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The benefits of warming up your voice

Sometimes the most professional, big time singers are the worst at following a structured warm up routine. The benefits of warming up your voice prior to your singing practice, rehearsing with the band, recording in the studio or of course performing live are undeniable.

It’s the goal of this post to help you learn from their mistakes and to look after your instrument by maintaining good vocal health. Your vocal cords can only tolerate so much misuse and abuse before they start to break down on you at the worst possible times.

As a vocal coach, it has been my fortune to be backstage with a number of seasoned, experienced, professional singers. I have observed first hand how big time singers are not always the best at following structured warm up routines, and their often haphazard approach to warming up the voice can do more harm than good.

I have seen impressionable, inexperienced singers follow the example of these big names with little or no structured warm up routines before singing. Just because they see and hear their idols not warming up, they think they can get away with committing the same vocal sins.

There are so many reasons to warm up your voice, including:

  1. Establishing correct diaphragmatic support and breathing.
  2. Warming up the vocal cords and exercising the tendons and ligaments that anchor our voice box (larynx) and are instrumental in helping us to enjoy freedom of movement to help us safely reach our lowest and highest notes, as well as everything in between.
  3. Maintaining or repairing minor vocal damage from the night before. An appropriate vocal warmup can help reduce swelling and inflammation in the vocal cords and can help you to achieve better cord closure.
  4. Warming up your voice prior to a gig allows you to refresh the muscle memories for both breathing and vocal coordination to allow you to sing at your best.
  5. An appropriately structured vocal warmup allows you to open up your airway and establish the correct open throat feelings and position to reduce strain on your voice, making it easier to hit those high notes.
  6. It gets your ears and your voice in tune pitch-wise.
  7. Your vocal warmup is your last opportunity to troubleshoot any challenge areas you have in your voice prior to going on stage or recording in a studio.

Popular excuses for not using a structured warmup for your voice

  1. “It’s just a band practice”
  2. “After a couple of songs on stage, my voice just warms up naturally anyway”
  3. “There’s no place to warm up. People will hear me!”
  4. “I usually just have a couple of drinks or a smoke or vape and I’m ready to go”
  5. “I’ve seen professional singers who don’t warm up and they sound great!”

If you’re a singer that doesn’t warm up before they begin singing, what’s the excuse that you use to avoid it?

Let’s shine a light on all of these excuses and see if they stand up under scrutiny:

  1. “It’s just a band practice”… Regardless of whether you’re singing for fun, or singing in front of a paying audience, the level of energy and the intensity that you exert on your voice is going to be very similar. If you are performing in front of a live audience, the majority of singers tend to sing a little bit harder and stronger because the adrenaline is running high. Your voice doesn’t care which of those two scenarios you’re operating in.

    If you are singing high intensity rock or pop (or any style for that matter) and you neglect to warm up your voice, you will risk straining your vocal cords by applying excess force to a cold cord to sing higher. If you’re screaming without a warmup, that’s even worse on your poor voice.
  2. “After a couple of songs on stage, my voice just warms up naturally anyway”… If you’re a singer that falls into this category, those first two songs that you’re straining to hit the high notes by using excessive tension on your cords and adopting the “weightlifting” mentality will contribute to a singing voice that will feel the effects of vocal fatigue later on in your set.

    Any time that you need to push your voice to sing higher or stronger is a good sign that you’re singing on cold vocal cords and you’re risking vocal strain. This is not only in your voice, but in the tendons and ligaments that play such a crucial role in supporting your larynx when you sing.
  3. “There’s no place to warm up. People will hear me!”... Most bars and music venues have bathroom stalls. They sometimes have little side rooms where you can go and do your warmup. Regardless of whether you need to warm up around other people or not, if you’re wearing headphones and singing along to a vocal warmup programme, you will be surprised how fast you forget about worrying what others think of you when you get on with the job of preparing your voice for top level performance.
  4. “I usually just have a couple of drinks or a smoke or vape and I’m ready to go”… I wish I had a dollar for every time I hear singers with a similar response to this. When you smoke or vape, you’re passing gasses across your vocal cords that are guaranteed to remove the protective layers of mucus that we rely on as singers to reduce harmful friction on the vocal cords when we sing.

    You’re not doing yourself any favours here. Yes, you might like to have a smoke before you hit the stage to ease your nerves, but you can achieve the same effect through practicing singer’s breathing exercises that will help you to reduce pre-stage nerves without having a negative impact on your vocal cords.

    As to alcohol, drinks are usually served cold and that’s where most of the problem lies. We want the vocal cords to be nice and warm to be able to perform at our best and you’re about to throw a cold drink down your throat. This is definitely going to mean that your vocal cords will take longer to warm up if you’re drinking a cold drink prior to singing.

    It’s a commonly accepted practice to have a couple of shots of spirits before you hit the stage to “relax your voice” and deal with those pre-show nerves. This is a practice that professional singers like Sammy Hagar (ex lead singer of Van Halen) used to swear by before he hit the stage. The only problem with this is that if your vocal cords are slightly dehydrated to begin with, you’re going to make the situation worse for yourself and you’re going to be singing on a dry throat three or four songs in. You’re far more likely to be reaching for that cold drink to replace lost moisture in your throat, which is only going to make matters worse.
  5. “I’ve seen professional singers who don’t warm up and they sound great!”… A perfect example of this is Joe Elliott from Def Leppard. There are nights when he basically just makes a whole bunch of screaming sounds backstage in an effort to warm up his voice. When you take on an unstructured warmup strategy like this, you run the risk of only warming up some areas of your voice and you can easily neglect the essential, foundational stuff like building good diaphragmatic breath support and establishing open throat technique prior to hitting the stage.

    If you look at the rock singers in particular that are still out there and doing it night after night who have enjoyed long careers performing to arena-sized audiences, these singers tend to fall into one of three simple categories. The first category is people like Glenn Hughes (ex Deep Purple) who is still capable of hitting all of his high notes in his 70s, for iconic songs like Mistreated and Highway Star. Glenn has maintained his phenomenal vocal range and his vocal agility and is a better singer now in his 70s than he was when he was in hsi 20s. This is due to great vocal technique and great vocal maintenance routines for his voice.

    The second category is all the rock singers that were born with above average mass and length in their vocal cords that have tended to take their vocal powers for granted and have neglected to maintain structured vocal exercise and warmup routines prior to touring and during touring. We see an astounding number of these singers now in their 50s and 60s whose voices are breaking down because they have not been properly maintained. Regular vocal maintenance and warmup routines can help to offset unhealthy habits like drinking and smoking because vocal cords as they get older, if they’re not properly maintained, tend to lose their vocal agility and take much longer to repair.

    The third and final category and singers who are experiencing a variety of vocal conditions, including polyps, nodes, cysts and partial vocal cord paralysis. Regular vocal exercise routines, and regular pre-show structured warmup routines can greatly reduce the risk of developing nodules, polyps or cysts on your vocal cords, as well as being able to aid in the treatment and reduction of any existing conditions that may be developing on your vocal cords.

When you do a vocal warm up, it helps to warm up your body as well! Singing any form of high-energy music requires a warm body and a warmed up set of vocal cords to not only help you sing at your best, but to also prevent injuries to both your vocal cords and other muscles or parts of your body, like your jaw. A warm body from a good, structured warmup routine can help to prevent damage from pushing too hard in your stomach area, which is something that happened to Lincoln Park’s Chester Bennington (RIP).

