Knowing your instrument

We know the voice is a delicate little instrument that can easily be damaged when used incorrectly. Did you know the vocal folds (cords) are composed of three elements: muscle, ligament and an outer fleshy mucous membrane. When used correctly, this little instrument can accomplish amazing feats.

We can’t see the cords while we sing, so it’s important to understand the effort needed elsewhere to ensure the cords are being coordinated correctly for great singing. There are several factors involved: Air flow (which is your breath and involves many other factors to do with your body), position of the larynx, and maximizing your resonance. It is the attention to this balancing act that will allow the cords to stretch out, thin out, stiffen, thicken, lengthen and shorten.  The control at the vocal cord level should be the goal of every great singer.



Tongue out and hum exercise

My last post was about the tongue and how it can get in the way when you are singing.

When you let your tongue hang out over your bottom lip, it cannot interfere with the back of your throat and stop you from mixing. This is a great way to exercise your voice, although you can look pretty silly doing it!

Try this: Choose a song where the highest pitches are above your passagio….(for women that is A, B flat, B or higher, and men that is E, F, F# or higher).

Let your tongue hang out and hum your song.  If you feel strain in your throat while humming the highest pitches, then lighten up. Try again with less volume.

If you feel the need to “flip” or “let go” in order to achieve the highest notes without strain, no worries! You are now in your head register but having trouble keeping the cords connected as you ascend in pitch.

With careful attention to the engagement of your body (from the top of your stomach and down…including your back and buttocks), and also attention to how loud you are humming your song, you should be able to hum your high pitches without disconnecting the cords (falcetto).

Once you have found this balance where you can hum your high pitches while keeping your vocal cords connected, it is time to allow some of the sound to come out of your mouth. Do not move on to the next exercise unless you can indeed hum your entire song with your tongue out….even if it appears to have no power or substance. If you do this exercise regularly with your songs, your cords will get stronger and allow you to hum with more pressure (volume).

There is more to tell about this delicate yet fascinating exercise. Stay tuned!


The tongue and “mixing”

All too often, we as singers forget about the tongue. Yes, the tongue is an important link in our efforts as singers to resonate fully and “get in the mix”.

Tongues come in all shapes and sizes, but nonetheless it is BIG. Even small tongues are big.

You shouldn’t move your tongue out of the way. It is there to help you enunciate your words clearly and precisely.

The tongue should naturally rise at the back as you ascend in pitch. If you are having trouble in the middle of your voice (the mix…i.e. head voice and chest voice resonance), there is a good chance your tongue may be involved.

Here is an exercise to see if your tongue is stopping your from mixing.

1 Open your mouth to a natural hanging-jaw position….not too big, not too small…..just o’natural.

2. Let your tongue hang out over your bottom lip.

3. Stay relaxed in the back of the throat. (I use the Estille silent laugh to avoid constriction).

4. Starting on an easy pitch, sing the vowel (a) as in cat, and slowly go higher in pitch through your passagio.

5. If you feel your tongue wanting to pull back in, then you know there is trouble.

6. The tongue should actually rise at the back as you ascend in pitch. Your mouth may get bigger. Your tongue may extend out even further. Allow this happen. Experience it.

7. If it’s really troubling, hold on to your tongue and repeat.

Yes, this is your mix. This is you allowing your voice to resonate in all the efficient spaces for optimum singing.

How did it go? Any comments or questions? Why not let me know.


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!

How does Jamie Vendera shatter a wine glass?

Is your speaking voice breathy? Deep? Raspy? Whiny? Twangy? Heady? Throaty? Chesty? Thick? Garbled? Thin? Muddy? Edgy? Mucky? Tight? Loose? High? Low? Brassy? Mellow?

Your singing voice starts with your speaking voice.

Did you ever wonder how Jamie Vendera can bust a wine glass with his singing voice? Well, have a listen here to his speaking voice.
Note the edge and brightness to his sound. He is resonating like crazy while he speaks.

This guy has it all together. He knows the voice inside and out, and his speaking (and singing) voice proves it.

The likely reason his speaking voice is more “defined” and “buzzy” compared to that of Brett Manning, is because he is also a screamer. And, he is obviously able to resonate at a frequency that is able to shatter a wine glass.

Sing above the pencil

For those of you still wondering if you are “mixing” with your head voice resonance, try this.

Visualize you are holding a pencil lengthwise between your teeth (or actually put a pencil between your teeth!). Now, direct every note you sing above the pencil line. In other words, “think” your sound into your face.

If you are pulling chest, you may notice that it helps you relax in the throat. Indeed, sometimes this is the only thing that needs to change in order to “allow” your head voice to join your chest voice…………Voila! You are mixing!

Singers, you have a choice!

Times have changed, and they are going to continue to change for singers. This is a great thing! Singers now have a choice!

Gone are the days when there was one, and only one, way to train the voice. There was traditional voice training, and there was traditional voice training! You could go to university and develop a beautifully resonant head voice that soared through arias. Or, you could go to a private teacher, who either learned the same way, or taught what worked for them.

Traditional voice training was developed for traditional European music (where a singer had to be heard at the back of the concert hall with no microphone), but this type of projection was not what rock’n rollers and contemporary singers needed to help them sing better. Most traditional voice teachers considered these modern types of singing (which was predominantly a thick fold/chest voice coordination) wrong and damaging to the voice.

We now know this isn’t the case. Certainly there are limits to what the voice can do (in any coordination), but making unique and different sounds other than traditional classical, choir-like sounds is not always damaging to the vocal cords.

Seth Riggs was a pioneer in developing a vocal technique that strengthened the bridges in the voice and encouraged transitioning through the registers. No more vocal breaks. Hallelujah! This technique balanced the singer’s voice so they could sing whatever genre of music they wished.

Some teachers are now helping singers who want to make even more extreme sounds. Resonance and bridging is fundamental in these music genres to ensure the singer maintains a healthy larynx.

Singers, what do you think? Have you found freedom and balance in your voice, while at the same time you’re able to make sounds you are happy with?


There are three main areas of resonance for the voice. The chest, the head and what I like to refer to as the middle. This is the mouth (soft and hard palate) and the back of the throat…..also known as the oropharynx.

This resonance happens easiest when you have a balance of chest register and head register (mix). If you are too much in a chest register coordination it is difficult to get this resonance, and same goes with too much of a head voice coordination. A good balance of the two will allow the larynx to adjust for effective middle voice resonance.

Check out this exercise to hear a good example of pharyngeal resonance. When you do the exercise you shouldn’t feel any strain in the throat. Just lift the cheeks slightly, and relax the jaw.