Thanks for joining us to read through our prospectus. What I want to teach you through this is that absolutely anyone can build their voice into something to be proud of, and that even advanced singers can develop enormously through this process.
In this prospectus we’re going to start with the basics, then move into a more detailed primer that explains the principles that underpin our technique that we use in lessons. Then we’ll conclude with some key take-home points for you.
Singing is sustained speech on pitch.
Your voice is an instrument like any other. Your vocal folds are two flaps of muscle, ligament, and mucosal lining, housed inside your larynx (your Adam’s apple), plus a lot of other connective tissues and various supporting structures. As a simplistic overview, the sound of your voice starts at your vocal folds, which generate a sound source having a wide frequency range. This sound then enters your vocal tract. The vocal tract acts like a filter to initially shape the sound, and then through further articulators and resonators that shape the sound further still (articulators and resonators like your tongue, lips, teeth, mouth, nose, etc).
I’m not going to go into the full construction of the instrument here. Needless to say, there’s already lot going on. We just need to have an appreciation of the key components that are involved in singing and how we need to train them.
Consider the piano…
Understanding that your voice is an instrument like any other, creates not just an interesting metaphor, but a very powerful explanation of what our voice is actually meant to do and how it is meant to be treated.
Let’s consider the piano. I play songs on my piano, and I teach with my piano. In sessions I provide instructions – i.e. scales and exercises – for your voice using my piano. This is somewhat different to playing a song though. Although these exercises utilise musical notes, I am not making music at this stage – they are just collections of notes. Nevertheless, the piano remains the same whether I’m playing a song, or hammering out notes to illustrate an exercise to a singer.
Similarly, whether I’m speaking or singing, it’s still the same instrument at work, and it should still be operating in exactly the same way whether I’m speaking or singing. When you speak, your voice is an instrument that functions pretty well in most cases, and operates free of tension and strain. You could hold a conversation in a quiet room for hours and hours without losing your voice, so why is it any different when you sing? What are we doing wrong?
We already have this tension-free road-map
The voice is an instrument that we already have a tension-free roadmap for using, mainly because we’ve been using it our whole lives. The issue is that most people switch gears mentally when singing and ignore that roadmap. We need to learn to use our voice the way we’ve already learned to use it: to utilise the vocal folds efficiently and in a tension free way, to ensure the larynx doesn’t jump around when in use. Through doing this, we can achieve a voice that is free of strain and difficulty, and range and power is easily accessed.
More than this, we must recognise that the way we speak and the way we sound is the natural calibration and weight of our particular instrument – this the tonality we should be driving towards because that is the way it’s build to function without any manipulation. More than that, it’s the sound that your own psychology is geared up to accept and recognise as you. This is a particularly powerful lens through which to view your vocal development, and ties in very strongly with step 1 of our primer, which is to establish your chest voice.
By working on the voice in this way we are tapping into a wealth of pre-existing muscle memory AND pre-existing psychology in the way you sound to yourself, and then applying that to an area we REALLY could use that sort of ability in. This is a key philosophical component to our approach.
Singing is sustained speech on pitch.
I say that singing is sustained speech on pitch because, although the volume and range demands are somewhat different, the operation of the instrument should be functionally similar to that of a healthy speaking voice. This is in order to elicit smooth and easy operation of the voice, as well as great and free singing tone that is congruent with the way your particular voice is meant to sound and operate.
What makes OUR vocal system quintessentially unique?
I once went to a seminar in a martial art (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) that is rather complicated. As part of this seminar, the coach taking it took on the philosophical challenge of trying to boil down the essence of this art into FOUR simple statements. There is far more to the every day action of performing this martial art than just the mere statements he listed, but what this simple set of statements did was clearly articulate the premise of what makes that martial art unique unto itself, and also what characterises it as distinct from all other martial arts.
I’m going to try to explain in a similar way, what makes the vocal system and framework we work within unique. By we, I mean the average between what I do personally as a coach, and what the general practice of establishing the quality of the ‘mixed voice’ in singers involves.
Here is the basic breakdown of what needs to happen:
This is what we are looking to achieve. I don’t believe that anything is missed out here, though perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I believe nothing has been omitted that could not be more appropriately included or clarified within one of these four categories. I may well find in the future I’m forced to add/subtract or re-evaluate what I’ve written here, but for now, I do believe that this set of statements summarises the coarse trajectory of what happens in our vocal system.
