By Cari Cole
Singers have it tough. You’re supposed to be “born with it” or you might as well forget it. That’s the message out there. Kinda leaves very little room for improvement, don’t you think?
And so you do a quick Google search on how to hit better high notes, but the info you get doesn’t really help? Maybe you try some voice lessons but you don’t want to sound like an opera singer, and even though you try, you don’t hear a difference in your voice. And that sucks. And then you get more depressed. Truth is, finding a coach who actually garners results are few and far between. I’ve got a very short list on one hand of real experts.) When your coach is on that list, you get immediate results ;).
So between the high expectation on singers, the misinformation or lack of guidance, it’s no wonder you might be a bit jaded about improving your voice.
I’m hoping this post changes that for you.
Because the truth is, with the right information, it’s pretty easy to turn things around, no matter what your vocal dilemma or experience is.
I wrote this in thanks for my tens of thousands of students who over the years, helped me step up to a world-class vocal coach. And especially for the ones who burst into tears from the years wasted with the wrong information (you know who you are), or after spending a small fortune on an expensive education that didn’t give them half of what they learned from me in just a few sessions (true story.) Yay for you guys. Mama is soooooo proud of you.
Here are the 10 most asked questions I’ve heard over my 3-decade career as one of the top vocal coaches in the world — ok, the top?! #30years #braggingrights.
1. Students ask when listening to a great vocal… “How does it sound so smooth and effortless?”
Smoothness comes from building connections between notes. We call it the “legato voice.” The way to build smoothness is to stop separating your notes and work on blending them together. This is a little tricky when consonants and vowels throw your sound all over the place. Practice keeping the sound on the roof of your mouth near the back and softening the action of your tongue and jaw while keeping the vowels clear.
2. “How do you hit better high notes?”
High notes are faster speed, not actually higher. They require more air velocity and more laryngeal resistance. What usually ends up happening with an untrained singer, is they push a blast of air out past their cords, raising their larynx and lifting their chin up powering their way to that high note. This may initially be helpful, but is not a solid consistent way to hit high notes — and overtime, will burn your voice out. You actually want to do the opposite. You want to collect more air underneath your voice (in your stomach, ribs and back so the diaphragm can move downward), keep your tongue down in the back (keeps the larynx lowered), tilt your chin down to lengthen the back of your neck, while lifting the soft palate on the roof of your mouth. Easier said than done and requires practice to gain control of these reflexes. A quick fix is to start with the chin tilt and think downward for high notes which helps you stay in good alignment. Practice the “tongue drop” in my Singers Gift Vocal Warmups.
3. (Girls mostly ask) “I sound like I have 2 different voices. How do I bring them together?”
There is no real quick fix for this. It’s really about building laryngeal resistance (not lifting up your chin or clenching your jaw) and opening up the back of your throat on the onset of the note. Imagine right before you sing, as you take a breath, that you are going to drink a glass of water, or swallow vitamins. Can you feel how your throat opens? This is an important reflex to get in place to have more laryngeal depth from the start of the phrase. Over time, this helps to build the bridge between vocal registers unifying the sound and timbre.
4. “My voice sounds nasal… help!”
Nasality is caused by a host of things, but a quick answer is that usually, the tongue is too high in the mouth during singing. Except for EE vowels where the tongue runs high normally, a high, forward tongue clogs up the space inside the mouth and produces a “nasal sound.” Say “nnnnnn” right now. Notice how the tongue sticks to the roof of your mouth and your voice sounds “closed” or “nasal”? Now say “ahhhhhhh”. Did your tongue drop down and your throat is more open? For those of you who are nasal, it didn’t drop much. Practice singing vowels “ee-ay-i-oh-oo” keeping the tongue down in the back. Don’t force it. You don’t want to get a tongue cramp ;(. Little by little the tongue will start to drop with your focus and attention. You can accelerate that practice with my Singers Gift Warmups <LINK>, which has specific techniques for your tongue.
5. “In the studio, producers often say to ‘let go’ or ‘relax’, but this direction doesn’t help, and I end up more stressed out. What do I do?”
It’s not unusual, we hear this a lot. The problem with telling a singer to ‘let go’ is that it is the wrong technical direction. Singers need an energized instrument ready to spring to action. When they hear let go they usually relax too much and the result is mush. What works better is to give directions like “feel the rhythm of the vocal line” or “feel the groove of the drums”, which brings out more emotion — or even “put the emphasis on this word or that word” which creates a freer more natural sound. As a vocal arranger, I work with each voice to bring out the natural elements in that voice and create an emotional vocal. Most singers mistakenly think of their vocal line as melodic and forget about the richness of the rhythm. Vocal lines are melodic and rhythmic.
6. “My voice cuts out on me sometimes. What the heck is that?”
When your notes cut out on you, especially during a performance, it freaks you right out. Truth is, there is something irritating or drying your vocal cords. Usually caused by laryngeal reflux, allergies (or both), medications especially steroids), or extreme dehydration. Dry chords can’t perform and note can drop out, range diminishes, and the register shifts are bumpy. Once you resolve the problem your voice will return to normal unless you have a vocal injury, in which case see an ENT to determine what is going on.
7. “My voice is raspy in the morning and usually takes a longer time to warm up. Is that normal?”
A raspy voice, even though it may sound sexy ;), is, unfortunately, the sign of inflamed vocal cords and the first sign of vocal problems. Usually, raspy singers carry a great deal of tension in their neck, throat, tongue and jaw muscles. The first step is decreasing tension in those muscles with deep tissue massage and/or acupuncture, and then realigning the voice with a good vocal technique for the singing and speaking voice. Sometimes the problems are even more from the speaking voice. Once you resolve the problems you will need less warm-up time!
8. “I always seem to have a constant sniffle, but I know it can’t always be allergies.”
A constant sniffle is probably a combination of allergies and reflux together. This is a harder issue to solve since the problem starts in your gut flora. Look into healing leaky gut to quell your symptoms and free your voice.
9. “Should I expect my vocal quality and range diminish as I get older?”
If you have a good vocal technique and a history of few vocal issues, retain good health and stay away from medications, you can keep your voice well into your latter years. Since the voice is an instrument housed inside your body, health plays a big role in vocal longevity. That, and keeping up your technique, will keep you singing!
10. “I have a recording coming up. How do I get the most out of my voice at the session?”
There’s a lot you can do even at the last minute. However, if you can, work with a pro coach for 3-6 months prior to take advantage of powering up your voice and working on vocal arrangements prior to your recording sessions. If you’re coming to it last minute, stay super hydrated 3 days prior, eat light (salads and soups with protein), do aerobics or jog for your lung capacity and practice 1-2 hours of light vocals daily (save your voice for the studio.)