6 Tips for Singing When Sick

6 Tips for Singing When Sick

6 tips for singing when sick. How to get through choir rehearsals and singing gigs when you have a cold.

Disclaimer: There may be affiliate links on this page. This means that if you complete a purchase after clinking through my link, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

This time of year, I always seem to have a cold.  And this year, it seems I have been fighting one since before Christmas (I know, time to see the doc)! Singing when sick has made rehearsals much more difficult.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t stop when you have a cold. There are still rehearsals, gigs, and church jobs, etc. However over the years I have learned a few tricks for singing when sick.

Singing When Sick (but not hoarse):

When you have a cold, your singing voice becomes tired much faster than when you are healthy.  That means that you have to be extra vigilant in your vocal technique to avoid losing your voice.

Please note that even if you don’t feel like you have laryngitis, you might find that singing is more difficult.  You might find that it’s harder to sing outside of a mezzo-forte dynamic, or that you lack projection in parts of your range.

These are actually indications that your vocal cords are swollen.  If it is absolutely necessary to sing in this condition, there are a few things that you can do to help you get through rehearsals and gigs.

1. Avoid Clearing Your Throat

I’ve been over this before in my first article about vocal health, but it bears repeating:

Clearing the throat slams the vocal cords together violently- and repetitively clearing it will cause hoarse voice and eventually lead to vocal damage. 

I know this is really hard when you have all that phlegm in your throat, but try not to clear your throat. Drink copious amounts of water to help clear it away.

2. Avoid Using Nasal Decongestants

I know that when you are sick with a cold, you have probably have a stuffy and/or runny nose.  If you know you have to sing when sick, you might be tempted to pop a sudafed so that you don’t get that weird nasal sound, but think again.

Nasal decongestants dry out your sinuses, (which is exactly what you were hoping for) but also every other mucosal membrane in your body– including the one in the laryngeal ventricle

This means that your vocal folds will be dry too. Singing without well-lubricated vocal folds (aka vocal cords) leads to hoarse voice (or makes an already hoarse voice worse).  

If you read my article on avoiding vocal trauma, you know that this is a precursor to vocal damage. 

Instead, try drinking copious amounts of water (more than you usually would) throughout the day to help thin out the mucus (as I said above). 

If you are in serious need of relief, try musonex (as long as it’s ok with your doctor, of course). It will help to clear you up without drying you out.

3. Do Longer Warm-ups Than Usual

I’ve explained the importance of doing warm-ups before, but when you have a cold, it’s even more important to gently stretch those vocal cords out and warm them up before doing any strenuous singing.

Spend extra time doing phonation exercises like lip trills and humming (if your sinuses aren’t too stuffed up) before moving onto open-mouth exercises with vowels and actual words.

4. Pay Extra Attention to Your Breath Control

Breath support is always important, but never more so than when you are sick. Supporting your voice using strong muscular antagonistic control of the diaphragm and expiratory muscles of the rib cage and abdomen will take pressure and tension away from the vocal folds.  

When you are sick, everything in your respiratory system is a bit inflamed. That means your vocal cords are swollen too- even if it doesn’t feel sore, yet. The more you can take tension away from them, the longer you will be able to sing without becoming hoarse.

5. Focus on Your Voice Placement (Resonance)

Placing the voice in the mask is where you get your best resonance, in general.  When you have a cold, you may find it hard to place it there because your sinuses are probably stuffy. Even so, really focus on this placement, and maybe aim even higher.

Some things you can physically do to affect your placement:

  • Lift your soft pallet
  • Flare your nostrils a little
  • Lift your upper lift to expose your front teeth

6. Once You Start Losing Your Voice:

I Know You Don't Want to Hear This- But Stop Singing

Once you start losing your voice, that means that damage has been done.  The more you sing, the more friction your are forcing on your vocal folds.  The more friction your vocal cords experience when they are already damaged, the more severe the damage will be.  

Not convinced? Take it from Lesley Childs, M.D., Otolaryngologist. She says, “Over time, your vocal cords can develop lesions, which are often considered a wear and tear injury from constant use and abuse of the voice. These lesions can continue to enlarge and make the voice worse and worse until surgical removal may be required.”

So if you don’t want to risk needing surgery on your one and only voice, stop singing as soon as it starts to feel hoarse.  Take a vocal rest day (or several) until you don’t feel sick anymore.  

In fact, if you can avoid talking altogether, it would be even better. I realize that isn’t always an option, but when you can get away with not using your voice, do it.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational purposes only.  This content here is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. I am not a medical professional and take no responsibility for what you do with the information provided. Remember to always consult your doctor when you have questions regarding your health (vocal or otherwise).

6 Vocal “Techniques” that You Should Stop Using Right Now

6 Vocal “Techniques” that You Should Stop Using Right Now

6 Vocal Techniques that You Should Stop Using Right Now There are several vocal “techniques” that I have seen on the internet that make me cringe inside.  I just can’t stand idly by and let you, my fellow singer, damage your voice with these singing myths any longer. For your voice’s sake, I am going to divest you of these ideas.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that these people are giving bad information on purpose. They are probably perfectly well-meaning people who are just ill-informed, giving information based on outdated pedagogy.

Vocal Technique Myth #1: If you want to sound better, open your mouth more.

