today! They said that quite often on the days I would visit, she was happier and more engaged than she had been previously in the day.

This was so encouraging for me! All I really wanted was to make grandma happy. And I was, after all:)

Jeanie Lovetri (The Lovetri Method)

I attended a level 1 training conference with Jeanie Lovetri last summer. I felt very aligned with her philosophy on how to teach singing. I learned a lot, and was reminded about how important our body and mind is when we sing. The ability to sing with freedom from tension in the body, is the ability to truly connect to our emotions when we sing.

There are two more levels of training that I hope to attend soon.

From reading Jeanie’s blog over the years (http://somaticvoicework.com/category/jeanie-lovetri-blog/, I learned about her interesting background dealing with teachers, and colleagues, who held strong beliefs in the traditional classical-style-only type of voice training. Her stories reminded me about how glad I was that I didn’t take classical lessons from the old lady who lived down the street when I was young.

Jeanie has worked hard throughout her 40+ singing/teaching career to bring attention to the need for advancement and change to teaching singing in the 21st Century. I believe she has put up with a lot of grief from university-level voice teachers over the years, as she has tried to communicate to them that 1. Contemporary (pop, jazz, rock, country) voice is a necessary and legitimate style of voice that singers needed to know how to do well in order to “get a singing job” whether on Broadway, or in a band, etc., and 2. Learning to sing classical music does not automatically set you up to sing in these styles, and in fact, it usually gets in the way!

I came across this interview on the Voice Forum https://www.facebook.com/voiceforum/posts/734321573382619:0

It’s a good read for all singers. Check it out. You can use the link above or read it here below:

TVF: Where do you currently practice/teach?
JL: I am based primarily out of my apartment in New York City in Manhattan on the Upper West Side. I also travel quite a bit to various conferences, workshops, organizations, and universities, nationally and internationally.

TVF: Where did you complete your vocal training?
JL: I had one year of college in 1967-68 at Manhattan School of Music. After that, all my training was privately, in everything.

TVF: If appropriate, please tell us about your performance background.
JL: I started singing at age 7 at a Brownie meeting. I sang in grade school school and then in high school I was cast as a lead in a local music theater production run by Broadway professionals. I did that for three years in three different shows. Meanwhile, I was singing in church, singing in various venues and continuing my studies in voice, acting and dance. I moved to New York City when I was 26 and once there did concerts with Chapman Roberts, a noted Broadway vocal music arranger, all over the city. I also made it into an Off-Broadway show that lasted 4 performances after I replaced one of the leads. I sang as a church soloist at Riverside Church, Marble Collegiate Church, and at Lincoln Center, at Rockefeller Center, and studied in an opera workshop at Juilliard. This and that, here and there. Always studying, always looking for work wherever it was. I sang classically, in light rock, did quite a bit of Gospel-based music theater, some jazz and a bit of concert work in both cabaret and art song literature.

TVF: What is your teaching philosophy? What genres of singing do you teach? JL: My teaching philosophy is that the voice does best when it is balanced and free. I use functional exercises to get to that end. My work is about awareness — both kinesthetic and auditory — and about “bodymind connection” but it is based on voice science as I understand it, on vocal hygiene and the concepts of healthy vocal production. It originally had roots in classical vocal pedagogy but I branched out, due to my own experiences in New York, to include the styles we now call Contemporary Commercial Music (what we used to call “non-classical). I have Broadway, jazz, rock, Gospel, folk, and alternative vocalists in my studio, some of them celebrities, and those who are referred to me by both laryngologists and speech language pathologists who are not necessarily professional singers of any kind.

TVF: Would you mind telling us about the LoVetri method of singing? What is the best way to understand it?
JL: It rests on vocal registers, the old traditional idea of finding and developing a sound called “chest register” or modal or speech-based and balancing that against “head register” or loft or, in men, falsetto, and finding a middle range sound called “mix”, which is a term that I took from Broadway. In fact, I do not use any words that I made up myself. I am against any direct manipulation of structures within the throat, particularly any kind of constriction or squeezing or positioning of the larynx. I use simple vowel sounds based on Italian. We “smile” to create a “bright” sound and we “darken” the sound to go towards a more mellow, warmer quality. In between there are shapes that call forth both of those qualities. The old school methods called them “chiaroscuro”, and they are still the sounds our Western ears like best.