Better information leads to better singing.

The dangers of “go big or go home” mentality for singers

In my experience, singers fall into three main categories regarding the size of their voice:

  • The first category are the singers with the above average vocal cord mass (thickness) and above average strength in their larynx mechanism.
  • The second category are people with average sized vocal cord mass and average strength in their singing mechanism.
  • The last category of course, are people who have undersized vocal cord mass and a lower level of overall strength in their larynx.

There are other categories of course, but for the purpose of this article we’re going to keep it simple by assuming that most singers sit in one of these three categories.

In over 20 years of coaching experience, I’ve observed that the singers with above average vocal cord mass tend to sing with a natural balance to the size of the sounds they are producing. This simply means that their vocal mechanism is able to perform the various coordinations efficiently within the larynx to produce a rich, warm tonal, round sound.

In other words, good singers that are born with above average mass always sing in a way where they have control over the song. There are exceptions to these rules, but for the most part these observations are accurate.

Whereas singers that are born with average mass in their vocal cords tend to try and subconsciously and/or consciously make bigger vocal sounds than their vocal mechanism is able to comfortably support. This will create a number of vocal challenges and difficulties and will literally (in most cases) sabotage and prevent the singer from ever reaching their full vocal potential.

Those people born with smaller than average vocal cords tend to have an even bigger Napoleon complex, in other words the singer with the smaller voice often tries to over compensate and create a bigger sound than what their vocal mechanism can initially handle.

In the short term, this will show up in the singer as sung notes that sound very strained. The notes will sound dull and flat. When you understand a little bit more about the actual mechanics of singing, it’s no surprise that all of this additional, excessive pressure and tension that they’re applying to their vocal cords leads to a disappointing vocal performance. This means less paying customers in the future!

The consequences of making your vocal sounds bigger than they need to be

These consequences include:

The singer always needs to be in control of the song.

  1. Poor cord closure. The goal of every melodic singer is to learn how to use their vocal mechanism correctly to produce the closest thing they can get to a speech-level cord closure on pitch i.e. The notes that they sing need to have the same cord closure as a spoken phrase.
  2. Excessive tension. Making the sound too big and too heavy can very quickly overload the larynx mechanism and your voice will experience restriction in range. You will likely experience tension in your jaw and constriction in your throat.

    This will lead to what I affectionately refer to as the “strangled cat syndrome”. Hopefully no further explanation is necessary because every singer has experienced those exact vocal challenges at some point in their quest to sing higher and extend their vocal range. If this is you, don’t worry – you’re not alone! This is a temporary vocal affliction and it can be resolved through proper coaching instruction and through a better understanding of the role the larynx plays in efficient pitch production and changing vocal registers.
  3. Passing excessive amounts of air through the vocal cords. This results in what we commonly refer to as a “breathy” singer. This is the equivalent of opening your mouth and aiming the air of a blow dryer into your throat. In a very short period of time, that hot air is going to dry out your vocal cords and it’s going to be dryer in there than the Sahara desert!

    While some singers no doubt use this technique to achieve a smoky quality to their vocal tone, the reality is when you pass excessive air through your vocal cords, the air passing through those cords will quickly dry out your voice and remove the protective layer of “mucosa” (the singer’s lubricant that naturally protects our cords and reduces the effect of friction on the vocal cords when we sing). When we remove that protective layer of the singer’s lubricant, our vocal cords are prone to heating up, causing them to swell and become inflamed. This is a very common cause of hoarseness in singers and in some cases can lead to complete loss of voice.

    Singers that prolong this style of singing i.e. who are passing excessive air over the vocal cords, be it unintentionally or intentionally, run the risk of exposing their cords to damage. This includes but is not limited to the growth of nodes (nodules), polyps and cysts on the vocal cords, among other conditions that could affect vocal performance.

    Examples of “breathy” singers are Adele and Sam Smith. Both of whom coincidentally have experienced vocal conditions that have required surgery to remedy.
  4. Limited range. If a singer is makes their vowel and consonant sounds too big, they are running the risk of overloading the vocal mechanism with excessive weight and tension that will prevent the laryngeal tilt, which is the natural mechanism in the voice, from being able to change pitch and register freely and easily as it’s designed to do.

This tends to be less of an issue in the bedroom (in front of the mirror when you’re rehearsing), but it’s a different story when you finally hit the stage and you’ve got that expectant audience in front of you and your “performer’s adrenaline rush” kicks in.

Often the combination of a performer’s adrenaline rush and any pre-show nerves will dramatically increase the potential of you experiencing the “sing big or go home” mentality. That carefully rehearsed song in the bedroom, or the shower, or the lounge where you hit all the notes and you sound like a million bucks suddenly feels like the combination of weightlifting contest and a wrestling match with your larynx.

If you find yourself identifying with the topics raised in this article and you want to take your singing to the next level, let’s have a conversation.

Better information leads to better singing!

The diaphragm explained

Sting, the singer from the rock group The Police once wrote, “Every breath you take, every move you make, I’ll be watching you.” Every breath we take starts naturally by using our diaphragm.

Human beings are born into this world with natural diaphragmatic breathing, and through various conditioning agents, i.e. nurture and nature, and through the subconcious modelling of our grandparents, parents and school teachers, it’s very common that by the age of 10, most people have fallen out of using diaphragmatic breathing in favour of inefficient upper chest breathing.

The reason for this is very simple. Diaphragmatic breathing provides a very powerful, efficient fuel and support system to project a loud voice. If you’ve ever been to a primary school during recess, you can be forgiven for putting your hands over your ears to block out the deafening sound of one hundred young kids all screaming, yelling and shouting at once. At five years old, these kids are using their diaphragmatic breathing naturally, and the result is a loud, powerful voice that projects effortlessly.

Obviously this is not an ideal volume level for most households, so kids are often encouraged to learn how to speak without yelling. The majority of children by the age of 10 have been so regularly conditioned to speak quietly and not raise their voice when they get excited. By doing so, they’re learning how to breath inefficiently into the upper chest to achieve a quieter voice. Ironically, this system of upper chest breathing often leads to creating children with higher levels of anxiety, and they also experience a vocal or personal disempowerment.

Diaphragmatic breathing supports higher athletic performance

When an athlete is performing at their personal best, they are relying heavily on natural diaphragmatic support because when your diaphragmatic breathing is engaged, your diaphragm actually expands in your body, making it possible to lift more weight, to run faster, to jump higher, to kick a ball further. You can see how if someone is referred to as a natural athlete, what’s going on as well as the improved physical coordination skills and mental awareness that they usually possess, they are strongly connecting to their diaphragmatic breathing and support system to produce above average results.

Maintaining your diaphragmatic health is essential for everyone, whether you sing or not.

Nerdy anatomy stuff – to satisfy those singers among us that need to know how things work

The diaphragm is a parachute-shaped, fibrous muscle that is located between your chest and abdomen, underneath your sternum. The diaphragm serves to separate the thoracic cavity where your lungs are, and your abdominal cavity where your body’s internal organs (like your stomach) are.

There are three openings within the diaphragm. Under the caval hiatus, there is the Vena Cava and the terminal branches of the right phrenic nerve. Under the oesophagael hiatus you have the oesophagus, the right and left vagus nerves and the oesophagal branches of the left gastric artery vein. Under the aortic hiatus, you have your aorta, your thoracic duct and your Azygous vein.

