|Frequently Asked Questions
|How can I apply the technique to songs ?
reason for taking singing lessons is to learn how to sing songs, not
exercises. The exercises we give you serve the purpose of training your
neuro-muscular system to respond in a particular way which helps you to
remain in a speech-level posture while singing different pitches
throughout your range. When it comes time for singing songs however,
many students find that their old singing habits kick back into gear.
Remember that the exercises use limited vowels and very orderly scale
patterns. Songs can use difficult vowel/consonant combinations and will
often jump all over the place melodically. Also, when you are singing
songs your sense of vocal style is called into play, and style can
often pull us off of our pure technique. Also, if you (like most
singers) came to SLS after having sung for a period of time (even in
your car), you are still going to be struggling with muscle memory from
old singing habits. These habits seem to almost "live" in songs.
It is important for you to be
very patient while you are learning how to apply technique to songs,
and also make sure that you bring the songs that are causing you
problems to your teacher. Sometimes it is just a matter of a small
vowel adjustment or a relaxation of facial tension that is needed. It
is all too common for students to come to lessons for exercises but go
home and try to apply the technique they are learning to songs all on
their own. Remember, your teacher is there to help you achieve your
vocal goals as quickly as possible and with the least amount of
frustration. Bring the songs you are singing to your lessons. Let your
teacher help you with them. Singing songs can often be quite
challenging. Be patient, and work with a well-qualified teacher, and
you will be singing those songs well before you know it!
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| How can I learn to scream for rock music without hurting my voice?
definitely a "Frequently asked question." Many vocal systems have been
built claiming that you can train your voice to scream in a healthy
way. These systems are either teaching a technique that 1) simulates a
scream, 2) mitigates the damage caused by screaming, or 3) are simply
teaching harmful techniques in order to cash in on a singer's desire to
become a rock star. Obviously the first two options are the ones that I
would agree with. An actual scream causes the vocal folds to slam
together and often engages the use of the false vocal cords. Strain in
either the false or true cords will, over time, cause the development
of vocal nodules on the cords which will either have to be surgically
removed or treated with complete vocal rest and therapy.
started taking voice lessons with Guy a couple months ago and the
experience has been great. He has helped improve my voice dramatically
with the Speech-Level-Singing techniques. Now, I feel more confident
with my voice."
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|I don't have any vibrato, is that a problem if I sing pop ?
When you sing in a connected manner
at a comfortable speech-level, there is a natural vibrancy which
occurs. We call this vibrancy "vibrato." There are two types of
compression in the vocal folds when you sing properly. One is the
pressure coming from the adduction of the vocal folds themselves as
they are drawn together, and the other is air pressure coming from the
diaphragm which presses against these adducted vocal folds. In healthy
singing, there is a constant cooperative contest which exists between
the two pressures: to blow the cords apart and bring them back
together, over and over again. This contest is what causes sound waves
to occur from the vocal folds. When there is a good balance between
these two pressures, a natural "spinning" type sound occurs called
vibrato. When you are singing with no vibrato, or with a straight
sound, one of these two pressures is out of balance. The types of
sounds which can occur when balance is not maintained are breathy,
yelled (or pulled), falsetto, wobble (wide and slow vibrato), or
tremolo (quick vibrato like a machine gun or a goat bleating).
There are types of music where a full
throttle vibrato is not appropriate, but that does not mean that
vibrato should be removed from the voice. Removing vibrato from the
voice simply means removing balance, and this is unhealthy singing. A
healthy vibrato does not call undue attention to itself. The last thing
you want people to say about your performance is, "wow, that was some
vibrato!" Vibrato is necessary for healthy singing. Vibrato is natural
to all voices. To say that you don't have any vibrato at all is not
entirely accurate. What you are really describing is the fact that you
have not yet found a balance between cord adduction and air-flow. This
balance is a primary focus of all good vocal technique, and is a factor
in giving singers who use the Speech-Level-Singing technique the
feeling that they are singing with the same release and freedom as when
they are speaking.
