Tools for Singers

Voice Myths (from Vocal Health 101 .com)

Voice Myths


Do I really sing from my diaphragm?

Sound is generated at the level of the vocal folds.  ‘Diaphragmatic support’ is a term that has been used to describe the concept of ‘breath support’ during vocalization. However, the diaphragm is active during inspiration- when you draw air into you lungs; the muscles of the abdomen are in use during expiration. You sing and speak on expiration.

When I get sick is green tea or black tea better for my voice?

Neither, both teas contain caffeine and can dry your vocal folds.  Some good alternatives include caffeine free herbal tea, red tea (which has similar antioxidant as green tea) or warm water.

Should I whisper when I lose my voice.

Whispering can actually lead to more damage. Whispering is hard on the vocal folds due to turbulent airflow and increased muscle tension. Its best to use your voice in a quiet relaxed manner.

Is cold water better to drink or warm water?

Luke warm water is best as cold water can increase muscle tension.

Does my head voice really come from my head or face?

Sounds production is always generated from the vocal folds. However, the air filled spaces in your upper airways resonate the sound.  You may feel a tingle or buzz in your head voice as the sound is resonating in that area.

I find that cough drops help me sing better, is this true?

Check the ingredients because many cough drops contain agents that are drying (such as menthol). Cough drops can be lubricating but do not take the place of water intake.

I have been told that when I feel pain during singing I should use chloreseptic or other numbing throat sprays.  Is this true?

Pain is a cue from your body that you may be at risk of causing damage to your vocal folds. Numbing the pain you feel with a topical spray may put you more at risk for causing damage because your pain sensation will be diminished.

I was told that eating honey helps my voice.

While honey has some good qualities it doesn’t reach your vocal folds directly when you swallow it. Eating honey does not have a direct benefit on voice. Drinking a lot of water can be of benefit as well as use of guaifenesin products.

When my voice sounds bad I push harder to get it out.

Although you can push past some mild voice difficulty, this results in trauma to the vocal folds themselves due to increased muscle tension and increased forces on the vocal tissues.

The last doctor I went to gave me a steroid injection when I lost my voice with this work for me again?

Although steroids can be very helpful in emergency situations to reduce inflammation and swelling quickly, regular use of steroids can have a negative impact on the body’s health in general. Furthermore, the steroids do not address the underlying cause of the swelling /inflammation in the first place.  Steroids can give you a false sense of assurance when singing or speaking which can lead to further vocal damage.

After surgery should I only eat liquids or soft foods?

Other then avoiding foods that can produce reflux, there is no need for diet restrictions after vocal fold surgery as food does not pass through the vocal folds.

I drink water 5 minutes before I sing to clear away the mucus does this help?

Water ingested just before performance helps to soothe the tissues and help clear some thickened mucus, but  it  does not take the place of regular hydration. Hydration is an ongoing process, and it takes many hours for the water you ingest to get into the tissues from the circulatory system. The best practice would be to hydrate throughout the day and even 24 hours before important voice use.  Also, avoid substances such as caffeine, alcohol and drying medications.

I heard that herbal treatments are better for you, is this true?

Herbal and natural preparations can still contain pharmacologic agents (drug like properties). A number of drugs were initially made from naturally occurring chemicals in plants.  There are resources available to inform you of their potential effects and side effects.  You should always tell your physician and/or pharmacist of all medications including herbal treatments so they can best inform you of their safety.


Is there an allergy medication that is better for my voice that wont dry my vocal folds?

The second generation antihistamines tend to be less drying than the older ones like like benadryl.

How many vocal folds are there really?

There are two vocal folds.  The false vocal folds (ventricular folds ) are located above the true vocal folds but are not  used in healthy voice production.

Are vocal nodes different then vocal nodules

These are interchangeable terms for the same structural condition. The more accurate medical term is vocal nodules.

Are vocal folds and vocal cords the same thing?

