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?

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!


How to Belt

Most singers want to know how their favourite singers get their sound…in other words, how they sing so well. We all want to understand the voices of Steve Perry, Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson, Adam Lambert. The list goes on and on.

It’s a complex question with a complex answer, but one thing is true with all these singers. They are great belters!

First, belting in the true sense simply means yelling. Is this a good form of singing? Absolutely not!

Can a singer learn to belt properly with a strong and healthy sound….absolutely yes! This is why we love singers who sing high notes with ease and power.

There are many key factors…and this may be an appropriate list in order of importance. However, proper and healthy belting cannot exist without all of these factors.

1. The ability to blend (mix) registers. In other words, the ability to transition from the lowest of your low notes to the highest of high notes without a bump in the road (vocal break….I think you know what I mean).

2. The ability of the vocal cords to withstand huge amounts of breath pressure….yes, this means attention to breath control!

3. The single, probably most important factor of all, the ability to “twang”. Twang simply means the larynx is doing remarkable things such as tilting to allow the cords to stretch and thin in a healthy manner. There are other things going on as well, and in a nutshell, it means the singer is able to make sounds which resonate easily because of the formants he/she is creating. This means the singer is able to make sounds that are loud and vibrant to the human ear with very little effort! This is the beauty of twang! This creates the illusion of a powerful chest voice, when in fact the singer is resonating in his head voice like crazy!

4. And lastly, but not necessarily of least importance, is the ability to control the larynx. A great singer can sing with their larynx high, low and in the middle. In other words, a great singer can maneuver the larynx and sing in all positions, depending on the “color” of sound he might want. A low larynx gives a darker sound because there is more space in the throat for the sound to resonate. This is the sound we hear in opera. A larynx that can move freely around from mid to higher, and that can tilt, is the ideal larynx for all other styles.

I hope this has given you a better idea of what good belting truly is. Have a question? Why not drop me a line!


Watch the faces of your favourite singers

Maybe you think all that facial movement is just for show?

Careful. Don’t underestimate the value of having the ability to sing with your mouth wide open, or your cheeks lifted high.

Try it. Is it easy? It should be. You voice will feel like it’s out in front of your mouth or nose….not in your throat.

Now be careful again. Make sure you are not squeezing your sound (compressing the vocal cords together too much). You should be able to sing loud and soft in an open mouth and high cheek position with free movement of your jaw. This is the tell-tale sign to know if you are over-compressing. If your face sits back down and relaxes when you are singing soft and easy on low notes, then you are probably over-compressing your cords, and allowing your larynx to rise too high to sing high notes. Low notes and high notes should not feel any different in the facial, jaw and cheek area.  Check out Headley. He is a great example of a singer with freedom in the face and mouth.

You will be hard-pressed to find a famous recording artist who isn’t free in the face and mouth area. As an listener, we are instantly drawn to the raw and almost naked emotion of facial expression with singing. They go hand-in-hand. When a singer bares it all…..we are pulled in by the resonance and the bite of singing “out the face”.

Any questions or comments? Leave them below and I’ll be sure to address it.

Am I mixing yet?

One of the most common questions I get asked is “how do I know if I’m just in chest voice or in mixed voice?”

My best answer is that mixed voice allows you the freedom to crescendo and decrescendo at will.

Now, you may not have the stamina yet to actually follow through with a crescendo or decrescendo when you are in your mix (in other words you are running out of breath)….but that should be one of your goals… have the ability to vary your volume at the peak of your performance.

If you feel like you are hanging on for dear life on your highest notes….there is a good chance you are not mixing.

OK, let’s cut to the chase

Please remember, I’m here to help you….yes, help you so you don’t take years off your career, like I did, just to figure out what you want from your voice.

If you are not interested in singing classical music, then don’t go to a classical voice teacher!! Period. You have options! If you want to sing Broadway, be careful about what voice teacher you choose.

When I was pursuing my dreams as a singer, I didn’t see my options. I knew I was struggling with my voice on the weekend with my band. I was yelling. I was hoarse. And then, on Sunday mornings I would use “this other voice” to sing songs in church. It was bizarre. I knew my voice was “disjointed” ‘but I didn’t know why, and I couldn’t figure out how to fix it on my own.

After taking voice at university, I had gained superb breath control, but still hadn’t figured out the voice I wanted. I felt like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I was with Dr. Jekyll on Saturday nights, and Mr. Hyde on Sunday mornings. It was not a great feeling. I knew something was wrong.

Then I learned about the mixed voice! Yes, the middle voice! Ladies and gentlemen, this is the ticket! No more flipping; no more yelling, no more breathy high notes. Finally, the answer I was looking for. Thank you Seth Riggs!

This is the answer for you as well! Don’t waste time like I did. Cut straight to the chase. Figure out your middle voice and voila….you can sing anything you want to and be proud of it!

You can control your larynx!

Your larynx is your voice box. It houses your vocal cords. It’s situated in behind the Adam’s apple which is that bump you feel in your throat…you know, the bump in your neck that is usually larger on a guy than a girl.

Good singing technique requires that the larynx remains low and stable. So go ahead and try this.  Put your finger on your Adam’s Apple while singing and see if it is rising when you try to sing high notes. In many singers it does go up….way up! The problem is that when your larynx rises too high, it closes off your wind pipe which is, in fact, blocking your vocal cords! This is the last thing you want when singing.

This is what is meant by singing with an open throat. Good technique is having the ability to sing while keeping your larynx in a low and stable position.

Rock Singer’s vocal lesson

First, I want to thank Justin for letting me tape his recent singing lesson. It is not easy to “let go” in a singing lesson and allow your voice to make sounds and try things that are not always pleasing, nor do they always feel “normal”. That is the key to developing a better voice….finding out what’s holding you back from progressing, and then taking the necessary steps to improve your voice.

You can see the video by clicking the link below. But, first, a little background on Justin’s voice. He has been singing a long time, (lol, at least since the age 14 when his “adult” voice started to set in!)  He is self taught….as most rock singers are. He noticed problems hitting high notes and vocal strain early on. Let’s just say it usually goes with the territory of “rock singing”.

Have a look at the videos (two parts) and let me know if  you have any questions. These exercises are specifcally good for rock singers.


Speaking or singing?

Let’s talk about your speaking voice for a moment? Do you like the sound of your speaking voice? I bet you don’t think much about it. However, your speaking habits can easily affect your singing ability.

The ability to access your head voice resonance is a key factor to singing high pitches. For some people, this coordination hasn’t been used since they were a child.

Go ahead and try it. Can you make a woo woo sound like a little kid imitating a choo choo train? What about a fire truck siren? Do it lightly and not too loud to ensure it’s your high voice making the sound. If it’s difficult or you feel strain in your throat, then try to focus on your rib cage and abdominal area and see if that makes it easier.

Instead of thinking about singing high pitches, why not think about speaking high pitches. Imitating cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny can sometimes engage the head voice and its resonance. Or, you could try meowing like a small kitty, or doing a puppy dog whimper. All these sounds are helpful to engage the coordination necessary to sing high notes.

It’s very much a feeling of less voice, or a sensation of losing oneself. Singing high notes is all about leaving the speaking voice behind and entering this new unchartered territory. At first, it may feel strained or breathy, or wrong. However, if you relax and allow the voice to visit this coordination everyday, it will eventually get easier and familiar.

Take your time, and do it everyday! Once you know how to access your head voice, then you can work on mixing the chest voice with it to create a strong middle voice. This is where all the action is!