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|Is it true that if I take voice lessons I'll sound like an opera singer ?
That is an excellent question. Have
you ever heard of anyone going to the gym and saying, "Oops, I look
like a body builder, how did that happen?" Of course not. If you lift
weights you can grow more muscles and get in great shape, but looking
like a body builder takes a major commitment. You have to be in the gym
2 hours per day, 6 days per week and follow a very strict diet. This
same concept can be compared to building an operatic sound. Operatic
singing requires a singer to carry their voice across an orchestra
while being unamplified and sustain this volume for several hours,
several days per week. Therefore, the singer of this style of music is
required to train very hard, much like an athlete. I assure you that a
true operatic sound will not happen by accident. It is a sound that is
achieved only after investing much hard work and sacrifice.
There are healthy and unhealthy
techniques of singing any kind of music, including opera. The
healthiest singing technique is based on very old principles which were
developed over many years starting as far back as the Seventeenth
Century. Many people refer to this historic vocal technique as "Bel
Canto" which means literally "Beautiful Singing." Speech-Level-Singing
is a process by which we are able to train the voice using old-style
Bel Canto principles in a modern and uncomplicated manner. This
technique can be adapted to all styles of singing, including opera. The
fact that Speech-Level-Singing is used by so many award-winning singers
of differing styles is a testament to its versatility and sound
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|How do I learn to Sing those really fast note patterns ?
rock and R&B styles of singing the quick passages you are referring
to are commonly known as "riffs." Riffing is something that is very
popular at this time. In the operatic and other classical vocal genre,
riffing is known as coloratura. Fast singing is something that some
singers seem to be able to do quite naturally, but others seem to
struggle with. In order to sing coloratura well, the voice must be very
flexible, the larynx at a comfortable speech-level (floating, not
jammed up or locked down), and there must be a perfect balance of cord
connection and air flow. After your technique has been developed to a
certain degree where you are able to sing comfortably at your
speech-level, it is advisable that you practice singing quick passages.
I usually use a collection of vocalises (songs without words) with my
students who are developing this skill. The collection I use is by a
composer named Lutgen. You can purchase the Schirmer edition of the
Lutgen vocalises from a good music store. Please understand that these are not vocal exercises. They
will not help you find your speech-level. They are little songs --
pieces of music with no text which can be used as a stepping stone from
vocal exercises to singing quick passages in difficult songs and arias.
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How do I sing higher notes without straining ?
are two sets of muscles that operate your larynx: the outer muscles
(which handle things like swallowing , chewing, articulating and
yawning), and the inner muscles (which operate your vocal cords
allowing them to stretch, adduct, thin and shorten). The outer muscles
get used quite a lot. Think about how often you swallow. If the
pitch-making muscles (inner muscles) are untrained it would make sense
that they could easily be over-powered by the outer muscles which have
been used every day of your life so far. This kind of muscle
recruitment is a similar concept to a person with weak abdominal
muscles who tries to do a set of sit ups and gets a sore neck -- The
neck muscles are stronger than the abdominal muscles so they try to
help with the activity. When you talk, you only use a limited pitch and
dynamic range of tones, so it doesn't require a great deal of cord
tension to create those tones. In order to create higher pitches your
vocal cords must be able to achieve greater degrees of tension.
Increased cord tension is what brings your cords back together more
quickly each time they are blown apart when you need to sing a higher
tone. If your vocal cords and the other inner muscles of your larynx
are weak and uncoordinated, your outer muscles will be recruited to
help; however, any outer muscle participation in the vibration process
will only cause you vocal problems by pulling you off your
speech-level. We use a system of specialized vocal exercises that help
to retrain your neuro-muscular system to accept your voice’s
functioning at your speech-level so that tension from the outer muscles
will disappear. You will then be able to sing with release, a condition
in which your voice works without your having to think about it, or do
anything to it.