Since I work with rockers, I often use exercises to bring out the intensity of the sound making the external shape smaller (closing the mouth) and the inner space smaller (allowing the larynx to gently rise). We also work on semi-occluded exercises to strengthen vocal fold closed quotient but I do that by asking people to sing “like a chipmunk”. While I understand the science, I don’t always use it to teach. I work on all voices to develop flexibility and strength, variability and stability, freedom and ease as well as stamina and strength. I work to develop an even two-octave (or more) range, connected to deliberate use of the ribcage and abdominal muscles. The inhalation process has to do with postural alignment, control over the ribcage and isolated use of the abdominal muscles. The exhalation has to do with the deliberate use of the abdominal muscles against an open (and steady) ribcage and varies according to the volume, the pitch and the length of the sung phrase. All of this has to be connected to voiced sound over time. It’s not a quick process, but progress can be made in each lesson.

TVF: In what ways is it being applied to vocal pedagogy?
JL: Everything I do in every lesson, every minute, has to do with helping the person singing, sing better. I coax the sound we need through exercises, coming as close as possible to the correct response through multiple repetitions. I label the sound responses for the student as we get them. (This is chest register on a bright vowel. This is your mix at mezzo forte). I am very careful with how I use words to describe what I see and hear and I ask a lot of questions. (Tell me how that sounded. What did you feel during that exercise? Did you like that? Was this sound clear? Can you make that louder without doing anything except increasing your belly pressure?) I do not rely on metaphor as a primary tool, rather I stick to three basic ideas: chest, mix, head (registers) and bright vowels and dark vowels, connected to deliberate breathing. I rarely mention resonance, placement or formant/harmonic ratios, unless I am working with someone who sings classical literature. When you have to generate a lot of sound on your lungs alone, you need that “singer’s formant”. In CCM styles you are always amplified and too much resonance can get in the way.

TVF: In your opinion, what poses the greatest challenge in singing habilitation?
JL: The greatest challenge is to truly trust the body to find a way to sing that is free, authentic and real in every person and every style. This is quite possible and extraordinary to experience and it is the point of vocal technique training for any style. There is so much training out there that forces people to make sound for sound’s sake, which ends up causing ugly sounds, disconnected from honest human emotion that communicates to people in any language. Many people who teach singing do not themselves sing well, and may have never sung well, yet teach. The old wives’ tale that “classical vocal training” prepares you for any style is nonsense. There are no codified guidelines about what is or is not “classical” except in terms of resonance and literature. Each vocalist either gets there on his or her own or sinks in the process. Singers learn to sing with effort, struggle to make phony sound and that is a tragedy for both the vocalists and the music listening public. Voice science is touted as being important but many of the teachers who are most well known for voice science do not sing well and do not understand anything other than “classical” vocal pedagogy. They rely upon “breath support” and “resonance” as their primary tools and those tools, from the 18th century, do not serve 21st century singers well at all.

TVF: In your opinion, what are some of the most important advances made in the field of vocal pedagogy in the recent years?
JL: It think it is harder than it was when I was a student for singing teachers to get away with nonsensical ideas in lessons. Unfortunately, this has not stopped people from accepting pedagogies designed for CCM that are chock full of crazy ideas. I believe this is because the studies on singing have still been largely based on classical singing and that is because there is almost no one expert enough in voice science to assess the work done on belting or CCM styles from the standpoint of music marketplace viability. Music marketplace viability. We really don’t have research there that is uniformly accepted as being valid in the marketplace and without that, the studies can be virtually worthless. Further, if we don’t study professional singers who have sung for decades at a high level, but instead do most research on singing on college students and faculty or low-level singers, the research isn’t helpful to the profession at large, particularly those who work with professionals. Without denigrating today’s work, I don’t think it has a significant bearing on those who teach singing who still largely rely on the National Association of Teachers of Singing to provide pedagogical information that they can absorb. Most of them do not attend medical or voice science conferences or read voice science outside of the Journal of Singing. Our strides in vocal pedagogy have to always have some basis in applicability to actual sung (or spoken) sound in order to be relevant.