Quick fact: The right dome of the diaphragm is usually larger than the left dome.

The benefit of singing from the diaphragm

The benefit of singing from the diaphragm is that you immediately begin to recruit natural diaphragmatic support. In the simplest terms possible, it means that the diaphragm initially contracts down on itself. You create more space for your lungs, which makes the breath feel lower and more centered. We can then apply some gentle downward pressure on the diaphragm to slow down the diaphragm’s ability to release back to normal position, which in turn slows down the process of emptying the lungs of air. This is commonly referred to in singing as “engaging diaphragmatic support”.

The benefit of diaphragmatic support is that as the diaphragm contracts during the inhalation cycle, the diaphragm actually expands and becomes thicker. It increases the quality of compression in the air that we are passing through our vocal cords when we exhale. This basically means that the compressed air that is passing through our vocal cords is providing our vocal cords with far more energy than an upper chest breath can muster. The result is additional projection and power in our voice, meaning that we can sing higher notes for longer periods of time due to this improved vocal support.

Another benefit is that diaphragmatic breathing allows us to pass smaller volumes of air over the vocal cords, so that we don’t end up over-filling our lungs at every opportunity. If we over-fill our lungs, all the air that we take into our body needs to go somewhere and it ends up building up in the narrowest part of our lung at the top, which ends up blocking our airway with high pressure air. This causes our vocal cords to get blasted by the equivalent of a powerful tornado and the more that the vocal cords react to this pressure, the tighter they become. This results in the singer experiencing choking or the feeling of contortion in their throat and also in their voice.

So how does it feel? Here’s an RVR coaching tip

When you correctly engage your diaphragm in the inhalation breath, it feels like there is a rubber inner tube around your midsection, just under your sternum. When you lean into this diaphragm support, you start to naturally notice as you sing higher that the notes begin to float up with ease. This reduces the strain or weight that you feel in your throat. Compared to an incorrectly sung, unsupported note, the difference will feel like night and day.

Without diaphragmatic support, as you begin to sing higher, or as you begin to sing with more volume, the muscles in your throat will begin to strain and contract. A singer will commonly feel this as pressure, or weight in their throat. This provides you with a false sense of support that very quickly does more harm than good. This is because as muscles begin to contract, we can’t control the degree of contraction. The muscles will react in an exaggerated manner, reducing the available width in your wind pipe. Once this process starts, you lose control of the degree of pressure than you apply, which can shut your voice down and leave you with the feeling of a constricted airway, similar to what you may experience when lifting heavy weights.

When you sing with false support, all you end up doing is incorrectly engaging the muscles in your throat with a series of unwanted muscle contractions that may support three or four mid-range notes in your voice, and give you a false impression of power. However as soon as we increase our vocal range, the extra demand from these muscles in the throat will suddenly turn into excessive muscle contractions, squeezing the life out of our singing voice. Ironically this will result in choking off both your potential power and your additional natural vocal range.

In comparison, when you engage diaphragmatic support you engage an expanded diaphragm that to an average singer feels like a rubber inner tube around your middle (located at sternum height) that feels very much like a Whoopie cushion. As you gently exert a little bit of downward pressure, or lean into your diaphragm, your voice suddenly experiences a feeling as your notes start to float up and your throat starts to open up and relax. You will enjoy less tension in your throat and the diaphragm being a much bigger, stronger muscle allows you to support your voice with less strain and more ease for longer periods of time.

Singers that engage their diaphragm breathing and produce correct diaphragm support enjoy improved vocal projection. Their voice has more power and they are far less likely to lose their voice trying to sing over a loud band.

To understand natural diaphragmatic breathing, there are three phases of the breathing process that you should be familiar with.

Phase 1: The inhalation

The inhalation coordination starts with an expanded ribcage to create space and release pressure off the lungs, allowing them to fill up as the inspiration (inhalation) process begins. As it begins, the diaphragm is released, which contracts itself downwards and creates additional space for the lungs to begin to inflate.

Nerdy science fact: Lungs do not inflate themselves. Instead they are inflated through a difference in air pressure, creating a vacuum in the lungs that draws air down the air pipe.

When the diaphragm releases at the beginning of every inhalation breath, it contracts into itself which produces an immediate change in air pressure by increasing the volume of the thoracic cavity. This forms a vacuum in the upper part of the chest. The lungs have more space now and can enjoy more natural expansion. Air is naturally drawn in, as opposed to being sucked in by an upper chest breath.

Your lungs are simply sacks and don’t have the ability to draw air into themselves. The diaphragmatic movement creates a vacuum to draw air into the lungs.

Nerdy science fact: The diaphragm is actually instrumental in removing human waste from the body. It’s the part of your body that gives the “push” while you’re on the loo!

In direct comparison, an upper chest breath is inefficient because it means we are not creating the same amount of space or pressure difference, causing a smaller amount of air to enter into the top of our lungs, which is the narrowest part. Utilising a diaphragm release, we create more space at the bottom of our lungs, which creates a natural vacuum, which then in turn draws in more air.

Performing this inhalation correctly provides you with the feeling of a lower centre of gravity. If you breath in the top of the lungs, it is much harder to provide a steady stream of air that is required for good phonation (sound), and you are required to force the small amount of air that you have inhaled out of your body.

Nerdy science fact: It is possible to take in too much air! Upper chest breathing is highly inefficient and when you breath in too fast, you can take in far more air than your phrase requires for singing. This reduces the flexibility of your vocal cords, making it harder to produce a melodic pitch. This is experienced as a heavy feeling in the throat, and stiffness in the upper chest.

Phase 2: Learn how to engage the diaphragmatic support

To correctly engage diaphragmatic support, we need to expand our ribcage from a relaxed position, with our shoulders dropped down. While maintaining an expanded ribcage, we should let go of the abdominal (stomach) muscles. This will recruit the diaphragm to start contracting and begin the inhalation stage of our breath.

When you do this, you should feel that your breath goes down lower into your lungs. You’ll feel a deeper breath, not necessarily by drawing in more air, but by correctly engaging your diaphragm and achieving a natural inhalation breath.

Phase 3: Learn how to sing while correctly engaging diaphragmatic support

To beginner and intermediate singers, this can feel very counter-intuitive. This is because our brain will tell us one order of coordinations, while our diaphragm wants to operate in an entirely different way.

Since the diaphragm is the main respiration muscle of the human body, it makes sense to listen to the diaphragm and follow its natural directions to achieve the best results. Put simply, begin developing a healthy fascination for experiencing a diaphragm release before you make sound.

A really good example for this is to imagine that you’re at the best fireworks display you’ve ever seen (closing your eyes will help with this!). As the rockets shoot up into the sky and explode in a round of breathtaking effects, simply release your diaphragm and make “Oooooooos” and “Ahhhhhhhs”. Make sure that you release your diaphragm before each one of these very simple sounds.

“Oooooooooooh!”, “Ahhhhhhhhhh!”, “Wooooooooooow!”

When this exercise is performed correctly, you will have a very good sense of which physical feelings you should be experiencing in your body that will tell you that you are using healthy diaphragmatic support to improve both your singer’s breathing, and correctly engage your diaphragm to improve the power and projection of your singing voice.

The next topic in this series will be focused on understanding the exhalation phase of breathing, and how singers use the exhalation phase to sing without needing to push sound out of their voice.

Better singing everyone!