If you’re not familiar with chest voice, just place your hand on the boney bit in the middle of your chest (your sternum) and give a big, deep, manly ‘ahhh’ (as in the vowel sound of the word ‘Bach’). Most of you will notice a vibration in that boney part of your chest. Not all of you will, but most of you will. This is the part of the voice that most of us speak for most of the day, and it is the sound of the voice that we each relate to as our normal speaking voice. Similarly, most people we speak to will perceive this sound as a normal speaking voice to listen to.
What this means is that chest voice is the foundation of the voice. In a nutshell, the way any normal voice speaks is in chest voice. This is our sonic identity where we feel like it’s our voice, and therefore the sound with which we most closely identify. Think about those times your voice has felt just plain wrong to you, e.g. maybe after a cold, or after losing it after a loud party, so where your voice doesn’t feel “normal to you…
Ask yourself, what exactly is that sense of “normal” to which you’re comparing your now-changed voice? That “normal” is your chest voice. It’s the natural calibration of your voice and the weight with which you use your voice, and this must come first before anything else. Remember, singing is simply sustained speech on pitch.
Balance is critical.
Too little or or too much chest voice for a given singer is a problem. Similarly, an inappropriate or inconsistent quality of chest voice for a given voice (compared to normal for that singer) is also a problem. All of these will cause a voice to fail. Not necessarily instantly, but certainly progressively over time. Without establishing someone’s true chest voice, we are not going anywhere.
On a functional level, establishing the sound we hear as chest voice also functionally activates the fullest length, depth and thickness of the vocal folds in relation to that specific voice/singer. This maximal activation is extremely important. Insufficient/inappropriate levels of activation will lead down a vocal dead-end. This is our number one priority. Therefore, we start here.
While we must start with chest voice, this is only step one. There are multiple registers to the voice, each connected to one another by bridges. Bridges exist due to interactions between frequencies generated by the vocal folds interacting with frequencies associated with the shape of the vocal tract (harmonic/formant interaction). These lead to timbral shifts and resonance changes as one ascends/descends in pitch, and our goal is to blend these together so the bottom matches the top, and the top matches the bottom.
As such, while chest voice is the foundation, it alone does not equal extended range, quality of tone over that range, nor does it equal ease of access. Connecting the registers through the bridges is the next required step.
Each register that makes up the voice must be traversed – across the bridges that connect them – in order to build the voice. When I say “in order to build the voice”, I mean both in terms of range AND quality. This can only happen once there is a true and appropriate chest voice at the bottom end. This is to provide stability and a constant reference point for checking the tone and vocal ‘feel’ we are generating for the singer. We are essentially going to
extend the range of the singer, but then start to tone-match the new top end to the bottom end (i.e. chest voice) and be absolute certain that it matches.
Why is this? Well not only will it sound good and like your voice, but if the upper notes feel just like your chest voice, then you won’t notice you’re singing higher. You as the singer will feel like those new higher notes are now part of your chest voice. And if you feel like those higher notes are part and parcel of chest voice, then they will no longer feel high. We’re integrating the top of your voice where you once felt uncomfortable, into the bottom where you do feel comfortable, in such a way that you no longer notice the higher notes as being high. Once singers start to experience this, true vocal freedom starts to manifest as effortless and easy range, without the singer even realising they are singing high.
Specific exercises coupled with maintenance of an established chest voice will enable us to climb through each register in turn, but this must START from a true and appropriate chest voice for each singer. Many vocal systems now tout this as a key feature of their technique whilst omitting the critical nature of chest (whilst others are completely unaware of such things), but, either way, this order is critical from day one.
Think about those times you’ve sung a song, and one line feels and sounds great, but another line sounds awful and you can’t get it to work. In fact, you may not even be able to hit the same notes on that different line, even though the melody is the same. What is the cause of this?
What you are experiencing is a vowel problem. Vowels are controlled by the vocal tract, and are actually a result of your vocal tract changing shape. Your vocal tract is the length of your oesophagus between your vocal folds and your lips, and the exact contour and posture it adopts at any given moment is what shapes your sound into any given vowel. Incorrect shaping of the vocal tract is a massive problem for 99% of most singers, even the great ones.
When we say we are trying to cluster the vowels, we are trying to articulate every vowel we will ever need, but by keeping the shape of tract for each vowel as similar as possible to one another as we switch from one vowel to another. This results in far less muscular activation to change from one vowel to another – yielding a smoother sound and singing experience – and also creates an acoustically more efficient instrument – again leading to maximum tone production and a much easier and enjoyable singing experience for you as the singer. Often when people experience this they remark that their throat feels more open, but in reality it’s typically fairly narrow. What they are experiencing is the acoustic efficiency of a well set-up instrument.