TVF: What is your vocal pet peeve and why?
JL: I truly dislike deliberate manipulation of the inner structures of the throat. I am also against putting the larynx anywhere on purpose. I don’t believe that breath support and resonance are the answers to every vocal problem. I regret the lack of interest in singing in making sure that every sound is truly connected to freely expressed emotion connected to a clear intention no matter what the music or text. The only place you find that is in theatrical speech.

TVF: Which vocal myth would you like to dispel?
JL: I will repeat myself: Breath support and resonance (placement, bone vibration, singer’s formant) is the answer to any singing problem.

TVF: Your most memorable voice teaching case?
JL: Since I have been teaching for 45 years, there have been quite a few. Times when in a lesson I have been moved to tears. I have also had a few very unsettling lessons. Twice singers without any more provocation than me asking for a specific exercise, have flipped out and gotten enraged in a lesson such that I was really concerned for my safety. In the other cases, sometimes a person who hasn’t been able to make a certain sung sound for years and years suddenly finds her voice or makes a beautiful, effortless sound, and then, often we both cry. It can be miraculous.

TVF: As a vocal pedagogue, what keeps you on your toes?
JL: This might sound pompous, but I mean it. I regard every lesson as being sacred. The person is giving you their most precious “possession” (their voice) and I care for it as if it was a Renoir. They are giving you their trust, their hopes and dreams, their heart. I tread very lightly, as I am where angels fear to go, and I remain absolutely present for as much of the session as possible, concentrating fully so as not to miss a thing. I strive never to assume I know everything, that I cannot be wrong or make a mistake, that I cannot learn every day. I remain grateful to be of service, to share what I know, and I hold the information I have gathered over the years from so many world-recognized experts as a gift that I cannot take for granted. I am always grateful.

TVF: In your opinion, what are some of the pitfalls in vocal training? Why do you think this happens?
JL: You cannot see a voice. It is difficult to feel if it is working well. You can perhaps recognize the results of vocal production but you cannot “vibrate your vocal folds” on purpose. It cannot be held, weighed, or contained. It is therefore very very easy to think you know and make up things about what you think you know and impress others who have no knowledge whatsoever about how human beings make sound or sing. It is easy to dupe an innocent young singer with big words, flashy concepts and loud sounds.

TVF: What would you say to singers who don’t take lessons after their initial college training?
JL: If you were a professional gymnast, would you not work out? If you were a golfer, would you not go to the course with your golf coach? If you were a world-class pianist would you never play any scales? Singing is a skill. If you do not work on it, it falls apart. Your body should learn to do extended behaviors for long periods of time while you are a student and then you should do whatever it takes to keep those skills or increase them for the entire rest of your singing life.

TVF: What is your opinion on current academic voice training programs? Is there anything you wish to see changed or improved?
JL: They are all over the place. Colleges are in the midst of a big sea change. With the exiting of the baby boomer generation, the younger teachers who are taking over are not afraid of technology, but welcome it. They are not closed to “those ugly belt sounds” as were their predecessors. They are interested in voice science and research. The colleges recognize that money is to be made in music theater training and in jazz. Classical singing that focuses only on classical pedagogy is for 1% of those who sing. The likelihood that anyone singing is going to succeed at a high enough level to make a decent living from that alone are infinitesimally small. CCM styles are so much more prevalent throughout the world; singers really have to be able to master those styles if they are to get work. Schools are only just beginning to catch up with curriculum design and there are still not enough teachers who have appropriate experience and skills to convey the pedagogy needed to sing in multiple styles well. Every school has different ideas and gathers a different faculty with diverse abilities. This will continue, probably, for at least another generation before it all gets sorted out.

TVF: In your opinion, since you have been teaching for decades, what is the secret to vocal longevity?
JL: Treating the body with respect. You cannot force the throat or the body without paying a price. You will not be able to sustain singing if you do not truly love your own sound.

