The Breathy Voice

Many singers are told and believe a breathy voice is harmful. This isn’t necessarily true.

Bottom line, too much of any one thing can be harmful. But having the control over a breathy voice can be a great thing. You need lots of breath to belt and to sing long phrases. The key is the ability to allow that breath to pass through the vocal cords in a controlled manner.

Singers who “pull chest” quite often are not allowing enough air too pass through the cords as they ascend in pitch. In other words, they may squeeze the cords to stop the air creating over-compression. These singers tend to get louder as they sing higher.

Next time you are singing the chorus of your song, try to add a little more air. If you “flip” into falcetto, it could mean you need to work on the control of adding more breath. Try to sing with less volume.  Involve your chest and abdomen in the physical control needed to control your breath. Try and find that balance where you feel the same freedom at the bottom of your range as you do at the top.

Questions? Why not drop me a line. Susie


Broadway singers must demonstrate belt

I’ve said before what a tough job it is for female Broadway singers these days. Most casting directors are requiring singers to demonstrate a belt, as well as show a nicely mixed legit voice. Not many auditions require a legit soprano voice anymore. Instead, they are looking for a legit voice that can sing from the bottom up without a break in the middle….a strong chest voice with a mix that can ascend into a belt without flipping.

More on Belting

Let’s be clear …. belting wrong will hurt, and if it hurts …. stop.

Let’s be clear …. belting CAN be done without harm and without hurting.

Let’s be clear … belting well takes a lot of practise. It is not for amateurs.

There have been singers belting for their entire career with no voice problems whatsoever. The problems come when singers don’t pay attention to the signs and symptoms that their bodies and vocal folds will inevitably give them if they are using poor technique. Poor technique symptoms are: hoarseness, fatigue, laryngitis, cough, tickle and breathiness when singing in head voice (alone). When these symptoms happen you need to refer back to paragraph #1…..stop and practise good technique.

The ability to belt properly can be learned….but not in a short amount of time. One must have great breath control, possess the ability to sing throughout their entire voice register without disconnecting (balance), and be able to keep the soft palate and tongue high enough to allow facial, mouth and head resonance. If you are working hard to keep your larynx down, or your tongue depressed, or the back of your throat open, (many trained singers have been taught this), then you may be working backwards.  A contemporary musical theater/pop/rock belt requires your larynx to be neutral to slightly high. (Neutral as in your speech level, and slightly high because the root of the tongue is connected to your larynx. If your tongue is high, and you are projecting into your head register, the larynx is going to tilt and slightly raise. This is perfectly OK and necessary. Note the soft palate is very high, and the jaw and mouth are very open.

Have you noticed that the majority of singers who belt well are untrained. That’s because many singers are taught traits that get in the way of allowing belt to happen. Belting is a very free and expressive feeling…(and did I mention it doesn’t hurt?).

My favourite Broadway belter right now is Lea Michele. Check her out here.
Listen to her happy yell at 1:46. For those of you trying to learn to belt, this yell is something to practise. Note how free you feel when you yell like this. Notice the “cry” in her voice throughout the entire performance. Lea Michele is an Olympic vocal athlete; the creme de la creme. Do not try to match and copy her singing without knowing what you are doing. The ability to sustain a performance like this takes years of training and perfection.

Comments? Questions? Please let me know.

Adele’s new voice – Skyfall

If you are working on your chest voice so you can sing more Adele songs, you may be able to access your mix more easily in her latest song Skyfall.

Most of this song is under the first bridge (as are the others). But most importantly, there is no chorus repeatedly using thick folds through the first bridge, like she did in Rolling In the Deep, and others.

Instead, Adele is playing it safe (and so she should so soon after surgery).

The word “tall” in the chorus of Skyfall is a very light mix….she’s definitely holding back here. This part of the chorus could have been bigger. Instead she is using thinner cords with no pushing whatsoever. A beautiful blend.

The first time we hear any belting whatsoever is at the word “heart” at 2:29.

Listen to the “cry” in her voice at 3:43 on the word “stand”. Note her head register in the mix at 4:13 on “let the sky fall”.

The build does start to happen at 4:24 to 4:30. She has saved her chest voice for 4:24 to 4:30. This is the only part in the song where she carries her chest voice up through the bridge with very thick folds and a lot of air pressure. At 4:436 she releases into her head voice for a beautiful exit to her phrase.

Singers, lots to learn here from Adele’s singing……….listen to it again…….and notice.

Comments? Questions? Please leave them here.

There’s good belting….and there’s bad belting

Bottom line…..good belting doesn’t hurt. It has a sweet edge to the sound. The larynx is tilted allowing the cords to close and stretch while remaining thick.

On the other hand, bad belting is usually pitchy and lacks “emotion”. A bad belt is simply yelling on pitch. There’s nothing musical about yelling on pitch without control that comes with proper belting. When you belt with thyroid tilt and just the right amount of breath pressure and emotion, you get a fabulous sound that you can control from the softest of soft to the loudest of loud.