I was perusing Pinterest one day and you don’t know how many pins I came across that said, “if you want to be a better singer, Open Your Mouth more.” One even suggested that you have to have two finger’s width space between your teeth to get good sound.

Ahhhh!!!

If you’ve ever been in a choir, you probably heard your choir director tell you this, too. BUT IT’S WRONG!!! This
myth is ruining your voice!

The problem with this “vocal technique,” is that it actually introduces tension into the jaw. To see what I mean, try this:

  • Place your fingers on the muscles just below your jaw hinges. Open your mouth slightly.Notice how the muscle is relatively relaxed?

  • Now open your jaw 2-fingers width. Your jaw bone probably just had to travel forward, beyond the cheekbone and the muscles that control it have become tight.

See? Tension. The ENEMY of singing.

Want to get a good sound? You don’t have to open up your jaw so large- the inside of your mouth needs the space. 
Do this instead:

Lift your soft palletIf you’re not sure what your soft pallet is, do this: (This exercise is strictly for finding your soft pallet and learning to control it.)

  • Make yourself yawn. Do you feel that movement on the roof of your mouth in the back? That is your soft pallet.

  • Relax your jaw and tongue to a comfortably open position while maintaining the space you just created in the back of your mouth.

  • Now that you know where it is, you can now consciously control its position.Play around with lifting and lowering it while keeping your jaw and tongue relaxed.

I do not advocate yawning before singing, however. Remember that jaw tension I talked about before?

If you need some more exercises to help alleviate tension from your jaw when singing, check out Open Throat Singing: Keeping Tension Out of the Voice. There’s a nice little printable you can download with all the exercises too!


Vocal Technique Myth #2: In order to have good posture, your back must be straight.

This is a misleading statement, at best. You see, the natural spine is not straight. It actually has 4 curves (from top to bottom): Cervical, Thoracic, Lumbar, and Sacral.

Your spine is actually not capable of being ramrod straight. If you were to try to force your spine into that unnatural alignment, it’s not only uncomfortable, but doing it over a long period of time will actually change your musculature. When your spine is out of alignment, some of your muscles are overstretched (and are therefore weakened), and some are shortened and tense.

Which brings me to another point: There’s a good chance that due to our modern lifestyle of sitting for long periods of time and staring, hunched over, at our phones or computers, that your posture is less than optimal. Meaning, you have already changed that musculature. Think about it.

Do you have back pain of stiffness? Tension headaches? Shoulder or neck pain?

Then you need a posture check. Because, guess what? Those people telling you that you need a straight back are actually trying to tell you: Poor posture is bad for singing and you might need to fix yours.

To learn exactly what poor posture does to your singing and, more importantly, how to fix your posture, check out, Why Proper Posture is So Important to Be a Good Singer. Plus get your FREE Proper Singing Posture Cheat Sheet!


Vocal Technique Myth #3: Singing “from your diaphragm” will make you a better singer.

Actually, humans can’t breathe at all without a diaphragm, so, really, you are always breathing with your diaphragm.

Real fast and simply put, when the diaphragm contracts, you inhale. When it relaxes, you exhale. There’s a ton more that is going on, but you can see why the myth is so silly.

What people are trying to tell you when they say “breathe from your diaphragm” is to stop using “Costal Breathing” which is your normal everyday breathing you use for speaking. Costal breathing is too shallow and doesn’t allow your diaphragm to completely contract.

For more detail on exactly why you should ditch costal breathing and what you should do instead, read “Improving Breath Support and the Myth of “Singing From Your Diaphragm.


Vocal Technique
Myth #4: High notes are high

I’m sure you’re thinking “Wait, what???”

The notion that high notes are high comes from the visual representation of a musical pitch. High notes are higher on the staff, yes, but they are not physically higher in your body.

To produce a pitch, you exhale through closed vocal folds (proper name for vocal cords). The air vibrates the vocal folds and a pitch it produced. Which pitch is produced depends on the length of the vocal folds– not how high they are (as in raised larynx, which is another tension-inducer you want to avoid).

This means that you don’t need your larynx to rise up in your throat to produce a high note. Your vocal folds stretch to produce the high note. So, high notes are not high, high notes are long.

If you use that visual when you attempt to sing your high notes, it becomes much less tense, and therefore sounds better.

I came up with a set of 8 things you need to do to make your high notes more beautiful. There’s a printable download of the vocal techniques for high notes available on that post, too!


Vocal Technique Myth #5: Traditional Warm-Ups are Silly and Unnecessary

Ok, so this isn’t really a “technique,” per say, but it is a myth I need to bust for you.

Recently I was browsing the interwebs when I came across an article about warm-ups. The article began with saying that warm-ups are “silly” and “unnecessary.”

It has been ingrained in us singers from a young age that you must “warm up” your voice before rehearsing and before performing, but I try to be open-minded to new ideas.

The thought that maybe I’ve been wasting my time (and maybe you’ve been wasting yours) and maybe there’s a better way, got me to read the article in full to see just what the writer had to say.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t really any ground-breaking, time-saving, tip like I was hoping for. The writer’s advice was that the very term “warm-up” implies what the goal is, so all those warm-ups are pointless because you can just start to sing any song to warm up your voice. I was disappointed, to say the least.

You see, the writer is missing the point- there is a deeper reason that you should do vocal warm-ups and it has less to do with the actual “warming up” itself.