TVF: What do you think the next steps are in growing the field of vocology?
JL: It’s hard to say. What I would like to see is what I have already said. More research on professional singers at high levels with long careers, especially in the field, live. Recognition of crazy teaching ideas as being crazy so they will go away.!!
I would like the scientists to be willing to be taught by the singing teachers as much as the singing teachers (and SLPs) are willing to learn from voice scientists. Voice science that does not understand singing in high-level singers is nearly useless. There are things for scientists, doctors and SLPs to learn from singing teachers that can’t be picked up at a short presentation during a conference. That needs to change.

TVF: Who have been your most important/influential mentors/teachers?
JL: In vocal pedagogy: Cornelius Reid, William Vennard, Richard Miller, Oren Brown, Meribeth Bunch Dayme. In SLP: Daniel Boone, Anita

 

 

 

 

 

 

TVF: Where do you currently practice/teach?
JL: I am based primarily out of my apartment in New York City in Manhattan on the Upper West Side. I also travel quite a bit to various conferences, workshops, organizations, and universities, nationally and internationally.

TVF: Where did you complete your vocal training?
JL: I had one year of college in 1967-68 at Manhattan School of Music. After that, all my training was privately, in everything.

TVF: If appropriate, please tell us about your performance background.
JL: I started singing at age 7 at a Brownie meeting. I sang in grade school school and then in high school I was cast as a lead in a local music theater production run by Broadway professionals. I did that for three years in three different shows. Meanwhile, I was singing in church, singing in various venues and continuing my studies in voice, acting and dance. I moved to New York City when I was 26 and once there did concerts with Chapman Roberts, a noted Broadway vocal music arranger, all over the city. I also made it into an Off-Broadway show that lasted 4 performances after I replaced one of the leads. I sang as a church soloist at Riverside Church, Marble Collegiate Church, and at Lincoln Center, at Rockefeller Center, and studied in an opera workshop at Juilliard. This and that, here and there. Always studying, always looking for work wherever it was. I sang classically, in light rock, did quite a bit of Gospel-based music theater, some jazz and a bit of concert work in both cabaret and art song literature.

TVF: What is your teaching philosophy? What genres of singing do you teach? JL: My teaching philosophy is that the voice does best when it is balanced and free. I use functional exercises to get to that end. My work is about awareness — both kinesthetic and auditory — and about “bodymind connection” but it is based on voice science as I understand it, on vocal hygiene and the concepts of healthy vocal production. It originally had roots in classical vocal pedagogy but I branched out, due to my own experiences in New York, to include the styles we now call Contemporary Commercial Music (what we used to call “non-classical). I have Broadway, jazz, rock, Gospel, folk, and alternative vocalists in my studio, some of them celebrities, and those who are referred to me by both laryngologists and speech language pathologists who are not necessarily professional singers of any kind.

TVF: Would you mind telling us about the LoVetri method of singing? What is the best way to understand it?
JL: It rests on vocal registers, the old traditional idea of finding and developing a sound called “chest register” or modal or speech-based and balancing that against “head register” or loft or, in men, falsetto, and finding a middle range sound called “mix”, which is a term that I took from Broadway. In fact, I do not use any words that I made up myself. I am against any direct manipulation of structures within the throat, particularly any kind of constriction or squeezing or positioning of the larynx. I use simple vowel sounds based on Italian. We “smile” to create a “bright” sound and we “darken” the sound to go towards a more mellow, warmer quality. In between there are shapes that call forth both of those qualities. The old school methods called them “chiaroscuro”, and they are still the sounds our Western ears like best.

Since I work with rockers, I often use exercises to bring out the intensity of the sound making the external shape smaller (closing the mouth) and the inner space smaller (allowing the larynx to gently rise). We also work on semi-occluded exercises to strengthen vocal fold closed quotient but I do that by asking people to sing “like a chipmunk”. While I understand the science, I don’t always use it to teach. I work on all voices to develop flexibility and strength, variability and stability, freedom and ease as well as stamina and strength. I work to develop an even two-octave (or more) range, connected to deliberate use of the ribcage and abdominal muscles. The inhalation process has to do with postural alignment, control over the ribcage and isolated use of the abdominal muscles. The exhalation has to do with the deliberate use of the abdominal muscles against an open (and steady) ribcage and varies according to the volume, the pitch and the length of the sung phrase. All of this has to be connected to voiced sound over time. It’s not a quick process, but progress can be made in each lesson.