The passaggio explained – part 2: How to change from chest voice into mixed voice

In my last post, we discussed what the passaggio is and why we should always use it to help us naturally change vocal registers to provide us with the greatest amount of freedom and ease on our voice.

In this post, I’ll explain the correct sensations that you should be experiencing so that you can practice with confidence and develop the correct vocal coordinations for changing registers in your voice.

A vocal register is defined as “a range of tones in the human voice produced by a particular vibratory pattern of the vocal folds.” Vocal registers are usually grouped by eight notes, which make up an octave. Changes between vocal registers can happen anywhere from 2-3 notes into an octave, to half way or three quarters of the way into an octave, depending on what range a singer’s voice will support.

Nerdy fact: Did you know that a normal, healthy, average singing voice is designed to connect up to a three-octave range?

The basic vocal registers within the human voice start with “fry” voice, then a low “chest” voice (which is usually quite soft in volume for most singers). Next, we have a belting register in chest voice, followed by either a mixed voice or head voice. Finally, we have two different kinds of falsetto; a “breathy” falsetto and a “reinforced” falsetto.

A reinforced falsetto is the desired falsetto to develop in a singer’s voice because it can connect up to the other vocal registers in the voice and provide us with additional range. This is typically applied to different styles, including by heavy metal, jazz and R’n’B singers.

The last register in the human voice is “whistle” register. Whistle register is the Mariah Carey effect, as heard in the song “Emotions”. Both male and female singers are capable of producing whistle tones, depending on their voice type.

This post is going to focus on helping you to successfully navigate chest voice into mixed voice and this builds a balanced middle-upper voice, which is essential for learning how to reduce the weight in your singing voice if your goal is to sing higher in your range without straining.

If you’re not already familiar with the anatomy of your larynx and its purpose, I highly recommend that you go back and read my previous post before reading on.

In our efforts to stretch our vocal range, the higher you sing in chest voice, the more stress and strain you will experience in your larynx. If we were to ignore the warning signs of all the impending stress that is building up in your voice, the result is that sooner or later your voice is going to crack, wobble or break. It is the most embarrassing thing that can happen to a singer when they sing live or in front of an audience, because the resulting break is clearly audible and does not sound like their previous vocal tone.

Due to the unexpected nature and effect that it has on our voice, many inexperienced singers subconsciously avoid their break area. Your break area is your best friend for identifying where your register changes will naturally take place.

Exercise 1: Identifying your chest to head voice break area

Try this simple exercise. Smile wide, then “yawn” at the back of your throat. In a comfortable part of your speaking range, vocalise on an “Ah” sound. Next, gently slide up in pitch until you experience and hear that crack, wobble or break in your voice. Get to know this area of your voice because this break is actually very helpful in helping you to identify where the chest voice naturally wants to hand off its big, wide vocal tone to the head voice.

The head voice tone is narrower and brighter. It has more of a ringing quality to its tone. The thyroid cartilage is starting to tilt forward, whilst on the inside of the larynx your vocal cords are beginning the process of thinning down and lengthening out. As singers, we want to encourage this activity and learn to isolate the correct micro muscles, tendons and ligaments, and exercise these muscles using specific vocal exercises to educate and encourage these muscles to develop additional strength. This strength will allow them to carry their own weight and this builds a stronger passaggio connection, making it much easier for chest voice to transition into middle voice, and ultimately head voice.

Nerdy fact: Understanding diaphragmatic breathing and support is essential for providing the correct vocal momentum and air support for register changes.

Gently repeat this exercise 10-15 times to help you get familiar with the sensation of your vocal break.

Once you have discovered where your vocal break is, we need to learn how to stabilise that sound so that the vocal break sound remains constant (your vocal break sound is audibly different to your previous chest voice sound). The vocal break sounds thinner and lighter, and initially may seem challenging to control. Quick tip: add lots of RVR “whiny bitch” (cry) to help you to support that sound. Once you’ve found that break sound, you’ve found the doorway to enter into your passaggio! Be patient and expect lots of trial and error before you can find this doorway to your middle voice.

Four steps to help you use your passaggio (bridge) to connect your chest voice to your head voice:

  1. Adopt the correct posture. Stand up straight, place your hands on your hips without raising your shoulders. This will trick your body into providing better diaphragmatic breathing support.
  2. Create an open airway support system. Smile wide and “yawn” in the back of your throat. You must be able to create and maintain an open airway throughout this exercise to successfully connect your voice between registers. Yawning and smiling are the two fastest things that we can do to trick the body into creating this open airway.
  3. Find your break area. Start with a comfortable pitch in your speaking voice and gently slide up in pitch from the bottom of your chest voice (or wherever you started from) until you hear the break in your voice. This will sound like a lighter register and may initially go from chest voice straight to a falsetto sound. When you hear and experience this break, you have discovered your initial bridging area (passaggio – Italian for passage).
  4. Reduce excess air pressure buildup. Use a diaphragm release to provide the breath support necessary to allow the vocal cords to change pitch. The diaphragm is the main respiration muscle in the human body and is responsible for actioning both the inhale and exhalation breath. We use the diaphragm to create a diaphragmatic support system (think of it like a “Whoopee” Cushion). Taking a correct diaphragmatic breath means that the diaphragm will actually expand to support our lungs, taking a lot of strain out of the voice. When we apply pressure to our Whoopee Cushion, we are stabilising the outgoing flow of air that the voice is singing on. If you don’t know how to release your diaphragm correctly while you are singing (and prior to singing), you are not breathing efficiently the way a singer should.

Once you’ve found the bridging area in your voice, you have discovered the passageway (passaggio) that is designed to thin down the vocal cords and safely transition your chest voice into a mixed voice, head voice, reinforced falsetto, and ultimately the whistle register. Your bridging area might initially feel very weak, unstable and shaky.

This is where it’s important to find a good vocal coach or singing teacher that can not only demonstrate what the passaggio sounds like and how to perform it, but also has an intimate knowledge of how the vocal anatomy works so that they can teach you to develop the correct coordinations for yourself, as well as address the psychological reactions that the brain experiences as we sing higher.

Better singing everyone!

How to sing higher notes: Taking advantage of a narrower larynx setup

In our last post, we started to explore your vocal anatomy.

Vocal myth busted! One of the biggest myths and misunderstandings that singers get tricked into believing (and it works against them) is that as you sing higher, or if you want to make your notes sound stronger, is that you need to stretch out your larynx.

If you’re looking to make it easier to connect the lowest register in your voice to the middle, or the upper register of your voice, it is mission critical to understand the role of the larynx in singing.

The larynx is basically a box of cartilage that houses your vocal cords. We have three larger parts of the larynx, but we’re just going to focus on the cricoid and the thyroid cartilages today, as well as the three pairs of smaller cartilages, which are the arytenoids, the corniculate and the cuneiform. We also have the epiglottis, which is a leaf-like cartilage that is the easiest to damage.

The most important parts are the epiglottis and the arytenoids. During swallowing, the laryngeal muscles contract and the epiglottis moves down to form a lid over the glottis, thereby closing off the vocal cords. This protects your airways against any stray food or drink. We’ve all inhaled at the wrong time while eating or drinking at some point in our lives. The food doesn’t necessarily make it down into the airway because our brain is hard-wired to cough and prevent the food from proceeding further.