I don’t want you to miss the point, so I decided to write an article for my readers, Why You Shouldn’t Skip Vocal Warm-ups. In this post, I delve into the “why” behind doing vocal warm-ups (hint: it has a lot to do with efficiency) as well as the different kinds you should do to develop your voice.


Vocal Technique
Myth #6: The best way to learn a song is to sing it over an over again

When I was first beginning voice lessons, I had a teacher who would play and sing the whole song for me in our lesson while I recorded it. As a kid in high school, I just listened to the song over and over again until I learned it. And even after “learning” it, I would sometimes still get my verses mixed up or make other mistakes.

Not to mention, that did not teach me how to teach myself. When I went to college, my professors expected that I would teach myself the songs and they would teach me the techniques to make it sound good. Problem was, I didn’t have a rehearsal method for doing that.

I ended up wasting a lot of time in the practice room because I didn’t know what I was doing. It wasn’t until I started to teach choir that I developed a strategy for learning a song that is methodical and purposeful.

You know that old proverb about teaching a man to fish? Listening to a song over an over to learn it is like being given just one fish. But if someone taught you how to teach yourself to learn a song, you won’t need someone else’s “fish.” I mean, you want to be a first-rate you, not a second-rate someone else anyway, right?

In my blog post, How to Learn a Song Quickly: My Step By Step Rehearsal Process, you’ll learn how to “fish” for yourself using my step-by-step process for learning a song in 15 Days. You’ll learn how to break it up logically and into bite sized pieces so that you literally have no excuse not to practice, even it you only have a few minutes to work on it. 

At the end there is a special printable download that will help you get organized so you can stay on track with your song learning goals! 

I hope that you have found these tips helpful! If, so, please share it!

 

2 Best Vocal Warm-ups When You Have No Time

2 Best Vocal Warm-ups When You Have No Time

The quickest, most effective vocal warm-ups

I know that you know how important doing vocal warm-ups is. In a perfect world, you would always have time to do a proper 6-10 minute vocal warm-up (depending on length of rehearsal or performance). However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and sometimes you just need a quick exercise to warm it up- fast! So this blog post will be a (quick!) run-down of my 2 favorite exercises that I use when I’m late and don’t have time.

 

 

 

Elements of an Effective (& Fast) Vocal Warm-up

If an exercise satisfies at least 3 of these criteria, then it is a good candidate for when you only have time for one warm-up.

1. Scalar

You don’t want to miss any notes in your range, so it’s best to do an exercise that uses mostly step-wise motion.  In a scalar exercise, almost every note in the range will be sung multiple times, with the notes in the middle of the range getting the most repetition.  This ensures that your tessitura will be warmed up very quickly.

2. Large Range

In order to hit the maximum number of notes in a short amount of time, it helps if the exercise has a large range.  Taking into account that you transpose an exercise by half-steps and given that most vocal exercises span a Perfect 5th, you’d need to perform 6 transpositions to reach only 1 octave.

Considering most singers have around 2 octave ranges, you’d need to perform 18 transpositions to cover the whole range! On the contrary, exercises with large ranges (an octave or more) will only need 6-13. This way you only have to do a couple of iterations (moving up a half-step at a time for each) to reach all the notes in your range.

3. Requires use of Extended Breathing Technique

Most vocal exercises are only 2 or 3 measures long and have only 1 phrase.  Those which have longer phrases (4 measures or more) force you to engage in good breathing technique. If you only have time to do 1 set of 1 exercise, you it helps to be able to skip the breathing exercises.

4. Uses Multiple Vowels

Many vocal exercises only use one vowel, leading you to need multiple exercises in order to hit the others.  Therefore, if the exercise you choose uses more than one vowel, it cuts down on the need for other exercises in the same session.

The Best Quick Vocal Warm-Ups

I have two exercises that I love to use when I am short on time to warm-up.  One is a melismatic vocalise and the other is lip trilling.

Melismas

*This is my most favorite exercise- it’s just plain fun!*
If you don’t read music, there is also an audio recording of the exercise.

This exercise qualifies for all 4 criteria above:

  1. Scalar – It is entirely scalar
  2. Range – It spans an octave and a 5th, so it only requires 6 transpositions to reach most singers’ range
  3. Breathing Technique – It has long phrases
  4. More than 1 Vowel – It uses 3
  5.  As an added bonus, it is also good for agility as it has several turns in the last phrase.

Download the vocal exercise resource to get the exercises in 13 keys in Treble Clef, and Bass/Tenor Clefs.

If you prefer to hear a human voice sing it rather than a synthesized voice listen below.


Lip Trills

*Another Quick Way to Warm Up Your Voice*
Lip trills are my other favorite technique. They are gentle on the voice, so I especially like them first thing in the morning.  And you can use any vocal warm-up you know and replace the vowels/lyrics with a lip trill.

  1. Scalar – Depends on the exercise, however, you should pick one that is
  2. Range – Depends on the exercise, however, you should pick one that is at least an octave
  3. Breathing Technique – It takes well-produced, continued breath pressure to perform a lip trill
  4. X More than 1 Vowel – No vowels

Here is an example of an exercise that you probably know that would be a good candidate for warming up quickly:
It only has a range of a 9th, so you’d have to do 8 of them in order to get a full 2 octaves, which is still only a little over a minute of time to warm up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio Versions of the Exercises Also Available!

