Great ladies of voice

Why do we love Adele’s voice so much? Or Whitney Houston, Celine Dion or Christine Aguilera? Sure, it’s because they exude so much drama and passion when they sing, but how do they do that?

The ability to portray what you are feeling in a technically correct way is really what we are talking about here.  Once your voice is mixing and you are accessing your head voice with ease every time you open your mouth, then is the time to challenge yourself vocally with dynamics and different vocal textures.

These singers all display a wide variety of vocal textures and color, and a lot is due to their ability to change from thick cords to thin cords throughout their entire register. (Well, let’s just hope Adele is training to do more of this, so she doesn’t cause damage again to her cords on her next tour).

These singers can easily “back up” their voice to the “fry” level,  as well as, safely belt hard and strong. Their vocal cords are resilient and can withstand a huge amount of breath pressure.

IMHO, it’s only Christine who at times belts purposely without mixing. This is that dull yelling/groaning sound she makes in the back of her throat when she’s not allowing the resonance to go into the “mask” (in other words her head voice). But get this, Christine is no amateur. This lady chooses to do this coordination (pull chest). She knows her voice well. Christine can do cartwheels through her first passagio when she wants. In one phrase she’ll sing with thick cords and pull her sound as high as she can in the back of her throat. Then, in the next phrase, she’ll thin out her cords and soar easily through her first bridge and even up through her second!  Christine has her vocal ability mastered. Just listen to her speech. I detect no rasp or fry damage….just clean, crisp cords that haven’t thickened too much over the years from extreme use. She knows her voice is big business, and she takes care of it well.

Adele has very thick cords (a naturally big and loud voice) and I don’t think she had ever really learned the importance of thinning them out regularly to allow for flexibility and endurance while singing so hard on the road. Everyone knows about the vocal problems she has had.  Hopefully she will still be able to amaze her audiences with her huge voice, and stay away from vocal damage on her next tour.

Whitney’s voice was superb in her day. The problem was, of course, her lifestyle choices and simple lack of attention to details to maintain a  healthy voice over the years. Her ability to thin out the cords deteriorated. What was once an easy soar through her entire range, became a huge challenge because the cords were no longer able to master this co-ordination. This is not unlike maintaining good physical technique and stamina to achieve a long list of physical abilities. For example, playing the piano, ballet dancing, perfecting your golf swing. The list goes on.

I admire Celine Dion. This woman is in total control of her vocal destiny. She is known for not talking before shows, mastering warm-ups, cancelling shows when she knows she is not healthy. Here is a singer who pays close attention to her technique and abilities on any given day.

I hope this post has inspired you to continue your journey to sing better every day. Keep learning and keep addressing your vocal issues, so you become the best singer you can be!


The “Carrie Underwood” / “Kelly Clarkson” type of voice

I wanted to talk about this type of voice, because the configuration to get it isn’t what most people think.

When I have a student trying to sing in this style, I quite often hear a lot pf chest register being yelled at a high pitch that usually sounds dull, painful and, to say the least, quite unpleasant.

It isn’t uncommon for singers to try and duplicate this type of sound with their chest voice…it is however, the wrong approach.

Instead, the singer needs the practise “twang” in the head register. (Try quacking like a duck, or sounding nasty like a witch). You should be able to do this easily without any constriction or tightening in the throat. What usually happens is the head voice is not able to twang easily, and the student will over-compensate with throat muscles. Sometimes the singer will “flip” into falcetto mode.

Both Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have a superb ability to twang in their head register. This gives the listener the illusion of a powerful chest register volume, when in fact, they are not using much chest register at all. They are, in fact, in a middle voice/head register configuration with a lot of twang.

Secondly, the vocal cords are under a great deal of breath pressure. In other words, the singer is able to hold back a lot of breath without flipping to falcetto.  This ability allows for great mouth and head resonance and again gives the listener the illusion of great power and volume.

Two singers that come to mind that do sing too high in their chest register at times are Adele and Christine Aguilera. Even though they both sing very differently, they both sing very loud and very high in their low register. Christine Aguilera has only had trouble with this as she has gotten older. Her ability to sing in a loud chest, middle and head voice mode through her entire range when she was younger made her a superstar.  She is still a superb singer, but as she gets older her cords have probably thickened from singing so hard in her chest register. Thick folds can make it hard for a singer to ascend into their head register and keep control of their voice.

Do you have any questions or comments? Please leave them here.


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.


Analysis of Female Belters and the Star-Spangled Banner

Recently Christine Aguilera performed the Star-Spangled Banner at the Superbowl. This poor performance was more than just forgetting the words. In this post I hope to provide valuable information to female singers worldwide about the importance of key choices and style choices of songs they sing. I will compare famous pop singers who belt and link to their Star-Spangled Banner performance.