TVF: In what ways is it being applied to vocal pedagogy?
JL: Everything I do in every lesson, every minute, has to do with helping the person singing, sing better. I coax the sound we need through exercises, coming as close as possible to the correct response through multiple repetitions. I label the sound responses for the student as we get them. (This is chest register on a bright vowel. This is your mix at mezzo forte). I am very careful with how I use words to describe what I see and hear and I ask a lot of questions. (Tell me how that sounded. What did you feel during that exercise? Did you like that? Was this sound clear? Can you make that louder without doing anything except increasing your belly pressure?) I do not rely on metaphor as a primary tool, rather I stick to three basic ideas: chest, mix, head (registers) and bright vowels and dark vowels, connected to deliberate breathing. I rarely mention resonance, placement or formant/harmonic ratios, unless I am working with someone who sings classical literature. When you have to generate a lot of sound on your lungs alone, you need that “singer’s formant”. In CCM styles you are always amplified and too much resonance can get in the way.

TVF: In your opinion, what poses the greatest challenge in singing habilitation?
JL: The greatest challenge is to truly trust the body to find a way to sing that is free, authentic and real in every person and every style. This is quite possible and extraordinary to experience and it is the point of vocal technique training for any style. There is so much training out there that forces people to make sound for sound’s sake, which ends up causing ugly sounds, disconnected from honest human emotion that communicates to people in any language. Many people who teach singing do not themselves sing well, and may have never sung well, yet teach. The old wives’ tale that “classical vocal training” prepares you for any style is nonsense. There are no codified guidelines about what is or is not “classical” except in terms of resonance and literature. Each vocalist either gets there on his or her own or sinks in the process. Singers learn to sing with effort, struggle to make phony sound and that is a tragedy for both the vocalists and the music listening public. Voice science is touted as being important but many of the teachers who are most well known for voice science do not sing well and do not understand anything other than “classical” vocal pedagogy. They rely upon “breath support” and “resonance” as their primary tools and those tools, from the 18th century, do not serve 21st century singers well at all.

TVF: In your opinion, what are some of the most important advances made in the field of vocal pedagogy in the recent years?
JL: It think it is harder than it was when I was a student for singing teachers to get away with nonsensical ideas in lessons. Unfortunately, this has not stopped people from accepting pedagogies designed for CCM that are chock full of crazy ideas. I believe this is because the studies on singing have still been largely based on classical singing and that is because there is almost no one expert enough in voice science to assess the work done on belting or CCM styles from the standpoint of music marketplace viability. Music marketplace viability. We really don’t have research there that is uniformly accepted as being valid in the marketplace and without that, the studies can be virtually worthless. Further, if we don’t study professional singers who have sung for decades at a high level, but instead do most research on singing on college students and faculty or low-level singers, the research isn’t helpful to the profession at large, particularly those who work with professionals. Without denigrating today’s work, I don’t think it has a significant bearing on those who teach singing who still largely rely on the National Association of Teachers of Singing to provide pedagogical information that they can absorb. Most of them do not attend medical or voice science conferences or read voice science outside of the Journal of Singing. Our strides in vocal pedagogy have to always have some basis in applicability to actual sung (or spoken) sound in order to be relevant.

TVF: What is your vocal pet peeve and why?
JL: I truly dislike deliberate manipulation of the inner structures of the throat. I am also against putting the larynx anywhere on purpose. I don’t believe that breath support and resonance are the answers to every vocal problem. I regret the lack of interest in singing in making sure that every sound is truly connected to freely expressed emotion connected to a clear intention no matter what the music or text. The only place you find that is in theatrical speech.

TVF: Which vocal myth would you like to dispel?
JL: I will repeat myself: Breath support and resonance (placement, bone vibration, singer’s formant) is the answer to any singing problem.