 

 

 

Singing High Notes: What You Need to Know

Singing High Notes: What You Need to Know

How to Sing High Notes: 8 Techniques to help you sing high notes more beautifullyAnd What Other Singing Websites Don’t Tell You

Disclosure:  Some of the links in this post are affiliate links.  This means that if you buy something by clicking through those links, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

One of the most asked questions about singing is, “how to sing high notes?” In fact, when I first started teaching high school chorus, the first question I remember one of the students asking me was, “are you going to teach us to hit the high note?” It was kind of a big obsession with them.

This obsession with “hitting” high notes is troublesome.  If you do, in fact, “hit” a high note, it really won’t sound very good.  Think about the definition of the word “hit.”  It’s forceful, it’s violent.  Now think about what you want to sound like when you sing.  I don’t think “forceful” and “violent” are the words with which you’d want to describe your sound.

Instead, you might like descriptors like “beautiful,” “full,” “vibrant,” “clear,” or “floating,” to name a few.  “Hitting” a high note will deliver none of these qualities. 

 

Biology and Singing High Notes

The other trouble with this is the idea that everyone must be able to sing high notes to be a good singer.  Are Sopranos and Tenors the only “good” singers, and solely by the virtue of the length and thickness of the vocal folds?  Because that’s what determines how high (and conversely, how low) you can sing- biology.  Unfortunately, the secret that other voice coaches don’t tell you is that you don’t have control over how high (and likewise, how low) you can sing. 

Singers come in a variety of ranges and qualities and can be described in so many ways (called a “fach“), but the 6 most common classifications are Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone, and Bass

These are the ranges (the lowest and highest notes of the voice) and tessituras (where your voice is most comfortable) for these adult classical voice types in general.  Obviously, people are individuals and may fall within or outside of these ranges.

For the sake of clarity, when used, the terms “male” and “female” refer to the genetic expression of a human, not their gender which may not be the same.

 


Biologically Female Adult Voices:

Voice Classification Range Tessitura
Soprano C4 (just above middle C) – C6 E4 – Bb5
Mezzo-Soprano G3 (below middle C) – A5 C4 – G5
Alto F3 – E5 A3- D5


Biologically Male Adult Voices:

Voice Classification Range Tessitura
Tenor C3 (C below middle C) – A4 F3 – G4
Baritone A2 (A below C3) – F4

C3 – E4

Bass F2 – E4 A2- D4

A singer’s range is predetermined, so it’s largely outside your control. Longer, thinner vocal folds produce higher, lighter sounds, whereas shorter and thicker vocal folds produce lower, deeper sounds.

The high notes outside of this range, for females “whistle tones” and falsetto for males, are also not used in classical singing. Remember, the falsetto and the head voice in males are not the same.

 

Contrary to Popular Belief, You Cannot Train to Become Another Voice Classification

Your voice does not remain the same for your whole life. As a very small child, you have a small range of only a few notes.  As you grow into an adult, the vocal folds change in size and thickness, altering your range so that by the time you are 25 you have somewhere between an octave and a half and 2 octaves (on average).

At this point, your voice classification is pretty much set. Although the voice will continue to change slightly with age, it won’t be so much so that your classification will change. 

That being said, what you can do is stretch. Much like you can increase the flexibility of your hamstrings, you can increase the flexibility of your voice muscles (remember the Thyroarytenoid and Cricoarytenoid muscles are what control the pitches you sing). 

You can slightly increase your range through careful practice. But most importantly, you can work with the range your body was designed with, improving the quality of your highest notes with good technique.

 

How to Sing High Notes More Beautifully

Before you read this technique section: If you are not familiar with how phonation actually happens in your voice, I suggest you take a moment to read about it. 

When you learn to play an instrument, you can see its parts; you can see what happens when you press a key or string, strum, or strike.  You can’t do that with your voice, so it’s important that you know what’s going on in there to be able to learn to control it.

It will help to make some of these techniques make more sense when you better understand what is happening inside.[/box]

At the end of the post, you can get a PDF copy of the techniques I list below!

1. The Breath

All singing starts with good breathing technique.  If your high notes are breathy, then you do not have enough breath pressure.  Exercises that work on achieving good breathing technique will help your high notes to have more clarity.

 

2. Tension

If your high notes are strident, then tightness is probably your trouble. There can be two factors at play here.

  1. Your adducting muscles are working too hard.  Try phonation exercises that focus on balancing the adduction of the vocal folds and the breath.
  2. The muscles of the neck, throat, and face may be contributing to tension. Try doing some exercises that help release the tension from your vocal tract.

     

3. Vowels

The vowels you use when you sing high notes are incredibly important.  This is because, not only are you singing a pitch, but the sound that is carried by vowels (which are created by the shape of the vocal tract) have fundamental frequencies of their own.  And those 2 things have to jive.

Each vowel has a formant that resonates on a spectrum of frequencies, each having a fundamental frequency (refered to as F1).  To demonstrate, try this little experiment:

  1. Whisper the vowel [a], notice the pitch of the sound
  2. Now change the whispered vowel to [o], you should hear the pitch drop
  3. Do this action quickly, listening for the pitch changes that result
  4. If you move through the vowels [i, e, a, o, u], you should hear the resulting pitch dropping with each different vowel.