First, you will need to know the first female passagio is around A above middle C (middle C is C4). This “bridge” is the transition between your lower voice (chest) and your high voice (head). It is more than just one note, it is a “passage” of usually 2-3 notes…anywhere from A flat to B flat. Do you notice that when you sing in this area, it feels different? This is where your voice needs to “mix” well so you can transition well into your higher register.

Watch Christine Aguilera’s performance here.
Her key choice is F major. The “big note” on the words red glare and the last line free is C above middle (C5). A good belter has no problem hitting this note. Unfortunately, Christine was not well prepared for this performance. She started very shouty and never got “in the mix”. She basically got stuck in her chest voice and had to flip for the big note at the end. I think the reason she forgot the words is because she realized straight away that she was not mixing well, and was in trouble for the big finish. She knew her energy and focus was off, and it reflected not only in the lyrics, but also in her voice.

Watch Jennifer Hudson’s performance here.
Jennifer’s key choice is A major. This performance is spectacular. She is one of the best “mixing” chest belters in the business right now. What the listener may not realize is that Jennifer is belting C#5 in the second line on the word proudly and this is already a higher note than Christine’s “big note” of C5. Listen to how Jennifer can slip easily into her dynamic range of loud and soft within any given phrase. This ability means she is definitely mixing well. Christine’s voice on the other hand would not have been able to decrease in volume without “flipping” into a heady sound.

Watch Mariah Carey here
Mariah’s key choice is E major. This is a semi-tone lower than Christine’s. Mariah is a fabulous “mixer”. Listen to her delicate weaving back and forth in the mix at the beginning of the song. I am disappointed that she picked such a low key. Her “big note” is only a B4…..however…..I guess that’s not really true…because on the words free she shows us her fabulous super head voice which I believe is a B6. This will be why she picked the Key of E major so she could fit this note in. I would have preferred a higher key and have her leave the super high note out.

Watch Beyonce here
Beyonce’s key choice is G major. Love this key and performance. She saves the belt for the appropriate spots in the song. She has a beautiful mix throughout.

Watch Whitney Houston here
Whitney’s key choice is A flat major. This is, of course, when Whitney was belting and mixing superbly. This performance is A+. Whitney’s decline in vocal ability over the last few years is a prime example of not taking care of your instrument. Her choice of lifestyle has all but destroyed her voice…..very sad to say the least.

Watch Faith Hill here
Faith’s key choice is G major. This is a good performance for Faith. She is mixing well. You can hear her carefulness at the beginning of the song, to be sure to include her head resonance in the low notes. This is important so that as she ascends she can stay well in her mix. Indeed, there is a beautiful balance in her belting notes of B4, C5 and D5.

Watch Kelly Clarkson here
Kelly’s key choice is E major. A very low key choice in my opinion for Kelly. This was I suppose a safe choice, but she can definitely belt higher in her mix. The “big note” is only a B4. Also, I feel she is rushing through the song. It could have been a touch slower with more emotion.

Watch Celine Dion here
Celine’s key choice is G major. This really is the optimum key choice for this song. I would have preferred to hear her start a little more subtle in dynamics. But, nonetheless, Celine is one of the best chest belters in the business, and this performance only proves that. Her big notes are B4, C5 and D5. This key allows the biggest part of the song to stay just under the next passagio which starts around D#5. Perfect key choice for chest belters.

Watch Carrie Underwood here
Carrie’s key choice is F#. Good performance for Carrie. She is mixing well and her belt is strong from A#5 through C#5.

Watch Taylor Swift here
Taylor’s key choice is E major. This is about the only key she could safely pick without having trouble at her bridge. Taylor is not a good mixer. Her big notes are G#4, A#4 and B4.

Well, there you have it. For anyone wanting to practise their chest belting I suggest you “copy” Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce. Get the feel of their gentle, relaxed mixed voice, which then leads into a beautiful mixed belt at the climax of the song. Work your belting this way, and you will get stronger the correct way. The reverse is true for copying singers who belt in their low range. You run the risk of not being in a good mix, and therefore you will get stuck. This kind of voice can rarely sing well above a B flat or high C. And, while I admire Christine Aguilera’s talent, I highly suggest you never ever try to copy her voice. You are only asking for trouble.

I appreciate your comments or questions. Why not drop me a line.

What happened to Christine Aguilera?

You probably heard the gossip surrounding Christine Aguilera’s mix-up of the words of Star-Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl. You can revisit that performance here I would like to talk about that performance, but not about the words she messed up, but rather her voice.