The term “vocal cord” has been in common use for many years even though “vocal fold” is a more accurate anatomical description for the structure. The spelling “chords” refers to groups of notes and not to vocal structure..

Leave a comment »

Warmup Ideas (from Voice Health 101 .com)

Singing Health Exercises

There are many different types exercises that singers can use to build a healthy singing technique. The exercises presented here are the suggestions based on the opinions of a singing voice specialist, a voice pathologist, and an otolaryngologist. We have based our suggestions on an understanding of how the voice functions anatomically and physiologically. With that said, using these exercises alone is certainly not going to replace the eyes and ears of an experienced teacher. Therefore, we recommend you use them as supplemental tool and seek formal training from an experienced voice teacher. We hope that you find these exercises helpful.


The goal of this exercise is to begin to use the singing voice easily and without excessive effort. Excessive effort might feel like a strong vibration in the throat, a sensation of fatigue or burning. These feelings could lead to a more serious problem and should be avoided. This exercise should be done at a comfortable pitch with a softly engaged loudness level. This does not mean that you should hold back your voice but it should feel very light and easily produced. A lip buzz is a good way to focus on feeling vibrations on the lips, in the mouth, and possibly in other parts of the face. This exercise should be done in a comfortable and easy range to start and can be extended out to higher and lower pitches as the voice feels “warmed”. Begin by taking a relaxed inhalation through an open and relaxed mouth. Allow each inhalation to be a chance to renew and relax. Gently close the lips together and slightly purse them forward. Allow the mouth to feel spacious and relaxed. Make sure not to hold your breath between the inhalation and the exhalation. Allow the breath to flow out at an even rate and allow the lips to buzz. If lip buzz is not easy for you or impossible a tongue trill, raspberry (sticking out the tongue and buzzing the tongue and the bottom lip), or a hmm can be used.

Breath coordination

This exercise is to help establish good breath coordination for singing. This exercise should be done with special attention to allowing a slow descent of the expansion created with the inhalation during exhalation or singing. Allow the throat to remain loose and become aware of the vibrations that can found in the mouth and face during the z sound. Begin by standing or sitting in a comfortable yet elongated position. Inhale deeply yet with relaxation. Avoid allowing the shoulders or upper chest to rise with the inhalation. Making sure not to hold your breath after the inhalation. Notice where your body expands as you inhale and try to resist that expansion from depleting immediately as you sustain an s sound. Keep the out flow of breath as steady as possible. Next try this with the z sound for as long as comfortably possible on any single pitch.

Finding vibrations

The goal of this exercise is to reduce the amount of muscular tension and notice the subtle vibrations in the mouth, nose, sinus area, and on the lips. Localized vibrations in the throat could indicate tension therefore taking away tension can help in feeling subtle vibrations in the mouth, nose, sinus area, on the lips, typically called the mask. The use of nasal consonants, if done with relaxation and freedom, will allow you to feel a good amount of vibration in the facial region as opposed to the neck region. Like wise, the use of the bright and forward vowels i and e should allow you to feel vibration easily. As you ascend and descend keep your throat relaxed, maintain a steady airflow, and through the use of the nasal consonants and bright vowels, allow yourself to feel vibrations in the facial area. It can be useful to watch yourself in a mirror so that you can have visual feedback to any excessive tension you might be creating. This exercise should be done in a comfortable range with a softly engaged loudness level focusing on ease of production. This can also be an exercise to work on range extension and by singing octave range instead of a fifth (1351531).