The manipulation of these formants is actually how you change pitch when you whistle. Now try this variation of the experiment:

  1. Round your lips for the vowel [u]
  2. Whistle and try to change the pitch
  3. Notice that you have to change the position of your tongue in order to do this

For an idea of where different vowels formants are, pay attention to the numbers on the right of this chart (F1)

By Любослов Езыкин – Own work, License CC BY-SA 4.0

6 Basic Rules for Formant Tuning

According to Scott McCoy, professor of voice pedagogy at Ohio State University, the most important factor in vowel formants is the position of the tongue, then the shape of the lips, then the opening of the jaw.  In his book, Your Voice: An Inside View, he outlines 6 basic rules for understanding formant tuning:

  1. An anterior constriction (closed vowels, [i] & [u]) results in a lower first formant (F1) and a higher second formant (F2)
  2. A posterior constriction (open vowels, [a], [ɛ] & [o]) results in a higher F1 and a lower F2
  3. A longer vocal tract lowers all the formant frequencies
  4. A shorter vocal tract raises all formant frequencies
  5. Lip rounding and lip spreading lower all formant frequencies
  6. Opening the jaw raises F1

Why is this important to understand when singing high notes?

In order to sing in tune, the frequency of the pitch you are singing needs to match the formants of the vowel you are singing.  This means that you need to modify some of the vowels of your high notes to sing in tune and with good quality. If you don’t modify your vowels, the sound will become strident and harsh. Not to mention, it puts a great deal of tension on your voice.

Depending on your voice classfication, you’ll either need to open or close your vowels. 

What happens if I don’t modify my vowels?

If the vowels are not modified in the manner described above, the quality of the sound is very unrefined and even brash.  What is happening in all these cases is called “register violation.”  Here, the formant for the vowel being sung doesn’t jive with the harmonic of the pitch’s frequency.  Therefore, the formant must change by altering the shape of the pharynx.  Such changes include, but are not limited to, lowering the larynx, changing the position of the tongue, rounding the lips, or lowering the jaw in accordance with McCoy’s 6 rules set above. 

Female Vowel Modification

In female voices, the vowels need to open up when singing high notes.  This is because of Rule #1- the vowels [i] (as in feed), [u] (as in food) are closed (constriction at the front of the mouth) and their fundamental frequencies are low (between D4 and F#4). 

In order for the low F1 to get closer to the high pitches in female voice, the entire vocal tract has to change to raise it, resulting in more open vowels. In fact, all cardinal vowels except for [a] have F1’s below G5.  

A handy little chart for you.  I’ve written “open toward” because the change is a gradual shift of the pharynx- there are vowels that exist between the cardinal vowels.  The notes given for each voice part are approximate.  You’ll have to try it out in your voice and adjust as needed.

Vowel begins to open toward around the pitch
[i] as in “heed” [I] as in “hit” B4
[I] as in “hit” [ɛ] as in “fed” E5
[ɛ] as in “fed” [a] as in “father” G5
[u] as in “soon” [o] as in “so” D5
[o] as in “so” [ɔ] as in “saw” F5
[ɔ] as in “saw” [a] as in “father” G5


Male Vowel Modification

Whereas females need to open the vowels as they sing higher, males need to close their vowels.  For example, [a] closes to [ɔ], [o] moves closer to [u] and [I] moves closer to [i], whereas the vowels [i], [e], [u] don’t need further modification and will not sound distinctly different from chest to head voice.

The reason for this is that high notes for men are around where the fundamental frequencies of closed vowels are: [i] is around 270Hz (C#4) and [u] is around 300HZ (D4).

4. Lower Your Jaw

As stated in #6 of McCoy’s rules, lowering the jaw will raise F1 of the vowel.  Depending on how high the note is you are singing, you may only have to lower it negligibly.  Obviously, the higher the pitch, the lower you may need to place your jaw. 

Yet, that doesn’t mean you should just drop it as far as it will go.  Dropping your jaw, opening up your mouth as tall as you will invite all kinds of tension into your singing, as this action will likely raise the larynx. Pay attention to the interplay between your jaw position and your larynx and consciously relax your throat to avoid this.

 

5. Raise Your Soft Palate

When you sing, the sound is bouncing off all different surfaces of inside your mouth- your tongue, your cheeks, your hard palate, your soft palate, your teeth, and your lips.  Some of these are mobile, some are not. Changing the position of those mobile resonators will change the quality of your sound. 

For example, raising your soft palate increases the space in the back of your oropharynx.  According to the 6 rules set above, this causes an increase in the F1 of your vowels, allowing them to sync with your higher pitches more easily.

If you’re not sure how to raise your soft palate, try this:

  1. Open your mouth and pretend to yawn.  It’s ok if you actually do yawn right now.
  2. Feel what is happening in the back of your mouth.  That thing you feel moving in the back on the roof of your mouth is your soft palate.
  3. Pretend to yawn while varying the positions of your:
    1. jaw
    2. tongue
    3. lips

Pay attention to the actions of the tongue and larynx when you lift the soft palate.  You’ll need to consciously relax them in order not to invite tension into your voice.

Eventually, with enough practice, you will be able to control the degree to which you raise it. Also, as you do this more and more, you’ll begin to notice how the rest of the roof of your mouth is affected by this movement, giving you a more precise control of the pitch.

 

6. Lift Your Upper Lip

As I stated before, your lips are part of the resonating chamber for your voice, and they happen to be one of the more mobile of the set.  Hence, you can control your sound by changing the position of your lips. 