My favourite theatre belters … Lea Michele

Check out Ted Neeley … watch at 6:00 minutes

Note: He`s over the top here with distortion and extreme sounds….but this man can handle it. I`m sure he has built himself up and saved for this moment of such raw emotion.

Favourite pop singer belters: Adam Lambert and Celine Dion.

Favourite country singer belter: Carrie Underwood. I can`t think of male country belters right now………Hmmmmm, who do you think. Let me know.

Favourite female rock belter: Ann Wilson from Heart

Stay tuned …. more on belting on future blogs:)

Speech Level Singing versus Estill Voice Technique

One of my goals is to share with you the similarities and differences with Speech Level Singing and Estill Voice Technique.

They are both great voice methods, and there is something to be learned from both. In its’ simplest form, SLS is one recipe among the many Estill Voice Technique possibilities.

I love SLS because it balances the voice, which I think is an important element of good singing. What I don’t like about SLS is that it doesn’t allow the commercial singer to learn how to belt or to have more “chest” in the mix. My SLS lessons strengthened the overall balance of both my registers…chest voice and head voice. But, my coach continually had me cutting back on my chest voice in my mix (near high C for instance). I could do this at his request, but it left me wondering where is the “me” in my voice. I needed to “belt” out my high C’s (and I’m in a mix!) when I wanted. I really felt the SLS method let the performer in me “down”.

With Estill voice training, you learn voice qualities….speech, sob, twang, opera, belt, and falcetto. SLS talks about a “neutral” larynx, while Estill recognizes that the larynx moves up and down and tilts according to the sound you want to make.

This is an important point. The larynx can tilt and move up and down safely, depending on the sound you wish to make. SLS leads to confusion about the larynx when they draw so much attention to it remaining “neutral”. The larynx cannot remain neutral in rock singing or musical theatre where the singers needs to give a belt sound (*note: I am not referring to the Estill version of belt here). These sounds can be done with freedom and good technique, but the larynx is slightly raised. Note: that if the larynx is too high, you will not be able to transition well into head voice, therefore, you cannot mix.

But, singers beware. Belting correctly is not easy to do, however, it is possible!  Lea Michele (musical theatre), Steven Tyler (rock), and Carrie Underwood (country). All these singers have something in common. They are balanced, and they are able to take their singing voice to the extreme …. called belting.

Belting well simply means a singer is using relatively thick folds, possibly has a sob quality in their voice, and their tongue may be slightly raised (this may alter the vowel sound). Belting requires optimal breath control. In other words, the ability to control the release of breath under great pressure while resonating in both the head voice and chest voice with thick folds. Belting is indeed a great “talent”.

Questions? Comments? Please leave them here.

Working from the bottom up

The chest voice is very powerful. I recommend all singers learn how to carry their “low voice” up into their higher register by learning how to mix from the bottom up. If you want to earn a living at singing, it is crucial to learn how to belt and sing safely in your chest voice.

First and foremost, you need to train regularly. Singers who belt regularly, are at most risk for vocal damage. Become a vocal athelete first. The ability to siren, lip roll and tongue trill through your entire range is a must. This teaches your body to pay attention to balance and amount of effort and breath you are using.

There are certain sounds that are precursors to being able to sing high in your chest voice.

1. Put a sob or a cry in your voice.

2. Practise a “witchy” sound or neighing of a horse.

3. “Meow” like a kitty.

Every voice is different. You may find one of the sounds above easier to do. Don’t force the sounds…..just think the sounds. Do it every day, many times a time. Pay attention to the volume at which you can continually accomplish the sound through your passagio. It may be breathy as you move higher, but with practise you will get less breathy. Try to be the same volume on all the pitches.

Ladies …. work from middle C to high C (make sure you are in your chest voice).

Men … work A below middle C to A above middle C.

Remember, these are sounds. They are not meant to be pretty. You are not singing these sounds….it may appear you are speaking these sounds. You need very little breath.

Good luck! Let me know it goes. Do you have any questions?


More on Belting

So, I used my cricoid muscle extensively on Saturday night. Yes, I was more shoutier than usual. Since my workshop a couple of weeks ago, I have been revisiting some of my repertoire in a beltier way. This is similar to the way I sang about ten years ago, but also much different. Yes, this time was much different. It was interesting to see how the audience reacted. I had one gentleman come and ask me if I had ever sang opera. He said that my voice reminded him of many textures…many subtleties.  The audience definitely seemed engaged in a different way…..or maybe it was just me….knowing that I was singing more on the edge….the edge of right and wrong….the edge of freedom.

What has changed?  Quite a few things. Knowledge is power.  For one thing I made sure the mic stand was a little higher, and the microphone was angled slightly downward so that I could tilt my head back for the belt. (I don’t hold the mic because I am playing keyboard).  I would usually do this angle with my head anyway, but now I know why I’m doing it and why the placement of the microphone is so important. I notice that it indeed is necessary to free the voice from constriction. My soft palate was raised as high as it could go. My tongue was well placed and my mouth was big. My body was engaged like at no other time in the song…..yes, that feeling of certainty and strength is a familiar posture that keeps me aligned with the phrases and momentum of the music.

