What an interesting night…..

It’s never a dull moment in a dementia unit. Staff is constantly dealing with a wide variety of issues. Some residents don’t talk at all, others talk too much and too loud. Most residents are cooperative but you know, everyone has a bad day once in a while….right?

It’s a dance, for sure. Now it’s my turn to “dance” so the staff can have a few moments to do their charting or planning for other activities. My intention is to satisfy all, and leave in an hour seeing smiling faces and happy eye gazing.

Of course, I mean it’s my turn to “sing” not “dance”, lol.

I arrive to meet a new gentleman, Ken, who is happy and quite talkative. He doesn’t look a day over 70 or 75. He is sure he knows me from his high school days. I go along with the idea in general, but mention where I’m actually from and where I went to high school. I try to engage in casual conversation about other things in an effort to change the subject. (He will continue to talk a lot, and to mention that he knows me throughout our music time together…even while we are in the middle of a song…and I will smile and look him in the eye and nod a happy acknowledgement back at him).

We start out pretty lively….residents are revved up so I take that as my cue. I constantly look into their faces and see who is ready to engage. One lady before we even start, is asking for the Beatles. Yikes, I never start with the Beatles.

First song…I Wanna Hold Your Hand. They love it. Most are taking my cue, and moving to the beat. I look around and make eye contact when I can. If they are looking at me, I make it last. I smile and let them know I’m singing to them…..it matters…and it works. They are listening. They are trying to sing back to me. They are happy. They are feeling they are part of this moment…..that’s my job……that’s what really matters.

When the song is over, I start to clap. Sure, I guess it seems like I’m clapping for myself, but before long others start to clap. That’s it. We’re off to the races. Everyone is having a good time.

Jean gets up from her chair. Jean is a walker. This is common. She can’t sit still for long and constantly needs to be on the go. Each time I’m here we deal with her attempts to walk behind me and my piano. I’ve tried a variety of things to stop this…but the challenge is constant. Luckily I have the ability to maintain the beat and rhythm of a song, and deal with Jean at the same time. I actually sing to her in fun with the melody of the song. Instead of the real words I sing….”Jean is behind my piano….where are you Jean? Come over here Jean….”

This draws the attention of the staff and they come over and help to maneuver Jean back to her seat. The song has continued, and the residents are engaging as though nothing has even happened. Gotta love the power of music….

I stick to the 60’s for a few songs….The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Young Love, Happy Together. A few of the older residents seem a little bored…it’s time to redirect so I turn to the 50’s with Amore by Dean Martin. This is a show-stopper for all ages, and sure enough everyone is engaged.

Ken, the new gentleman mentioned above, has quite a loud speaking voice, and he is talking frequently while I’m singing. I mention before the next song that I want to hear everyone singing on the next song. (If I can get him more focused on the songs and music, he will stop interrupting as much, and everyone will be able to focus and engage more in the music).

It works. Everyone is singing It’s a Long Way to Tipperary. Ken has a nice singing voice. I smile at him as he sings all the words. I sense he is happy that I am paying attention to him. I continue to sing directly with him to the end of the song.

I fill the space between songs with light banter. Everyone is with me. It’s time for another old-time favourite…..Side by Side.

It’s amazing how old songs work to bring everyone together. Now they are singing more, and not just listening.

There is a wide range of ages in the room….probably 70 to 95….that’s two to three generations.

I jump back and forth between the 50’s/60’s, the 30’s, and then sing Country Road by John Denver.

Easy listening from the 70’s/80’s works nicely. It’s calming. Everyone has heard the songs before.

Wow, an hour has flown by. We’re down to the last couple of songs. I decide to sing “Show Me the Way to Go Home.” I joke with them and tell them I gotta home to feed my cat. Everyone is content. Everyone enjoyed their sing-along with Susie Q:)

She really was listening….

I have told many of you my story before. I started singing for the elderly when my grandmother, who had dementia, was in a nursing home. I would regularly visit her, and we would sing our favourite songs together.

Sometimes, however, grandma was not in the mood to sing. I always felt a little disappointed, but I would sing all our favourite songs anyway.

I assumed grandma wasn’t listening. She certainly seemed to not be listening.

I would often mention to the staff, on my way out, how grandma was doing. Either “she was singing and smiling up a storm today”, or “no, she wasn’t in the mood for singing today.”

Then the nurses started noticing that actually I was wrong….she was singing today! They said that quite often on the days I would visit, she was happier and more engaged than she had been previously in the day.

