The “ng” exercise

Do you ever ask yourself why you do all these exercises?

Each exercise is designed to bring an awareness about a correct coordination that is essential for good singing technique. When you exercise your voice by doing the same coordination over and over again, your larynx will begin to build “muscle memory” and it will become easier over time. It is crucial, however, that you are actually doing the exercise correctly. This is no different than going to the gym to tone the muscles of your body.

One coordination is sliding through your entire range using the “ng” sound, such as in “sing.” I especially like this exercise because it draws close attention to the back of the mouth and tongue area, and the front of the face where you feel the resonance.

Start by saying “sing”. Notice when you reach the end of the word “ng”, your tongue rises to the roof of your mouth in the soft palate (the soft fleshy part at the back). You are actually closing your nasal port and stopping the sound from leaving your mouth. This allows for just head resonance.

Now try to say “sing” in your head register, and hold out the “ng”. (Notice I said say the word “sing” and don’t sing the word “sing”). Take the time to feel this. Don’t push it, and don’t strain. Allow yourself to “just be” in your head register. This may feel like falcetto. You should do all these exercises slowly and quietly. Take note of the sensations. If it is too high, take the note lower.

Can you keep your tongue up and touching the soft palate? If you feel yourself straining in the throat, start over and again “allow” the note to be in your head voice. If you are having trouble staying “connected”, then start over and do it very quietly and very “small”. Does that make it easier?

This coordination is key to building resonance and developing strength in the vocal cords near the edges, as well as stretching the cords (thyroid cartilage tilt). It also brings awareness to the back of the tongue and whether this area is causing you strain.  If you can’t stay connected, then do everything in falcetto. If you do this everyday as much as you can, you will eventually gain enough strength to stay “connected” to your speech level.  (Note, this may make you sound like a cartoon character).

It is very important that you use your body energy and awareness to help with this coordination. In other words, all the “effort” happens below your throat! Do it slowly and quietly, and visualize the fine edges of your vocal cords trying to stay together. Visualize your voice box tilting and stretching to allow the resonance in your face.

Note, you may try and use the wrong muscles of the throat and tongue to “help” you with the sound you are trying to create. This is called constriction. This is why you must be aware. You must take the time and “allow” this sensation. Keep a “happy” or “smile” sensation in your throat to avoid constriction.  It may be something you have never fully felt before. When resonating correctly it should be free, light, forward, buzzy, maybe brassy, and SMALL. Yes, it should feel small!

Learn to love the smallness of your voice!

Questions? Comments? Please let me know.


Working on the whimper

The ability to make certain sounds can have great benefit on your overall vocal ability. The trick is being able to make these sounds correctly without constriction (pushing).  It’s always a good idea to have a coach work with you on these sounds to make sure you are going about it the right way.

A great exercise is making the sound of a whimpery puppy dog. The trick is finding the correct pitch to start in your vocal range to engage the effort. Once you get connected to this coordination, you can take it up and down in pitch.

For women I would suggest starting about B flat (above middle C). This is just above your first passagio. Working through the passagio is a challenge in itself. It shouldn’t be loud. It is simply a sound…no singing. If the top note is breathy, try the thought of holding your breath while making the sound. If you feel pull on the high note (as if you are trying to talk higher but can’t reach it) then relax and let the note simply be soft and lighter. You may flip into falcetto at this point. If this is the case, then try it again at a quieter volume but with increase effort. Do not let it flip. What you are trying to do is engage the cricothyroid muscle to tilt the thyroid cartilage. Other sounds to try are meowing like a cat, or talking like a small child. Other muscles become involved as well when making different sounds, but they are all beneficial. You will likely find one that is easiest.

I wouldn’t lower the starting pitch too much. It’s most ideal to work in the middle area of the voice with the descending 5-note scale. Then take it higher as you gain success. You will notice the first note is the one that needs the most effort. If you are connecting on the first note with ease, then that’s when you can increase the volume. It should be brassy and bright. If breath is getting through then take the volume back down and keep working it. Remember, you do not need a lot of air to do this.

Men, this can be challenging for those of you with big voices. This exercise requires you to allow yourself to go to a smaller place first to make sure you are getting the edgy sound correctly with very little air. I suggest starting at about F# above middle C and using a five-note descending scale. It might feel vunerable. It might feel weak. You should feel no throat strain, but you will likely feel a tremendous effort in the body and back of the head as you attempt to hold back air and make a whimpery noise on a note above your first passagio. It might be breathy, but not so much to actually call your falcetto…just keep working at this. If you do flip to definite falcetto, then start at a lower pitch. The idea is to stay connect to your chest voice (speech-like sound), but allow it to switch to this unique coordination on your higher notes.

Give it a try and let me know how it went. Please leave a comment below. Thanks.



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.