Why am I writing this? To give a singer a sort of a handbook, which is not only packed with practical information, but it also takes out the trash for you. I never recommend books...except for this one. Why?
My story: At age 15, I performed on stage the first time in front of 800 people. At 22, I led touring bands in 14 states. At age 25, I located in Las Vegas.
In Las Vegas, I studied voice with a Seth Riggs Associate, was on stage with Seth Riggs at the Aladdin Hotel in his seminar for singers, I performed, singing in a show and also in lounges of hotels and casinos.
I moved to Orlando 18 years later and one night was in a book store. By this time I was a vocal coach, having also been one in Las Vegas.
I am a truth seeker. I discovered that Richard Miller was said to be "the most inspirational pedagogue" that Seth Riggs had ever met. I noticed that the information in Richard Miller's books did not contradict anything that Seth said to do or not to do. On The Art Of Singing is recommended by
Dale Moore of Eastman School of Music for every singer and every student of singing. Richard Miller exposes and dispels the myths regarding singing (such as "sing from your diaphragm") and when myths meet medical science and also physics, the truth is revealed.
I've used and referred to this book in my own vocal coaching. Richard Miller was also on the adjunct staff of the Cleveland Clinic's Department of Otolaryngology.
I've done my own research in anatomy books and with the help of no less than eight physicians from multiple disciplines and as a vocal coach, a singer, and a life learner I would say that if you truly care about your singing, your singing health, and your success as a singer, get your hands on this book now. It is on Amazon and they do give me a small percentage if you buy it here. I would never be without it!
There is often a tip jar on the stage of smaller venues so that the audience can give a little extra to the performer(s). These are real singing tips.
Singing "tips", instead of singing lessons, can be a waste of time, depending on what they are and if they are usable, true, workable, and cause the possibility of improvement. Some tips are utterly false. One is, to "sing from your diaphragm". ASK A DOCTOR about this! It is an absolute impossibility because your diaphragm is the muscle for inhalation NOT exhalation. You CANNOT feel your diaphragm, either. Medical science has known this since about the 1700s. Someone started this myth, who did not know anything about the function of breathing. Ask a doctor. Look in an anatomy book and then wonder what else you have been told which is: untrue, half-true, not helpful, unworkable, or even harmful. You will be surprised at how your attention has been put into a realm of fantasy, instead of on what you need to know and do in reality.
You didn't hear a couple of tips about flying and then immediately afterward, got into a cockpit and successfully took off, flew, and safely landed an airplane.
Hey! You don't need to know a billion things, to become a better singer! You do need to know the difference between fact, opinion, fiction, myths, sayings, falsehoods, misconceptions and worse.
A FEW COMMON MYTHS, that have been disproven by science and medical science:
Don't waste your time or your money learning things which simply do not help and may even cause you injury. Even if they don't cause you physical harm, they get you thinking about the wrong thing in the wrong way and only will distract you from what you must focus on, in order to improve.
What you really need to know is what to do and practice to get to the next level. Gimmicks won't get you there. Gurus who spout lies, half-truths, and other tricks which do nothing, are a waste of your time and money. What can you do right now to get better?
1. Too little or too much feeling.
2. You over-breathe or under-breathe.
3. You are yelling, instead of singing.
4. You are not in tune.
5. Your rhythm is faulty.
6. Your singing style doesn’t match the song style.
7. You sing to the microphone, instead of to the audience.
8. You look disconnected from the song or you look uncomfortable.
9. Your voice cracks when you don’t want it to.
10. You’re monotone and/or boring.
If you haven’t noticed or solved these things, you can save yourself a lot of embarrassment or criticism by getting help to fix the 10 WARNING Signs of Amateurish Singing.
Some vocal coaches believe or try to make you believe that they have the only answers and that everyone else is wrong. How can we tell? Let’s get to it!
