The big mouth

So why do all your American Idol favorites sing with huge mouths?

Answer: Because the big mouth is directly related to the freedom associated with making sounds found in contemporary styles such as rock, pop, gospel, jazz, musical theatre, country, and even opera!

The ability to get great cord closure (to sing high notes with thin and stretched cords), and resonate in the oropharynx (back of the throat and out through the mouth), is what we are talking about here. This means the soft palate is high enough (which it needs to be), and the jaw and tongue are relaxed enough (which they need to be), and the throat is open enough (which it needs to be), to allow the sound to project off the uvula and soft palate area. This creates great oral resonance (oral twang). With the right amount of breath support, this sensation is very freeing and very BUZZY. You will feel the buzzy vibrations on your upper teeth, the hard palate, in the nose, and even out the top of your head! But be careful. Make sure you are not just making head resonance. It needs to come out the front of your mouth! This is mixed voice (middle voice) in high gear, and the safest way to belt out your notes! This is what gives great singers the illusion that they are singing in the chest voice, when in fact, they are mixing like crazy (split resonance).

This is not easy to do, and it’s not as simple as described above. The actual critical playing card is your ability to control and manage your breathing.

Give it try. What do you think? Allow the voice to come out the mouth with the freedom of resonance in the head. Stick three fingers between your teeth to keep your jaw and tongue from gripping. I know it’s hard to form the consonants in your words…so just sing the vowels. If you can perfect this to a sound you like, you are well on your way!

More on rock singing…..

My last post told you of the set-up in the voice box that is ideal for singing rock music. So what differentiates a good rock singer from being just-OK?

The answer is control! Most amateurs are squeezing out their sound in an attempt to sound “big”. When a singer is in control of all the fine details of the sounds he is making, the listener will be engulfed by how “large” the sound is when the “effort” is in the correct place.

Thyroid Tilting

The ability to tilt the thyroid cartilage will give the listener the illusion of “chest voice power”. Tilting will help the singer to bridge to their head voice with pharyngeal and mouth resonance. To achieve ideal conditions and optimum resonance in the head voice, the cords need to stretch (lengthen) and thin.

The puppy dog whimper is a good indicator (if you are doing it correctly) as to whether you are tilting well. The cords must stay together as you practise! Too much air will blow the cords apart too much. You should feel this “whimper-like cry” behind your upper teeth or behind the nose. Some describe it as starting at the back of the throat and carrying through the head voice area. Pay attention to making it as buzzy and light as you can. This means you are working the inner edges of the cords. The ability to do this without flipping (cords blowing apart) above your first passagio is very difficult. Master the delicateness of this and you will see your control improve instantly. (Alter your volume to find the balance where you can maintain this sound). Start small and light and achieve control of the detail).

To help keep your cords thin, add a “cry” to the onset of your sound. This moves the larynx up slightly, so be careful to know that you are tilting as well. The “whimper” and the “cry” in your head voice will set you up nicely for thyroid tilt and cord thinning.

Do you have any questions? Please let me know. More later on another very important component of the voice when singing rock……TWANG!!

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.

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!


Getting the larynx down

I love this video. All singers, regardless of the genre they sing, should vocalize at times with a low larynx. Watch the video and copy the instructions given by Cecilia Bartoli`s mother. The ability to maintain the larynx in this position while vocalizing will dramatically improve your overall singing ability.

I know what you might be saying; you don’t like opera, or you don’t like this sound. That doesn’t matter. That isn’t the point. The point is you need to experience and practise singing with a low larynx. Opera belting and rock belting are much closer in coordination that you might ever realize.

However, don`t deliberately depress the tongue. That isn`t necessary. Your throat will be very open and the larynx will be low with the yawn sensation coupled with the correct vowel sound and jaw position. Allow the tongue to just be.

If you are having trouble with this coordination, and you feel yourself fighting to maintain the position when singing, then start by simply making noises in this position. Allow yourself time to feel and learn from this coordination. If you have never done this before, it will feel totally foreign. However, embrace it…..practise it…….learn from it.

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.

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.

Changing your sound

There are many variations in sound quality you can make simply by altering the shape of your vocal “tube” or tract.

Your tube is the length and area where your breath passes as it blows through your vocal cords. Moving the “house” or “voice box” gives you many options. Knowing how to move it up or down will instantly change the sound of your voice. When your voice box (larynx) is lower in your throat, you have lengthened your tube creating a darker, more robust sound. Move your larynx up, and you have shortened your tube to create a thinner more piercing sound. The entire voice box can tilt as well.

The tongue, soft palate, and shape of the mouth will give you many vocal colors to play with. When the soft palate is low for instance, the breath may escape through the nose changing the sound. If the tongue is high there is added resistance to the breath creating a pressure change which is essential for the “belt” sound.

These are just a few options that can add texture and interest to your voice.