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!

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!


Singer’s Cough

You have heard the phrase “the show must go on”. Well, for the professional singer with a cough, this is a very stressful ordeal.

I experience coughing every winter, at some time or another. It usually starts with a viral infection where my vocal cords become inflamed and covered in excess mucus which causes me to cough. The cough can then easily become a vicious cycle of more coughing. Getting this cycle under control is key to maintaining a healthy voice. Here are some tips that work for me.

1. Loads of sleep.

2. Breath through your nose, not your mouth, whenever you can. It moistens the air.

3. Sip room temperature water constantly.

4. Keep a vaporizer in your bedroom.

5. Rely on extra abdominal support when singing. Never push, and never whisper.

6. Suck on candies to keep you salivating.

7. Sing and talk as little as possible.

In closing, a singer’s goal should be to resist the urge to cough, so it will ultimately go away. It sometimes takes me as long as a month to totally be free of the urge to cough.

It’s a dreadful cycle, but one I know all too well. I’m in the middle of that cycle right now. So I’d better be off for my long hot shower. The moist air will give me a few hours of relief before I have to sing again.

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.



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.

What is the difference between head voice and falcetto? Does it matter?

In my opinion, it’s all relative, really.

Here is my definition of falcetto: The condition of the vocal folds whereby the glottis is large and a lot of air is passing through.

Here is my definition of head voice: The condition of the vocal folds whereby the glottis is small(er), and the folds are able to withstand more breath pressure.

Let me explain.

With my own voice, I basically consider my falcetto to be a light head voice. This is the condition where I am allowing more air to pass through on a high pitch.

With some singers, this condition happens when they reach a certain pitch whereby the vocal folds cannot withstand the amount of breath being released. Basically, they blow apart.

In other singers, this condition happens as they gradually get higher and higher in pitch. There may not be an actual sensation of flip, but rather a breathiness that comes with singing high notes.

Ideally we want to have good vocal cord closure on our high notes without over-compression (squeezing).  Singing in your falcetto (or your head voice, whatever you decide to call it), is an important element to becoming a better singer.


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!


The illusion of power

Too many times I hear over-compressed cords from students who think  they are singing with power. Unfortunately this sound is dull and to be quite blunt … ugly. Over-compressing the cords will only cause students trouble as they try to sing higher, because  they can’t release this sensation without flipping into falcetto. The answer is; mixing with head voice and allowing the cords to thin and stretch as you sing higher.

Men, you can find your head voice by singing a G above middle C in a connected, stable and controlled sound. This isn’t falcetto. This is head voice. If you feel your throat “choking” you then your larynx is probably too high. This coordination is not going to help you sing in optimum head voice mix, so work on getting that larynx down first.

Women, you can find your true head voice by singing a high C. Again, make sure this isn’t breathy or you are probably in falcetto (which means the cords have come apart).

Working this area of your voice is very important for mixing. Learn to love your head voice. It may seem weak and foreign to you, and that is all-the-more reason to figure out this area of your voice from this approach. Keep the volume at a medium to low level.

There are other elements that will help build a powerful and strong mixed voice too. Once your head voice is easy to control and identify, then you can work on pharyngeal sounds and exercises to bring out the illusion of power. Yes, the illusion of power. The illusion of a super-human sound that is actually just your head voice in a mix!

Should you bridge early or not??

If your goal is to have a thick (chestier) sound in your upper range, then bridging early isn’t going to get you there.

Bridging early will help balance your voice, and achieve good cord closure through your entire register. Bridging later will give you the advantage of more mouth and throat resonance with a tilted cartilage and narrowing of the aryepiglottic sphincter.

For example, I can sing high C with two different co-ordinations. One sound is more legit with great head resonance and cord closure. This is when I bridge around G above middle C. The second co-ordination is a thicker and chestier sound with stiffer cords. Because my thyroid is tilted and the AES tube is narrowed, the resonance doesn’t split the same as it does when bridging earlier. This gives the listener the impression of a thicker, chestier sound.


Controlled effort

One of the most important things you can do as a singer is to learn how to balance your voice. In other words, know how to negotiate the first passagio, so you have no issues with the transfer of resonance as you move back and forth through that bridge. Men, your first bridge is around D to F above middle C, and ladies your bridge is anywhere between A (above middle C) to high C. One key element to negotiating this passagio is the idea of “bridging early”. Don’t avoid this sensation, but don’t flip into falcetto either.

One of the easiest ways to know if you are bridging is simply to match the volume as you sing higher. Your body needs to figure out how to control the air (send less air) as you ascend in pitch.  You need to allow that heady feeling and turn on your body anchor. Without enough body effort you will likely notice the sound starts to become “weaker” or “not intense enough”.  You will likely want to sing louder, but that’s not how to improve your voice. Instead, turn on your body! Pretend you are lifting a heavy suitcase in each arm. Notice your rib cage engage as you exert some pressure there. Be careful not to tense up in the neck area. This may cause undo strain.

Good singing does take effort. The effort is a controlled feeling of energy all over the body.  Effort in the wrong places, such as at the vocal cords or inside the throat, will only constrict the sound. We want a free, open and controlled sound!

Some coaches don’t talk about effort simply because it can get in the way. But without the correct effort how do you expect to improve your voice? Never under estimate the value of “effort”.