I experienced no hoarseness, no raspiness, no uncertainty. I experienced the maximum energy my body and voice had to give that evening. I experienced an audience who reciprocated with applause and awe. I experienced a sensation of total release and freedom. I experienced the ability to be able to do it again tomorrow.


The big belt – the Christine Aguilera voice

The body is an unique instrument and these are unique times.

The voice can make soft, loud, breathy, scratchy, raspy, whiney, yelly, low, screechy, shouty, deep, high, thick, shallow…..sounds. That’s right. We can make almost any sound we want. There’s no right or wrong. Only safe.

Think of a ventriliquist. He can make some amazing sounds and we don’t even see his lips move.

Think of a cartoon character…Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fud, Scooby Doo. Can you make any of these sounds?

Think of an impressionist who can sound like your favourite celebrity. What a well-respected talent to have!

The voice is an amazing instrument, and some people can do amazing things with it!

I truly believe the naturally-gifted singer is the one who can copy with great accuracy and feeling. The one who learns to take risks so they can grow and evolve on their own. I also believe the naturally-talented singer is the one who learns all about their own instrument. The singer who is “self-aware” and totally intune with their mind and body.

Christine Aguilera is one of those. She follows her instincts when she sings, and you can hear it in her performance. She learned to copy her favourite singers when she was young. She is passionate and a risk-taker. She sings how she wants and her fans love it. She has learned how to make her unique sound that no other singer can match. I can’t think of another singer who sings as “hard” as she does in her chest register. (Well, actually, that’s not true…I can think of a few….)

Here is my take on what’s going on. When I hear Christine’s voice, I feel “her pain”. No, I don’t mean her passion for the song, (although I get that). I mean I feel and hear the vocal constriction and effort in her sound quality. You don’t hear it on recordings so much, but you do hear it in live performance…raw, sing-it-from-your-heart-now live performance. Oh, how we as an audience love to hear a singer “let it all hang out”; expose absolutely everything they have to give us in a song. We welcome that energy and passion and commitment.

However, years of bearing her soul have taken a toll on Christine’s voice.  I believe her days of Lady Marmalade are soon over if she doesn’t achieve better vocal technique. In order for Christine to continue with a successful career she will need to find a new way to entice her fans. With some knowledge and direction, Christine’s voice can be more seductive and more sultry than it ever was. And, we her fans are ready for it!

Here’s my advise to Christine (and every other singer out there!)

1) A daily guided selection of octave-and-a-half exercises starting from A below middle C and ascending. These would include lip rolls, tongue trills, light hums (sirens), goos and nays. These are just a few important combinations. Easy does it. Do them everyday, often.

2) Seeing a master vocal coach regularly to learn how to mix the voice and stay “in the mix”. In other words, Christine needs to learn how to access her head register even when she is belting. Learning the `mixed`approach of a careful balance of the two registers will keep Christine`s voice safer and healthier for years to come.  And, as most of you know, she is already working with one of the best vocal coaches in the world, Seth Riggs.

3) Breathing exercises to take excessive weight off the vocal cords are important. And, of course, a daily regimen of eating healthy, staying hydrated and gettings loads of rest.

It will be interesting to hear Christine’s next album. Will her voice still stretch the boundaries of what vocal experts consider safe? I think it’s highly likely she will still continue to wow us with her deep, thick, sultry vocal cords. However, only Christine will know what her throat and voice feels like at the end of the day. Only Christine will know if she is going to be able to duplicate those superhuman sounds again tomorrow.


The yodel

What is a yodel? It’s simply a defined change in register from your low “voice” to your high “voice”.

Can you make your voice yodel? I actually have trouble doing it. My mixed “middle” voice is so well connected that imitating a yodel takes a certain coordination for me.

If you are a trained singer and you have a defined yodel, then your middle voice is not well established. Unfortunately, this is an all-too-familiar issue with some my students who have had classical training. The “yodel” may not be an exactly defined pitch in the voice, it may simply be the section where you have trouble controlling the quality of your sound–in other words losing that connection from your low notes to your high notes….you sense a “flip” or “disconnection” as you sing higher.

The “yodel” can be a preferred quality of sound in some voices…..Sarah McLachlin and LeAnn Rimes come to mind. There are many voices like this in pop/country music.

If you like your yodel then that’s great. But most singers have no control over this “flip”. The control happens in exercising the middle area of your voice (two registers in balance).

If you are training to sing and your teacher always exercises your high register and your low register as two separate voices, then you have a problem. If your teacher is always training your high voice and working downward, then you have a problem.  They are setting you up for this problem, and it will become very apparent when you need to sing songs requiring your chest register to “belt” out songs in theatre.

Is this blog hitting home with you? Let me know your experience. Please leave a comment.