According to rule #5, rounding the lips lowers all the formants.  Therefore, lifting your upper lip above your front teeth raises the vowel formants.  Use your smiling muscles to change its position.  You can play with it’s position while singing to see at what pitch you should employ this technique and how much you need to lift it. 

Remember that not just the middle of the lip can lift, you can also raise the outer edges of the upper lip.

 

7. Raise Your Cheeks

Just like the lips can change your sound, the other muscles in your face have an effect on your resonance as well. While it is not recommended to put on a big, huge smile when singing because it will spread out your vowels and give them a brash sound, raising the cheeks has a positive effect.  I like to call it “smiling with your eyes.”

Try raising your cheeks and pay attention to what happens to the roof of your mouth.  You may not be able to feel it at first, but over time, you’ll begin to notice that it seems to lift the space above the hard palate.

I cannot quantify why this happens.  Perhaps this is more of an indirect action, as the cheek muscles are not actually attached on the inside on the face.  If I had to wager a guess, I’d say that it was the movement of the sinus cavity caused by the movement of the cheeks.

In any case, a change in the shape of the resonating space changes the formants of the vowels.

 

8. Stretching the Vocal Folds

Just like you can stretch out the muscles in your legs to increase their flexibility, you can stretch out your voice muscles to help you reach the full potential of your range.  It’s important to note that you do not have to actually make sound to stretch your vocal folds. 

Try this:

  1. Warm up your voice. Use some of the exercises that I listed in my phonation article. Lip trills are my favorite for a quick, effective warm-up.
  2. Vocalize your voice to the highest note you can sing comfortably using the vowel modifications I just described.
  3. Without actually phonating, pretend to sing a note higher than this most comfortable note, hearing the note inside your head.
    *When you do this, your hyiod bone will actually continue to tip, lengthening your vocal folds, without vibrating them.  Doing this will allow them to stretch without causing any other tension.*
  4. Hold this position for a few moments until you need to inhale again.
  5. Repeat the silent “singing” of high pitches that are not yet comfortable to sing.
  6. Do this exercise daily and eventually your highest comfortable pitch will rise.

 

4 Phonation Exercises to Unify Vocal Registers

4 Phonation Exercises to Unify Vocal Registers

Disclosure:  Some of the links in this post are affiliate links.  This means that if you buy something by clicking through those links, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

4 Essential Vocal Exercises for PhonationIn my post, Why You Shouldn’t Skip Vocal Warm-ups, I gave a brief introduction to vocal phonation vocal exercises and promised that I’d write out a full-fledged post dedicated just to that. So here it is! 

For ease of reference, I have created a PDF version of these exercises for you. Download it at the bottom of this post!

 

What is Phonation?

After Posture, Breathing, and Vocal Tract Freedom, Phonation is the next step in building a healthy singing voice.

Phonating Vocal Folds

When you sing, your vocal folds vibrate against one another, producing a sound.  The action of exhaling through an open glottis at sufficient pressure (see breath pressure) while adducting the vocal folds to produce a sound is phonation: “phon” meaning “sound” and “atio” meaning “process.” This is the very basis of your tone production.

It is, in part, directly responsible for the pitches you sing. Therefore it is chiefly in charge of intonation (there are other factors relating to intonation, since singing is considered a “psychomotor” skill, more on that in a future post).

Furthermore, how well you phonate is specifically related to the health of your voice, as well. Appropriate phonation allows your voice to sing without tension, keeping your voice healthy. Therefore, it’s important to be sure that your sound is properly produced.

How the Sound is Produced

In “Why You Shouldn’t Skip Your Vocal Warm-Ups,” I briefly introduced the muscles which control the voice. Now I will explain exactly what they do. 

Vocal Adduction

In order to produce sound, the vocal folds must come together (adduct) to vibrate.  The two muscles responsible for this action are the Interarytenoids (IA) and the Lateral Cricoarytenoids (LCA).  The IA closes the posterior of the glottis (space between vocal folds) by rotating the arytenoids away from each other. The LCA closes the anterior of the glottis.

Vocal Abduction

To cease phonation, the Posterior Cricoarytenoids come into play. When they contract, they open the glottis by rotating the arytenoids in the opposite direction, separating (abducting) the vocal folds.

Low Register

Your lower notes are controlled by the Thyroarytanoid.  When you sing low notes, this muscle contracts, thickening the vocal folds, causing the surface area of the vocal folds that come in contact during phonation to increase. The strength of the contraction is directly related to the spectral slope* of the voice’s harmonics, and determines the breathiness or strength of the sound production. 

In the harmonic series, the higher the frequency (pitch), the lower the amplitude (volume). The Spectral Slope is the rate of change in that relationship.  A steep slope means a breathier sound, a shallow slope means a stronger sound. Here is some additional reading if you are unfamiliar with the concept of harmonics.

 

In the picture, there is another muscle call the Vocalis, located below the TA, however it is actually part of the Thyroarytenoid.  It”s labeled separately because it can operate independently of the rest of the muscle.  It’s function is to increase the surface area of contact of the vocal folds when engaged causing crescendo (increasing volume). Unlike the rest of the TA, the Vocalis can be engaged in the high register.

