Frequently asked questionsHow do you define singing?

Well, artistically speaking, singing is using your voice in a musical manner to communicate ideas and emotions to an audience. Technically, however, singing is nothing more than sustained speech over a greater pitch and dynamic range.

What is the key to singing well?

The ability to always maintain a speech-level production of tone – one that stays “connected” from one part of your range to another. You don’t sing like you speak, but you need to keep the same comfortable, easily produced vocal posture you have when you speak, so you don’t “reach up” for high notes or “press down” for low ones.

Is singing really that easy?

Yes. There’s no great mystery involved. But although it’s easy to understand, it takes time and patience to coordinate everything so that you can do it well.

How do you classify a singer’s voice?

It’s wrong to prematurely classify a voice before you really get to know what it can do. Too often, existing range is the sole determining factor in placing a singer into a certain category. The most important factor to consider is the basic quality of the voice. Assuming that your speaking voice is clear and unforced, your singing voice should be based on the quality of that speaking voice.
What do you expect the performing range of singers to be once they have studied with you?
Everyone has a different vocal ability, but, on the average:

· Basses should be able to sing low E to G above middle C.
· Baritones should be able to sing low G to B natural just below the Tenor high C.
· Tenors should be able to sing C (below middle C) to E above high C.
· Altos should be able to sing low C (below middle C) to high C.
· Mezzo-Sopranos should be able to sing G (below middle C) to Eb above high C.
· Sopranos should be able to sing G (below middle C) to F above high C.

All voices should be able to maintain a connected, speech-level production of tone throughout their entire range.

Aren’t those extremely high notes for voices in those classifications?

They shouldn’t be if the larynx stays resting in a relaxed, stable speech-level position, allowing your vocal cords to adjust freely with your breath flow. Those pitches are well within the technical ability of a great many more people than you’d think. They may not sustain those notes constantly, but they should be able to sing them with good technique. This way they will always have a reserve of notes beyond the usual range requirements of any song they sing.

How do you determine what the tone quality of a singer’s voice should be?

A singer’s tone should be determined by his or her own individual vocal anatomy and not a predetermined ideal held by a teacher – or the student, for that matter! It should be a blend of the top, middle, and bottom resonance qualities that results when the singer’s larynx remains in a relaxed, stable position.

What about breathing? Doesn’t correct breathing play an important part in your ability to produce good tone?

Of course. But the importance of breathing in singing has been overemphasized by voice teachers for too long a time. Correct breathing is a by-product of good technique – just like one’s resonance quality is a by-product. You should never work directly at developing your breath unless you have a sloppy posture and a depressed rib cage (which collapses uncontrollably when you expel air). You indirectly develop the proper breath support for your tone as you condition your larynx not to move and your outer muscles to relax. When you use a speech-level approach to singing, everything, including how much air you use to move your cords, happens automatically.

What about using imagery to develop our tone?

Vocal imagery doesn’t always work. Imagery that evokes a positive muscular response in one individual’s voice may evoke a negative response in your voice. I prefer to use exercises that have a definite cause and effect relationship, producing a desired result, rather than relying on the nebulous descriptions of someone else’s personal experience.

What is the difference between projection and shouting?

Projection is the acoustical phenomenon that occurs when you produce your tone with an efficient balance of air and muscle. Shouting, on the other hand, implies the usage of air “blast,” which causes your voice to “jam up.”

Why should I bother so much about my tone quality if I’m going to be singing with a microphone?

Electronic amplification and alteration of your voice have an important place in the communication and entertainment media, but they must not be thought to replace healthy and efficient vocal production.

Do you have to change your tone production when you perform different moods and styles?

No! Most differences in singing styles are built into the music itself – the sequence of notes and certain conventions of singing that are popular during a particular place and time in history. When you adjust your voice to accomplish certain tonal “ideals,” you run the risk of interfering with your speech-level tone production, which is very dangerous to your vocal health. Your voice can, however, be “colored by your mind.” If you are thinking about what you are singing, there will be slight differences in your delivery, not in your basic production.

How does one select a voice teacher?

First of all, you must be able to discern whether or not a teacher is primarily a voice technique teacher (one who shows you how to sing), or whether he/she is primarily a voice coach (one who shows you what to sing). Of the two types, the voice technique teacher is the most important, because without the technical ability to sing flexibly and clearly in all parts of your range, you are very limited to the material you can do.
For the initiated, a good voice technique teacher is hard to find. Many so-called voice teachers are just vocal “cheerleaders,” who bang away at a piano while you follow along. That is not teaching you how to sing, however. You just get a lot of practice following a piano, and memorizing the notes of a song.
Furthermore, when the teacher’s methodology consists mainly of using terms such as “give it more support,” “sing from your diaphragm” and “open your mouth,” you know you are in the wrong company. If you don’t feel your voice improving in the areas of tone production and easily attainable range extension within a few weeks, you’d better find another teacher – fast!
Many teachers give their students the same vocal problems which killed their
own careers and made them teachers. Before studying with a teacher, ask for a simple demonstration of the teacher’s own ability – especially his/her ability to negotiate their own passage areas. Audition the teacher!

Should your vocal technique be the same for choral (ensemble) singing as it is for solo singing?

Yes, you should always use the same vocal technique, whether you sing solo or in a group. However, choral directors sometimes want you to modify your tone (change the way you sing) in order to blend with the other singers in the group. This may be okay for those singers who have developed a solid vocal technique, but dangerous for those – the majority – who haven’t. You blend, all right – but at what cost? A singer should never compromise correct speech-level technique.