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|Is it possible to sing with a cold ?
can sing with a cold but only if you absolutely have to. The rule of
thumb is that if the gig isn't paying you well or if the performance
isn't crucial to your career it's best to just rest if you are sick.
When you get a cold, mucus develops in your sinuses and drips down onto
your vocal folds causing them to become irritated, inflamed and
swollen. This makes good singing very difficult, if not impossible.
This is the reason singers are often accused of being "germ-a-phobes"
or hypochondriacs. We just don't want to have to deal with the down
time that comes from being sick. The germs that cause colds are
omnipresent and can best be avoided by frequent hand washing. You can
keep hand sanitizing liquids with you as well. I recommend that you
always wash your hands frequently and always after you have touched
public surfaces or shaken hands with someone. Also, keep yourself
healthy. Diet and exercise play a big part in staying healthy. Keep
your body safe from abrupt temperature changes. Don't allow yourself to
get a chill. Make sure you get plenty of sleep each night and by all
means keep your stress to a minimum.
If you have done what you can, but you still get that cold and
absolutely MUST sing, there are still a few things you can do so that
your performance is not a disaster. First, be very careful of using
over-the-counter cold medications. Most decongestants cause a drying of
the vocal folds that make singing harder than it was with the
congestion. Also, decongestants make some people very jittery which
doesn't help you sing well, let alone feel at ease on stage. Drinking
LARGE amounts of water the very second you feel the cold coming on is a
good idea, but be careful to decrease the water intake several hours
before you have to be on stage, since bathroom breaks may be few and
far between. Throat sprays can make you feel a little better, but have
no real effect on the voice. Avoid any kind of spray that anesthetizes
the throat. One of the best kept secrets for singers is a product
called Alkalol. No, that's not "Alcohol" it's Alkalol. This is a mucous
solvent that you can use by gargling or sniffing up your nose. It's
used by professional singers the world over. I use it myself if I'm
congested and have to sing, along with the steaming process explained
in the following paragraph.
Another good technique to use when you have "gunk" on your cords is
vocalizing with steam. Take a personal steamer (from the drugstore or
our product site) and set it up on a table next to where you are
vocalizing. Each time you take a breath to sing an exercise, take a
breath of steam. I have used this technique for years and it works like
a charm! Vocalize very gently at first when trying to sing over a cold.
Little by little the cords usually respond to the exercises and the
steam and will often even reduce in swelling. Healthy vocalizing in
this manner can do more for the voice during a cold than anything else,
provided that the cords aren't too swollen or irritated. If the cold
has moved into the chest however, it's usually not a good idea to sing
If it hurts to swallow, sing or speak, you should not use your voice.
If the world is going to stop turning unless you perform and there is
pain involved with using your voice, then you need to seek professional
help from an ENT. They will give you steroid shots that will help get
you through the performance. Some laryngoligists will be able to apply
the steroid directly to the vocal folds. This is preferred to an
injection. Steroids are not recommended except in rare cases where you
are standing to lose a tremendous amount of money or are in violation
of a contract that you signed that has no clause in it for your being
sick (be careful and mindful of what you sign). Most professional
singers should never have to use steroids for their entire career.
Remember: the use of steroids holds potentially disastrous consequences
to you and your voice.
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|I notice you say not to drink coffee before a performance. Why ?
coffee but caffeine in any form should be avoided before a performance.
The reason for this is that caffeine is a diuretic and causes
dehydration. When the body has any level of dehydration, the vocal
folds are one of the first organs to suffer. The vocal folds need to be
very hydrated in order to function properly. It is important when you
are performing to have the voice in prime condition. Also caffeine can
contribute to nervousness and cause you to be jittery on stage. Even if
caffeine doesn't seem to normally have that effect on you, on stage you
may notice a huge difference. It's best to be as stress free as
possible prior to performing.
