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Vocal techniques

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Alice 23 Aug 98 - 03:16 PM
Alice 02 Oct 00 - 10:42 AM
Naemanson 02 Oct 00 - 10:50 AM
Lyrical Lady 02 Oct 00 - 05:13 PM
GUEST,Uilleand 02 Oct 00 - 05:45 PM
Alice 03 Oct 00 - 03:22 PM
RedCelt 04 Oct 00 - 04:35 PM
GUEST,Uilleand 04 Oct 00 - 04:56 PM
RedCelt 04 Oct 00 - 07:00 PM
Alice 05 Oct 00 - 12:19 PM
GUEST,Uilleand 05 Oct 00 - 05:28 PM
Alice 05 Oct 00 - 11:55 PM
GUEST,Thom Houser 19 Oct 12 - 10:38 PM
meself 19 Oct 12 - 11:22 PM
GUEST,Desi C 20 Oct 12 - 09:15 AM
GUEST,matt milton 20 Oct 12 - 09:30 AM
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Subject: Vocal techniques
From: Alice
Date: 23 Aug 98 - 03:16 PM

We have several threads going that have similar questions and information about singing, so I thought I would bring them together under the subject title "Vocal techniques". To find the other thread discussions, they are titled:

Amplification--starting trouble
Vocal strain prevention
Help!My singing voice is dying!
and a discussion of singing in: Can anyone learn to sing

Alot of the techniques used in keeping your voice healthy and in using it to your optimum ability are difficult to explain without demonstrating in person, which is why it is best to find a GOOD teacher if you want to maximize the use of your singing voice.

Alot of advice emphasizes breathing, but to really get the idea, a teacher can demonstrate and coach you on how to use the muscles correctly and what exercises develop supportive breathing. I have sometimes explained it in terms of thinking how a bagpipe works. Visualize that your lungs are like the bag that fills with air, then your vocal chords are the "holes" that make the noise when the air goes through. Learning how to use the muscles in your lower abdomen and around your waist to pull open the largest space possible, you can then fill your lungs to capacity and also use those muscles to CONTROL the flow of the air back out through your vocal chords. An added skill is to consciously expand the rib bones outward when you need an extra amount of air for a long note or passage of music. After the air passes through your vocal chords, the placement of your tongue, the space you create inside your mouth, the tension or relaxation of your face, neck, head, shoulders, body, etc. all affect the kind of sound you are creating. The label "head" and "chest" voice really just describe higher and lower registers of sound. When you sing, you are resonating sound in all of the spaces, including your mouth, not just in the sinus cavities or throat. You could not stop the sound from resonating in all the spaces of your mouth, throat, and nasal cavity, but you can change the type of resonating made in those spaces. If you lift the soft palate at the back roof of your mouth, you develop the ability to create a larger space back there, which improves the sound. If you listen to the way sounds change when you sing an open vowel (like 'ah') compared to a closed consonant (like 'n' or 'l') you can hear how easily English words become nasal sounding. Italian has alot of open vowel words, so it is easier to sing with a clear sound than in English, which stops the sound and pushes it to the roof of the mouth or the nose, when singing so many consonants. You can 're-phonate' the pronunciation of words by singing mostly on the vowel and then lightly add the consonant ending of the word. One obvious pitfall for nasal singing is hanging on to an 'r' at the end of a word. Another bad habit is starting a word with too much breath and making an 'h' sound, like 'hhI' instead of 'I'. Listen closely to singers on the radio, and you will hear bad habits like breaking in the middle of a word to take a breath, breathing in the middle of a phrase, singing with the sound pushed into the roof of the mouth or the nose, etc. Sometimes a unique personality and approach of a singer breaks all the rules and the results are great, like Louis Armstrong, but to have the stamina to sing long and loud without a microphone or to have a clear voice rather than a nasal voice, it is really helpful to know what the techniques and exercises are to achieve your desired results. Mastering those techniques also builds alot of confidence to perform.

Getting the air up in your nasal space after it leaves your vocal chords helps to add a 'brightness' to the resonance. This is different than the nasal quality that sound like you are singing with a clothespin on your nose. The higher resonance is kind of a humming or buzzing vibration in your forehead, as if the focus of the sound is between your eyes. Humming and singing quietly while you focus on creating this sensation in the high sinus cavities will help you find this 'colour' to your voice. The difference of the high resonance is like comparing the quality of sound of a pennywhistle, compared to a cello (low resonance). You can develop more resonance of the 'bright' sound in your entire range by practicing exercises. If you walk or hike, try humming long, high notes while you walk, controlling the breathing with your lower ab muscles, and see if you can feel differences in your sinus cavities. Eventually as you develop this skill, your voice will have more resonance and sound more full.

