The Fallacy of Vocal “Tips and Tricks”

People looking for help with their voice regularly ask me “tips and tricks” so they can try to DIY fix a specific issue or to improve their voice. Let me give you some examples the kinds of emails looking for written advice to help their voice:

A: “I can reach high notes easily, but I sing high notes in more of a choral head voice and I’m not able to belt them in the same way I can using my chest voice. Are able to give me any tips as to how I might achieve this?”

B: “My range up high sounds good but I struggle to hit lower notes in my range, they tend to get quite wispy and weak. Do you have any tricks I can use to solve this?

C: “My voice sounds OK down low but when I try to sing higher it often sounds very strained and frequently cracks. Can you tell me some quick fixes on how to solve this?”

These are all generalised variations on genuine requests I’ve received over the years. While I totally understand the desire ask for suggestions to fix one’s voice, that such tips and tricks exist is an unhelpful fallacy. Here’s why:

Without having worked with someone’s voice, there are no tips or tricks one can give that can guarantee improvement

There is a reason we can’t learn to sing from a book. There are of course helpful things that can be written down, and when a person is going through the process of training their voice, we can discuss more complex topics verbally/in the written word. But the specific set of technical issues that obstruct one singer are typically completely different from singer to singer. Trying to assess that via the written word or just on the say-so of a given singer is tantamount to impossible.

With singers A, B and C above, the vocal exercises that may be perfect for helping singer A could wreak havoc in the voice of B. B appears to struggle with the bottom end of their range, C appears to struggle with the top, and A appears to struggle with moving between the top and bottom.

Here’s the problem with their self-assessment: how do I know that what they have told me is correct? Remember, I’ve never heard any of the singers who phrased these questions, and while each singer professes to have a different set of symptoms, depending on the exact nature of their sound there are also many situations in which any two or all three could need EXACTLY the same approach (or something similar, or something completely different).

“But Mark, person A reports a totally different issue to person B, and likewise for person C, how could they need the same help?”

Consider singer A, who says they can belt in their chest voice. What do they mean? Does that mean their chest voice is A-OK and that the issue is solely in their upper register? Or do they THINK they are belting and really they are still being too light?

Excess weight at the bottom end of someone’s voice can prevent singers from accessing their upper range easily. But someone being too light with their voice and just hitting their chest voice harder to compensate for a lack of appropriate muscle and weight lower down can also lead to instability higher up.

Without hearing them, it is literally impossible to tell.

Ergo, I cannot make an accurate diagnosis, and so no concrete advice can be given. I need to assess and work with their voice to confirm this.

What about singer B?

For singer B, it sounds like they likely need more chest voice, but again, it’s only their assessment that their sound is wispy and weak. Some people’s voices are truly very, very light, so the vocal sound they are complaining is wispy and weak may be exactly congruent with their normal voice. As such, instructing them to add tonnes of extra weight into their voice would be entirely inappropriate for their vocal instrument.

Once again, without hearing and assessing them I cannot make such a judgment, and therefore cannot provide any guidance.

Singer C says their issue is in the top end of their voice, but for those of you who have read my prospectus and from what we’ve discussed in this article, you’ll know that the first thing we have to assess is their chest voice. If the bottom end of their voice isn’t appropriately balanced for their instrument, that would also explain why moving into their upper register is causing such issues.

The final issue

Even if I HAVE worked with someone’s voice before, I have no idea how someone will take an instruction when they take it away with them and do it by themselves – with no sense-check or professional feedback, (amplified all the more if the instruction is just a written tip/trick). I learned this the hard way many years ago.

I once had a student ask me “how much should I practice?” and when I said “as often as is comfortable, just don’t go nuts practicing 6 hours a day“. They call me a week later with a wrecked voice – they’d gone and practiced for FIVE hours every day.

Needless to say, I’ve become far more precise with my language since that experience! I have also realised that people can interpret things very differently, so the safest and the most direct route to helping people understand what their voice should/shouldn’t be doing, is to walk their voice through doing it together. No tips and tricks.

Voice training cannot be generalised

My point with all of the above is that voice training MUST be 100% personalised, from assessment through to coaching. Fixing a voice is not a “spot fix”, it’s holistic, and the whole voice must be assessed to identify why even seemingly small issues are presenting themselves.

As such, there really are no definitive or general “tips and tricks” that I can give to singers without having worked with them personally, whether one on one, or in a workshop/clinic. The only definitive advice I can give is for people to come and have an initial consultation/assessment and be given something bespoke for their voice. There really is no substitute for this.

If you’d like to experience this for yourself…

If you’ve been wondering “why on earth does this issue keep happening?” whether that’s tonal issues, range or connection problems, voice loss or discomfort, etc, stop trying to DIY it. The best course of action to get you to experience this first hand would be to book in for an initial consultation and progress from there. In the meantime, I’d suggest reading more about our approach in our prospectus, which you can grab by leaving your email in the signup form in the footer of this page.

I hope to have you in soon!

Learn More: Related Articles

If you’d like to read more along these lines, you may enjoy these related articles:
Dunning-Kruger: A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing
Shouting Masquerading As Singing: Reasons why so many singers are just yelling
The Difference Between Amateurs and Pros
Vocal Pedagogy: Why we need to look to the past to progress into the future
Style vs Hyper-style: An analysis of Modern Vocal Style

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