Why has the attitude toward popular music been so negative in school?

One reason for the furrowed brows when mentioning popular music in some institutions is that many singers who record and make these songs popular have had no training at all. But that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the music. A lot of it is marvelous. It’s not all good, though, just like music written in any style is not all good. Traditional styles just happen to have had more time to screen out the bad material.
Another rarely admitted reason for the lack of attention to popular music is that most teachers, quite simply, can’t teach it. Although basic vocal technique is, or should be, the same for all types of music, the stylistic requirements for popular music are beyond their own background as teachers. Interpretation of popular music is a very personal matter, with no hard-fast criterion for judging the successful performance of a song in that style. Tone quality and phrasing is determined by the singer. Often a teacher will avoid his lack of ability in this area by saying that the student should learn the “right way” first, and then sing the songs they want later, implying that any singing that isn’t opera or lieder is a prostitution of the vocal art. Their usual methodology – badgering students about diction, breathing, tone color, posture, etc. – which may be barely tolerated in the “classical” idiom, does not apply at all to popular styles such as country, rock, jazz, blues, and gospel.

Then what should they teach, if they can’t teach those things?

Vocal technique! Just vocal technique! Teachers shouldn’t substitute the peripheral aspects of style interpretation for basic vocal technique. It’s a totally different thing. Most pop singing has one thing in common: it’s on a conversational level. Opera and other forms of traditional styles are not always that way, but you must still be able to go into your head voice without leaving your speech level. Most students and teachers who sing opera base their modern idea of operatic tone on a concept of a “woofy,” overproduced sound, which is dangerous to the health and longevity of the voice. What is interesting is that the best opera singers (of yesterday and today) sing in a clear, speech-level manner that lets you understand their words all the way through their ranges. This is the same ideal that people listen for in any type of good singing.

When a singer first begins to study vocal technique, what type of material should he sing?

You should avoid any material that puts a great demand on your voice from a dynamics standpoint. Select songs that are more melodic, not those that need “punch” or require a “dramatic” dynamic level. As I’ve said already, singing songs is not vocal technique. Just because a teacher encourages you to “sing out,” or gives you hints on how to interpret what you sing, does not mean you are learning vocal technique. Style and interpretation are no substitute for vocal technique. Without good vocal technique, style and interpretation are greatly restricted.

What is a good dynamic level to practice?

Mezzo forte (medium loud) at the loudest. However, you must never forget why you practice exercises. You do so to set up the correct balance between your exhaled air and your vocal cords, allowing you to sing at a speech level, and to then have your neuromuscular system live with that balance. As far as volume goes, you should only sing as loudly as you are able to maintain your balance with a steady, normal vibrato. The intensity, or loudness, of that tone will come once the muscular coordination to produce pitches freely is established.

How much should I practice?

You should practice as much as you perform, even more. They are not the same thing. Performance is the culmination of your vocal conditioning to meet the artistic demands you place on your voice for the purpose of communicating and projecting ideas and emotional experiences to your listener. Regular vocal practice keeps your voice aligned for efficient coordination, so that any temporary diversion from good technique can be recognized easily and corrected quickly.

Should you sing differently in rehearsal than you do in performance?

Yes, especially when learning something new. In rehearsals, all wise singers save their voices – not in the sense that you only have just so much to give, but to keep your voice relaxed during a potentially stressful situation. Rehearsals by nature are very demanding on a voice. It’s stop-and-go as you learn notes, check pitches, work on blend, and everything else. This makes it very easy to fall back into old habits. Therefore, you should do what is called “marking” your music – singing lightly or even dropping the high notes down an octave, until all the notes are learned and you know what’s expected of you. Once you know where you are going with your voice, your neuromuscular system will be much more cooperative in helping you sing the right notes with the proper technique.

How do you teach young voices, say under fifteen years of age?

For both boys and girls, basic musicianship should begin as soon as possible. A stringed instrument such as violin, viola or cello is good to learn. It gives the youngster a feeling of long, continuous, bowed lines, and a “vibratoed” quality of tone which is indeed similar to the singing voice. Piano and guitar are also very good as they will help in the later study of harmony and be useful as a means of self-accompaniment. Naturally, with all instruments, the involvement with reading music and rhythm is invaluable.
Then, as the voice becomes more responsive with age, the already activated musicianship supports and enhances the overall musical ability.
As far as actual voice training goes, however, one must be careful. In girls, it is not uncommon to find youngsters around ten years old who can vocalize easily from low G to A to E-flat above high C and above. And it is possible to maintain that marvelous start if those handling that voice are careful not to require any heavy singing. That is, competition in groups of older voices or participation in school musicals which require belting. These young voices will become fuller (rounded out), without loss of range, power, and quality, if care is taken to keep strain absent.
In male voices, the change from boy soprano to the beginnings of the adult male voice can be traumatic. It can happen dramatically (overnight in some cases), or hang in a “cracking limbo,” bobbing back and forth within an octave range for a period of time. It is both embarrassing and bothersome, and indeed (if the young boy has experienced some success with a beautiful soprano voice) a horrifying experience. There is no promise that his voice will return in any consistent state of well-being.
This is a difficult period to live through, unless you have knowledgeable and patient vocal guidance from an expert voice technique teacher. The youngster must be monitored regularly to insure that he is keeping his voice coordination as balanced as possible through the change.

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