It’s not often that I lose my voice. Thankfully so, since using my voice to demonstrate good -and bad- singing is my job day in and day out!
The two times I vividly remember losing my voice was first:
My senior year of high school the weekend of our spring musical. I was playing Jo in Little Women The Musical and I got sick and developed a raspy singing voice just in time for opening weekend. What luck!! Thankfully with some help from my Ear Nose and Throat (laryngologist) doctor and my voice teacher who happened to be at the performance opening night, I managed to pull through.
The second was about five years ago. I had an awful nightmare and woke up screaming in the middle of the night (does this ever happen to you?!?!) I probably terrified all the neighbors in a two block radius. I didn’t sleep the rest of the night and the next day- my voice was gone. Completely hoarse. I felt fine, so I made do by miming adjustments in my lessons and apologizing to students that I was completely out of commission!
I know other stories of people losing their voice.
Julie Andrews lost her voice after returning to Broadway in a difficult role inVictor/Victoria,followed by a voice surgery that changed her voice for the worse (by the way, it is extremely rare for a voice surgery to go wrong like this. Most of the time surgery is an important and exceptional treatment plan in voices that need it).
Shania Twain lost her voice for years, she credited it to an emotionally volatile time in her life. You know that expression, “getting choked up”? Emotions can really do a number on our voices and completely close up our sound.
Maybe you’ve never “found” your voice.
Maybe you’ve never allowed yourself to consider yourself a “real” singer. On that topic, check out this inspiring TedTalk by my friend and fellow IVA voice teacher Heather Baker.
Whether it’s lost or yet to be found, your voice is never far away. In most cases, a few days of rest or a few voice lessons can get you on the right track. In more rare circumstances, a few visits with a laryngologist (voice doctor) or Speech Language Pathologist (voice therapist) might be in order. Or, some soul searching to find where your emotions are blocking your communication might be just what’s needed.
My student Caroline and I have been having lessons together for going on four years now. She’s one of those students turned friends and honestly, we’ve been through a lot together!
One of my greatest joys of working with long-time students is getting to witness their progress over long stretches of time.
Sure, you should be making improvements in your first lesson with a new teacher (yeah- you should!!), but the lasting change and real work is developing stamina and technique over months and years of work.
What, like singing is hard?!
This week in our lesson, Caroline revisited Eva Cassidy’s arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
During our lesson Caroline said, “When I had tried to sing this before, it was in my singing for actors class in college. I remember, I was probably just trying to belt the whole thing and I thought, ‘why is this so hard?'”
Have you ever come back to a song you sang years ago, to be pleasantly surprised at how much easier it is for you to sing today?
Caroline elaborated on the process that led to today’s feeling of ease:
“It makes me realize whether it’s singing or acting or anything, putting the time in and repetition of doing it and doing it, developing a skill and craft and technique is the key. Then even on days when I don’t feel 100% vocally, I’m still amazed at how much I can do things, even if I mentally think i can’t do it right now. I realize, ‘oh, i can sing this, even when it’s not 100%.'”
“Even if it’s just ten minutes and I run through some vocal exercises in the car, just to do it like using a muscle… then when it comes time for the event you just know it’s going to be there even if something is amiss.”
This! This is why we work on technique
Not for a week or a month, but over years! High level singing on any level (middle-school choir competitions? That’s high level!) requires singers to rely on technique built up over time when sickness, fatigue, or injury inevitably occur.
Caroline concluded: “…Where my voice is now, I can now just enjoy singing [the song] and focus on the artistry and where I’m going to breathe, instead of ‘how am I going to do this and not hurt myself?'”
Do you want to feel that same vocal freedom? With the right training and some time put into it, it’s possible!
So if you find yourself constantly belting out songs that stay in a limited range and never touch your upper register… think again! If you want a long-lasting singing voice, remember: Balance in all things, my friend!
This week in my private CWVS Clubhouse Facebook group, Lucia asked:
“What would you consider red flags for voice teachers?”