High Register

Your high notes are controlled by your Cricothyroid muscle.  In contrast with thyroarytenoid-dominant phonation (TDP), when the cricothyroid muscle contracts, it elongates and thins out the vocal folds (hence my phrase, “high notes are not high, high notes are long.)  This causes the surface area that comes in contact to be smaller and the time of contact (glottal closure) is also reduced.  The amplitude of the higher harmonics is much lower in cricothyroid-dominant phonation (CDP). This means that this phonation is not as loud as TDP.  

The shift between these types of phonation are refered to as the “breaks.”  However, that does not mean that notes below the break cannot be produced by CDP or that higher notes cannot be produced by TDP.  For example, belting uses TDP for higher notes, which is the reason for a more strident tone when you belt.

Phonation & Vocal Registers

The primary objective of phonation exercises is to train the physical coordination of the voice.  I’m sure you’ve heard of the terms “head voice” and “chest voice.” In general, singers only have these 2 pure registers as produced by TDP or CDP as described above.  The purpose of vocal training is to merge the two, creating a third “middle” register which bridges the tone qualities of both for a seamless sound from the bottom to the top of the voice. 

A note about “falsetto.” Although some people have the notion that the term “falsetto” is synonymous with the “head” voice for tenors and basses, they are NOT the same in any fashion. While it isn’t gender specific (falsetto can be achieved by all voice classifications), it is much more commonly achievable by lower voices: basses, tenors, (and sometimes contraltos). In fact, some contraltos and most mezzo-sopranos and sopranos (who primarily sing in the treble clef) may never experience a falsetto- and that is a good thing… 

The falsetto voice is the result of overly straining the voice to sing pitches beyond the head voice and is characterized by a weak sound.  Falsetto is incapable of crescendo (getting louder) and has no resonance because the pitch the singer is phonating does not match the shape of the pharynx.  Thus, I highly recommend avoiding the use of falsetto -by any voice classification- since it can lead to vocal problems down the road as the voice is continually strained.

There are a few different types of exercises that will help you in the goal of uniting the chest and head voices.  You may find that as you are performing these range-unifying exercises, tension and strain may creep in.  If you find this happening to you, it may be that you are constricting your larynx.  Read my post on vocal tract freedom to find out how to eliminate strain from your larynx to keep it healthy.

Onset

Onset is how the sound gets started.  There are three ways to do this: too hard, too soft and the right way.

The Hard Way

You may have heard onset called “attack.”  This term is not really a good description as it can lead the the first onset: too hard, aka “glottal onset.” (Not to be confused with the “glottal stroke” which is necessary in some languages, such as German.) 

In a glottal onset, the adductors close the glottis before the breath flows.  The pressure of the breath builds below until it bursts through. The resulting sound is “ugh,” like when you are lifting heavy weights or pushing furniture. Using this onset frequently can result in vocal problems later on, such as vocal nodules, or even polyps.

In a German glottal stroke, the adductors clap together with just enough force to create that particular sound.  The air pressure buildup does not have the same affect on the voice as the glottal attack.

The Soft Way

On the other side of the spectrum is the breathy onset.  Think of the sound you make when pronouncing the English letter “h.”  In this case, the breath starts to flow before the adductors close the glottis. Like the glottal onset, overuse of this method can also lead to vocal problems down the road.

The Right Way

The proper way to start singing is to begin the breath flow and the adduction at the same time.  This balanced onset is gentle and has a very easy sound.   When practicing any of the following vocal exercises, try to use this onset.

Offset (AKA “Cutoff”)

The way you release the sound is also important in the overall health of your voice.  Again, there is a hard, soft, and right way to do this.

Glottal Release

The glottal offset is just like the glottal attack, the LCA and IA contract too tightly, closing off the glottis entirely, sort of like slamming the door.  There is a grunt-like noise associated this this as well.  Again, this can lead to vocal problems down the road.

Aspirate Release

Aspirate offset occurs when the Posterior Cricoarytenoids abduct while air is still moving through the glottis.  Just like in the breathy onset, you’ll hear an “h” sound.

Balanced Offset

Just like in a balanced offset, in a balanced offset, the breath and abduction occur simultaneously.  If you have trouble doing this, you might try ending a pitch with a silent inhalation.

Phonation Vocal Exercises

 

1. Humming

This is the most basic phonation exercise.  There are 2 versions, the first being a gentler exercise than the second.

 

Version 1: Humming Slides

  1. Open your mouth for an [a] vowel (“ah” as in “father”).
  2. Keeping your teeth apart, gently bring your lips to touch.
  3. Allow your tongue to remain quietly flat, without tension.
  4. Sing a pitch in the middle of your range.
  5. Your lips may tingle a bit here, that is your resonance.
  6. Gently move down and up through your range, sliding between notes.

Troubleshooting: If you feel no tingle in your lips, check the following- are you pressing your lips together, or do you have your tongue on the roof of your mouth, or have you closed your teeth?

 

Version 2: Humming Scales

This is similar to the humming slides, the difference being that this exercise uses definitive pitches.

  1. Open your mouth for an [a] vowel (“ah” as in “father”).
  2. Keeping your teeth apart, gently bring your lips to touch.
  3. Allow your tongue to remain quietly flat, without tension.
  4. Sing a pitch in the middle of your range.
  5. Your lips may tingle a bit here, that is your resonance.
  6. Hum 5-note ascending and descending scales, changing keys (up or down) by a half step each time

2. Sirens

These phonation exercises mimic the sound of emergency vehicle sirens.  There are a few different ways to do wheelies/sirens. For each exercise, I like to use arm movements that are representative of the vocal action. For example, raise my arm while ascending and lower it while descending.  I find the visual helpful.