1. Their way is the only way, or the best way.
2. They show off their knowledge.
3. They use their students to prove their value or worth (some had only one lesson with them).
4. They never reveal their sources.
5. They use confusing or invented terminology.
6. They are condescending and make you feel stupid or ignorant.
7. They use clichés and myths, which have long been proven to be false.
8. They think they know better than everyone else but have no proof of this
9. They want you to depend on them and to not check out anyone else.
10. Their singing isn’t good and it makes their technique questionable at best.
I’ve learned and confirmed what I teach with 8 physicians and 2 speech therapists. Some teachers think that mixing science with art will destroy the art. Those same teachers blame something else when their bad advice injures a singer. Those same teachers blame the singer when the singer doesn’t improve. Sometimes it is the singer’s fault because the singer misunderstands or incorrectly applies exercises and instruction, or simply does not practice enough or at all. I give credit to my vocal coaches and my mentors.
I’ve taken the best of the best of the best vocal coaches, who have proven success in helping their clients or students. Knowing anatomy and structure and function of it as applies to singing, does enhance understanding and can even accelerate improvement and development.
The most important and most neglected aspect of singing is one which many singers are intimidated by the most. They don’t understand what it is and don’t do anything about it in too many cases. The strangest thing is that they have it naturally in most cases but just don’t know the terms. The little holes in the knowledge of it are what keeps them sounding amateurish or bad.
What is it? Get ready to cringe or to run away. It is musicianship.
Are you a voice student or a cult member?
I just saw a video done by a top vocal coach. He sells lots of his courses online. He has over 300 videos of himself and his students on YouTube. Isn’t he wonderful? I think he thinks that he is. He even makes a statement about our checking the sources of people who teach singing. Let’s check his a little.
Why? Well, he mixes truth with fiction. This doesn’t help anyone, but it makes him sound clever to the ignorant, people who just do not know science. How do I know it is fiction? I took the time and money and used the part of my mind, which professionally has done architecture and structural engineering. If you haven’t known such types of analytical thinking, you might not easily think in a strictly analytical way (if and when necessary). I cannot unhear what I hear, and I cannot unknow what I know. Why not mix fiction with facts? Do you put poop in your soup? There ya go.
My sources for anatomy have been Gray’s Anatomy, The Structure of Singing, by Richard Miller, two speech therapists, and eight physicians from several disciplines, one of whom was an ENT. Since many singing professors spout the same old myths, why Richard Miller? He was the exception and actually studied anatomy and was even an adjunct of the Cleveland Clinic’s Department or Otolaryngology.
Gray’s Anatomy is an actual book that’s about three inches thick and in it you can discover what doctors all the way back to the 1700s have known about the diaphragm. Gray’s Anatomy isn’t that old but in the 1700s, the physicians knew that the diaphragm was the inhale muscle, not the muscle of forced expiration. Those are: the oblique and transverse abdominal muscles, the triangularis sterni, the rectus abdominus and the internal intercostals. These are facts. These are proven. These come from verifiable and reliable sources and are known by the top medical professionals. Never let a vocal coach perform surgery on you, unless he or she is licensed and certified to do that. Do you understand?
It gets worse. The man talks about “diaphragmatic support”. The diaphragm lacks proprioceptive nerves and is essentially numb. You cannot feel it and you cannot know its precise location. That being true, how would that impact or assist a singer if some one tells you to have diaphragmatic support? It turns the singer into a believer of something which is simply not true. This is dangerous. It sets up a cult mentality. It strips the singer of critical thinking because the singer will not go out and research the structure and function of breathing. The singer is told to manipulate something that cannot be felt and, also to use that (the diaphragm) in a way which is literally impossible.
Boxers throw jabs with the shoulder and the triceps. They throw hooks with the shoulder, pecs, and biceps. It is stupid and ignorant to expect a muscle to do what it cannot do. There is structure and function and it acts and reacts the same all the time. Sorry. Singing and teaching singing is not a religion; it is an art and a science. You don’t paint fine lines with truck tires and you don’t do brain surgery with chewing gum.