TVF: Your most memorable voice teaching case?
JL: Since I have been teaching for 45 years, there have been quite a few. Times when in a lesson I have been moved to tears. I have also had a few very unsettling lessons. Twice singers without any more provocation than me asking for a specific exercise, have flipped out and gotten enraged in a lesson such that I was really concerned for my safety. In the other cases, sometimes a person who hasn’t been able to make a certain sung sound for years and years suddenly finds her voice or makes a beautiful, effortless sound, and then, often we both cry. It can be miraculous.

TVF: As a vocal pedagogue, what keeps you on your toes?
JL: This might sound pompous, but I mean it. I regard every lesson as being sacred. The person is giving you their most precious “possession” (their voice) and I care for it as if it was a Renoir. They are giving you their trust, their hopes and dreams, their heart. I tread very lightly, as I am where angels fear to go, and I remain absolutely present for as much of the session as possible, concentrating fully so as not to miss a thing. I strive never to assume I know everything, that I cannot be wrong or make a mistake, that I cannot learn every day. I remain grateful to be of service, to share what I know, and I hold the information I have gathered over the years from so many world-recognized experts as a gift that I cannot take for granted. I am always grateful.

TVF: In your opinion, what are some of the pitfalls in vocal training? Why do you think this happens?
JL: You cannot see a voice. It is difficult to feel if it is working well. You can perhaps recognize the results of vocal production but you cannot “vibrate your vocal folds” on purpose. It cannot be held, weighed, or contained. It is therefore very very easy to think you know and make up things about what you think you know and impress others who have no knowledge whatsoever about how human beings make sound or sing. It is easy to dupe an innocent young singer with big words, flashy concepts and loud sounds.

TVF: What would you say to singers who don’t take lessons after their initial college training?
JL: If you were a professional gymnast, would you not work out? If you were a golfer, would you not go to the course with your golf coach? If you were a world-class pianist would you never play any scales? Singing is a skill. If you do not work on it, it falls apart. Your body should learn to do extended behaviors for long periods of time while you are a student and then you should do whatever it takes to keep those skills or increase them for the entire rest of your singing life.

TVF: What is your opinion on current academic voice training programs? Is there anything you wish to see changed or improved?
JL: They are all over the place. Colleges are in the midst of a big sea change. With the exiting of the baby boomer generation, the younger teachers who are taking over are not afraid of technology, but welcome it. They are not closed to “those ugly belt sounds” as were their predecessors. They are interested in voice science and research. The colleges recognize that money is to be made in music theater training and in jazz. Classical singing that focuses only on classical pedagogy is for 1% of those who sing. The likelihood that anyone singing is going to succeed at a high enough level to make a decent living from that alone are infinitesimally small. CCM styles are so much more prevalent throughout the world; singers really have to be able to master those styles if they are to get work. Schools are only just beginning to catch up with curriculum design and there are still not enough teachers who have appropriate experience and skills to convey the pedagogy needed to sing in multiple styles well. Every school has different ideas and gathers a different faculty with diverse abilities. This will continue, probably, for at least another generation before it all gets sorted out.

TVF: In your opinion, since you have been teaching for decades, what is the secret to vocal longevity?
JL: Treating the body with respect. You cannot force the throat or the body without paying a price. You will not be able to sustain singing if you do not truly love your own sound.

TVF: What do you think the next steps are in growing the field of vocology?
JL: It’s hard to say. What I would like to see is what I have already said. More research on professional singers at high levels with long careers, especially in the field, live. Recognition of crazy teaching ideas as being crazy so they will go away.!!
I would like the scientists to be willing to be taught by the singing teachers as much as the singing teachers (and SLPs) are willing to learn from voice scientists. Voice science that does not understand singing in high-level singers is nearly useless. There are things for scientists, doctors and SLPs to learn from singing teachers that can’t be picked up at a short presentation during a conference. That needs to change.

TVF: Who have been your most important/influential mentors/teachers?
JL: In vocal pedagogy: Cornelius Reid, William Vennard, Richard Miller, Oren Brown, Meribeth Bunch Dayme. In SLP: Daniel Boone, Anita

Narrowing your Vowels

Good singers are narrowing their vowels on high pitches all the time, and we as listeners don’t usually hear any difference!