The throat, mouth, and some sympathetic upper parts of the chest are the real amplification chambers for lower resonance. They vibrate with more space than the high sinus cavities, so they add a bigger sound. You can hum on your lowest notes and develop the low, big resonance, to carry up into your range to broaden and make higher notes have a 'bigger' sound. Hum your lowest note until you feel your upper chest vibrating, then open your mouth to change from a hum to 'ah', then sing the next few notes up a scale on 'ah'.

alice in montana

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Subject: RE: Vocal techniques
From: Alice
Date: 02 Oct 00 - 10:42 AM

I forgot that I even wrote this, so long ago! Well, maybe time for a refresh.


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Subject: RE: Vocal techniques
From: Naemanson
Date: 02 Oct 00 - 10:50 AM

I couldn't agree more with all you say. It is vital for anyone who wants to sing out and keep on singing through their life to see a good vocal coach for lessons in basic upkeep and maintenance of your own personal portable instrument.

A word of caution. You may have trouble finding a coach. There are many who can give you lessons and teach you what you need to know but several of those I know are focused on one type of music. My first coach was a jill-of-all-trades but she retired (to North Carolina, Mbo!). She worked with rockers and folkies, opera types and show tune types. My next coach was only interested in show tunes and couldn't care less for my favorite music. I didn't work with her very long but if you like the kind of music your coach pushes you'll be all set.

Good luck.

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Subject: RE: Vocal techniques
From: Lyrical Lady
Date: 02 Oct 00 - 05:13 PM

Alice, I've had a vocal coach for 10 years and you have have just offered hundreds of dollars worth of free advice. I agree with everything you've said and my coach would also concur. I would only add that these techniques take a long time to master and not until you are aware of everything working as it should do you realize how long it actually takes. When I am singing for an audiance I am very aware of how my body is working, if everything feels right then I know I am making a good sound. If my back muscles don't ache at the end of a performance then I know I haven't work as hard as I should! Some singers are blessed with all the raw ingredients of a great voice, but it takes loads of work to produce that thrilling sound that makes people sit on the edge of their seats wanting more. Thank you Alice ... I'd love to hear you sing!

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Subject: RE: Vocal techniques
From: GUEST,Uilleand
Date: 02 Oct 00 - 05:45 PM

The real trick is finding that good coach. Because the question is what makes a good coach. Having had experience with both good and bad coaches, here a few vital tips. Don't do anything that does not feel right. Your body knows what to do. The coach cannot feel what you are feeling, speak up, when it doesn't work for you. There are coaches out there, that can give you a quick 'fix'. They can make you sound great for a day, a week, maybe even several years, and suddenly your voice gives out. Just because a teacher works great for one person, even a famous singer, does not mean they are right for you. Some singers are great inspite of their coaches. Listen to your gut. The idea of learning to sing, is not about acquiring a voice. It is about uncovering the beauty of your own sound that was there all along. Not about imposing another style of artificial singing onto your vocal folds. More than anything it is about getting rid of accumulated knowledge to reveal the impeccable technique you used when you kept your parents awake as a baby crying and screaming for hours without getting hoarse. Remember the emotions you were able to express so well then? A good teacher lets you experiment with your voice and allows you plenty of time to become aware of what it feels like. Watch the teacher with other students. Does he/she use the same techniques with all of them. If yes, you may want to find someone, who teaches students according to their needs, not just based on one inflexible method. A good coach should be able to apply principles from various body awareness practices such as Alexander, Feldenkrais, Voice Movement Therapy, or Kinetic awareness. Someone who makes you usually sing for longer than a minute or two without allowing you to stop and evaluate your feelings is not letting you experience and build trust in your own abilities. Also remember that you yourself can only hear about 30% of what actually comes out of your mouth. Therefore it is really important to learn to feel what the sounds feel like and not to rely to heavily on what sounds right. Do not try to sound like someone else. Since you can't hear the other 70%, you will do things to your vocal folds that are not natural. Learning style has to do with experimenting with what your voice will do comfortably, to find where your boundaries are, and still be able to express your own emotions. But above all know, that a coach does not teach you how to sing, but helps you rediscover the beautiful voice you were born with and lets you experiment with it in a safe and nurturing environment.

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Subject: RE: Vocal techniques
From: Alice
Date: 03 Oct 00 - 03:22 PM

aaaack! I just noticed I had typed vocal "chords" instead of vocal "cords" several times. These days, vocal cords are now referred to as vocal folds, as Uilleand did. Good points about teachers, Uilleand. A bad coach can ruin your voice. I know of a mezzo soprano in my town who now travels twice a month two states away to a teacher because the last teacher she had almost ruined her voice.