Stretching and contracting

The goal of this type of exercise is to stretch and contract the vocal folds by gently working the muscles in the throat involved in pitch fluctuation. This exercise, like all of the exercises, strives to develop well functioning breath coordination and also reduce any unnecessary tension. The n consonant is used to feel vibration in the month and face. Vowels and consonants can be altered to fit the individual singer. Begin this exercise from a lower pitch and glide up to a higher pitch and then glide back down to the beginning pitch. Any interval can be used. A 2nd, 3rd, 5th and octave are shown here. It is recommended that you start with a 3rd and increase the range when the production feels comfortable. This exercise should be done in a comfortable range with a softly engaged loudness level focusing on ease of production. It is important to work toward releasing any feeling of excessive effort in the throat area and allowing the breath to flow freely and easily. This exercise can be done over a wide range. Comfort should be established first before singing in the extremes of one’s vocal range.

Relieving tongue and jaw tension

The purpose of any type of relaxation or release of tension exercise is to make the coordination of singing easier for the performer, to reduce the sound of strain and harshness in the voice, and keep the vocal folds health. One goal in this exercise is to allow the tongue to relax forward and out of the back of the throat. Tension in the tongue can cause tension in the throat, negatively affecting voice production. Another goal is to allow the jaw to remain relaxed, loose, and open. Begin by allowing the jaw to release in a comfortably open position, allow the tongue to remain loose and able to move freely, and keep the face relaxed. Breathe in and allow the sound to feel like the beginning of a yawn. Allow the onset of the sound to be instantaneous and effortless. After the /b/ and /l/ are articulated, allow the tongue to gently hang out over the bottom lip. Like all other exercises, this exercise should be done in a comfortable range with a softly engaged loudness level focusing on ease of production.

Leave a comment »

Caring for Your Voice (from Voice Health 101 .com)

Vocal Habits


Clearing your throat or coughing habitually might damage the vocal fold tissues.
Instead: Try some of these substitute behaviors…

  • Yawn to relax your throat.
  • Swallow slowly and deliberately.
  • Sip water, let your throat relax for a second, and then resume speaking.
  • Use the “silent cough” technique.
  • Hum: concentrate on vocal resonance sensations.
  • If necessary, suck on candy (NOT cough drops with menthol or mint).
  • Be particularly aware of the throat clearing habit during lecturing.


Speaking loudly, yelling, cheering, or screaming might damage the vocal fold tissues.

  • Use gestures, non-vocal sounds, or instruments to attract attention from a distance (for example: clap, whistle, ring a bell, blow a horn).
  • Set up a system of non-vocal signals with students to get their attention and maintain discipline. If you must speak to a student who is behaving undesirably, walk up to them and speak to them quietly. (This is sometimes more effective than yelling). Apply these principles to your own children and pets.


Speaking over loud noise for a long period of time can cause vocal fatigue or increased laryngeal tension. Noisy situations include classroom noise, loud music, televisions, parties, restaurants, cars, buses, airplanes etc.

  • Try to reduce background noise during conversations (e.g. turn off loud music or television).
  • Wait until students/audience are quiet and attentive.
  • Choose quiet restaurants, booths, or tables in the corner.
  • Face your conversational partner.
  • Reduce the distance between you and your conversational partner, so you can be heard without yelling.
  • Position yourself so your face is well lighted.
  • Overarticulate.
  • Practice your listening.


Prolonged use of unconventional vocal sounds: whispering, growls, squeaks, imitating animal, or machine noises can harm vocal fold tissues.
If you must produce special vocal effects for performance, make sure you are using a technique that minimizes muscle tension and vocal abuse.
Be especially aware to avoid using such unconventional sounds during oral reading to your students.

If you sing-you should know that singing beyond your comfortable pitch and loudness range can irritate the vocal folds.

  • Know your limits for pitch and loudness.
  • Avoid forcing your voice to stay in a register beyond its comfortable pitch range. Don’t force your ‘chest voice’ too high; and don’t force your ‘head voice’ high into falsetto range. Allow vocal registers to change with pitch.
  • Avoid singing all parts if you teach choral music, use instrumental demonstrations instead.
  • Seek professional voice training.
  • Never sing a high note that you can’t sing quietly, don’t push beyond comfortable pitch in any register.