“If you wish to converse with me, define your terms.” – Voltaire
We have to get on the same page. There are far too many pages. There are far too many gimmicks, tricks, and tips spoken and written by people who do not share the same terminology. This makes for problems, misunderstandings and debates.
Turning to science, we can find ways of describing things so explicitly that guesses and opinions collapse under the weight of provable truths. From myths has come mayhem and may we make the distinction between reality and seek agreement as the truth sets us free from the past.
The Common Names of Vocal Registers are: Chest Voice, Low Middle Voice, High Middle Voice, Head Voice, and Super Head Voice.
Chest Voice got its name as a result of singers feeling a sympathetic vibration in the chest as they sang in the lowest part of their voices. Chest voice is not actually a sound, per se, but is a register. The size of the sound waves is such, that in the lowest register, the chest vibrates.
Low Middle Voice is just above Chest Voice. It should blend with chest voice and may sound exactly the same, except it is on higher pitches, above actual chest voice.
High Middle Voice is below Head Voice, but is above Low Middle Voice. Some prominent vocal coaches don’t differentiate between low middle and high middle and call it all the same thing. Some prominent vocal coaches call middle voice Mix or Mix Voice or Mixed Voice. This is misleading in that it sounds like a singer could or would mix two singing registers and that is not what is happening, as is easily demonstrated when you observe the vocal folds as a singer slides from chest to low middle to high middle to head voice. You do not have a magic blender or food processor in your neck which blends sounds in some imaginary way. The middle voice registers, low and high, are not a combination of head voice and chest voice. They are between those registers.
Head Voice got its name because singers noticed that they could feel vibrations in the head when they sang higher than where they typically speak.
Super Head Voice is above Head Voice. It also is called whistle register, but it is not a whistle. Some call super head voice flageolet, which is an actual “mechanical” whistle.
To recapitulate, vocal registers are the ranges of the voice, but they are not qualities of sound or tone. Some singers and vocal coaches do not know this and they speak of registers as if they are a specific tone quality or a timbre. The top music schools, conservatories, and universities are precise and explicit and do not interchange or misuse terminology. This is a great time to all get on the same page. By doing this, we can gain a deeper understanding of the structure and function of singing. We may even be able to get along.
Sound, tone, and timbre
Sound travels at about 750 miles per hour. We do not have valves, as such, inside our heads, to enable us to direct the sound or to place the sound to any appreciable degree. We also do not have muscles which expand the pharyngeal cavity and therefor cannot actually “open our throats” or “keep our throats open”. Don’t blame me. I did not design or build the human body.
When the vocal folds are in close proximity, as air is expelled through them, we will have a sound which is called full voice. Full voice is the sound we make in which we can “project” or have power or loudness. Many singers and some vocal coaches refer to full voice as chest voice but these terms are precise and are not interchangeable. Chest voice is a register and full voice is a sound. A register will be exact notes in your own vocal production. You may notice that they slightly vary up or down on any given day, but not much. Don’t call full voice chest voice. You can sing with full voice in every single register. When you do this, you are not stretching chest voice higher. That is a common fallacy. You can yell or scream and do a thing some call “pulling chest voice”, but it is yelling, not singing, and is potentially harmful to the vocal folds.
You cannot loudly sing with a breathy sound and you may even feel pain if you try doing that. Breathy tone production is achieved by the vocal folds not adducting enough to make the full voice sound. As a result, air escapes and we can hear that in combination with the tone of the vibrating vocal folds. A breathy tone could be called a sound characteristic, or timbre.What are vocal chords? Vocal chords only exist when there are three singers singing together on three different pitches. Some vocal coaches have referred to vocal chords, but meaning to say vocal cords. Doctors normally do not say vocal cords, since they are not cords and definitely are not “chords”.
Video stroboscopy has revealed that the vibrating action of the vocal folds is quite complex. Using a microphone which allows the measurement of the frequency vibration and combining that with a strobe light has enabled physicians and speech therapists to visually observe the actual function and structure of the voice as it is in action. Videos of this may be found online.You can think of full voice as a solid sound and a breathy voice as having air in it.