Nerdy science fact: This is the same coordination that takes place before we lift a heavy object. When you lift a heavy object, the epiglottis moves down to form a lid over the glottis, thereby closing off the vocal cords and that column of air that gets trapped inside the body becomes the stabiliser, allowing us to continue to have good form as we lift the object. Therefore if you’re singing a high note and you hold your breath to start pushing, your central nervous system thinks you’re lifting a heavy object, locking down the vocal cords and preventing them from vibrating freely. This is the feeling of being choked or strangled that some singers experience when trying to sing high notes at full volume.

The arytenoid cartilages are able to control and change the position and the amount of tension on the vocal folds i.e. thinning the vocal folds down for higher notes and thickening up the vocal folds for lower notes.

The muscles of the larynx are skeletal muscles that form the walls of the larynx and the contraction or release of these muscles provide the movements that we associate with our breathing, swallowing and phonation (vocal sound) coordinations. The laryngeal muscles are divided into two groups; external (extrinsic) muscles, which act to elevate or depress the larynx during swallowing and the internal (intrinsic) muscles which act to move the internal components of the larynx. Both groups of muscles are vital to our control of our breathing and phonation (vocal sounds).

The external muscles of the larynx move muscles upwards and downwards. These include the suprahyoid and the infrahyoid muscles of the neck.

The internal muscles of the larynx are a group of muscles that activate individual components of the larynx. They are used to control the shape of the glottis and the length and the tension of the vocal cords. The names of these muscles are cricothyroid, thyroarytenoid, posterior cricoarytenoid and lateral cricoarytenoid, and transverse and oblique arytenoids.

The purpose of sharing this information with you is not to turn this blog into a medical anatomy blog. The purpose is to give you an understanding of these muscles so that we can get to the next stage of the conversation, which is how this affects your singing.

Most beginner, intermediate and even some professional rock star singers often fall into the trap of visualising that higher, or bigger notes require a stretched out larynx position. This is actually not the case. It is simply our brain and our ears incorrectly interpreting what they’re hearing and giving you bad advice. It’s important to understand that the psychology of singing plays a big role in impacting our vocal and breathing decisions.

Babies are able to produce high pitches for sustained periods of time and they’re certainly not stretching out their larynx to produce those sounds. The problems start when your brain and your ears get together to use some imagination to come up with a solution, because the stretched out larynx position is going to prevent the correct vocal coordinations from taking place (i.e. the thyroid tilt and the arytenoid muscles are largely responsible for thinning down the vocal cords and safely achieving that higher register in your voice).

I’m going to get you to do an exercise now to prove that stretching out the larynx is not the way to go to achieve a safe change in your vocal register.

Imagine that you are a giant. You’re 12 feet tall. How does a giant’s voice usually sound? Is it high and whiny, or is it very deep and dark in pitch?

I want you to try speaking like that giant. Chances are if you have a good imagination, your voice has dropped 2-3 notes lower than how you would typically speak.

Now try keeping the same larynx position and keep that big giant sound. See how far up in your vocal range you can go before it feels too uncomfortable to continue any further. This is an example of what happens when you stretch out your larynx.

Stretching the cricoid and thyroid cartilage out like this so you achieve an over-exaggerated opera voice is going to naturally prevent the register change taking place in your larynx. This is because you’ve taken away all of the freedom of movement that the larynx requires to achieve a register change between chest and head voice.

The reason that opera singers find it hard to sing above a high D is due to the rules that they have around how they use their larynx. For the most part, their larynx is stretched out and as soon as you create too much stress, your larynx becomes very tight, anchoring you into one register of your voice.

As you sing higher, you need to learn how to release your larynx setup and recreate that setup in a narrower position (all of the required components for register change are inside the larynx).

When you’re singing in a lower range and you make the mistake of stretching your larynx to try to sing higher notes, you’re not making a great connection. You’re just stretching your chest voice too far, which accompanies a thicker mass of the vocal cords. The register will not change automatically. It requires us to make some natural refinements in our singers breathing, as well as a small correction in our larynx setup to allow the larynx to shift to the correct position and allow the voice to change pitch at a natural pace.

In terms of anatomy, it is the top cartilage of the larynx (the thyroid cartilage) that tilts forward when provided with enough space and the appropriate amount of relaxation as we sing higher, and as we learn how to correctly use our diaphragm breathing to reduce the amount of excess pressure in the cords to allow the tilting of the thyroid cartilage.

It is the thyroid tilt that allows us to change register painlessly and naturally, allowing us to reproduce the same notes at a higher octave. There’s a bit of magic going on here because the vocal cords have naturally thinned down due to a combination of the arytenoids, reduction of air passing through the cords and this thyroid tilting process. This is so important because for a lot of singers, even if they can get that thyroid cartilage to tilt, they don’t allow it to tilt far enough and it’s like being straddled on a fence between chest voice and high head voice, half in and half out of the higher register.

It must be underlined right here and right now: Do not use brute force pushing or squeezing to facilitate the thyroid tilt. All you’re going to do is create a bunch of unwanted muscle contractions that will lock your larynx down. The goal here is to create relaxation to create the correct environment for your thyroid cartilage to tilt forward and begin the process of thinning down your vocal cords.

All anatomy is slightly different. An as example, shorter people and taller people have different vocal anatomy. Shorter people have thicker tendons and ligaments to anchors the cartilages of the larynx in place and they have less travel requirements to allow that thyroid cartilage to tilt forward. Taller singers with longer necks are going to need to manage that process more delicately and more precisely to allow the larynx to be in the right position to allow that thyroid cartilage to tilt. It’s no secret that the world’s top singers (especially in males) are usually 5’10” and under (5’5″ for women).

If you’re a taller person, you can learn how to develop the correct coordinations, but it requires more finesse and precision to create the right kind of larynx position to allow this thyroid tilt to happen. This can happen in any healthy voice. With very few exceptions, every average healthy voice is capable of these coordinations and can achieve a 3-octave connected range. Some singers will find these coordinations on their own, but the majority will not without proper coaching.

A wider larynx allows for lower notes. This setup allows you to carry your chest register higher into your voice. Tendons and ligaments provide the anchorage and support of the lower cricoid cartilage.
A narrower, slightly higher larynx position is required to be able to take the weight out of the chest voice and create a mixed voice or head voice register, as well as reinforce falsetto registers. The cricoid cartilage and the thyroid cartilage need to come closer together to pave the way for a smooth thyroid tilt.

Learning the correct muscle coordinations to relax the larynx and allow it to sit slightly higher in a narrower setup is often made more challenging by our own brain because our brain incorrectly says to us, “As we sing higher, we need to stretch the larynx further to get those big sounds out!”. This causes all kinds of unwanted muscle tension, strangling the voice and preventing us from singing into the higher register.

Learning how to ignore your brain’s natural, unhelpful impulses and messages to stretch that larynx out can be a very frustrating process. If you haven’t already worked it out for yourself, I highly recommend that you seek out a good, knowledgeable vocal coach that can fully demonstrate these coordinations and can help you to learn the correct, higher larynx position and the accompanying thyroid tilt.

Getting to know your vocal anatomy

It’s no secret that some singers are just naturally born with complementary vocal anatomy parts that make connecting to the high notes an automatic function of their voice. We often refer to these singers as being “naturals”. However if you have read any of my columns before, or if you’ve browsed my website, you’ll know that no two sets of vocal cords are the same – in simple terms no two sets of vocal anatomy (in terms of diameter and measurements) are the same.

If you’re a singer and you’re struggling to move your voice out of the bottom, or chest, register and you can’t quite find the connection between your chest voice and your head voice, which is that brighter sounding voice that singers use to sing their middle and higher notes, then this post is for you.

