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


Say goodbye to strain

What exactly is singing with strain?

Basically, it means a singer is over-compressing the vocal cords. Over-compressing is “squeezing” or “pushing” the sound out, instead of simply allowing the sound to release with good cord closure. This can happen a lot when singing high notes. We tend to “reach” or “squeeze” to sing our high notes.

Try doing your vocal exercises and your favourite songs (especially the high notes) while:

1. Lying down on your back, flat on the floor.

2. Walking around the room.

3. Holding a book in each hand while holding your arms out (like flying a plane).

What do you notice about your singing effort now? Is it more challenging to get the tone you want than standing in one place? Is your tone it breathier?

I suggest you keep vocalizing with these new ideas for a few weeks. You should start to notice breathiness (falcetto) start to lessen as your vocal cords get stronger at cord closure with the correct coordination. You should also notice you are much more relaxed while singing giving way to a free and flexible voice!


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.


What is the difference between head voice and falcetto? Does it matter?

In my opinion, it’s all relative, really.

Here is my definition of falcetto: The condition of the vocal folds whereby the glottis is large and a lot of air is passing through.

Here is my definition of head voice: The condition of the vocal folds whereby the glottis is small(er), and the folds are able to withstand more breath pressure.

Let me explain.

With my own voice, I basically consider my falcetto to be a light head voice. This is the condition where I am allowing more air to pass through on a high pitch.

With some singers, this condition happens when they reach a certain pitch whereby the vocal folds cannot withstand the amount of breath being released. Basically, they blow apart.

In other singers, this condition happens as they gradually get higher and higher in pitch. There may not be an actual sensation of flip, but rather a breathiness that comes with singing high notes.

Ideally we want to have good vocal cord closure on our high notes without over-compression (squeezing).  Singing in your falcetto (or your head voice, whatever you decide to call it), is an important element to becoming a better singer.


Bridging and Connecting

All singers really want to bridge and connect. For those of you studying speech level singing, bridging and connecting is simply another way of describing mixing.

No matter what method you are studying, this concept is universal. A singer who isn`t bridging and connecting is either yodeling (flipping), pulling chest, or singing in falcetto.

The illusion of power

Too many times I hear over-compressed cords from students who think  they are singing with power. Unfortunately this sound is dull and to be quite blunt … ugly. Over-compressing the cords will only cause students trouble as they try to sing higher, because  they can’t release this sensation without flipping into falcetto. The answer is; mixing with head voice and allowing the cords to thin and stretch as you sing higher.

Men, you can find your head voice by singing a G above middle C in a connected, stable and controlled sound. This isn’t falcetto. This is head voice. If you feel your throat “choking” you then your larynx is probably too high. This coordination is not going to help you sing in optimum head voice mix, so work on getting that larynx down first.

Women, you can find your true head voice by singing a high C. Again, make sure this isn’t breathy or you are probably in falcetto (which means the cords have come apart).

Working this area of your voice is very important for mixing. Learn to love your head voice. It may seem weak and foreign to you, and that is all-the-more reason to figure out this area of your voice from this approach. Keep the volume at a medium to low level.

There are other elements that will help build a powerful and strong mixed voice too. Once your head voice is easy to control and identify, then you can work on pharyngeal sounds and exercises to bring out the illusion of power. Yes, the illusion of power. The illusion of a super-human sound that is actually just your head voice in a mix!

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 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.



The Middle Voice

Oh, the controversy! Is there such a thing as the middle voice? Some would argue there is only chest voice and head voice, and a passagio (sometimes called a bridge or a break), separating the two. The chest and head voice get their name from where the voice resonates in the body.  If you put your hand on your chest and speak, you can feel the vibrations on your hand. This is your chest voice. If you leave your chest voice (which some people have a lot of trouble doing!) and go to a high free-sounding place (try the sound woo – woo), then you have found your head voice. Like I said, some people have trouble finding their head voice. Usually, this is men.

I, frankly, love the term middle voice. Since I like to sing music genres such as rock, pop, and country, the middle voice is where all the action is!  For women this is around middle C to high C, and for men this is around G below middle C to G above middle C. You will notice that almost all commercial music falls into this area (and more).