This was so encouraging for me! All I really wanted was to make grandma happy. And I was, after all:)

Jeanie Lovetri (The Lovetri Method)

I attended a level 1 training conference with Jeanie Lovetri last summer. I felt very aligned with her philosophy on how to teach singing. I learned a lot, and was reminded about how important our body and mind is when we sing. The ability to sing with freedom from tension in the body, is the ability to truly connect to our emotions when we sing.

There are two more levels of training that I hope to attend soon.

From reading Jeanie’s blog over the years (http://somaticvoicework.com/category/jeanie-lovetri-blog/, I learned about her interesting background dealing with teachers, and colleagues, who held strong beliefs in the traditional classical-style-only type of voice training. Her stories reminded me about how glad I was that I didn’t take classical lessons from the old lady who lived down the street when I was young.

Jeanie has worked hard throughout her 40+ singing/teaching career to bring attention to the need for advancement and change to teaching singing in the 21st Century. I believe she has put up with a lot of grief from university-level voice teachers over the years, as she has tried to communicate to them that 1. Contemporary (pop, jazz, rock, country) voice is a necessary and legitimate style of voice that singers needed to know how to do well in order to “get a singing job” whether on Broadway, or in a band, etc., and 2. Learning to sing classical music does not automatically set you up to sing in these styles, and in fact, it usually gets in the way!

I came across this interview on the Voice Forum https://www.facebook.com/voiceforum/posts/734321573382619:0

It’s a good read for all singers. Check it out. You can use the link above or read it here below:

TVF: Where do you currently practice/teach?
JL: I am based primarily out of my apartment in New York City in Manhattan on the Upper West Side. I also travel quite a bit to various conferences, workshops, organizations, and universities, nationally and internationally.

TVF: Where did you complete your vocal training?
JL: I had one year of college in 1967-68 at Manhattan School of Music. After that, all my training was privately, in everything.

TVF: If appropriate, please tell us about your performance background.
JL: I started singing at age 7 at a Brownie meeting. I sang in grade school school and then in high school I was cast as a lead in a local music theater production run by Broadway professionals. I did that for three years in three different shows. Meanwhile, I was singing in church, singing in various venues and continuing my studies in voice, acting and dance. I moved to New York City when I was 26 and once there did concerts with Chapman Roberts, a noted Broadway vocal music arranger, all over the city. I also made it into an Off-Broadway show that lasted 4 performances after I replaced one of the leads. I sang as a church soloist at Riverside Church, Marble Collegiate Church, and at Lincoln Center, at Rockefeller Center, and studied in an opera workshop at Juilliard. This and that, here and there. Always studying, always looking for work wherever it was. I sang classically, in light rock, did quite a bit of Gospel-based music theater, some jazz and a bit of concert work in both cabaret and art song literature.

TVF: What is your teaching philosophy? What genres of singing do you teach? JL: My teaching philosophy is that the voice does best when it is balanced and free. I use functional exercises to get to that end. My work is about awareness — both kinesthetic and auditory — and about “bodymind connection” but it is based on voice science as I understand it, on vocal hygiene and the concepts of healthy vocal production. It originally had roots in classical vocal pedagogy but I branched out, due to my own experiences in New York, to include the styles we now call Contemporary Commercial Music (what we used to call “non-classical). I have Broadway, jazz, rock, Gospel, folk, and alternative vocalists in my studio, some of them celebrities, and those who are referred to me by both laryngologists and speech language pathologists who are not necessarily professional singers of any kind.

TVF: Would you mind telling us about the LoVetri method of singing? What is the best way to understand it?
JL: It rests on vocal registers, the old traditional idea of finding and developing a sound called “chest register” or modal or speech-based and balancing that against “head register” or loft or, in men, falsetto, and finding a middle range sound called “mix”, which is a term that I took from Broadway. In fact, I do not use any words that I made up myself. I am against any direct manipulation of structures within the throat, particularly any kind of constriction or squeezing or positioning of the larynx. I use simple vowel sounds based on Italian. We “smile” to create a “bright” sound and we “darken” the sound to go towards a more mellow, warmer quality. In between there are shapes that call forth both of those qualities. The old school methods called them “chiaroscuro”, and they are still the sounds our Western ears like best.

Since I work with rockers, I often use exercises to bring out the intensity of the sound making the external shape smaller (closing the mouth) and the inner space smaller (allowing the larynx to gently rise). We also work on semi-occluded exercises to strengthen vocal fold closed quotient but I do that by asking people to sing “like a chipmunk”. While I understand the science, I don’t always use it to teach. I work on all voices to develop flexibility and strength, variability and stability, freedom and ease as well as stamina and strength. I work to develop an even two-octave (or more) range, connected to deliberate use of the ribcage and abdominal muscles. The inhalation process has to do with postural alignment, control over the ribcage and isolated use of the abdominal muscles. The exhalation has to do with the deliberate use of the abdominal muscles against an open (and steady) ribcage and varies according to the volume, the pitch and the length of the sung phrase. All of this has to be connected to voiced sound over time. It’s not a quick process, but progress can be made in each lesson.