This whole approach ensures a smooth sound and easy transitions through bridges no matter what the word, and allows further depth to develop, but it is not immediately easy or instinctive. This is a crucial characterising feature of what we are looking to achieve in sessions.
This emphasis on vowels is a key distinction
Even many other successful technicians in the contemporary world of voice fail to grasp the importance of getting their vowels closer together in this very particular way. Their careers and vocal longevity are often much shorter as a result. We want everything to feel easy and connected, and to SOUND easy and connected. This can only happen when the vowels (i.e. the different shapes you need your vocal tract to achieve) are not only controlled, but adjacent to one another, overlapping even, contiguously clustered together. This might seem abstract or even easy to do, but it really isn’t. You need to hear it and experience it to understand this.
Given the point of singing and development of singing technique is to sing songs, this is essential. It’s a non-negotiable. This is where the rubber meets the road. What was the point of all of the above, if you’re not going to sing songs? How can you truly test your voice out?
This is more than just a final stage that exists as ‘the end of the line’ – on the contrary. The demands that you uncover at this stage actually loop right back in to the beginning of this process. When you sing songs, it forces you to re-examine and re-evaluate everything you are doing at each previous stage: singing songs helps you realise where your chest voice as a foundation is failing, it helps you realise where your bridging process is weaker than necessary, and in turn makes you realise where your vowels are not clustered sufficiently. This thereby helps you to improve your vocal posture and technique so that when you re-visit this final stage, everything is more appropriately setup and accessible for you. The process repeats again, and again, and again… wash, rinse, repeat. It’s a cyclical process where each subsequent step reinforces everything that went before, and challenges what comes next.
The dilemma with lots of information
The hardest part of the voice being so complex is not so much that people can’t comprehend each piece of it. It’s that people can obsess over one component at the expense of the others. Worse still, they can over-emphasise the one “piece of the truth” they’ve found most helpful, and forget to keep everything in balance – like the men at the gym who discover they get more attention if the do all the upper body exercises but rarely balance it out with lower body exercises.
As such, there ARE other vocal systems out there that talk a LOT about vocal cord co-ordination but not about registers or the like. Still others talk a lot about vowel modification to make things easier, but not the overarching system of why this works, and (arguably worse still) permanent vowel modification is prescribed on a song by song basis rather than training the voice to seek that essential clustering of vowels within the instrument itself. We need automation of all these precepts to have that great ease of singing we all seek.
I’ve also seen plenty advocates of excess chest voice who get you to yell as hard as you can in the pursuit of more chest (appropriate amount and quality is what we’re after). I see plenty who wax lyrical about the importance of registers and how the vocal folds play into that, but never go further than this. And I see plenty who see to fix the voice in isolation, with no application to song to enable a true road/battle testing of the voice to feed back in to the earlier stages on the next cycle.
I’ve worked with and observed quite a few of these coaches in person, and it’s coaches who can take all of the above in and adopt a more holistic approach that leads to the most organic and intuitive experience for the singer. Think of it like building an engine then sticking a simple dashboard with an intuitive user interface over the top. Once built, you don’t need to worry about how the engine works, you just get to enjoy the pleasure of driving the thing.
Let’s revisit our simple 4 step process and draw some take-home points so you understand how we apply this in lessons:
Anyone can build a voice to be proud of
The voice is an instrument like any other. It can be built and finely tuned just like a car engine, and can be developed like any person taking their body to the gym – it just takes knowledge and time.
I’d also add that with the precision of the technique we apply, immediate results are the norm. But do not be deceived into thinking you will become a great singer overnight. It takes time. Bodybuilding is a great example of something that no matter how strong you are when you start, to build a body (or in our case, voice) that fits in within that world takes time and dedication. In the same way, you will go through this process again and again to develop that powerful voice with lots of range and expressiveness with great ease.
Everyone can develop their voice using this process
No matter how great someone is, their voice can be tuned even further using this process. We can’t start at step 2 without first addressing step 1. You can do all the same stuff, but it won’t yield the same results without first addressing the step before. I’ve even had clients who are doing great on steps 2-4, but if chest voice isn’t established, we simply must go back and address step 1. Each step is listed that way because one must follow the other. A key element of this that so many try to get past is, trying to improve your bridges/range before establishing chest is a waste of time. We’ve GOT to get your chest voice sorted. This makes the short term registration harder, but the long term tone and quality benefits much easier to acquire.
Anyone can build themselves a great voice by working through these steps with a knowledgeable ear, it just takes deliberate intentional practice every day.
If you’re ready to get started on your vocal journey and are serious about building your voice, then just click the button below to be taken to our booking and initial consultation from. We look forward to working with you!