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Subject: RE: Vocal techniques
From: RedCelt
Date: 04 Oct 00 - 04:35 PM

Anyone got any suggestions on a style or technique for "rescuing" voices? My lovely wife was an operatic soloist in her late teens, but changed colleges and voice coaches to someone who, in the space of a year, chopped almost 1/2 her range, much of her quality and all of her confidence. I am looking for something that I might get a book on that she can read. She needs to be confident that her voice can be restored before she will screw her courage to the sticking point and venture out for lessons.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated,

Thanks much,


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Subject: RE: Vocal techniques
From: GUEST,Uilleand
Date: 04 Oct 00 - 04:56 PM

Depending on where you live, I know of a wonderful coach who specializes in repairing voices, whether they have been damaged through poor technique and teaching, or physically such as ruptured folds. People go to him from all over the world. He is a speech pathologist. His name is Dr. Thomas Houser. He practices in New Holland, PA. He also does workshops in the summer at Marywood College in Scranton, PA. The Houser school of singing is very gentle and emphasizes awareness of your own voice box and body. So it will not be an overnight thing, but it is designed to make your voice last and be vibrant for the rest of your life. Regarding books and tapes for singing and vocal technique I can highly recommend Paul Newham's Voice Movement Therapy. He has a six tape set called 'The Singing Cure' and several good books. There may be a practitioner in your area. I know someone in upstate New York. I do recommend one on one teaching to get feedback.

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Subject: RE: Vocal techniques
From: RedCelt
Date: 04 Oct 00 - 07:00 PM

Thanks, Uilleand... PA would be a bit of a stretch from Texas, but it would be worth the drive for a workshop. I'll look for the Newham stuff you mentioned.

Is anyone aware of any sort of association or agency that might have information/referrals/complaint info for vocal coaches by locality?

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Subject: RE: Vocal techniques
From: Alice
Date: 05 Oct 00 - 12:19 PM

You can contact the Wake Forest University and ask if they can refer someone in your here

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Subject: RE: Vocal techniques
From: GUEST,Uilleand
Date: 05 Oct 00 - 05:28 PM

Try the National Assocation of Teachers of Singing (NATS) at

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Subject: RE: Vocal techniques
From: Alice
Date: 05 Oct 00 - 11:55 PM

Actually, I would not trust NATS. The main criteria for being a member is to be "sponsored" by two NATS members. It is really more of a marketing association. If you read the membership info at their site, the requirements for being a member are very low. The local voice teachers I know of in NATS have appallingly little experience and education in singing and in teaching singing.

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Subject: RE: Vocal techniques
From: GUEST,Thom Houser
Date: 19 Oct 12 - 10:38 PM

Just in case anyone stumbles on this thread, let me sadly say Dr. Thom has crossed over and is telling the angels to lip trill.

That man was a fountain of wisdom, talent and fun.

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Subject: RE: Vocal techniques
From: meself
Date: 19 Oct 12 - 11:22 PM

I know we've had one or two long and detailed threads on this subject, but I'm too lazy to look them up. If you hate lazy people, do not feel obligated to read on.

Okay - I've been singing amateur and professional from the word go; however, for the last ten years or so, I haven't been singing much, to myself or to my adoring fans. I'm in my mid-fifties. I'm starting to get gigs again, strangely enough - but I'm finding that after 15 minutes or so of singing, my throat starts getting scratchy, and before long it gets really difficult. The whole thing turns into an exercise more stressful than enjoyable .... I've started using an eccanacea(however it's spelled)-based throat spray, which helps, but not as much as I'd like. Everyone recommends honey, and various mixtures containing honey - but I have to seriously avoid carbohydrates. I have a gig tomorrow night that will require me to sing thirty or forty songs, which at one time would have been a lark, but now ....

No doubt part of the problem is that I'm living in dry climate now ....

Anyway: suggestions welcome.

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Subject: RE: Vocal techniques
From: GUEST,Desi C
Date: 20 Oct 12 - 09:15 AM

I always do regular vocal exercises and would reccomend any singer to be doing so. The voice after all is a muscle and like any muscle needs exercise to stay healthy and strong. there are lots of exercises on line now, just pick one that suits you. Runing through the scales i.e do rae me fa so la ti do and breathing exercises will make anyone a better singer, and will give you better volume, amazing how many otherwise good singers one has to struggle to hear

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Subject: RE: Vocal techniques
From: GUEST,matt milton
Date: 20 Oct 12 - 09:30 AM

work your diaphragm as hard as you can. try to make the majority of the power of your voice come from your belly, diaphragm and chest.

Stand in front of a mirror. Sing. Can you see your throat constricting/tensing? If so, then too much of your voice is coming from your throat, which is ultimately self-destructive.

Singing topless (!) in front of a mirror can be very useful, because you can then see whether/how much your stomach is tensing up.

It should be contracting inwards (like sucking in your gut) with every out-breath (or at least most of them)

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