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! )

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

So you want to be a rock singer?

The following conditions are present for singing rock music.

Rock singing is high intensity. Rock singing requires optimum effort to avoid laryngeal constriction. Optimum effort means singing feels as easy as speaking in the throat. Breathing is high effort – breath control exercises are recommended.

Avoid constriction of the false vocal cords by thinking a “happy smile” inside your throat. Add the sensation of a sob or moan.  Stop any exercising if your throat tickles, scratches or makes you cough.

Vocal cords – Usually glottal, aspirate, and thick to stiff – say “uh-oh” on different pitches to experience glottal onset. (Engage the muscle at the top of your stomach, and middle of your ribs – to help with breath control).

Aspirate means air. Most rock singers sing with variations of an aspirate voice. This means that some breath is escaping. The folds are relatively short, and thick, similar to speech voice, and stiffen when stretched for high pitches.

The thyroid cartilage is tilted – say “meow” or whimper like a puppy dog. Practice this at the same volume in your low voice and high voice. Feel the “sweetness” added to your sound.

The cricoid cartilage and the thyroid cartilage are connected by a joint, that allows the two cartilages to rotate relative to each other creating an open space. (This is an over-simplied way of describing what actually goes on between the two sets of cartilage).  Try to find the small space between the thyroid and cricoid cartilage by putting your finger on your thyroid notch (your Adam’s apple). Now slide down slightly, just below the bump. This is the space. Tilting the thyroid cartilage when you “meow” or whimper may feel like the larynx is trying to rise. However, this sensation is likely the thyroid cartilage trying to tilt (which stretches the vocal cords).

The cricoid cartilage is engaged – when a singer is belting and/or shouting. This is high intensity voice production and has the potential to injure the voice. I suggest practising “happy” shouty singing with optimum breath control and thyroid tilt to get the cords to stretch. (Check your puppy dog whimper on all pitches and then do a happy shout and maintain that pitch for a duration). Remember, if it tickles, scratches or hurts, you are doing it wrong and should stop.

The larynx – this is the entire voice box. In general, rock singing requires the larynx to mid to high. However, if the larynx goes too high, the singer is unable to bridge to their head voice.

The tongue/jaw/mouth/soft palate – Rock singers typically have wide open mouths with the tongue raised in the back of the mouth, with the tip meeting nice with the back of the bottom teeth. The soft palate is high. (You can get this open big feeling by pretending to bite into a big apple, and allowing your tongue to hang out over your bottom lip).

Here is an exercise that is essential for rock singers.

Men: Hung-gee over your first passagio   [flowplayer src=’’]

Ladies: Hung-gee over your first passagio   [flowplayer src=’’]

Please let me know if you have any questions. Feel free to leave me a comment.

The larynx….an interesting subject….

As I study various singing methods, I realize that we are all trying to invent the same wheel safely…. just a little differently.

I want to talk today about one of the differences I see in Speech Level Singing and some other modern contemporary singing methods.

The subject on hand is the larynx.

From my experience with SLS, the larynx needs to remain stable and reasonably low (or neutral) as you ascend in pitch. However, in some contemporary methods it is said that the larynx will rise as the pitch ascends, especially around E flat above high C for women and A flat below high C for men. This is typically where the male and female 2nd passaggi are, or in other words the 2nd “gear change”.

This intrigues me and I explore it with most of my students.

In my studio, those who sing more “classically” are encouraged to keep their larynx low in song. This allows them to ascend higher with a nice warm, full and open classical tone. These singers have up to five octaves when vocalizing.

On the other hand, my students who sing rock and country in song are encouraged to monitor their larynx and surrounding muscles to ensure that there is no undue tension as they ascend into their 2nd passagio. The larynx will rise a bit as they belt out above their 1st passagio in song. However, they are encouraged to vocalize with a neutral larynx, which allows them to exercise in 5 to 6 octave ranges.

ALL my students under 16 are encouraged to sing with a neutral larynx, and a full balanced voice in exercise and in song.

The rising of the larynx is an interesting discussion among vocal teachers.

Is it safe and OK for the larynx to rise in rock/pop/belt singing? What do you think?

How to know if your voice lessons are working….

So you’ve been taking lessons for quite some time, and you are not sure if it’s worth it. It costs a lot of money, and you cannot tell if it’s worth your while.

Here are a few suggestions to help you determine progress. Make sure lessons are recorded and dated so you can go back and compare.