Remember this: “If you wish to converse with me, define your terms.” – Voltaire
So, hopefully there has been some clarification in the defining of terms, based on modern science, not on myths.
“Mix Voice” or “Mixed Voice” is an invented term. It is a way of describing something which is correctly named "middle voice", but this is a gimmick which self-proclaimed gurus use to sound as if they have a secret way of singing through the registers without breaking. It is a sham. It is fake. It is a fallacy. It is both stupid and ignorant, unfortunately. You do not and cannot mix your chest voice with your head voice. It is not a mix or a blend. It is a myth that “mix voice” or “mixed voice” exist. I hate to burst that fantasy bubble (no, I don't), but it is something which can lead to trouble when you believe in things which come from a cult mentality with invented terms. only used by the cult members of the Flat Earth Mixed Voice Lying Gurus Society For Confusing Singers And Deceiving Them To Get Their Money.
You also cannot sing from your diaphragm, no matter how much you believe it. When I showed a student written documentation and medically researched evidence that she was not and could not sing from her diaphragm, she cried. It was as if her religion had been taken away and she had nothing to replace it with…yet. It was replaced with facts and she became an even better singer because of it.
IT IS ANATOMICALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO SING FROM THE DIAPHRAGM
Welcome to the new millennium! Today and right now is a good time to stop believing in useless myths, unless you want to sabotage yourself and never improve and quite possibly become a worse and a more unstable singer with multiple breaks in your range. It doesn’t matter who says it or who has said it that you have a “mix” in your voice. First of all, the terminology is wrong. HEY! Doctors have known this since the 1700s! Do singing teachers avoid doctors and/or science, in general??!!
YOU HAVE VOCAL REGISTERS, BUT THERE IS NO “MIX”
Maybe you don’t have the coordination to smoothly sing throughout your entire range but you will not mix registers. You potentially can sing from low to high and back to low with no shift or change in tone or timbre. The ranges of each register differ in Sopranos from Altos or anyone else but they are still there. The truly great pedagogues know or knew this, while the others don’t. The names and what those names represent and signify are misunderstood by many voice gurus. The names do not represent, describe, or name tone and/or timbre. They are specific notes or frequencies of vibration in your vocal range. The names for the vocal registers are: chest voice, low middle voice, high middle voice, head voice, and flageolette (or “whistle tones” or “super head voice”). These represent registers, not a sound or timbre quality.
I have seen it all now. Ignorance, arrogance, stupidity, ego mania, and conceit. All in a matter of seconds, as he demonstrated his breathing exercises for singing. He reminded me of a now deceased friend who had his face in a paper bag, maniacally and violently breathing in the fumes from the glue he had dumped into the bag. Toluene, he said that it contained. He said it wasn’t poison. Uh-huh.
Let’s get real about breathing for singing. The two things a singer needs regarding breathing as used for singing are: 1) control and 2) lung capacity. Let’s get more real. Air pressure and the amount of air which can be expelled from the lungs are both measurable and there are instruments to measure such things, to be found by your friendly pulmonary physician. It is a matter of physics and anatomy and modern science which will verify what I am about to say, should Mr. Windbag care to put it to a test.
You must control the speed of the exhalation in order to control the dynamics-how loud or quiet it is. You also must have enough air to sing a phrase at a controlled volume level. It is a good idea to have more air than you need and to have more control of the air than you need, to sing effortlessly and to not let any issue with breathing impede your artistic expression. We could set up equipment to test the air pressure and the amount of air used for singing.
I have never seen any singer at any time breathe like the breathing that was done on the “exercise” I saw in a video. I also play trombone. One of my teachers was Dr. Donald S. Reinhardt. He had 2 simple and effective breathing exercises. One was for lung capacity and the other for breath control. Professional brass players from the 1940s forward used these successfully for playing. Having been both a professional singer and trombonist since 1972, I can say that it takes much less air to sing than it does to play a trombone. Two problems can exist for both activities: 1) over-breathing and 2) under-breathing.