She had been studying with someone who was well aligned with her vocal goals a few years ago. She recently started studying with them again, only now to realize that this teacher was leading her to sing in a rather unhealthy way. She left lessons feeling strained and frustrated that the teacher was encouraging her to use her voice in only one, exhausting way.
Some voice teachers are excellent fits for only certain types of singers. Some voice teachers have no idea what they’re doing (true story). And thankfully, some voice teachers have a teaching methodology that allow them to help any singer find vocal balance.
What should you look for in a voice teacher?
Finding a great voice teacher is a lot like dating. You might have to meet a few before you find your perfect fit! Here are my red flags and green lights when you’re on the hunt for a great teacher.
Voice Teacher Red Flags:
You feel frustrated, defeated, or confused after your lesson
You’re unable to choose repertoire you want to sing
You’re made to feel like your singing mistakes are your fault
You’re not given practical tips, advice, or exercises to address your specific vocal goals
Your voice consistently feels strained, exhausted, or hoarse during or after your lesson
You don’t make progress within the first two lessons (yes, that’s how quickly you should feel an improvement!)
Your “teacher” is more of a vocal coach- meaning they are great at helping you learn new music and coaching your performance, but they aren’t able or interested in working on your vocal technique
Your teacher’s only qualifying experience is their own performance career
You spend the majority of your lesson time talking or talking about singing instead of actually singing.
Your teacher talks a lot about how the voice works but is unable to demonstrate what they are trying to get you to achieve.
Your teacher can’t sing well
Voice Teacher Green Lights:
You leave lessons feeling inspired and motivated
Your teacher listens to your goals and dreams and supports your pursuit of them
Your teacher is able to identify what your vocal tendencies/issues are and gives you exercises specifically to balance your voice. Lessons are tailored to your needs and goals on any given day
You make progress within your lessons and at home with the exercises they give you to practice
At the end of your lessons, your voice feels like it just had a great workout- a little tired, but getting stronger
Your teacher challenges you with repertoire, and allows you to choose songs you love to sing
Your teacher has completed or is undergoing training specific to teaching voice- they aren’t relying just on their own vocal training or performance degree. Their teacher training might be a college degree in vocal pedagogy or a private certification, like from www.vocaladvancement.com
Lesson time is efficient and effective! You spend the majority of the time vocalizing and singing music
Your teacher can sing well and properly demonstrate what they are helping you achieve. (This doesn’t mean they need to be a professional vocalist or have great talent. But every good voice teacher should have a relatively balanced voice)
If you’re looking for a teacher who meets these green light requirements, check out vocaladvancement.com to find a voice teacher in your country/region/city who specializes in teaching vocal balance. Online lessons mean you can study with any of these amazing teachers from around the world!
Anything I missed? What are your red flags and green lights when looking for a private voice teacher?
Have you ever tried to go for a high note and been thwarted by a massive crack in your voice? Have you ever wondered how to eliminate the break between your low notes and high notes?
Learning how to mix should help you with that! But what is mixing and how do I do it?
Oxford Languages defines “mix” as: two or more different qualities, things, or people placed, combined, or considered together.
Two or more things combined together!
In regards to our singing voice, mixing, or developing a “mix,” refers to seamlessly combining our chest voice and our head voice. No matter the styles of music you sing, your voice has two distinct registers: head voice and chest voice.
The transition or area between these two registers is known as one’s “mix” (noun). The process of that coordination is known as “mixing” (verb).
You cannot build a bridge to where there is no shore
If a mix (or mix voice) is a combination of two different registers in our voice, then you first and foremost need access to those registers before you can start blending them!
What is chest voice?
Also known as your lower register — it’s the range of notes in which we comfortably speak. Chest voice is the foundation of your singing voice. Strength and success in the rest of your range depends on the stability of your chest voice! Imagine your voice is shaped like a pyramid: chest voice is the strongest, thickest (literally, in your cords!) part of your voice. The rest of your voice is built on that foundation!
Without utilizing chest voice properly, singers may sound breathy or weak, lack dynamics, and have a less powerful middle and upper range. Whether you sing classical music or classic R&B, using your chest voice is essential to having a strong and balanced voice.