First, let me say I am a big fan. She is one-of-a-kind. I have heard her perform at times extremely well (You tube – live video concerts) and other times, not so well. This performance was definitely the latter. It is clear that she was not able to get into a good mix as she ascended in pitch during the song. She probably recognized that she was “pulling too much weight”, and things weren’t just right. This may be the reason she messed up the words. It can definitely be distracting when you find yourself in the middle of song, giving it everything you have, and knowing that there’s no backing down now, you have to get to the big finish, you have to get to that big note…….and…..well, what happened in Christina’s case, is that she had to flip and sing the biggest note in the song in her head voice. I’m sure that was not her plan.

What went wrong? Well, a number of things could have gone wrong. Maybe she had a virus and her cords were slightly swollen. Maybe she didn’t prep her mix well enough before the performance. I wouldn’t think she would go into the performance unprepared, but my guess is she belted with too much volume in the beginning of the song, such as the words “by” the dawn’s early light. These heavy chest tones can immediately unbalance the voice and make it difficult to get into your head voice. This song is in the key of F and the main belting note that she sang over and over is the A above middle C. I think the fact that she pick this key was detrimental for her. The key of G would have put her over her bridge slightly at the belting note, and possibly made it easier to be in the mix. In other words, she could have actually been singing higher, and not have had to flip. She would have been able to carry the chest in the mix all the way up to D above middle C no problem.

What happened to Christine Aguilera on Sunday?

It was no surprise to me to see Christine Aguilera have a poor live performance at the Super Bowl. It was only a matter of time when this would happen. We all know she messed up the lyrics, but that’s not what I’m referring to.

Christine’s voice is a prime example of a voice deteriorating with age from vocal abuse. And, how old is she…she’s 30. She was unable to perform the anthem with a build up to the highest note, and instead had to “flip” into head voice. She’s in the key of F with the starting note being F below middle C. This is not a high key for this song! She is belting through her first bridge as usual, and when the big finale comes to get to high C she can’t do it, she has to flip. This is just a high C and a “flat” high C at that. Good singers in a good mix can belt to a high C with ease.

This is such a common problem among singers. Singers will try and copy the vocal power of their favourite artists the wrong way, and wonder why they can’t hit a note above an A without getting into trouble. And furthermore, all this poor singing is continually deteriorating their voice.

Let’s hope Christine Aguilera figures out how to mix better and not over-perform when singing live, or we won’t be seeing her perform live at all. She won’t be able to risk the possibility of her vocal cords not being able to hold firm through all that yelling.  In her youth she could scream her way through a high C, but not anymore, or at least not as easily. 

It will be interesting to see how she performs at the Grammys. Comments are welcome. Susie

Do you know your chest voice from your head voice?

Hi everyone,

I watched the American Music Awards last night. Very entertaining but I tend to over-analyze the singers’ voices instead of just enjoying the show.

I can’t help but wonder if some of these singers know the difference between their head voice and their chest voice. I have a hard time listening to singers who don’t mix their head voice (high voice) well with their chest voice. There is no doubt that the chest voice is what is predominant in all these singers, but some know how to mix much better than others.  On the other hand, fans have fallen in love with Christine Aguilera’s shouty chest belt, so why would she bother to try and sing “better”?

Now, let’s define what “better” means to me. And to do this we need to make sure that everyone understands the difference between their head voice and their chest voice.

Your chest voice is the voice closest to your speaking voice. If you sing near the pitch that you talk and put your hand on your chest, you will notice that it vibrates. The resonance is mostly coming out your mouth. The “resonance” is the sound that we hear after our breath goes through the vocal cords, and reflects off bone, teeth, sinuses and soft tissue. As you start to sing higher, the resonance should shift from you mouth to higher up in your head. It actually splits and feels like it is going through the top of your head, as well as out your eyes, nose and mouth (the front of your face). This is a sensation that not all singers are familiar with.

Instead, a lot of singers will not “allow” the voice to shift gears into this split resonance, and instead they try and keep that “beefy” sound that they can create in their chest voice. This is the average singers interpretation of “power”. What they don’t realize is that it is definitely not the best way to get power out of the voice, and frankly, I think it’s very unpleasant to listen to.

To find your head voice, one just has to do a light sigh on a pitch above their “passagio”. The passagio is the “break” or “bridge” between the chest voice and the head voice. For men this is around E flat to G (above middle C), and for women the bridge is around A flat to C (above middle C).

MIXED VOICE: Of course, no one wants to sing just in their head voice….well, unless you are an operatic soprano or one of the Bee Gees. However, it is important to be able to sing in your head voice….to become familiar with it. Without your head voice, you cannot sing “in the mix” and mix is where it all happens. The mix is a wonderful blend of both the chest voice and head voice. Some singers find this naturally, and others struggle endlessly. Without a good mix, singers will fatigue quickly and struggle with pitch and consistency. Without a strong mix a singer is always missing a part of their voice.

Thanks for reading. I welcome your comments. I will try and blog more about “the mix” next time. Susan