Talking with a low-pitched monotone voice and allowing vocal energy to drop so low that the voice becomes rough and gravelly (i.e., ‘glottal fry’) can be potentially harmful to your voice.

  • Keep your voice powered by breath flow, so the tone carries, varies, and rings.
  • Try not to speak beyond the natural breath cycle by squeezing out the last few words without sufficient breath.
  • Speak slowly, pause at natural phrase boundaries and take another breath before running out of air.
  • Allow pitch to vary freely and expressively, keep pitch comfortable.

Holding your breath as you’re planning what to say can lead to hard glottal attacks— Sudden tense initiation of voice, or aggressive or low-pitched fillers, such as um… or ah…, should be avoided.

  • Initiate voice gradually and easily.
  • Keep the shoulders, upper chest, neck, and throat relaxed as you begin speaking.
  • Use the breathing muscles and airflow to start speech phrases.
  • Avoid tightening upper chest, shoulders, neck, or throat to push the voice out.
  • Let your abdomen and rib cage move freely.
  • Avoid clenching your teeth, tensing your jaw or tongue during speech.


Speaking extensively during strenuous physical exercise is not recommended.

  • After aerobic exercise, wait until your breathing system can accommodate optimal voice production.
  • Avoid loud and aggressive vocal ‘grunts’ while exercising.


Your general health can affect your voice. Maintain a healthy lifestyle and a healthy environment.

  • Do not smoke. If you smoke see your family doctor about ways to stop smoking— seek a referral to a smoking cessation clinic. Avoid spending large amounts of time in dry, smoke-filled environments.
  • Avoid recreational drugs.
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages i.e., coffee, tea, colas.
  • Monitor/reduce alcohol intake. Alcohol can have a drying effect on vocal fold tissues.
  • Maintain a well balanced diet.
  • Get adequate sleep, i.e., 7 to 8 hours per night.
  • Maintain proper humidity. A small portable vaporizer at the bedside is often helpful at night. Purchasing a room humidifier may be an option, especially if your home or work environment is extremely dry or dust-filled. Environmental levels of humidity should be at least 30%.
  • Maintain proper hydration. Drink 8 to 10 glasses of decaffeinated fluids per day. Water is the preferred fluid. Have it handy at all times and sip it throughout the day, especially while teaching.
  • Some medications, including antihistamines and decongestants, can cause increased dryness of tissues causing a dry, scratchy feeling in the throat. Be aware of this and compensate with increased hydration, i.e., fluid consumption. If possible reduce the use of such medications.


Reduce your total amount of voice use…

  • Rest your voice when you are tired or have an upper respiratory infection (i.e., COLD or flu-like symptoms). Do not force your voice when it is hoarse because of a COLD.
  • Rest your voice before it becomes fatigued: i.e., before tightness, dryness, or hoarseness is noticed. Schedule your day so that there are periods of voice rest interspersed. If you don’t have to, don’t schedule your classes back to back. Don’t spend your lunch talking with other teachers; use that time to be quiet and rest your voice. Curtail your voice use socially.
  • When getting involved in extra-curricular activities, consider how much voice use will be required. If it is great, you may want to consider choosing another activity or becoming involved in another capacity.
  • Change your style of teaching. Make use of audiovisual materials, desk-work, student presentations, and small group formats to reduce the amount of constant talking. Make use of student teachers, teaching assistants and volunteer parents whenever possible.
Leave a comment »

Vocal Anatomy (from voice health 101 .com)

Anatomy Overview

The larynx, commonly referred to as the voice box, contains a framework of cartilages that move relative to each other. Muscles produce movement by contracting between cartilages, and special joints restrict that movement to specific patterns that result in the proper positioning of the larynx for it’s various functions.