We need to get to know the mechanics of the voice to understand clearly what’s going on.

We have lifter and constrictor muscles in our throat. These muscles are largely food processing muscles that allow the throat to change shape for processing food. When we have a drink of water, the lifter and constrictor muscles allow the larynx to lift up as well as drop down, making it easier for us to guide food or water down the esophageal tube to our stomach.

The esophagus is a muscular tube that connects the throat (pharynx) with the stomach. The esophagus is usually up to 8 inches long (about 20cm) and when you swallow food or drink water, the walls of the esophagus squeeze together, reducing its diameter, moving the food down the esophagus and into the stomach. This is kind of like how a python is able to eat its prey. The lifter and constrictor muscles help the esophagus to change its shape and get that food where it needs to go.

The esophagus is behind your wind pipe (trachea), which is the tube that connects your mouth and your nose to your lungs. Together, these form your respiratory system. Below your lungs is a dome-shaped muscle called the diaphragm and it’s the main respiration muscle that starts the natural breathing cycle in human beings.

The diaphragm is responsible for actioning the inhale motion, which is the action that physically draws air into your lungs, as well as the exhale motion.

Singers often encounter struggles when physically changing registers between their warm, wide chest voice to their brighter, bell-like head voice. They feel like they’re being choked or strangled and the throat feels like it has closed down. They might find that their sound has gone from really big and wide, to a strangled, muted sound as they try to sing higher. This is all because the singer has involuntarily engaged the lifter and constrictor muscles and now the body is treating the actions as being food processing-oriented. The back of the throat is closing up and we’ve gone from creating a healthy singer’s environment, to one that is optimum for processing foods and liquids.

Closure of the throat or reducing the diameter of the back of the throat prevents the larynx from having the full range of motion necessary to complete its desired movement, which is to thin down the vocal cords and achieve a higher register (head voice).

Singer’s tip number 1

If you’re encountering resistance in your voice as you sing higher, don’t push and squeeze against the resistance. Vocally you’re going to find yourself between a rock and a hard place if you do. The more you push and squeeze against these lifter and constrictor muscles, the more they’re going to reduce the diameter in the back of the throat and the surrounding area, and the more locked-down your larynx (voice box) will become.

A more ideal solution is to learn how to release the lifter and constrictor muscles when you encounter this resistance, and have those muscles maintain a docile state. They should be both relaxed and flexible. If your larynx is to enjoy the freedom it requires to maintain a full range of motion to reach higher notes, you must learn this skill. Seek out a coach or expert in this area, as learning how to disengage automatic muscle coordinations requires skill to understand how to bypass these automatic reactions from the body.

In a future post, we’ll talk more about how the larynx operates and how to change registers.

Singer’s tip number 2

If you breath from your upper chest, you’re going to build up excess air pressure in your lungs and in your airway. This will also automatically engage those lifter and constrictor muscles, leading to further vocal challenges in navigating your range.

Learning the correct, healthy singer’s breathing coordination is a must for every singer, in every style of singing, whether it’s classical singing or extreme metal (or anything else in between). We need to learn how to use our diaphragm support and diaphragmatic singer’s breathing to create the right supportive environment to allow our larynx to function freely as air passes through it and make vocal sounds (phonation).

In an upcoming post, we’ll focus on understanding how vocal cords are designed to create different registers in your voice. In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about mastering singer’s breathing, send me a message and let’s chat!

Singers Talk – Tips to make your songs more memorable with The AJ Sound

This time, the shoe is on the other foot. Watch AJ from The AJ Sound interview Paule from RVR about his top 8 songwriting tips.

In sad trend in the majority of popular music these days is to put a large focus around the music and the song progression and to basically just write throwaway, disposable lyrics. Some forms of music lend themselves more easily to very basic, straightforward lyric writing styles.

If you’re primarily interested in traditional blues music, it’s usually written in first person: “I went down to the store and bought myself a beer, I drank in the hot sun and start to feel weird”. The origin of country and western music was guilty of using the same first person perspective. “I got me a pick up truck and I’m diving down the road. I got my arm out the window, with no particular place to go.” Dance music is another genre that follows this format. “Oh baby, you’re so hot. I want you, I need you, I want what you’ve got.”

That’s fine if the lyrical style suits the genre, and there’s nothing wrong with a generic, first person lyric-writing style. It lends itself well to the way that music is made these days, which is generally very quick and takes a cookie cutter approach.

The problem with this approach is that we as artists are in danger of encouraging music to become very disposable and one-dimensional. I believe sadly that for a lot of the popular music that is made today, and the way that music is produced, we are losing our way. The music is manufactured more like a consumer product with a short shelf life. It’s quantity over quality and if we continue that trend, the vast majority of music is going to be produced with the intention of being disposable.

This topic is something that I’m incredibly passionate about and I’m not preaching to anyone here more than I am to myself.

As a songwriter, I can’t live with the idea of writing a one-dimensional, disposable lyric. Why even pick up your guitar, your piano or even your electronic devices if you don’t have something original to say to the world?

I know a lot of artists out there put their heart and soul into their music and they agonise over every word and every line. In short, they care deeply about what they want to say. I want to talk to those people.

If you’re interested in writing disposable music, more power to you, but this post is not for you. If you’re an artist out there that yearns for being able to tell a better story and develop the skills to write a more memorable, substantial song, then this post is for you.

First of all, we need to understand the elements that a memorable song lyric is comprised of. There will always be a few minor exceptions to these rules, but for the majority of songwriters, if you write a song about how you like to wear a red shirt with white stripes and you like green shoes, then you’re only going to appeal to a niche demographic that can relate to wearing a red shirt with white stripes and might be considering wearing green shoes! This is not the approach that the world’s most iconic songwriters have in mind when they write their songs.

Rule number 1: Always start with a universally understood subject or emotion.

Losing a job, breaking up with a partner, falling in love. These are all topics that most people can relate to.

Rule number 2: Write your song to support your overall message.

Be mindful of giving any supporting cast character in your story a bigger voice than required. Granting supporting characters a voice can easily disrupt the flow of your story and your song lyric. You need to maintain a clear picture of what the song is about.

Rule number 3: Tell a clear, progressive, flowing story.

Just imagine jumping into your car with no clear destination in mind. You could easily wind up driving in circles and getting your passengers lost.

Rule number 4: Make a provocative statement up front.

All of the greatest songwriters; people like The Beatles, Elton John, Sam Cook, Marvin Gaye, Chris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Billy Joel, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Wonder, Cat Stevens, Chrissy Hynde, Tom Petty and Prince always start with a universally understood subject or emotion, then they open with a provocative statement that grabs the audience’s attention from the very first line. Apologies if I haven’t mentioned your favourite songwriter, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t great! Many of my favourites haven’t been listed here either.

One way of doing this is to imagine that you’re a prosecuting attorney and you’re making your first opening statement to the jury. There’s no time for waffle. You want to make the most powerful opening statement that you can that sets the scene for your story.

Rule number 5: Get to know your literary writing devices.

Like a painter that has a palette of 32 colours, until you know how to use the devices available to you, you’re really just painting in black and white.

The best songwriters tell a strong story by making use of numerous literary writing devices. Things like alliteration (taking the same vowel or consonant sound and repeating it through a line), e.g. Let It Be by The Beatles: “Whisper words of wisdom”, or Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”.