What is head voice?
Also known as your upper register, and sometimes referred to as falsetto (although they are not one and the same!). Say an excited “Whoo hoo!” like you’re cheering at a game — you’re using your head voice! A well balanced voice releases into head voice at the proper time to access brilliant high notes. Resisting this transition will lead to strain, poor pitch, and a limited range. Everyone from Whitney Houston to Bruno Mars to Pavarotti use their head voice, so get on board!
What is mixing / mix voice?
Mixing is the coordination process of blending chest voice and head voice together. Sometimes this coordination is referred to as “bridging,” like bridging the gap between chest voice and head voice. You cannot build a bridge to where there is no shore…so chest voice and head voice need to be accessible, if not comfortable, before you can expect to build your mix voice.
While not every singer experience mixing in the same way, I’ll argue that any singer with somewhat decent technique is mixing in one way or another, from classical music to classic rock. Some people feel it as a gradual stretch out of their lower register, some people feel distinct and different “mixes” in their voice, such as a “head dominant mix” and “chest dominant mix,” etc.
If you are singing through one or more passages (transitions spots) in a connected way (ie, not flipping or disconnecting to a breathy, falsetto tone) then you are mixing through your voice!
The ratios of how much chest voice to how much head voice you’re using in different parts of your range may be different depending on what style of music you sing, but some kind of blend must be present in order to sing with ease and full vocal freedom. For example, because their genre requires it, classical sopranos may have more head voice in their recipe but the very best sopranos still access chest voice in some way.
How do I find my mix?
The term “finding your mix” or “discovering your mix” is rather misleading. You aren’t going to stumble upon your mix voice one day after you find the magic “mixing” exercise. A mix voice is developed over time!
Like I said earlier, learning to mix (or blend) through your registers is a coordination that takes time and practice. It’s quite literally like coordinating any other muscle group in your body. Just like any high level athlete takes years to perfect their moves, you will need to do the same! Singing is a physical activity that depends on many muscles and systems working together at once in order to deliver a seamless, smooth transition from low notes to high notes and back down again.
Here’s the honest truth: It’s unlikely you’ll be able to teach yourself how to mix, despite the hundreds of YouTube videos available on the topic. Acquiring any new skill requires coaching! How do you think Serena Williams became the world’s greatest tennis player? Or Michael Phelps the most decorated Olympian of all time? Or Mariah Carey one of the most enduring pop singers of the last 30 years? They certainly didn’t do it alone!
Want to improve your mix voice but aren’t sure where to start? My guided vocal warm-up recording takes you through a series of exercises designed to help you strengthen your mix.
Your digital download comes with a PDF guide, walking you through how the exercises work and tips for how to get the most out of the warm-up series.
Plus, with any purchase of the Warm-Up Series, you’ll be added to an exclusive Facebook group with hours of additional video content to help you improve your voice, plus direct access to me for all of your questions!
A voice teacher’s job is to point out the things you can’t hear about your own voice and to guide you through exercises specifically designed for your vocal goals. Investing in private lessons is the most efficient and effective way to make progress with your voice. There’s simply nothing else like it!
With proper guidance tailored to your unique voice and singing goals, you will be well on your way to building your mix and finding vocal freedom!
Have you ever struggled for a high note, felt out of breath after singing a single phrase, or experienced a break in your voice? Have you ever hoped to train your voice to sing in multiple styles but felt limited by your current abilities? If so, you’ve probably longed for a magic bullet that would solve all your singing problems.
What is it that allows some singers to sing with total freedom? It’s vocal balance.
Think of your voice like a three-legged stool: If one of those three legs is shorter than the others—or, worse yet, is missing!—you will have a difficult time sitting on that stool . . . that is, if it even stands at all!
Singing is made up of three systems: respiration (breath), phonation (your vocal folds coming together), and resonation (how your vocal tract is shaped).
If any one of those three systems is out of whack, you’ll feel that familiar frustration or even discomfort in your voice.