The vocal folds, also known as the vocal cords, are structures composed of muscle, connective and elastic tissue, a loose fluid filled layer, and a thin pliable covering. this layered structure allows for a rippling movement of the cover over the body of the vocal folds, known as mucosal wave, when they are positioned together and air passes between them. The basic sound wave of the voice begins with this, and is modified by other parts of the vocal tract to result in the voice we hear. Think of a brass intrument. The sound from the mouthpiece is thin and not very pleasant, as it passes through the rest of the instrument, the sound is enhanced to produce the distinct character of the instrument. Our throat, mouth and nose do similar modification to the raw sound coming from our vocal folds.

When the tissues of the vocal folds become injured or inflamed, hoarseness usually results from the breakdown in mucosal wave caused by the stiffening or swelling. More prolonged injury or inflammation can cause breakdown in the normal layered structure of the vocal folds from ingrowth of fibrous tissue or thickening of the cover. Nodules and polyps are examples of this sort of change. Illness can also affect the resonance of the other parts of the vocal tract. Think of how people can identify when you have a cold, just by the sound of your voice.

In addition to producing voice, the larynx also funtions to protect the airway. It is situated at the top of the windpipe, or trachea in medical terms, and closes off the airway from the throat when we swallow. The vocal folds move together tightly. Along with some other movements, this closure causes food or liquid to bypass the airway and enter the esophagus, whic opens right behind the larynx. When problems occur with the muscle activity of the larynx, both swallow and voice are often affected.

Leave a comment »

Practice Tips (from Singing for Dummies)

Practicing Your Singing Correctly

By Pamelia S. Philips

Correct singing practice means that you’re making consistent improvement. Your vocal cords don’t have pain receptors, so you can’t assume that you’ll feel pain if you do something wrong. If you do feel pain, you may be squeezing too hard and constricting the muscles surrounding your vocal cords. Feeling tired after practicing is normal.

You may have friends who can sing for hours without feeling tired, but they may have spent many years singing to build up their endurance. If your voice gets tired after a reasonable amount of time singing, don’t worry about it. After a month, however, if your voice still gets tired quickly, then you’re not doing something right.

Recording yourself

Record your practice session each day to monitor improvement. The first time you listen to a recording of yourself, you may not like it. That’s a perfectly normal reaction. Performing artists spend big bucks in the recording studio, but they may not sound so perfect at home. The third time you hear yourself on a recording, you’ll be used to the sound.

Listen for the details, such as the precision of the vowel. Does it sound like an ah or uh? The two vowels are similar, but you need to be able to distinguish them in the exercise and in the text of the song. Record yourself saying ah and uh so that you learn to feel and hear the difference. Then go back and listen to the recording.

You can also listen for silent inhalation (no gasping for air), smooth transitions between registers, varied sounds that you choose to create a vocal journey in your song, or dynamic variations.

If you have a video camera handy, videotape yourself regularly to check out your body language. Watch the video three times in a row, to get used to your sound on video. You can even watch the video without sound to really focus on your body movement. Video cameras usually have better recording quality than a cellphone, but a phone will work if that’s what you have available.

Applying information and exercises

Most of the time, you can’t see the benefit of a singing exercise until you’ve tried it a few times. You won’t know what you’re capable of until you move out of your comfort zone. Mastering some of the exercises takes some time, whereas other exercises take only a few days to master.

The first time you try an exercise, you may be tempted to just skim through the explanation, because you want to test it out. Make sure that you go back later and read the entire explanation and work through each step. The step you skip may be the most important one of the exercise.

Leave a comment »

Warm-Up Stretches (from Singing for Dummies)

Singing Warm Ups: Stretching the Body

By Pamelia S. Phillips

No matter how easy the day is, start your singing practice session warm ups by stretching out. You want to get your entire body ready to sing, not just your singing muscles. For the breath to really move in your body, you need to be connected to your lower body.

Try the following stretching routine, which begins with your head and moves to your toes. For each segment, remember to continue breathing as you move.

  1. Shake out any tension in your entire body.

    Wiggle around until you feel the stiffness in your joints melting away. Focus on posture and releasing tension.