If you are having trouble with high notes, and frequently getting stuck in your low “chest” voice, try narrowing your vowels which will change the resonance.   Narrowing the vowels will allow the resonance (that is stuck in the mouth on wide vowels) to move to the pharynx (back of the throat) and up into the head resonance. This should allow you the opportunity to sing that high note with a nice ring, and stop any strain you are feeling in the throat.

But how, exactly, do you narrow vowels?

One of the easiest ways to narrow your vowels is to first sing your song with the sound “nuh”. Think about what the sound feels like in your cheeks, nose, and mouth. Now, switch to the actual word in the song,  being sure to put the word where the “nuh” is resonating.

Did that help you get the high notes?

Other important factors include getting good cord closure by thinning the edges as you ascend in pitch. Remember to think “cry” or “puppy dog whimper”. A new suggestion I saw recently from another vocal coach was with the Italian phrase “mama mia”  (with a strong Italian inflection). This can definitely add a nice cry to your voice!

And, if you are still have trouble, try thinking “oh, poor me”… to help keep the larynx in a normal position. This phrase should stop you from widening your mouth too much which should help with narrowing vowels. (The position of the larynx is an entire topic of its’ own. Check out Mark Baxter’s video here……love it!    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGTd8oCr4eg )

Well, what do you think? Are you able to reach those high notes a little easier now?

I love the idea of “speech level” and “allow”

Speech level singing can get a bad rap these days.

For me, having my first lesson with a SLS instructor over 10 years ago, was true validation. Two main things happened for me:

1. I finally had a coach who was working my entire range at one time. Two and a half octave scales, going up or down by semi-tones, had me singing through five passagios in one exercise! I heard and felt improvement in my voice within the first day.

2. I finally found a teacher who encouraged vowels that didn’t sound classical.

Now, I’m not saying that forming classical-sounding vowels is a bad thing, I’m simply stating that I am not a classical singer, and had never encountered a teacher who allowed me to sound this way. I had been taught belting, and that just felt wrong. I now know that belting doesn’t need to be shouting. Healthy belting is done by mixing your registers.

More on vocal folds, laryngeal tilt, twang and pop singing

I want to thank Jenny for getting me back to posting on my blog. I’ve been so “crazy” busy with teaching and performing…..I forgot how much I love answering your questions.

Jenny was asking for clarification about the thickness of vocal folds in the great pop singers….below is my response.

Hi Jenny

The true definition of “belting” does not include mixing. It is a chest register coordination with thick folds.

The definition of “mixing” is allowing the voice to ascend in pitch through the passaggio (for women around G above middle C). The vocal folds thin out as the voice ascends in pitch. To do this without being breathy, the larynx will tilt as the voice goes higher.

You mention the great pop belters, so I assume you are referring to the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Christina Aguilera. You say it is obvious that they are singing with thick fold. Please note, it may sound like they are always singing with thick folds, but, they are mixing with varying degrees of vocal fold thickness. Their larynx is tilted and their cords have stretched (thinned or stiffened) as they ascend in pitch. (Exception: Christina Aguilera sometimes sings in full chest voice with thick folds, and is able to sing in a beautiful mix as well. She is very aware of what she is doing…it’s a stylistic choice).

The reason these singers sound like they are only singing with thick folds is because they have good vocal cord closure and breath control and support…two EXTREMELY important components to singing in a good mix.

You mention the wide vowel and forward placement. This is absolutely correct and the #1 coordination defining a “pop or rock” sound. The tongue is free in the back of the mouth allowing for “twang” and a speech-level sound. This is why they simply sound like they are talking on pitch…..because they are!

I always remind my students of the illusion of “powerful” singing. If any one of these singers were to sing their #1 hit song in your living room without a microphone, you would say….is that it? Is that all there is? Yes, that’s all it is!

Thank you so much for your question and the opportunity to respond. Good luck! Susie

Stuck in chest?

There are all kinds of singers with all kinds of voices. What kind are you? Knowing your habits is a huge step to improving your singing.

Learning how to “mix” from the bottom up, and from the top down, is the most important coordination for your voice. We learn how to do this in the exercises, but more often than not, when we sing a song, we go straight back to our original habits.

