Vocal Technique

Some Thoughts on the Nature of Stage Fright, a.k.a. How to Stand and Deliver

December 21, 2011

Most issues related to technique and performance are solved when we step back from the actual point of struggle and frame the question correctly. Stage fright is just such an issue. Debilitating and confusing, yes. Can we fight it in the moment? There are tricks that calm the body and mind, but it is difficult to rationalize your way past the bio-chemical experience of The Fear. The Fear laughs and sends another cold shot of cortisol through your tummy. However, change your thinking toward the act of performance and the roles that both you and the audience play in that extended series of present moments, and the brain’s natural defense mechanisms will have no need to kick in.

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Vocal Technique: An Organizing Principle for Singers, Part 1

October 6, 2011

What is the optimal approach to training the singing voice? Right at the root of it, what are the ideal conditions for optimal tone production and what thought patterns best exploit the physiological strengths of the voice while de-emphasizing (or at least respecting) the inherent limitations?

This month I begin a two part series explaining my concept of an Organizing Principle, a manner of organized thought that elicits a dependably optimal vocal response in the present moment, and that respects the inherent limitations of the neurophysiology of the singing mechanism. Part one introduces the concept. Part two will layout a specific method for implementing this approach in the practice studio.

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A Case Study: 28 Days to a Better Singing Technique

September 2, 2011

I am always looking for new exercises and technical warm-ups to include in my daily practice routine, so I decided to try the 28-day challenge of isotonic and isometric exercises as discussed in last month’s article by Ian Howell: Vocal Technique: Boring Exercises That Will Make You a Better Singer.  Over the past four weeks, I have noticed an improvement in my breath control, developed a greater sense of my intercostal muscles and the role they play in breathing for singing, and have strengthened the lower part of my range (B3-D4)…

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Vocal Technique: Boring Exercises That Will Make You a Better Singer

August 3, 2011

That exercises are non-musical/non-expressive could be obvious. How can one compare the expressive potential of a Bach Passion aria with an ascending and descending major triad? Dig a little deeper, though, and I hope that you will apprehend my point: It is technically valuable to exercise the voice without the imposed layer of an expressive construct, specifically because the desire to express something often engenders unnecessary layers of muscular tension.

With this in mind, this month I present a series of exercises initially designed by voice scientists to help rehabilitate the voices of non-singers. These exercises not only serve a “non-expressive” function, but also fill a likely gap in your practice routine, namely isometric exercises. Scientifically measured benefits to the inclusion of these exercises in a regular practice regimen includes increased awareness of breath control, increased sense of relaxation during both inhalation and exhalation, decreased rate of airflow while singing (and decreased sub-glottal pressure), increased phonation volume, increased maximum phonation time, and many more…

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Vocal Technique: The Flex

July 5, 2011

Since my previous articles in this series on countertenor relevant singing technique have been rather general in nature, I wanted to write this month about a specific exercise. Building on the information introduced in April’s article Countertenor Technique: An Introduction to Concepts, the exercise I outline here, called the flex, is one that reveals hidden mental prejudices that work against countertenors, builds stability and an authentic sound into the lower range of the countertenor voice, and eventually helps to bridge the transition (a shortening of the vibrating portion of the folds even as the folds remain stretched) that should take place between Bb4 and B4. My hope is that the inclusion of audio examples in this article will help to explain any questions that arise, and spark an conversation about what the countertenor voice is capable of and how it might be trained.

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Vocal Technique: How to Best Practice Practicing Singing

June 1, 2011

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent…” ~ Calvin Coolidge


I have been through six years of music school (and about eighteen years off and on of private study), and I find it curious that the one thing that is rarely systematically addressed is how to practice. Especially when the quality of one’s practice habits, not necessarily how well one currently performs, is one of the best indicators of one’s long-term professional viability. So, here follows my thoughts on how to practice being good at practicing:

#1: You become what you practice…

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Countertenor Technique: An Introduction to Concepts

April 12, 2011

Is countertenor technique different from standard classical vocal technique? Should a countertenor train like a male or female voice, and what pedagogical approach and conceptual model best elicits a healthy countertenor sound? Is a countertenor merely the intersection of gender and tessitura, or is there something specific to the technical approach and musical context that limits the definition?

Much of the language of our vocal pedagogy comes from the time before invasive scientific tools. It was as recently as 1854 that Manuel Garcia first viewed the vocal folds (his own, actually) in action with the use of a dentist’s mirror. By that point, words like chest, head, mixed voice, and falsetto (terms generally based on the location of the sensation of sympathetic vibrations) were so ingrained in the minds of 19th century voice teachers that the new information revealed by this direct scientific observation was made to conform to that basic conceptual system. However, success as a countertenor is no more or less physiologically likely than for any other voice-type, provided we have conceptual models that encourage singers to believe that it is possible…

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