  2. Release your head forward.

    Gently drop your head toward your chest at a slow pace and inhale. As you exhale, allow your head to drop a little farther. Repeat this several times, allowing the head to drop farther each time to stretch the neck muscles. Inhale and lift your head back to its balanced position.

  3. Move your head.

    Turn your head to the left and to the right. Roll your head around, starting from the left side and rolling your chin near your chest to the right side. Don’t roll your head back unless you’ve worked with this kind of movement before. The vertebrae in your neck may not respond well to pressure from your head rolling backward.

  4. Gently stretch your neck.

    Gently drop your left ear toward your left shoulder and pause. Inhale and, as you exhale, drop your head a little farther toward your shoulder. Repeat several times, and then repeat the sequence over your right shoulder.

  5. Move all the muscles in your face.

    Tighten them and then release, to feel the flow of energy in your face.

  6. Move your tongue in and out.

    Stick it out as far as possible and then move it back in. You can also lick your lips — move your tongue in a circle around the outside of your mouth to stretch the muscles in your tongue.

  7. Work your shoulders.

    Lift your shoulders and then push them down. Move your shoulders forward and then back. Make circles with shoulders in one direction, and then reverse. Keep your chest steady and open.

  8. Swing one arm (and then the other) in circles.

    As you swing, wiggle your fingers and wrist to get the blood flowing all the way down your arm. Be careful; watch out for furniture. Repeat with the other arm.

  9. Stretch your side.

    Lift your left arm over your head and lean to the right. As you lean, feel the muscles between your ribs opening on your left side. Reverse: Lift your right arm and stretch your other side.

  10. Swing those hips around to loosen that tension.

    Many women hold tension in their hips. You don’t have to be tough now. Let ’em loose. Let the hips rock back to front, as well as around in circles.

  11. Warm up your legs.

    Stand on your toes and then lower your feet back to the floor. Stand on one leg and shake out the other. Reverse to get the other leg in motion. Move up on your tiptoes, and then drop back to the floor and bend your knees.

  12. Finally, take a nice deep breath and feel the energy flowing in your body.

Getting your blood pumping while warming up helps you focus on your task at hand. If you’re having trouble connecting your breath to your song, try being more physical in your warm-up or practice session.

One way to connect your body is to shoot basketball granny shots. Bend your knees, drop your arms between your legs, and throw the invisible ball up with two hands. This motion gets you connected to your lower body and really helps you connect energy to sing higher notes. If you shoot a regular free throw, you lift your body up to sing the note.

Leave a comment »

Take it Higher (from Singing for Dummies)

Taking Your Singing Range Higher

By Pamelia S. Philips

A great way to increase your singing range upward is by singing staccato, which means “short and detached.” Singing shorter, lighter notes helps you in singing higher notes, because you’re not using as much heavy weight. To sing staccato, keep your larynx steady and keep the muscles in your neck still.

If they flex or tighten, sing the staccato notes lighter, with less weight or pressure; that technique helps you figure out how to work the muscles inside your neck in your larynx. Make the notes light and short, and keep them connected to your breath. If the sound is airy, too much air is escaping.

Find a clear sound on a longer note and then gradually sing notes that get shorter to maintain that clarity.

The below pattern gives you the opportunity to explore staccato sounds as you skip notes along the scale. As you ascend in pitch, allow your back space to open. You have to open this space fast because you’re moving quickly in the pattern, so think ahead as you’re singing.

When singing staccato you may feel your abs move as you start each note. That’s normal: You want your breath to connect to each note. Blowing too much air makes it harder to sing lightly. On the other hand, if you connect just the right amount of air, the notes bounce along the scale. Use the ee vowel at first to keep the sound light and dominated by head voice.

As your staccato gets easier, you can explore other vowels.