One way to move forward is to practise the “call”. Check out Ian Castle from www.aussievocalcoach.com here……and good luck with those high notes!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmtO1Dw7caI#t=329

Kelly Clarkson’s breathing

Dear Ms Bee 
Can you tell me why female singers (like Kelly Clarkson in Mr know It All) gasp out in on mic and have poor breath control/support /management? Are they really out of breath after singing in studio and would it be hard to do same song in concert if done say 5th song in concert? How do they calm breathing down after concert and where can I find information on that subject. I hope you can help.

Hi there and thanks for your question.

There are a few reasons for noisy breathing…I, myself, am a noisy breather, and constantly have to work at minimizing it. I am also what you would call a breathy singer. Many pop/rock/jazz singers are breathy singers. Kelly Clarkson is a breathy singer. This is their trademark sound and possibly why we love their voice.
First, please note, that being a noisy breather does not necessarily mean a singer has poor breath support or management.
You will notice that noisy breathing is almost always only heard with singers performing rock/pop/country….. in other words, a speech-like style. You will not hear noisy breath with classical or musical theater singing. There are reasons for this.
Typically, musical theater and classical singers maintain a mid to low larynx, flat or depressed tongue, and a high soft palate. This allows for a very open throat. They are trained to do this, and this is why they sound the way they do. The sound is resonating in a very open area. There is a lot of space in the back of the throat when they breath in.
However, with pop/rock/country/jazz style, good singers will typically have a mid to high larynx position, a higher tongue, and the soft palate is usually at mid level (speech level). Not near the same space in the back of the throat as noted above. And let’s not forget the uvula hanging down off the soft palate too. This can make for an easy environment of noisy breathing.
High Pitches:  Words sung on high pitches that are above the first passagio and into the second passagio can cause a singer many challenges including tension in the jaw, tongue, throat, and also noisy breathing. Note that maintaining a “speech-like” coordination in this area isn’t considered good technique.  Instead, the sound should be allowed to resonate further back into the soft palate as you sing higher. This, of course, changes the sound of the singer which isn’t necessarily desirable.
Singers who CAN maintain a “speech-like” coordination above the first and second passagio have been known to sell millions of records! Is it wise for them to do this? Is it easy for them to do this without injury? The answer is obviously no….but it can be done safely with attention to much detail. It’s no different than an athlete maintaining top form for his game.
The trick for singers with noisy breathing is to be aware. I try to maintain as high a soft palate as I can when I breath in. I try and find the balanced coordination where I can maintain a less noisy intake of air and still produce the sound I want to put out. This involves engaging my ENTIRE body to find the balance, and a huge part of it is, indeed, breath support.
It is much easier to sing ballads with no breath noise because there is time after each phrase to coordinate and maintain balance. With up-tempo songs, you must breath in quicker, and it is much more challenging especially on high pitches usually found in the chorus.
Remember what I said about a “speech-like” voice in this area? It’s difficult to form words at these pitches and still be able to resonate off the hard palate. If the singer raises the soft palate the sound may resonate further back and possibly stop resonating on the hard palate, and this may not be the sound the singer wants.
Again, the breath noise can easily happen because when the singer quickly breaths in, the conditions are poor. The breath is passing quickly through a narrow passage and hitting the soft palate, uvula, and high tongue.
I hope this makes sense. Thanks again for your question. Susie

Thinning out those cords

This is the challenge.

We do the exercises, day after day, hour after hour…..nothing is changing. What’s up?

What’s up is likely a combination of two things: Old habits and undiscovered territory.

It takes time and commitment to get to the next level of new discovery. Are you putting in your time? Are you willing to do what it takes?

Then allow yourself to back up for a minute. Get in tune with your body and your voice. Allow yourself to thin out your cords…one pitch at a time.

Is it easy….no, not necessarily. But is it possible. Absolutely!

In the beginning, you must practise thinning our your cords every day……many times throughout the day. Your voice is made up of very small muscle movements. The vocal cords cannot learn to thin out if you only practise for a short time everyday. You must commit to training regularly throughout the day. I suggest 3 times….morning, afternoon and evening to see good results.

Give it a try. Let me know how it goes!