1. Listen for the breath in your sound production. You should be less breathy in your exercises now, compared to the first few months.
2. Listen and compare the tonal quality of your low notes up to your high notes, and back down. Is your sound more “focused?”
3. Consider whether you are running out of breath when vocalizing? Is it different now from the beginning? You should be finding it easier.
3. Are you “mixing” in the middle? In other words, are you able to go from the bottom of your range to the top of your range without a “battle” or sensation of flipping in the middle? Compare this to the first six months of lessons.
4. Do the following test. Sing a comfortable note in your low range. Can you increase the volume without involvement of throat, neck, jaw or tongue, and just have the sensation created by the breath pressure you are creating? Do the same thing for a high note? Can you get a sense of the acoustic space you are creating while doing this?
5. Did you know it takes much longer to strengthen the high part of your voice compared to your low part. Specifically listen to the differences in your high notes when listening back to old lessons. Are you clearer and stronger sounding?

These are just a few ways to know if your voice lessons are working.

The age of extreme voices

As many of you know I’ve studied the voice for many years, and will continue to do so. It is one of the most mysterious instruments I know. Complete Vocal Technique (CVT) is one method removing some of that mystery, and helping singers all over the world make the sounds they want without harm to the voice.

Gone are the days where we can assume what proper or good singing is. As Cathrine Sadolin, creator of CVT states, “who are we as teachers to dictate how the voice should sound”. You, the singer, should chose how you want your voice to sound. In my opinion, there are bad singers all over the world having huge success in the music business, and at the same time there are great singers who don’t work at all with their voice.

CVT is based on the physiology and anatomy of the voice, and addresses extreme voices in an interesting way. There are three general rules with CVT…singing should always feel comfortable, the technique should work at once, and lastly, if it feels wrong then it is wrong.

This really intrigues me because I have had this exact experience when studying with various teachers. The bottom line is that the sound I wanted to make was not the sound my teacher wanted me to make.

Singers should know there are safe and sound methods of singing available. An open throat with a low larynx is going to teach you one sound color, and this may not be the sound color you want for your future. Once your muscle memory has this embedded it is extremely difficult to change later on in life.

So, in closing, singers and teachers, try to keep an open mind. The world of singing technique is becoming more versatile to stay up-to-date with the over-demanding styles of music in the 21st century.

How to Sing Better…

If you have tried to learn how to sing better by reading information online, or by purchasing online products, then you have noticed that a lot of the information out there differs and it can be confusing. How is a singer suppose to know what is actually going to help them sing better? I have outlined some points below that may help.

Compare singing well to having a body that is in good shape. A good singer would be like a fit body. There are various shapes and sizes of fit bodies. Some are short, some are tall, some are muscular while others are not so. But, they are all “fit”.

Getting fit with singing means balancing your low voice, with your middle voice, with your high voice. In other words, a strong and consistent voice through your entire singing range….much like a fit body would have the correct balance of lean muscle versus fat content.

Where things get confusing is when we bring “style” into the concept of singing.

Consider this. Let’s say some fit people focus on their biceps, while other fit people focus on their chest. Then there are some fit people who work harder on their 6-pack, while others still work overtime on their back muscles. The one thing the all have in common is that they are first and foremost…fit. They look good everywhere, but some look extra muscular in a certain area.

If you use this analogy with singing, then you realize that every good singer must be fit first. Again, this means being able to ascend and descend through their entire singing range without strain or breaks. Once a singer is fit, then they can sing in any style they choose from classical to rock. This enables the singer to get “extra” fit in some areas.

Before you rock out, you need to know that you are singing well through your bridges, and then you learn to style in rock. Rock singing can be very damaging on the vocal cords, so being fit and staying fit is absolutely necessary. If you are a classically trained singer then you may be more fit in your upper register, but you may want to style in another genre of music. Blues, jazz and pop singers all have a stronger chest tone in their middle voice, while classical singers generally have more head tone in their middle voice. These differences are all about style.

What should a child’s first instrument be?

Well, that’s easy … the piano, correct? But, let’s think about it. Children are actually learning to use their first musical instrument when they start to coo and babble. They start using their voice as a baby when they mimic the sounds all around them. This is how they learn to talk, and this is how they learn to sing. Their vocal cords are their own personal instrument, with its own unique sound. This is the first instrument that they learn to use.

When babies and toddlers are encouraged to copy sounds frequently, they remember how to do it and soon it becomes “normal”. This all leads to singing on pitch.

Your children will get singing and musical education at school, but we all know that music curriculum in most schools has been decreasing over the years. The more musical engagement you can encourage at home, the better. Does it matter if you are on pitch? Well, in the beginning….NO. It matters that you are singing and that you are enjoying music with your child.

Let’s move ahead a bit to age 3 or 4. A good age to know if your child is able to match pitch. Can they imitate a fire siren? Can you? If so, this means you able to zip up your vocal cords to make high sounds. They most likely can, but in some cases where a child has a deep or raspy voice (from illness, hoarseness or cough) they may be reluctant or unable to. This is where it is important to keep the child exploring their voice….making sounds that are more than just talking.