Taking in too little or too much air to comfortably execute a phrase will cause unwanted sounds or bad tone or being unable to finish a phrase while maintaining the control of the dynamics. There are many tricks, gimmicks or other stupid things being done which have nothing to do with breath control for actual singing. These are not based on any medical science or on physics. They have no use. One is to blow on a piece of paper, to keep it from falling down a wall. You do not exhale that hard or use that much air when you sing, so it is a trick and it is of no use. Maybe you could have some friends hold a filing cabinet off the floor and against the wall and you could try to hold it there by blowing on it. Maybe you can exhale with a hissing sound, like a happy little snake, but wait a minute. Do snakes sing? A little science mixed with a little common sense could go a long way but if you are looking for tricks, you might take up learning what magicians really do, to distract you from reality.
Some teachers of singing may just distract you from your money. Magic is a trick and Trix are for kids (or so they say).
Early on, as a singer, I had frequent sore throats. These were actual infections, not in the vocal folds, but instead, in the pharynx.
Singers and others often give advice for singers and encourage things like lemon, tea, honey, or the super specialized preparations, such as a product called "throat coat". Well, seekers, maybe it's time for a little anatomy lesson and maybe even some nutrition advice.
I've been an avid reader of nutrition books and publications since 1979 and have picked up a few things along the way. I've also had conversations about such things with some students who happened to be: an ENT, two GPs, a pediatrician, a fertility doctor, an orthopedic surgeon, a research physician, and a few others. If you have studied with me in private, you would have seen a medical chart of the pharynx and the larynx. On it, you see that down in the larynx begin two "tubes". One leads to the lungs and the other to the stomach.
When you swallow ANYTHING, unless you choke on it, it goes down the esophagus. It does not get near the vocal folds, which you may call the vocal cords. The epiglottis covers the opening to the lungs when you swallow and it works perfectly most of the time. The vocal folds are BELOW, or underneath it.
I also had two speech therapists study with me. They started using my vocal exercises and found them to help their patients faster and more than the ones they used from their schooling. One vocal therapist let me borrow a film of people with swallowing disorders, and one person with none. These were done using a fluoroscope. I could see how it functions. I confirmed with several doctors the things I have said, such as - there may be some benefit in a nutritional sense from some preparations, but they must first be processed by your digestive system and then enter the blood stream to have any actual benefit.
Sprays do NOT touch your vocal folds. There is an exception. If you are crazy enough to inhale and you choke on the spray, the spray will get on your vocal folds and it will HURT!!!! It hurts bad enough when you choke on water or on your saliva. Multi-vitamins have some benefits: A for mucus membrane health, B for many things, including healthy tissue in the pharynx, C for cell wall and capillary strength and many other things. I have several references available for more detail on these, including the amounts to take. Want to know more?
Have you plateaued with your singing? Are you stuck and not improving? Are your singing lessons not helping? If you knew why, you’d be able to progress more. This is an instance where there is not paralysis of analysis. This unlocks the lock and opens the door to more progress.
Do you know if it is physical or mental? The mental game of singing involves your commitment, self-discipline, attitude, inspiration, and motivation. I have assigned some singers the task of writing 100 reasons why they sing. This little exercise reveals your purpose and you may not have to get anywhere near the 100 mark before you are clear on your purpose. If you’re feeling uninspired, listen to some of your idols or heroes or examples of singers you love to hear.
Broad Categories To Explore:
1. Vocal Technique
3. Practice Technique
4. State of Mind
9. Work Ethic
10. Something else
A more complete vocal assessment may be required to help you isolate your specific problem. This vocal assessment can be useful.
When you know where the problem lies, it can be addressed with a strategic plan to get you moving in the direction you want. You may need to learn something new or to apply something you already know. You may need to practice more or to practice more effectively. The singers you love may have had the same problem as you, but they learned how to overcome it.
I am here to help, when you need it.
Copyright © 2018 , 2019 by Charles Stewart - All Rights Reserved.