TVF: In what ways is it being applied to vocal pedagogy?
JL: Everything I do in every lesson, every minute, has to do with helping the person singing, sing better. I coax the sound we need through exercises, coming as close as possible to the correct response through multiple repetitions. I label the sound responses for the student as we get them. (This is chest register on a bright vowel. This is your mix at mezzo forte). I am very careful with how I use words to describe what I see and hear and I ask a lot of questions. (Tell me how that sounded. What did you feel during that exercise? Did you like that? Was this sound clear? Can you make that louder without doing anything except increasing your belly pressure?) I do not rely on metaphor as a primary tool, rather I stick to three basic ideas: chest, mix, head (registers) and bright vowels and dark vowels, connected to deliberate breathing. I rarely mention resonance, placement or formant/harmonic ratios, unless I am working with someone who sings classical literature. When you have to generate a lot of sound on your lungs alone, you need that “singer’s formant”. In CCM styles you are always amplified and too much resonance can get in the way.

TVF: In your opinion, what poses the greatest challenge in singing habilitation?
JL: The greatest challenge is to truly trust the body to find a way to sing that is free, authentic and real in every person and every style. This is quite possible and extraordinary to experience and it is the point of vocal technique training for any style. There is so much training out there that forces people to make sound for sound’s sake, which ends up causing ugly sounds, disconnected from honest human emotion that communicates to people in any language. Many people who teach singing do not themselves sing well, and may have never sung well, yet teach. The old wives’ tale that “classical vocal training” prepares you for any style is nonsense. There are no codified guidelines about what is or is not “classical” except in terms of resonance and literature. Each vocalist either gets there on his or her own or sinks in the process. Singers learn to sing with effort, struggle to make phony sound and that is a tragedy for both the vocalists and the music listening public. Voice science is touted as being important but many of the teachers who are most well known for voice science do not sing well and do not understand anything other than “classical” vocal pedagogy. They rely upon “breath support” and “resonance” as their primary tools and those tools, from the 18th century, do not serve 21st century singers well at all.

TVF: In your opinion, what are some of the most important advances made in the field of vocal pedagogy in the recent years?
JL: It think it is harder than it was when I was a student for singing teachers to get away with nonsensical ideas in lessons. Unfortunately, this has not stopped people from accepting pedagogies designed for CCM that are chock full of crazy ideas. I believe this is because the studies on singing have still been largely based on classical singing and that is because there is almost no one expert enough in voice science to assess the work done on belting or CCM styles from the standpoint of music marketplace viability. Music marketplace viability. We really don’t have research there that is uniformly accepted as being valid in the marketplace and without that, the studies can be virtually worthless. Further, if we don’t study professional singers who have sung for decades at a high level, but instead do most research on singing on college students and faculty or low-level singers, the research isn’t helpful to the profession at large, particularly those who work with professionals. Without denigrating today’s work, I don’t think it has a significant bearing on those who teach singing who still largely rely on the National Association of Teachers of Singing to provide pedagogical information that they can absorb. Most of them do not attend medical or voice science conferences or read voice science outside of the Journal of Singing. Our strides in vocal pedagogy have to always have some basis in applicability to actual sung (or spoken) sound in order to be relevant.

TVF: What is your vocal pet peeve and why?
JL: I truly dislike deliberate manipulation of the inner structures of the throat. I am also against putting the larynx anywhere on purpose. I don’t believe that breath support and resonance are the answers to every vocal problem. I regret the lack of interest in singing in making sure that every sound is truly connected to freely expressed emotion connected to a clear intention no matter what the music or text. The only place you find that is in theatrical speech.

TVF: Which vocal myth would you like to dispel?
JL: I will repeat myself: Breath support and resonance (placement, bone vibration, singer’s formant) is the answer to any singing problem.

TVF: Your most memorable voice teaching case?
JL: Since I have been teaching for 45 years, there have been quite a few. Times when in a lesson I have been moved to tears. I have also had a few very unsettling lessons. Twice singers without any more provocation than me asking for a specific exercise, have flipped out and gotten enraged in a lesson such that I was really concerned for my safety. In the other cases, sometimes a person who hasn’t been able to make a certain sung sound for years and years suddenly finds her voice or makes a beautiful, effortless sound, and then, often we both cry. It can be miraculous.