Singing requires the vocal cords to “zip up” because we don’t sing in only the pitches that we talk. In order to match the higher pitches, our brain has to know how to zip up the vocal cords and keep them that way.

An important note to mention is that the music you and I sing to is much lower than music children should be singing to. It’s important for kids to listen to music in their range, so they can copy properly. This is one reason music is so very important in the school. It’s vital for children to experience singing with their peers in a musical key that suits their voice.

So, why not think of your child’s voice as their first musical instrument. Encourage them to match pitch when they sing. This will go a long way in their future musical journey. It really is a use it or lose it scenerio. Children who “can’t carry a tune” grow into adults who “can’t carry a tune”.

The Music for Young Children program including Music Pups is a great way to engage in singing and musical fun with your child. There are classes all over the world. You can find them here and

Do you have a comment? Please leave me your thoughts.

Singing tips…….sing higher, sing better

So many singers sing poorly by trying to copy the “sound” of their favourite singers. Unfortunately, without knowing how to copy correctly, it can cause many many problems for singers. Knowledge is power, so read on for a few tips on singing better.

To the average listener/singer, a great big voice may sound simply loud and powerful. The average listener/singer is unaware as to why this voice is so great other than for these reasons. Unfortunately, copying this singing without knowing what is really going on can cause an average singer to never reach their full potential. If your voice gets tired easily when trying to sing higher, or you have trouble reaching high notes with intensity, then you fall into this category.

The powerful sounds that we love so much come from a careful balance of air pressure built up behind the vocal cords, careful pronounciation of the words being sung (the vowels cause resonance in the mouth, head and sinuses), and the amount of vocal cord closure occurring.  In short it’s a combination of air flow, vowel production, and cord closure.

Speech Level Singing teaches the singer about these three things that they have control over. The singer learns where their bridges are, and learns how to negotiate through them to allow the voice to go higher and higher.

There is no other technique that simplifies the knowledge of singing better than the way Speech Level Singing does. I’m proud to a certified teacher with the Seth Riggs Organization. My voice is stronger and better than it has ever been…thanks to SLS.

Less is more….

Hi Everyone,

Less is more….so what am I talking about?  Well, a few things really.  Did you know that you need LESS air to sing high notes…not more. Most people use way too much air when they sing high notes. This engages the outer muscles around the vocal cords which causes fatigue and strain. Singing high notes should feel easy. When a singer is grimacing with the look of strain (not to be confused with emotion), you can bet he/she is using muscles outside of the voice box, and their larynx is probably rising as well. Ideally when singing, the larynx should remain relatively stable, and the singer should be able to reach any note without throat muscle interference.

In the words of Seth Riggs, founder of the SLS technique, you need to allow the vocal cords to do the work. That is, as you singer higher, the vocal cords should simply “zip up” and use less air.

The SLS technique will teach you how to do this.  But first, you may need to back up. You may need to do less. You will need to know your habits. You need to know what is working and what isn’t. A good SLS teacher will tell you this in the first lesson. Then you will be able to sing well in any style of your choice! Check out for a certified teacher near you!

Singers, has this happened to you?

I haven’t been blogging much lately. I’ve been so busy with the kids, performing at festivals and keeping up with my gigs. The weeks are just flying by. However today, I had a booking that inspired me to share my singing experience with you straight away.

First, let me mention that I’m a seasoned singer. I’ve been singing professionally for years.  And, for the record, sometimes I neglect myself.  Yes, sometimes, I don’t practise what I preach.  By this, I mean, I neglect my voice…I don’t bother to warm-up adequately before a singing performance.  Sometimes I notice, sometimes it doesn’t matter. Today, it definitely mattered. Today, I noticed big-time. Today, I should have warmed-up better.

I always do liproll exercises while I’m driving to bookings. Today was proof that I needed to do more than that, but didn’t.

I could tell right away in the first song that the notes near my bridge (A, B flat) were giving me trouble. If the song was mostly set under my first bridge then I would really “get stuck” when I had to reach the A or B. This is most of my songs! I found I was preoccupied with “warming” into those notes, instead of focusing on the audience and the song.

It took about 45 minutes of careful singing to finally get the notes around my bridge to set in comfortably. By then I was crooning and ready for the night. The problem is, the gig was almost over! Only 15 minutes left!  By the end of the gig, I was very warmed-up and ready to sing.

This has happened to me before. You would think I would know better. After all, I’m a singing coach. I preach about warming up the voice adequately all the time…………maybe next time I’ll learn, ha! Don’t let it happen to you!