When you are able to bring these three systems of singing into (vocal) balance, you will have access to your full range of notes, with control, ease, power, dynamics, and flexibility.
These three systems of singing are the only things we singers are in direct control of.
We can choose how much air to inhale and then how quickly or forcefully to expel it (respiration).
We can choose (with GREAT amounts of practice!) how thick or thin our vocal folds are when we go to speak or sing, therefore affecting how heavy or light of a tone we create, as well as on what pitch (phonation).
And we can shape our vocal tract in a variety of ways to achieve brighter or darker sounds, namely by shaping and modifying our vowels and adjusting our larynx position (resonation).
Vocal balance means that in our neutral, relaxed state, no part of the voice feels more squeezed OR more breathy than any other area. We have access to our lowest and highest notes, and they sound and feel connected, meaning there aren’t any flips or breaks between our chest and head voice.
There are certainly transitions that occur that we may be able to feel and hear, but for the most part, we enjoy a smooth singing experience from the bottom to the top of our range.
When these systems are in balance, your voice is free to make the widest possible variety of sounds!
But how do I find vocal balance?
There are four key steps to finding what “vocal balance” means for you:
Finding basic intonation. This means coordinating your brain and your voice to match pitch and follow melodies.
Finding what is known as chest voice and head voice.
Eliminating unnecessary extrinsic muscular tension. The extrinsic muscles are the muscles around your larynx (voice box) in your neck, jaw, and tongue. We don’t want them to get in the way of our larynx from functioning how it’s supposed to.
The feelings you discover when working towards vocal balance may be different from other singers, and that’s ok! While certain vocal technique principles guide us all, each voice will be, feel, and sound unique. That’s the beauty of the human voice, each instrument is unique.
Think of training your voice like a gymnast might train for the balance beam.
When the gymnast is first starting out, she may only be able to very carefully, and with a lot of effort and thought, walk from one end of the beam to the other. No fancy turns, jumps, or leaning off one side or the other.
But imagine that as the gymnast increases her strength, muscle memory, and coordination, she is able to add in a turn, then a leap, and one day somersaults, backflips, and then finally that crazy helicopter leg thing that Simone Biles does at the Olympics!
How is this possible?
Well, this gymnast first found balance on that narrow beam. She knew where the exact middle was. She memorized the feeling of her whole body in perfect alignment over those few inches of beam and knew how to always come back to that placement.
Only then could she start to lean off one direction or the other. She probably fell plenty of times along the way, pushing herself too far from “balance,” but that just taught her to come back to “center” each time.
The same is true for us vocalists!
Once we find balance and are comfortable there, we can lean toward that powerful belt-y Adele song that we long to nail at karaoke night.
Or we can lean in the other direction and commit to a legato, legit classical piece for an upcoming music school audition.
Whatever your vocal goals are, I am thrilled to guide you to finding YOUR balanced voice. Because from there, anything is possible!
A favorite of singers around the world, Throat Coat just feels good! Keep in mind, tea (or any drink) does NOT touch your vocal cords or directly affect your singing voice. But a warm cup of soothing tea does wonders to ease any itchy or scratchy feeling in your throat, especially on cold winter days!
“Placement.” It’s a word singers love to use. I’d say it’s right up there with “breath control” as one of the terms singers use most often!
But what is placement? And how do we actually find the “placement” we’re looking for?
Shooting hoops—what leads to good placement?
Let’s compare vocal placement to shooting a basketball. (Go with me on this!)
When an athlete is shooting hoops, you know they’ve made a decent shot if the ball goes into the basket. If the ball misses the hoop, the athlete needs to figure out what they did wrong so they can adjust their next shot for a better result.
The result of a good shot is that it lands in the hoop. But the ball landing in the hoop is just that, a result! The specific act of the ball landing in the hoop is not the work of the athlete. The athlete’s actual work happens right before the ball goes through the hoop—it’s when the player is coordinating their wrists, legs, and core to ensure the ball leaves their fingers and goes where they want it.