TVF: As a vocal pedagogue, what keeps you on your toes?
JL: This might sound pompous, but I mean it. I regard every lesson as being sacred. The person is giving you their most precious “possession” (their voice) and I care for it as if it was a Renoir. They are giving you their trust, their hopes and dreams, their heart. I tread very lightly, as I am where angels fear to go, and I remain absolutely present for as much of the session as possible, concentrating fully so as not to miss a thing. I strive never to assume I know everything, that I cannot be wrong or make a mistake, that I cannot learn every day. I remain grateful to be of service, to share what I know, and I hold the information I have gathered over the years from so many world-recognized experts as a gift that I cannot take for granted. I am always grateful.

TVF: In your opinion, what are some of the pitfalls in vocal training? Why do you think this happens?
JL: You cannot see a voice. It is difficult to feel if it is working well. You can perhaps recognize the results of vocal production but you cannot “vibrate your vocal folds” on purpose. It cannot be held, weighed, or contained. It is therefore very very easy to think you know and make up things about what you think you know and impress others who have no knowledge whatsoever about how human beings make sound or sing. It is easy to dupe an innocent young singer with big words, flashy concepts and loud sounds.

TVF: What would you say to singers who don’t take lessons after their initial college training?
JL: If you were a professional gymnast, would you not work out? If you were a golfer, would you not go to the course with your golf coach? If you were a world-class pianist would you never play any scales? Singing is a skill. If you do not work on it, it falls apart. Your body should learn to do extended behaviors for long periods of time while you are a student and then you should do whatever it takes to keep those skills or increase them for the entire rest of your singing life.

TVF: What is your opinion on current academic voice training programs? Is there anything you wish to see changed or improved?
JL: They are all over the place. Colleges are in the midst of a big sea change. With the exiting of the baby boomer generation, the younger teachers who are taking over are not afraid of technology, but welcome it. They are not closed to “those ugly belt sounds” as were their predecessors. They are interested in voice science and research. The colleges recognize that money is to be made in music theater training and in jazz. Classical singing that focuses only on classical pedagogy is for 1% of those who sing. The likelihood that anyone singing is going to succeed at a high enough level to make a decent living from that alone are infinitesimally small. CCM styles are so much more prevalent throughout the world; singers really have to be able to master those styles if they are to get work. Schools are only just beginning to catch up with curriculum design and there are still not enough teachers who have appropriate experience and skills to convey the pedagogy needed to sing in multiple styles well. Every school has different ideas and gathers a different faculty with diverse abilities. This will continue, probably, for at least another generation before it all gets sorted out.

TVF: In your opinion, since you have been teaching for decades, what is the secret to vocal longevity?
JL: Treating the body with respect. You cannot force the throat or the body without paying a price. You will not be able to sustain singing if you do not truly love your own sound.

TVF: What do you think the next steps are in growing the field of vocology?
JL: It’s hard to say. What I would like to see is what I have already said. More research on professional singers at high levels with long careers, especially in the field, live. Recognition of crazy teaching ideas as being crazy so they will go away.!!
I would like the scientists to be willing to be taught by the singing teachers as much as the singing teachers (and SLPs) are willing to learn from voice scientists. Voice science that does not understand singing in high-level singers is nearly useless. There are things for scientists, doctors and SLPs to learn from singing teachers that can’t be picked up at a short presentation during a conference. That needs to change.

TVF: Who have been your most important/influential mentors/teachers?
JL: In vocal pedagogy: Cornelius Reid, William Vennard, Richard Miller, Oren Brown, Meribeth Bunch Dayme. In SLP: Daniel Boone, Anita

 

 

 

 

 

 

TVF: Where do you currently practice/teach?
JL: I am based primarily out of my apartment in New York City in Manhattan on the Upper West Side. I also travel quite a bit to various conferences, workshops, organizations, and universities, nationally and internationally.

TVF: Where did you complete your vocal training?
JL: I had one year of college in 1967-68 at Manhattan School of Music. After that, all my training was privately, in everything.

TVF: If appropriate, please tell us about your performance background.
JL: I started singing at age 7 at a Brownie meeting. I sang in grade school school and then in high school I was cast as a lead in a local music theater production run by Broadway professionals. I did that for three years in three different shows. Meanwhile, I was singing in church, singing in various venues and continuing my studies in voice, acting and dance. I moved to New York City when I was 26 and once there did concerts with Chapman Roberts, a noted Broadway vocal music arranger, all over the city. I also made it into an Off-Broadway show that lasted 4 performances after I replaced one of the leads. I sang as a church soloist at Riverside Church, Marble Collegiate Church, and at Lincoln Center, at Rockefeller Center, and studied in an opera workshop at Juilliard. This and that, here and there. Always studying, always looking for work wherever it was. I sang classically, in light rock, did quite a bit of Gospel-based music theater, some jazz and a bit of concert work in both cabaret and art song literature.

TVF: What is your teaching philosophy? What genres of singing do you teach? JL: My teaching philosophy is that the voice does best when it is balanced and free. I use functional exercises to get to that end. My work is about awareness — both kinesthetic and auditory — and about “bodymind connection” but it is based on voice science as I understand it, on vocal hygiene and the concepts of healthy vocal production. It originally had roots in classical vocal pedagogy but I branched out, due to my own experiences in New York, to include the styles we now call Contemporary Commercial Music (what we used to call “non-classical). I have Broadway, jazz, rock, Gospel, folk, and alternative vocalists in my studio, some of them celebrities, and those who are referred to me by both laryngologists and speech language pathologists who are not necessarily professional singers of any kind.

TVF: Would you mind telling us about the LoVetri method of singing? What is the best way to understand it?
JL: It rests on vocal registers, the old traditional idea of finding and developing a sound called “chest register” or modal or speech-based and balancing that against “head register” or loft or, in men, falsetto, and finding a middle range sound called “mix”, which is a term that I took from Broadway. In fact, I do not use any words that I made up myself. I am against any direct manipulation of structures within the throat, particularly any kind of constriction or squeezing or positioning of the larynx. I use simple vowel sounds based on Italian. We “smile” to create a “bright” sound and we “darken” the sound to go towards a more mellow, warmer quality. In between there are shapes that call forth both of those qualities. The old school methods called them “chiaroscuro”, and they are still the sounds our Western ears like best.

Since I work with rockers, I often use exercises to bring out the intensity of the sound making the external shape smaller (closing the mouth) and the inner space smaller (allowing the larynx to gently rise). We also work on semi-occluded exercises to strengthen vocal fold closed quotient but I do that by asking people to sing “like a chipmunk”. While I understand the science, I don’t always use it to teach. I work on all voices to develop flexibility and strength, variability and stability, freedom and ease as well as stamina and strength. I work to develop an even two-octave (or more) range, connected to deliberate use of the ribcage and abdominal muscles. The inhalation process has to do with postural alignment, control over the ribcage and isolated use of the abdominal muscles. The exhalation has to do with the deliberate use of the abdominal muscles against an open (and steady) ribcage and varies according to the volume, the pitch and the length of the sung phrase. All of this has to be connected to voiced sound over time. It’s not a quick process, but progress can be made in each lesson.

TVF: In what ways is it being applied to vocal pedagogy?
JL: Everything I do in every lesson, every minute, has to do with helping the person singing, sing better. I coax the sound we need through exercises, coming as close as possible to the correct response through multiple repetitions. I label the sound responses for the student as we get them. (This is chest register on a bright vowel. This is your mix at mezzo forte). I am very careful with how I use words to describe what I see and hear and I ask a lot of questions. (Tell me how that sounded. What did you feel during that exercise? Did you like that? Was this sound clear? Can you make that louder without doing anything except increasing your belly pressure?) I do not rely on metaphor as a primary tool, rather I stick to three basic ideas: chest, mix, head (registers) and bright vowels and dark vowels, connected to deliberate breathing. I rarely mention resonance, placement or formant/harmonic ratios, unless I am working with someone who sings classical literature. When you have to generate a lot of sound on your lungs alone, you need that “singer’s formant”. In CCM styles you are always amplified and too much resonance can get in the way.

TVF: In your opinion, what poses the greatest challenge in singing habilitation?
JL: The greatest challenge is to truly trust the body to find a way to sing that is free, authentic and real in every person and every style. This is quite possible and extraordinary to experience and it is the point of vocal technique training for any style. There is so much training out there that forces people to make sound for sound’s sake, which ends up causing ugly sounds, disconnected from honest human emotion that communicates to people in any language. Many people who teach singing do not themselves sing well, and may have never sung well, yet teach. The old wives’ tale that “classical vocal training” prepares you for any style is nonsense. There are no codified guidelines about what is or is not “classical” except in terms of resonance and literature. Each vocalist either gets there on his or her own or sinks in the process. Singers learn to sing with effort, struggle to make phony sound and that is a tragedy for both the vocalists and the music listening public. Voice science is touted as being important but many of the teachers who are most well known for voice science do not sing well and do not understand anything other than “classical” vocal pedagogy. They rely upon “breath support” and “resonance” as their primary tools and those tools, from the 18th century, do not serve 21st century singers well at all.