The middle voice is where you “get in the mix”! Again, there is much controversy over this term.

Mixing simply is a term used when a singer has the ability to keep their vocal cords properly adducted as they ascend and descend through their bridges. If you can do this properly, then you will notice a shift in resonance as the sound moves upward from your throat and mouth area into your face and head. Once you have ascended in pitch, it will actually feel like you are singing in your head, but not in a light falcetto airy mode. If you have kept the cords together well, and have allowed the resonance to shift accordingly as you ascended, then you have achieved a good mix. You should feel no strain in the throat whatsoever.

I’m very passionate about singers figuring out their mix. Once a singer learns the “feeling” and “coordination” necessary to be in a good mix, then they can work on building strength, endurance and enhancing tone.

Visit me at for vocal exercises to help you “get in the mix”!



What’s the difference between falcetto and head voice?

As a singer, we all seem to want to know what is the difference between head voice and falcetto. Do we really need to know exactly when it switches from one to the other?  I have had numerous singers ask me this question, so this is how I try to explain it.

The difference between head voice and falcetto can be recognized by the singer as a feeling or sensation, and a difference in effort level.

If you are in head voice, it will feel like you have good control over the volume and vibrato of your high notes. This is because the cords have the ability to hold back your breath, increasing and decreasing the amount of breath that you send through your cords as you desire. I classify this as head voice being “connected” or “mixed” with the rest of the singer’s voice. In other words, the singer would be able to descend in pitch and be able to keep the same “feeling” of vocal cord connection.

Falcetto, on the other hand, is the inability of the vocal cords to hold back enough air, that would otherwise be called head voice! Falcetto has a breathier quality by default, and feels totally different from the rest of your voice. It is hard to control the volume, and you run out of breath quickly. It usually follows a sensation of singing with control while ascending in pitch, and then being unable to maintain the same degree of control. The vocal cords suddenly feel like they “blow apart” or “let go.”

The reason it is hard to differeniate between head voice and falcetto at times, is because a singer can have a light head voice. Is light head voice the same as falcetto? IMHO, no. Falcetto will always feel like a loss of control of the higher register, and disconnected from the rest of the voice. Whereas, a light (mixed) head voice will be able to siren down and back up again, and feel the same throughout.

What is interesting is that singers like the Bee Gees, Aaron Neville and Leanne Rimes use their head voice and falcetto qualities to varying degrees in their singing all the time. Do we really need to label who is doing what?

Here’s my analysis anyway, ha ha, because I enjoy trying to “figure it out” and also hope some you readers will send me your thoughts and feedback.

The Bee Gees are using head voice (but not a mixed quality). They have a clear (although twangy), non-breathy, well established vocal musculature that they have total control of. It is disconnected from their chest register. Could this be considered falcetto? I’m sure many readers might consider their singing falcetto. In order to prove any such status, we would need to see their vocal cords in action, as well as have a pre-determined “picture” of what falcetto always looks like in the vocal cords. The entire professional vocal community would need to agree on these parameters. This hasn’t happened yet, so until the singing teachers and coaches of the world come together and agree on terminology and function, we will need to rely on other parameters. For me, it’s my ears!

Leanne Rimes, in the song “Blue,” has a yodel that some would classify as falcetto. However, she has the same quality in the low notes as the high notes. Sure, there is a defined flip, but her ability to engage her vocal cords in her head register the way she does, tells me this is definitely head voice quality, but not in a mix. It is disconnected from the chest register. In fact, that is what yodelling is. The ability to go back and forth from chest register to head register, with a flip, but with the same vocal quality in each register. One register is not breathier than the other.

Aaron Neville’s voice, is an interesting analysis. He has a beautiful mix of mostly head voice in his singing. When he flips to only head voice, he is simply releasing his chest register in the mix. Even though it has a breath-like quality, you will notice it is the same breath-like quality as his lower notes. Therefore, this is not falcetto. This is a defined flip between a mixed voice (mostly head voice) and his true head voice.

Do you have any questions about your head voice or falcetto voice? Can you tell the difference in your voice? Let me know!

I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I did writing it!