You can throw the ball and affect whether or not it goes in the basket, but you don’t actually put it (or place it) in the basket! (Unless you’re dunking the ball, but let’s leave that out for the sake of this analogy, since we’re talking about shooting it from a distance.)
Placement is a helpful tool of perception
For us singers, the idea of placement is similar. Talking about placement can be a useful way for singers to remember a feeling or sensation, but it’s even more important to remember the process that led you there.
Chances are, something related to the three systems of singing (breathing, phonation, and resonance) is what’s leading you to feel that a sound is “placed” in a particular spot. This may include certain exercise flows, phrasing choices, vowel shapes, or dynamics that may have resulted in that awesome feeling you experienced on a particular note.
To be clear, it’s the choices you make that affect placement; you don’t just choose placement itself. Placement is an effect of the choices you make within your airflow, phonation (how heavy or light), and vowel shapes.
So the next time you feel like a sound is “placed” somewhere that you really like or that feels awesome, remember what the process was that led you there!
Pinpointing this process is a much more effective way to increase the accuracy of your singing rather than crossing your fingers and hoping that you can place your sound in your mask—or your forehead—or your toes!
You’ve arrived at the climax of the song- this is it! Here come the big, exciting notes everyone is waiting for! And…! You completely run out of steam, breath, or vocal stamina and you crack, gasp for air, or pass out (ok, hopefully not that last one).
Here’s a three-step process to give your best performance without blowing out your voice.
First off, identify which notes are the “big spender” notes or phrases.
Probably that final “Waving! Waving! Whoa-oah!!” section is a 25 cent phrase, and that’s just the last 10 seconds of the song. What other notes or passages throughout the song require an extra dose of energy, power, stamina, or stylistic effort? Identify those passages right off the bat.
Second, be judicious on where you can save.
What are the penny notes or phrases? Not every word, phrase, or melody is equally important in your storytelling or your technical effort. So, find the places in the song where you can hold back a bit.
Lastly, sing through the whole piece and adjust your budget as necessary.
You may find that once you put the whole song together, your interpretation of the song requires certain phrases to be highlighted with more (or less) volume, power, or effort than you initially planned.
This concept also applies to entire roles you might play in a show, or your band set or concert tour.
If you are playing Evan in DEAR EVAN HANSEN, tell yourself you only have $10 to spend on the entire show! Which songs and scenes get allotted what amount of your total vocal energy?
As singers, there will always be songs, roles, or performances that require a LOT of our energy, and even for us to leave “vocal balance” for a time in order for our interpretation and stylistic choices to come through how we want. That’s ok! By allotting a vocal ‘budget’ to each song you perform, you can save your voice and stay stylistically true to the music.
I’ve been practicing the trills and “MUMs” and don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong (hopefully) but sometimes when I get past like an A , it gets crackly and I’ve noticed my voice sometimes will ever overshoot to whistle tones (which I don’t even know how that’s possible).
Was just wondering if you had any recommendations for practicing…I really have never had a voice teacher that vocalized me this high consistently so maybe its just uncharted territory and discovering how to sing up there, but thought I’d reach out! Maybe its something I’m eating or doing? I rarely drink or smoke so I know that isn’t the problem. Do you recommend that I get scoped just for safety?
First off, I think what you’re experiencing sounds pretty normal, especially because you are new to using this part of your voice on a regular basis. That A5 is your third passage- it’s a very common spot for things to “fall apart” for a time while you work on connecting your chest and middle voice to your true soprano head voice. I’ve worked with many women who break into their Mariah Carey notes before they get it put together. So for now, don’t fear!
There’s a few things I’d recommend trying out over the next few days. First- have you tried vocalizing through a straw? I love this because it really does require very little air flow and keeps your cords together (adducted) as you vocalize. Try blowing through a straw into a cup of water. See here, and here.
I’d also try vocalizing on an NG (like the word SINGGGG), have we done this together?
Give it another week and see how you feel. I’m a huge fan of going to get scoped, so if you have the time and $$ to do it, please do. It’s always a good idea. Here’s who I recommend: