Your Questions Answered

Over the years I've been asked various questions on the voice and singing techniques ...

Here's a few of the questions that have been emailed to me, and my responses. Perhaps they may be of some use to people!

Larry, a baritone from Maine, U.S. writes:

"I have been working on my vibrato a lot lately. My question is on a long note in a song, is starting the note out with no vibrato and kicking it in half way thru the note with faster vibrato at the very end of a note a good method? Does the vibrato always have to be the same speed or can it be varied throughout a song?"

And my response:

My thoughts go as follows:
Vibrato is a natural result of a well-developed voice – the muscles themselves plus the muscular support given by the singer contribute to the vibrato.
One of the main functions of vibrato is to show the listener that the phrase or word is coming to a conclusion - it is literally the flowering or blossoming of the note at the end of the phrase.
Vibrato can certainly be used to excess and when it is done so it is not generally pleasing to listen to.
Ideally, singing a sustained note at the end of a phrase is best done by beginning the note straight i.e. with no vibrato, and then bringing vibrato in midway.
Starting the vibrato at a certain speed and then speeding up tends to make it sound like it is out of control - this out of control vibrato has been called "bleating" and is often indicative of an uncontrolled voiceof control vibrato.
Ideally, bringing in the vibrato midway and maintaining it had a controlled tempo or speed is probably a better method of producing an effective vibrato.
Hope this is helpful!

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Katie, a young alto/soprano singer asks:

"I am not the most versatile singer out there because I am not fully developed yet, but my question is why is it that after I sing high or low for long periods of time that my throat feels dry and scratchy? I take choir class at my school (that is how  found out about you guys), and I would love to be the best choir member I can be, but I don't know what to do about my voice. I take care of it, and live by the "Vocal Checklist", and I don't violate any of those rules, but I still have a hard time figuring out what I may be doing wrong, or even, what I can do to help it. I take throat lozenges when it gets really bad, and cough drops when it's sore to the point of no voice. What do I do!? Thanks for your time, and I love your website! It's helped me a lot!"

And my response:

"A couple of thoughts arise for me in reference to your question.
Firstly, the voice is basically a series of muscles, and needs to be used and maintained properly. Use it or lose it ... Regular practice (as it seems you are doing) is very beneficial for the voice as long as it is done properly, ie. that you are practicing good technique - but if not done properly ie. simply repeating exercises, etc. without proper knowledge of technique - one runs the risk of fatiguing or even damaging the voice longterm.

You mention that your voice gets "dry and scratchy" when singing high and low for long periods. Highs and lows are extremes of register and require a well-warmed-up voice and plenty of diaphragmatic support. By engaging the support muscles in the abdomen and singing with full body conviction you will find that you can sing these notes more easily and for longer. But, it's really hard to keep up that degree of  muscular support for a long time, so it's quite easy for the singer to ease off the support and rely more and more on the throat to sing these notes, and singing without proper muscular support over a period of time will fatigue your voice fairly quickly.

So you need to remember, strong diaphragmatic support will give you the best chance of singing high and low for longer without vocal fatigue.

One other thing: If you're fatiguing, I'd suggest avoiding the throat lozenges. The sugar is terrible for the vocal folds (clogging them up with excess mucous) and by numbing them with the lozenges, the singer can actually damage their voice more by singing past the point when their body has asked them to stop! Listen to your body and rest it! Avoid drying & mucousy foods/drinks. (sugary foods, tea's, coffe, wine, dairy, etc) sing with lots of water in your body! And balance periods of extensive vocal work with vocal rest.

Anyhow, these are my initial thought! I hope that they can offer you something to work with.

Thanks for your question, Katie, and I'm so glad that the website is helpful for you. :)

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Karen, from Brisbane asks:

I have been diagnosed with paradoxical vocal chord malfunction and require speech therapy for this. Do you have any experience in this field ?? Thanks cheers Kaz

Paradoxical Vocal Cord Malfunction is a medical condition where the throat closes up while the patient is trying to inhale. Due to the medical nature of this question, I responded in conjunction with my speech pathologist wife, Shirley Robertson.

I've had a bit of an investigation into your condition and unfortunately I have not come across this before. I am a singing teacher with a half-decent understanding on how the voice works, but cannot offer any assistance with medical issues such as yours. I am very sorry that I cannot be of more use.

That said, a couple of thoughts that came to mind. (Talk to your speech therapist about this)
1. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing exercises may be useful. Breath into your belly and be conscious of retracting your false vocal folds. (These are the flaps which sit on top of your true vocal focal folds and you can really feel them when you constrict your sound).
Retraction - lifting your false folds away from the true folds - is really good for opening and clearing your sound. How to retract your false folds?
1. If you can imagine holding a hot pebble in your mouth, and breathing quietly around it.
2. Open your mouth wide, widen your larynx, and breath in and out silently, so that even if you put your hands of your ears you can't hear yourself inhale/exhale. False folds must be out of the way to do this!
3. The silent giggle - imagine a Japanese Geisha trying to giggle silently behind her hand. Flash folds are retracted in order to successfully do this!

Ok, that's all we've got! I asked my wife, Shirley, to help on this one too, she is a speech therapist.

All the very best, Simon and Shirley

Karen has since found a speech patholigist in Brisbane to work with. Good luck Karen!

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