Other examples include Bad Blood by Taylor Swift: “And baby, now we’ve got bad blood”, Drops of Jupiter by Train: “Can you imagine no first dance, freeze-dried romance five hour conversation”. Alliteration is a popular device that is used to create word patterns in song lyrics that really catch your ear and attract you more strongly to the rhythmic elements of the vocal melody.

Rule number 6: Imagine your song is a short movie.

You should think of yourself as a script writer that is writing a short movie. Most popular songs have three, to a maximum of four “scenes”. There’s a real skill in being able to tell a story within the parameters of three and a half minutes (average length of a pop song), or perhaps five and a half for a rock song.

This idea of scripting out and “mind mapping” a song, and getting organised to do the song justice is the thing that requires the most amount of discipline and is probably the biggest turn-off to singers and songwriters that prefer to fly by the seat of their pants and simply make it all up as they go along.

I know first hand just how they feel, because this was the one habit that I had developed as a songwriter that I found the hardest and most difficult to change. The idea of mind mapping and scripting out the ideas for a song felt like too much hard work, but with regular practice and persistence this habit has now paid off for me ten times over. When I write a song now, my song lyrics are stronger, they tell a better story, the writing style is more provocative and appealing. In short, I’m writing better song lyrics. Because I’m more proud and excited about those lyrics, I can’t wait to get out and perform, record, or share those songs with a worldwide audience.

If you really want to improve the quality of your lyric writing, learn to develop these two habits that successful songwriters always employ:

  1. Mind map all the ideas that you associate with the main theme to your song. For example, if your song is about driving a car, instead of just starting to write a song about driving in your car, stop. Mind map all of the ideas that you can associate with driving in your car, e.g. Traffic signs, the radio, the steering wheel, whatever you might put on your dashboard. This approach of mapping out the associations is guaranteed to produce fresh ideas and ways to tell your story. You are employing a non-linear logical approach which will bear far more creative fruit.
  2. Script our your themes. What are the themes for the beginning, the middle and the end? You don’t need to have all of the answers, but you should know how your songis going to progress. For example, the first scene could be about someone who is fed up with working their day job and are dreaming of the weekend. The second scene could be about packing their bags and jumping into their car, headed out to the open road. The final scene could be focused on the freedom of leaving the 9-5 life behind.

I can’t recommend developing the ability to script out and mind map your songs enough. It will give you incredibly cool, new approaches to songwriting where your creative well never seems to run dry.

Rule number 7: Play with your chords.

Add some alterations within your chords and discover through experimentation, the power of changing one note in your major and minor chords. All of a sudden, your ear will lead you to more melodic pathways and ideas that will really lift your song and take it somewhere special for you.

Rule number 8: Never take your gifts for granted

If you’re blessed with any level of ability to write lyrics or find lyric ideas, make sure you honor those song ideas simply by writing them down or recording them straight into your phone. This is the essential formula for assuring that you will continue to receive other ideas from the music universe on a regular basis. It can be hell on earth for songwriters to intentionally let that creative well run dry. Once it has, or if you don’t keep that channel open to the musical universe to receive those ideas, it can be like climbing Mount Everest when trying to open up your creativity again.

If you want to learn more about songwriting, lyrics, improving your musical ear or how to write great chord progressions, I have a fully customised songwriting programme. Sometimes all it takes is to have the right coaching, mentoring and support to kickstart your songwriting journey. Send me a message about our RVR Songwriting Workshops.

Give the video below a watch, where I discuss these concepts in detail with AJ from The AJ Sound. Better singing everyone!

Don’t miss the next post, which will be about how to write a catchy hook and consistently write great choruses.

Your motivation

It’s that time again to address the “vocal elephant” in the room.

This post is for every singer that has been tempted, or is tempted right now, to give up on achieving their vocal development goals. Usually this is caused through lack of motivation.

Bearing in mind that a life of singing and music is not for everyone, but if you’re one of those people that are constantly singing in the shower, in the car, around the house, or you’re listening to music 24/7, it should be pretty clear to you right now that music isn’t just a hobby. It’s a lifeline to get you through each day.

Like it or not, you’ve been chosen. You have been hand picked from among your mates by the singing gods to carry the musical flame for your generation. You don’t choose music; music chooses you.

It’s not always an easy journey. Sometimes we can be born with this amazingly strong relationship to music and vocally or aurally, we can lack the correct coordination to sound good with our voices. I am going to list my top five signs that indicate that you were born a musician and that it is worth the time and energy to realise your dreams:

  1. You hear a song on the radio and you cant help but repeat the main melody over and over again
  2. You’re always coming up with little bits of ideas for lyrics or songs, even if they remain unfinished
  3. You’d rather go without a fast food meal to save money to buy that new microphone or essential vocal gear
  4. Driving across town on a sunny day to spend time in a cramped practice room sounds like your idea of a good time
  5. You have a burning desire to express yourself and your feelings to a large audience

Speaking for myself, at the early age of four years old I knew that music; singing, as well as playing guitar and drums, held various levels of fascination for me. What the gods of musicforgot to give me was an ounce of natural talent, coordination, or good vocal DNA to help get me started.

What I did have in massive supply was determination, imagination and desire. Sometimes if left undirected, these things won’t be enough to smoothly take you from where you are in your musical journey, through to your destination. I realised early on that what I didn’t know can definitely hurt me.

I was determined to find some great mentors to make my learning path in musiceasier. It took me years to find different mentors that had not only mastered a particular part of their craft, but who possessed the right combination of both teaching skills and patience to be good at passing on their knowledge down to me in a way that I could benefit from it.

I had to do everything the hard way and for every successful mentor I found and discovered, there were at least ten others I tried that weren’t a good fit for me. They either just had a plain bad attitude towards sharing and developing other musicians, or their style did not match my preferred way of learning.

This is where the need for Rapid Vocal Results was born.

I couldn’t find the mentor that I needed that was well rounded, knowledgeable, patient, and possessed the skills to develop me through professional performance coaching.

My Holy Grail quest was to find a mentor that could teach me the skills to become a competent, well rounded singer, songwriter, guitar player and composer.

It has taken me nearly 20 years of long hours, one to one coaching sessions, and learning and development research, but now I am that kind of mentor for every budding singer/screamer/song writer/guitarist.

If you know that music is in your blood and you’re missing the key physical skills to realise your dreams, stop looking at the brick wall that you’ve run into and send me a message. Let’s get you booked into a coaching session and get you back on the path. This time with the right level of guidance and clarity to achieve your musical goals.

If you’ve enjoyed this post, I’d love to hear from you and start to understand the signs that you’ve noticed in your life that tell you too were born to be amusician.

The differences between a vocal performance coach and singing teachers

In my quest to understand everything about the voice, I have spent over $10,000 in purchasing off the shelf singing programmes. I have personally taken lessons with many different singing teachers, both locally and internationally over the years, in an attempt to discover the holy grail of vocal development techniques. My goal has always been to take a mere mortal voice and turn it into something extraordinary. I have also sought to understand the various limitations of the average voice and to develop innovative concepts to help singers perform at their best.

Throughout my journey, I have met many singing teachers and have tried many different variations on traditional teaching methods. These teachers all quoted from the same textbook definitions of what good vocal and breathing technique should sound and feel like. With few exceptions, most of these singing teachers were unable to demonstrate the vocal and breathing coordination that they spoke of to a consistently high standard.

