The Difference Between Amateurs and Pros

“Amateurs practise until they get it right, a professional until he can’t do it wrong.”

Extract from “Psychology for Musicians” by Percy C. Buck, circa 1944.

I’ve talked before about the importance of putting in the reps, and to be honest, I feel like I should have multiple articles devoted to this very topic, just for the appropriateness of illustrating the importance of repetition… by writing repetitiously about it! Continue reading “The Difference Between Amateurs and Pros”

The perks of being an older singer

I was up in York yesterday delivering a vocal technique workshop to a friend’s choir. During one of the vocal technique discussions someone raised a question regarding older singers’ voices. I’m paraphrasing for the purposes of this article, but the question was broadly seeking confirmation to the idea that:

“Do you find that voices change as they get older?”

And they’re absolutely right, voices do change as they get older. I’ve written before on the various physiological changes that occur (vocally speaking) as one ages. The larynx turns to bone, it drops lower, muscles change and mature, etc. All of this can lead to extra depth and maturity in the voice. Continue reading “The perks of being an older singer”

Why Breathing Isn’t Your Problem

The most common self-assessment I hear from people discussing their own voice and who want to improve their singing, by far, is:
“I think I’m doing a good job, I just need to work on my breathing

Comments like “I need to work on my tone“, or “my vocal quality still needs work“, or “I reach the high notes but it doesn’t sound that good” occur a fair amount too, but they are vastly outstripped by people who think their issue lies with their breathing.

I understand why this comes up. Such singers will typically think they sound alright, but that they run out of breath during specific lines, struggle to finish phrases, or they’ve got full lungs of *something* but physically feel like they have to empty and refill before the next section of the song, etc. Breathing is critically important for singing, but I’ve got news for you: breathing probably isn’t your main problem. In fact, most singers’ breathing is typically fine, and the issue lies elsewhere.

Let’s do a quick demonstration to prove my point.

Firstly, breathe in as deeply as you can, and hold it for a second.

Then, breathe out. Repeat this a few times in different ways, e.g. with your mouth open, closed, with a small opening to your mouth, just through your nose, slow, fast, etc.

You have just demonstrated two things:
1) You are already perfectly capable and in control of your breathing. You are perfectly able of refilling/refueling your lungs, emptying them, and doing that repeatedly. If you didn’t know how to breathe you’d have been in severe need of medical intervention long before now.
2) You’ve covered all the ways you can control your airflow with breath alone. The issue is that everything we’ve just done breathing wise took place WITHOUT the involvement of your vocal folds. To discuss breathing in singing without engagement of the vocal folds is utterly pointless. Here’s why:

When we are singing, we are not simply breathing out.

In a simplified form, we are directing air from our lungs through our larynx to generate vibration in the vocal folds. The vocal folds not only make sound, they actually come together (adduct) to resist and regulate the airflow during their vibration (phonation). The folds are capable of exerting a huge amount of control over: airflow; resistance to airflow; and their consequent vibration.

As such: if you feel like you’re having problems with your breathing when you are singing, this is the consequence of insufficient control of your vocal folds in regulating your airflow, and not a result of your breathing per se.

But cut yourself some slack. Bear in mind that the vocal folds are also trying to get the pitch right, achieve good tone, not be too tense nor too slack, vibrate freely, etc. They can also become tired or fatigued. The vocal folds are capable of many subtle configurations and modes of operations, only some of which are critical to good singing and regulation of airflow, and many of which are not conducive to this.

Focus on good singing first, and breathing will typically take care of itself

You are asking your vocal folds to do a huge number of things when you sing, AND on top of that they need to regulate airflow well. This is to enable you to keep singing well them over lines of a song with no breaks, inconsistencies or interruptions to the flow of the lyric/melody. My point with today’s article is that when it comes to singing, it’s not as simple as “I need to work on my breathing”. Of course, at higher levels of singing breath control does warrant focus, but in the first instance (and usually many subsequent instances), if you work on good singing first, develop better and more appropriate control of your vocal folds and your instrument, your breath control will take care of itself.

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. For example:

A: “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?

B: “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?”

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: Continue reading “The Fallacy of Vocal “Tips and Tricks””

What most singing teachers get wrong about teaching voice, and reasons why

A lot of my clients who sing have had lessons in the past, before ever starting with me. This is fairly normal, like anything worth learning, we start with someone accessible and move forward to coaches appropriate to our improving level over time. I’ve noticed a general trend in teachers that students have been through in previous years (good and bad), and I wanted to talk about the slightly contentious topic of: what (I think) a lot of voice coaches and singing teachers generally get wrong about teaching voice, and the reasons why. Continue reading “What most singing teachers get wrong about teaching voice, and reasons why”

What my practice routine looks like

We had a workshop yesterday, and one of the topics that come up was “what should we be practicing day to day?”

The general answer works for most voices, but the specific exercises each voice should do varies from voice to voice. So I thought I’d illustrate both the general and specific answers to this question through describing what my vocal practice routine (presently) looks like.

Each section will start with what I specifically do for my voice, followed by what that translates to in a general sense. Continue reading “What my practice routine looks like”