TVF: In your opinion, what are some of the most important advances made in the field of vocal pedagogy in the recent years?
JL: It think it is harder than it was when I was a student for singing teachers to get away with nonsensical ideas in lessons. Unfortunately, this has not stopped people from accepting pedagogies designed for CCM that are chock full of crazy ideas. I believe this is because the studies on singing have still been largely based on classical singing and that is because there is almost no one expert enough in voice science to assess the work done on belting or CCM styles from the standpoint of music marketplace viability. Music marketplace viability. We really don’t have research there that is uniformly accepted as being valid in the marketplace and without that, the studies can be virtually worthless. Further, if we don’t study professional singers who have sung for decades at a high level, but instead do most research on singing on college students and faculty or low-level singers, the research isn’t helpful to the profession at large, particularly those who work with professionals. Without denigrating today’s work, I don’t think it has a significant bearing on those who teach singing who still largely rely on the National Association of Teachers of Singing to provide pedagogical information that they can absorb. Most of them do not attend medical or voice science conferences or read voice science outside of the Journal of Singing. Our strides in vocal pedagogy have to always have some basis in applicability to actual sung (or spoken) sound in order to be relevant.

TVF: What is your vocal pet peeve and why?
JL: I truly dislike deliberate manipulation of the inner structures of the throat. I am also against putting the larynx anywhere on purpose. I don’t believe that breath support and resonance are the answers to every vocal problem. I regret the lack of interest in singing in making sure that every sound is truly connected to freely expressed emotion connected to a clear intention no matter what the music or text. The only place you find that is in theatrical speech.

TVF: Which vocal myth would you like to dispel?
JL: I will repeat myself: Breath support and resonance (placement, bone vibration, singer’s formant) is the answer to any singing problem.

TVF: Your most memorable voice teaching case?
JL: Since I have been teaching for 45 years, there have been quite a few. Times when in a lesson I have been moved to tears. I have also had a few very unsettling lessons. Twice singers without any more provocation than me asking for a specific exercise, have flipped out and gotten enraged in a lesson such that I was really concerned for my safety. In the other cases, sometimes a person who hasn’t been able to make a certain sung sound for years and years suddenly finds her voice or makes a beautiful, effortless sound, and then, often we both cry. It can be miraculous.

TVF: As a vocal pedagogue, what keeps you on your toes?
JL: This might sound pompous, but I mean it. I regard every lesson as being sacred. The person is giving you their most precious “possession” (their voice) and I care for it as if it was a Renoir. They are giving you their trust, their hopes and dreams, their heart. I tread very lightly, as I am where angels fear to go, and I remain absolutely present for as much of the session as possible, concentrating fully so as not to miss a thing. I strive never to assume I know everything, that I cannot be wrong or make a mistake, that I cannot learn every day. I remain grateful to be of service, to share what I know, and I hold the information I have gathered over the years from so many world-recognized experts as a gift that I cannot take for granted. I am always grateful.

TVF: In your opinion, what are some of the pitfalls in vocal training? Why do you think this happens?
JL: You cannot see a voice. It is difficult to feel if it is working well. You can perhaps recognize the results of vocal production but you cannot “vibrate your vocal folds” on purpose. It cannot be held, weighed, or contained. It is therefore very very easy to think you know and make up things about what you think you know and impress others who have no knowledge whatsoever about how human beings make sound or sing. It is easy to dupe an innocent young singer with big words, flashy concepts and loud sounds.

TVF: What would you say to singers who don’t take lessons after their initial college training?
JL: If you were a professional gymnast, would you not work out? If you were a golfer, would you not go to the course with your golf coach? If you were a world-class pianist would you never play any scales? Singing is a skill. If you do not work on it, it falls apart. Your body should learn to do extended behaviors for long periods of time while you are a student and then you should do whatever it takes to keep those skills or increase them for the entire rest of your singing life.

TVF: What is your opinion on current academic voice training programs? Is there anything you wish to see changed or improved?
JL: They are all over the place. Colleges are in the midst of a big sea change. With the exiting of the baby boomer generation, the younger teachers who are taking over are not afraid of technology, but welcome it. They are not closed to “those ugly belt sounds” as were their predecessors. They are interested in voice science and research. The colleges recognize that money is to be made in music theater training and in jazz. Classical singing that focuses only on classical pedagogy is for 1% of those who sing. The likelihood that anyone singing is going to succeed at a high enough level to make a decent living from that alone are infinitesimally small. CCM styles are so much more prevalent throughout the world; singers really have to be able to master those styles if they are to get work. Schools are only just beginning to catch up with curriculum design and there are still not enough teachers who have appropriate experience and skills to convey the pedagogy needed to sing in multiple styles well. Every school has different ideas and gathers a different faculty with diverse abilities. This will continue, probably, for at least another generation before it all gets sorted out.

TVF: In your opinion, since you have been teaching for decades, what is the secret to vocal longevity?
JL: Treating the body with respect. You cannot force the throat or the body without paying a price. You will not be able to sustain singing if you do not truly love your own sound.

TVF: What do you think the next steps are in growing the field of vocology?
JL: It’s hard to say. What I would like to see is what I have already said. More research on professional singers at high levels with long careers, especially in the field, live. Recognition of crazy teaching ideas as being crazy so they will go away.!!
I would like the scientists to be willing to be taught by the singing teachers as much as the singing teachers (and SLPs) are willing to learn from voice scientists. Voice science that does not understand singing in high-level singers is nearly useless. There are things for scientists, doctors and SLPs to learn from singing teachers that can’t be picked up at a short presentation during a conference. That needs to change.

TVF: Who have been your most important/influential mentors/teachers?
JL: In vocal pedagogy: Cornelius Reid, William Vennard, Richard Miller, Oren Brown, Meribeth Bunch Dayme. In SLP: Daniel Boone, Anita

Thinning out those cords

This is the challenge.

We do the exercises, day after day, hour after hour…..nothing is changing. What’s up?

What’s up is likely a combination of two things: Old habits and undiscovered territory.

It takes time and commitment to get to the next level of new discovery. Are you putting in your time? Are you willing to do what it takes?

Then allow yourself to back up for a minute. Get in tune with your body and your voice. Allow yourself to thin out your cords…one pitch at a time.

Is it easy….no, not necessarily. But is it possible. Absolutely!

In the beginning, you must practise thinning our your cords every day……many times throughout the day. Your voice is made up of very small muscle movements. The vocal cords cannot learn to thin out if you only practise for a short time everyday. You must commit to training regularly throughout the day. I suggest 3 times….morning, afternoon and evening to see good results.

Give it a try. Let me know how it goes!

Types of voices

Singing starts with our speaking voice….and we are all blessed with a speaking voice that is uniquely our own.

Some people have a breathy voice, while others don’t. Some people have thick cords while others have thin. Some people have a larynx that sits higher in their throat than others. Some people have short tongues, while others have long. Some have limited jaw mobility.

As you can see, the list is endless for physical reasons why you sound the way you do.

It’s always a good idea to learn from a professional the type of speaking voice you have. Good singing starts with good speaking.  Good speaking requires the same vocal habits as good singing.

There is a singing coach who is also a speaking coach names Roger Love. I believe he trained in speech level singing years ago. He has loads of valuable resources. Check out his website here. http://www.rogerlove.com/

So, I’ve fallen off the wagon

It happens, right? Even though I know that keeping my voice “in shape” means doing my exercises daily, I haven’t been practising what I preach.

Oh, I have my excuses…it started with a bad cold in the fall, and then I was so busy at Christmas….I never had any time for vocalizing. And then we set into this cold, long winter, and well, I just haven’t felt like it. Did I mention this winter is cold and looooonnnnnngggg?

Well excuses, no more! My voice has definitely suffered. My second passagio is breathy, and my third one is almost non-existent!

Stay tuned. I will be vocalizing morning and night for about 30 minutes each, and singing songs for another two hours.That’s a total of 3 hours singing per day.

I figure if I write it down for the world to see, I will do it! I will return my voice to that sweet sound once again.

I will keep you posted about my improvements. Why not join me? It’s more fun to exercise together!

 

What is Twang?

The simplest way to explain twang, is to say that the cords do a remarkable thing when they are aligned correctly. They will stretch and thin because the larynx is tilting. There is a “funnel” created which is like having an extra resonating chamber in your throat. Your voice will “pop”! You can achieve volume without pushing or straining.

The easiest way to achieve this coordination is by imitating sounds. However, too much imitation causes all kinds of problems….so always pay attention to the smallest details.

If you listen to a baby cry, you can hear freedom and release. They are not “pushing” (or they would go hoarse!) They have twang in their voice. Go ahead…no singing, just cry like a baby and take note of what it feels like in the back of your throat!