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|How does drinking alcohol affect the voice ?
like caffeine, dehydrates the body and thus the vocal folds. The
condition of dehydrated vocal folds makes for an inferior singing
instrument. In addition to the physiological problems inherent in
alcohol, anything that distorts the mind or nervous system is going to
impair the vocalist's ability to sing properly. An occasional glass of
wine or cocktail will not destroy your voice, however drinking alcohol
even a day or two prior to singing is absolutely a bad idea.
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|Is it true that smoking is bad for the voice ?
that whatever you breathe moves directly through the vocal folds and
affects them accordingly. Smoke of any kind is hot and toxic. It causes
burning, drying and irritation which in turn causes the vocal folds to
swell making a good singing tone difficult at first and over time
impossible for the habitual smoker. Young peoples' bodies seem to be
resilient and thus young singers who smoke may not notice any ill
effects, so they may think that smoking isn't doing them or their voice
any harm. What they don't understand is that the damage that is being
done to the vocal folds and the breathing mechanism is cumulative and
often cannot be reversed once they notice problems singing. My advice
is to find a way to quit smoking immediately, and if you don't smoke
PLEASE DON'T START.
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|How long will it take before I’m able to sing well ?
This is a question I get asked quite
a lot. The answer is, I have no way of knowing. How long it takes to
build your voice can vary from months to years depending on many
different factors, such as:
|The condition of your voice when you first started training.
have been singing with poor habits such as pulling your chest voice or
using your swallowing muscles while singing then it will take a while
to get you unstuck before we can even start the building process.
Occasionally a student will come into my studio with what I perceive as
vocal damage. In these rare cases I will send the student to an ENT who
understands the singing voice in order to get a doctor’s release
before I even start to work with them. A damaged voice can take a long
time to heal before any real training can take place.
How often you practice.If
you only train your voice once per week, you can’t really expect
any worthwhile results. If you over-train and sing too much before your
voice is ready you can impede your progress as well. Beginners should
practice daily for short periods of time and gradually build up their
practice times as their voices grow.
The quality of your technique.
possible to take lessons from a teacher who seems to know what they are
doing; yet you get worse rather than better. If you have not seen any
progress at all and you have been diligent about your practice it may
be possible that your teacher’s technique is not right for you.
Only you can decide. Most ethical teachers won’t try to recruit
students from other studios. You will need to make that decision on
your own. Remember that changing techniques will often mean unlearning
a lot of what you have been diligently training your voice to do. That
is why it is so important to research your teacher's background,
training, technique and vocal philosophies prior to committing your
self to a course of study.
What your inherent talent is in singing.
|It’s common to
hear a teacher say that talent is not really required. All you need is
to study with him or her and you can be a great singer. I really wish
this was true, but it’s not. No amount of training is necessarily
going to give you that special something – that X Factor –
that makes you a great singer. What training will give you is the
proper muscle strength and coordination to operate your vocal
instrument properly. Some great singers have never taken a lesson;
however, it is also true that many very great natural voices have been
destroyed by lack of training or poor training. Some people with
seemingly very little talent have worked very hard and built very
respectable voices. Then there are the singers who have both a natural
gift and work hard to train their voices. These are the artists who are
The quality of your practice.
|If you are
practicing well at home you will make the most rapid progress; yet, if
you are mostly singing to the radio and not actually training your
voice according to the technique your teacher is presenting, you
won’t progress at all. Sometimes people take lessons, but then
they start reading books on singing or they buy self-study courses and
just pick and choose what they want to do on a whim. Remember: if you
were already an expert vocalist then you wouldn’t need lessons.
My advice is that you find a teacher you work well with and stick to
THAT technique. Practice exactly what your teacher gives you to
practice. Once you are an expert you can experiment with your voice.
The frequency of your lessons.
the goal of a good voice teacher to make you completely dependent on
them for the rest of your life; however, as a beginner when you are
first building your technique it is imperative that you have lessons as
often as possible. The minimum of lessons required for beginners is
once per week; two to three times per week is actually ideal if time
and budget can allow it. Remember that what you are doing is learning
habits, and the more you can be in the presence of a well trained
singing teacher the faster and more efficiently you will learn those
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