Version 1: Single Siren

  1. Using the vowel [a], starting with the highest note in your range
  2. Slide all the way down to the bottom of your range

Version 2.: Double Siren

  1. Using the vowel [a], starting with the lowest note of your range
  2. Slide all the way up to the top of your range
  3. Slide all the way back down to the bottom

Version 3: Wheelie Siren

This one really recreates the emergency siren sound, in my opinion

  1. On the syllable [wu] (“woo” if you’re not familiar with IPA), starting with a note near the top of the range
  2. Slide down to a nearby pitch (not more than a third away)
  3. Repeat steps 1-2 with a new utterance of [wu]
  4. Perform a version 2 siren on the syllable [wu] (instead of [a])

3. Lip Trills

This one is one of my favorites.  You can usually achieve pitches higher than you’d normally be able to sing on a vowel which allows you to really stretch out the vocal folds. The sustained nature of the lip trill requires that the breath pressure be constant and consistent. 

Side note: I can always tell when a student hasn’t been practicing their lip trills- their noses will tickle.  Practice them daily (or at the very least, a few times a week) to avoid the itchy nose.

Version 1: Lip Trill Slides

  1. Lightly bring your lips to touch with your teeth separated
  2. Make the sound of the letter “p”
  3. Without stopping the flow of air, add a pitch
  4. Slide up and down through your range while lip trilling

Version 2: Lip Trill Scales

  1. Lightly bring your lips to touch with your teeth separated
  2. Make the sound of the letter “p”
  3. Without stopping the flow of air, add a pitch
  4. Perform ascending and descending scalar patterns while doing lip trills, changing keys by a half step each time

Version 3: Lip Trill Arpeggios

  1. Lightly bring your lips to touch with your teeth separated
  2. Make the sound of the letter “p”
  3. Without stopping the flow of air, add a pitch
  4. Perform ascending and descending arpeggiated patterns while doing lip trills, changing keys by a half step each time

4. The Rolled “R”

I have found that some people have a hard time performing a lip trill. Alternatively, you could use a rolled “r” as used in the Spanish language.  As with the lip trill, the sustained nature of the rolled “r” requires that the breath pressure be constant and consistent.

Version 1: Rolled “R” Slides

  1. Open your mouth so that your teeth are barely separated
  2. Poise the tip of the tongue behind the front teeth, close to the roof of the mouth,
  3. Make the sound of “tt” in the word “butter”
  4. Without stopping the flow of air, try to repeat the “tt” sound in immediate succession, while keeping the tongue relaxed
  5. Add in a pitch in the middle of your range
  6. Slide up and down through your range

Version 2: Scalar Rolled “R’s”

  1. Open your mouth so that your teeth are barely separated
  2. Poise the tip of the tongue behind the front teeth, close to the roof of the mouth,
  3. Make the sound of “tt” in the word “butter”
  4. Without stopping the flow of air, try to repeat the “tt” sound in immediate succession, while keeping the tongue relaxed
  5. Add in a pitch in the middle of your range
  6. Sing ascending and descending scalar patterns while doing the rolled “r,” changing keys by a half step each time

Version 3: Arpeggiated Rolled “R’s”

  1. Open your mouth so that your teeth are barely separated
  2. Poise the tip of the tongue behind the front teeth, close to the roof of the mouth,
  3. Make the sound of “tt” in the word “butter”
  4. Without stopping the flow of air, try to repeat the “tt” sound in immediate succession, while keeping the tongue relaxed
  5. Add in a pitch in the middle of your range
  6. Sing ascending and descending arpeggiated patterns while performing the rolled “r,” changing keys by a half step each time

 

For ease of reference, I have created a PDF version of these exercises for you. Download it below!

 

All of these vocal exercises I am sharing with you, including these “open throat” exercises, are a combination of exercises that I have learned and ones that I have created or modified.  I do my best to present them concisely in my blog posts to keep them easy to read and learn.  However, I do realize that I am new blogger and don’t have a wide selection of vocal exercises.

Since I can only write 1 or 2 posts a month, it will take me a very long time to cover all the aspects of singing with a variety of exercises for you- and you need those exercises right now, not in a few months when I post them. 

So, I want to share with you a resource that I really value and have used often in my teaching and my own practice. In fact, it is the textbook that was used in my Voice Techniques class in college.

Teaching Kids to Sing is a wonderful book with a wealth of information and sequentially graded singing exercises.  Even though the book is geared towards voice teachers of children, there is still a great breadth of knowledge you can gain from it.  The exercises are great for singers of any age.  I highly recommend you check it out (and get it used). 

Another book I used in college that has a wealth of information well beyond the scope of this blog, but may be of interest to you, is Your Voice: An Inside View by Scott McCoy.  It gets really scientific and comes with a CD that has lots of sound analysis excerpts.  Most of my knowledge of vocal anatomy and vocal health comes from this book.  He also has  more basic version Your Voice: The Basics that’s a bit more affordable.

 

If you found this post helpful, please share it!

For more information on vocal health, read my post 11 Simple Habits to Care for Your Voice.

 

Disclosure: some of the links on my blog may be affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
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