Now, of course, we don’t want to have to “cry” every time we sing, or do we? Believe it or not, there is an element of “cry” sensation in every great singer’s voice. Try this: I have my students say “mmm, mmm” like something is really yummy. It is just a noise. No singing. There is no sound coming out your mouth. It feels like a buzzy hum. We do this sound in our low voice and carry it up and down our range. Note what it feels like in your throat and on the roof of your mouth at the back where the tongue is touching the soft palate. Be sure to keep it light, at least at first. You need to exercise this sound on the edges of the cords. It may become breathy as you go up in your range. Some singers don’t have the coordination yet to stretch those cords enough so the edges can meet. This is the exercise! Find the spot where you know you are making this sound with good cord closure, and then move one note higher. Do this every day paying attention to this small detail. The cords are small little muscles. If no sound comes out, that’s OK. Take it down one note, and do it again. You are on the right track. DO NOT PUSH. That is only counter-productive.
There are other sounds you can try such as quacking like a duck. Again, please take note that too much quacking will result in constriction! Instead, consider what that feels like in the back of your throat as you do this sound in your low, middle and high range. Keep it light. Constriction is most likely to happen in your high range, so take it easy and pay attention to the “thinner” edges of the sound. Again, it may be breathy…but this means you are on the right track!
I hope this information is helpful! Remember, learning to sing better doesn’t happen overnight so enjoy the journey!

Institute for Vocal Advancement

If you haven’t heard about the Institute for Vocal Advancement, then check out their website here http://www.vocaladvancement.com/

This organization is run by a group of fine teachers, mostly of whom are previous master teachers from the Speech Level Singing organization run by Seth Riggs.

I believe this organization has much to offer both students and teachers.  It is the same sound instruction that SLS offers by a group dedicated to staying in touch with the latest developments in vocal science.

I have quoted a section about technique from their website below. It is well said, and explains to singers exactly why we need to exercise our voice regularly and correctly.

Why is Technique So Important:  Singers don’t have frets like guitar players, or keys like piano players.  We don’t have a volume knob. In order for us singers to change pitch and volume we have to rely on finding and maintaining vocal balance. Problems start when that balance goes out of whack.  Unbalanced vocal qualities like singing too airy, too husky, too tight, too squeezed, or too pushed, can contribute to throwing your voice out of balance.

Thinning the vocal cords

The vocal cords are at their thickest and shortest when you are speaking.

Good singing requires the vocal cords to stretch and thin for higher pitches. The larynx (which is simply the house that the vocal cords sit in) will tilt forward to allow this to happen.

There is one exercise in particular that will set a singer up nicely for the above coordination. I’ve mentioned it before….and here it is again. Don’t under-estimate the value of this exercise.

First, an idea to help you down the correct path. Be very aware of this sensation and stick to it every time you are exercising (all exercises)!

1. Make the sound of a puppy dog whimpering or a small child whining. For some of you, this sensation will be totally foreign and you may not know how to make this noise. Try this instead. Moan softly. The sound must be relatively high in pitch, but don’t try to sing it. Just make the noise. Keep working on this sensation. You may notice your eyes and cheeks raise with your effort of this sound. You are on the right track. Relax and allow this gentle sound to engage your vocal cords.

2. Engage into this sensation without any sound. Be aware of what it feels like at the back of your throat and on your soft palate. These are important areas of sensation.

3. When ready, say the word ‘sing’ and hold out the ‘ng’ longer. Notice that your tongue is touching the upper back of your mouth (the soft palate area) to make this sound.

4. Now, just make the ‘ng’ sound. It is a hum. Your tongue is stopping any sound from leaving your mouth. Make sure your jaw and mouth are relaxed. Remember to keep the moan or puppy dog whimper sensation mentioned above.

5. Now you can try humming the ‘ng’ from your lowest notes to your highest notes. If you are in a good coordination, you will not flip. It may feel light and breathy. That’s OK. This exercise will bring superb awareness to key factors in good singing.

Questions? Please drop me a line.

The hoarse voice

Do you ask yourself why you keep losing your voice? Why do you get a hoarse voice after singing for an hour, a night, or maybe two nights in a club?

The vocal cords can only handle so much pressure. When they are misused, we can hear evidence by the imperfections in the sound quality such as hoarseness and gaps in certain areas of the voice.

Many working musicians who are singing every night in loud bars and nightclubs experience the challenge of maintaining control and stamina of their voice without losing their voice completely.

It’s a fine line between a sultry, edgy, husky-like singing voice and no voice at all.

Bottom line….self awareness and self control is key to maintaining the task of singing day after day, night after night in difficult environments.

Professional singers learn very quickly to get lots of rest and drink plenty of water…two key ingredients to maintaining tip top vocal cord function.

Professional singers also know when to stop singing….when to stop blowing so much air through their cords. They have good instincts. They pay attention to the signs. Otherwise, they risk having no voice at all.