After a while, the cold, hard truth dawned on me. Many of the singing teachers that I had received instruction from did not understand singers breathing any better than their students did.

They were simply either born with bigger sets of vocal cords, or were blessed with additional length on their vocal cords. These attributes allowed them to commit more vocal sins than the average person can. This leads to a very interesting subject for today’s post.

Traditional singing teachers and their singing methods tend to produce disappointing, or subpar results for many of their students. This is because they approach the art of vocal development purely in a mechanical, one-dimensional manner. Traditional singing teacher methods tend to simply come from a “hand me down” from teacher to student. As long as the student replicates what their teacher taught them without giving thought to improving on the method, or questioning the process, the science of vocal development and performance will continue in a downward spiral.

“No BS” fact number one: For some people that are born with all the prerequisite, complementary attributes to make a great singing voice, any subpar singing method will still produce amazing results. This is not due to the teaching method or content, it is simply due to the fact that this person is naturally born with bigger than average vocal cords and blessed with additional length in those cords. These generous attributes, combined with a wider than average windpipe, will naturally fast-track anybody’s vocal progress.

But what happens when a singer wants to sing but is not blessed with all of the above qualities? This is where traditional singing methods using traditional teaching systems will fail many singers in a spectacular fashion.

Traditional singing methods…

  1. Fail to innovate and fail to question traditional methodology
  2. Only focus one-dimensionally on growing the voice
  3. Fail to identify and remedy various psychological performance handbrakes that impact on a singer’s ability to perform outside their self-imposed comfort zone
  4. Lack the necessary skills to approach vocal development in a three-dimensional, holistic manner.

A vocal performance coach truly cares about performance.

They innovate and constantly audit their own performance. This applies to their delivery system as well as their actual coaching content. A vocal performance coach knows how to identify a student’s preferred way of learning, then customise coaching techniques accordingly to fast track vocal development.

I cringe every time somebody introduces themselves as a singing teacher. This is because a teacher’s sole objective is to teach and they often miss the opportunity to learn from their students. Their students hold the key to helping us to develop new, bridging coaching concepts and coaching content based on the needs of the individual singer.

My message to singing teachers: Throw away the textbook. Question everything you have learned about the voice and ask, “is there a better way?” This simple philosophy will lead to innovation and pave the way to future generations of happier, healthier, more confident singers.

Better singing everyone!

Muscle memories and how they impact your performance

It is possible to sing higher without straining. It is also possible to connect chest voice and head voice without sounding like you’ve entered a weight lifting competition!

Our optimum performance is often determined by our muscle memory, meaning that if you’re a singer and you’re straining to sing higher in your chest and/or head voice, you could be performing well below your personal best without even knowing it. It’s very hard to break an unhealthy muscle memory that keeps on sending us vocally down the same dead-end street.

So what is a muscle memory? If we perform a specific motor task in the same way each time, we build muscle memories. The muscles that are used to perform the action start to remember that action’s form and shape. The muscles become pre-conditioned to perform the action automatically by themselves. The acts of singing, breathing, swallowing and how we open our mouth or throat and positioning our tongue can all be considered motor tasks.

Healthy muscle memories can improve the efficiency of our voice. This is done through automating and conditioning the tendons and ligaments to produce correct placement of our larynx and the correct action of respiration muscles that support our diaphragm to achieve good singer’s breathing.

Although we use the term “muscle memory”, the actual memory for the muscle’s activity is located in the memory center of our brain – not in the muscle itself.

When we repeat an action or motor task (muscle coordination) over and over again, the muscle coordination gets moved from the short term memory area, into the preferred long term memory area of the brain. The difference is that short term muscle memories can be easily forgotten, or you can become either rusty or inconsistent and prone to large degrees of variation in their execution through lack of use and lack of practice of that specific motor action.

Muscle memories that have been moved into the long term storage area of the brain tend to become almost automatic and require very little thought or effort to action and coordinate. An example of this is that some of us tend to zone out a little bit on a long car journey while our thoughts are elsewhere, and then we realise that we’ve been driving on “auto-pilot” the whole time! Muscle memories have taken over while we were away with the fairies.

Short term muscle memories are a bit different as we can keep forgetting what the correct coordinations are, meaning that we need to go over something again and again in order to make the muscle coordinations seem familiar. This is why regular, consistent practice is important and really does make a difference!

It can take between 1000 to 3000 correctly performed motor task coordinations before an action goes successfully from short term into long term memory storage. Even if a muscle coordination has made it to long term storage, if it isn’t used then it can revert back to a short term muscle memory again. A great example of this is a professional touring singer that is on the road for 12 months at a time, performing night after night. They then go on holiday or in hiatus for 6-8 months before going on the next tour, or going into the studio to record their next album. If they try to sing straight away, they’re likely going to find that all of those efficient long term muscle memories have become short term memories and they’re going to find their performance very inconsistent until they establish those muscle memories again. Once again, the key to maintaining good muscle memories is repetition and regular practice.

A good example of a professional singer that is now struggling with finding the correct vocal and breathing coordinations and who is at the mercy of short term muscle memories is Vince Neil from M繹tley Cr羹e. These kinds of situations where the voice doesn’t vocally perform like it once did can severely impact the singer’s confidence in their own abilities.

So now that you know what a muscle memory is, how does it affect our singing?

Chances are, when someone starts exploring their singing voice, they’re bound to develop some inefficient or unhealthy muscle memories. These include:

  1. Excessive tension in the jaw
  2. Pushing and squeezing on the vocal cords in an attempt to reach higher notes
  3. Incorrectly tensing their shoulders, chest or back to try to create increased volume
  4. A lowered neck position, or looking at the floor when trying to sing higher notes
  5. Relying on excessive amounts of volume to sing or reach a higher pitch
  6. Holding their breath while singing
  7. Craning their neck forward (like a chicken)

Each of these actions can be described as unhealthy muscle memories.

Are you ready for some more bad news? What makes these unhealthy muscle memories even worse for the poor singer is that a memory feels familiar or normal, so we start to tell ourselves that it’s normal to sing with all of these restrictions and all of these vocal performance or breathing handbrakes. We often virtually ignore these obvious vocal performance and/or breathing handbrakes.

It takes time to develop an unhealthy muscle memory, and at first it might feel like it’s impossible to break a persisting bad habit. Since it took time to develop that unhealthy muscle memory, it makes sense that it’s going to require some patience and persistence to replace the unhealthy habit with a new, healthy muscle memory that will support better singing and better vocal function.

The first step is to recognise an unhealthy, unhelpful muscle memory by going through the vocal checklist above and doing a little bit of a “vocal audit” on how your body feels when you sing. It may be helpful for you to sing while standing in front of the mirror and observing how your body is reacting as you sing up and down through your vocal range, or while you sing through a song in which you have some challenging vocal parts.

Use the list above to help you uncover any vocal or breathing handbrakes that you may have unknowingly developed, or have been relying on to help you to get your sound.

At Rapid Vocal Results, we adopt “guerilla warfare” and we come at unhealthy habits from all different angles. There is no one effective way to break an unhealthy muscle memory quickly, especially if it is a habit that is has been well established over time. We adopt a holistic, highly effective strategy for not only retraining the muscle coordination, but we also work on the brain through a customised form of RVR NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) to reduce the time it takes to break the unhealthy muscle memory, and replace it with a healthy, efficient memory that will support better singing and higher levels of vocal performance.

Better singing everyone!