Break this exercise into steps: Open the space, send the breath, and then make the sound. Hopefully, it all happens at the same time, but concentrate on the individual steps if you’re having trouble getting it all coordinated.

Leave a comment »

Tackling Register Changes (from Singing for Dummies)

Tackling Singing Register Transitions

By Pamelia S. Philips

Knowing where to make singing transitions makes it easier to figure out how to successfully sing a song. When you know the transition points, you can choose tactics, such as the following, to help you sing through the transitions when you practice:

  • Choose friendly vowels to sing. Closed vowels, such as in the words me, may, and to, are often easier to sing than open vowels such as ah.
  • Imitate a siren to feel the change in the vibrations as you go higher in pitch. That same sensation of the vibrations rising higher in your head applies to your singing. Head voice requires a higher resonance, so the resonance or vibrations should move higher into your head as you go up the scale.
  • As you descend the scale, allow the resonance or vibrations to drop. It may feel like the vibrations are going down a ladder on your face, gradually stepping down each rung as you go down the scale. The resonance should move lower as you descend in pitch. Middle voice requires a lower resonance or vibration than head voice. Chest voice uses even lower vibrations or resonance than head voice.
  • Go gently into chest voice. When you descend into chest voice, you want to drop smoothly into it instead of falling down into it. You can experiment by singing a higher note and sliding down in pitch. Try this slide twice. As you slide down the first time, allow the sound or sensations of the vibrations to just fall.This creates a big clunk into chest voice. Then try the same slide again, but think of opening the throat and body as you gradually descend. You’ll make a much smoother transition into chest voice.
  • Open the back space as you ascend. As you ascend, you want the space in the back of the mouth and the throat to open to give those high notes plenty of room to sing. You also get better results by dropping your jaw, not just dropping your chin.
  • Keep your breath steady. In general, you want to keep the movement of breath steady and flowing as you sing. If you’re ascending in pitch, your breath has to move faster. You don’t have to blow more air, but the speed of the airflow must increase..
  • Keep energy flowing in your body. Singing requires a lot of effort, and you want energy to be flowing in your body. Move around as you sing to feel that your entire body is involved in making the sound, especially on the higher notes.
Leave a comment »

Exploring the Front Vowels (from Singing for Dummies)

Exploring the Front Vowels in Singing

By Pamelia S. Phillips

Your tongue arches in the front of your mouth to sing front vowels. Your tongue does most of the work shaping front vowel sounds, but make sure that both your lips and tongue are released and free of tension. The front vowels don’t require as much lip action as the back vowels.

The front vowels are much less open than the back vowels. These vowels aren’t as wide open as the back vowels. It may sound odd, but it’s true.

The vowels in the table below are called front vowels because the tongue arches in the front of the mouth to make these sounds. Keeping the tip of your tongue touching your bottom front teeth, say the vowel ee. Notice how your tongue arches in the front of your mouth when you make the sound. You also feel the sides of your tongue go up.

Another difference between back and front vowels is that, when the tongue arches in the front, the sides of the tongue also raise and touch the upper teeth. As you speak through the vowels, you feel your

  • Jaw drop slightly for the ee vowel and gradually move down more as you move from ee toward a.
  • Lips slightly open for the ee vowel, and open more as your jaw drops when you move to the most open vowel, a.
  • Tongue arching in the front, the highest on the ee vowel and the lowest on the a vowel, and the tip of the tongue resting against your bottom front teeth.

The following illustration shows the arch of the tongue for front vowels.


Exploring Front Vowels
ee ih ay eh a
me kiss ate bed asked
eagle myth gain head passed
flee wig day heaven master
ski busy they guess danced

Some words in the table have two vowels, but only consider the vowel sound in the first syllable.

Speaking the front vowels

Now it’s time for you to put all the front vowels in sentences to practice speaking. Using these vowels gives you an opportunity to return to the correct arched position of your tongue after moving through the consonants.

  • ee
    • We meet lean, mean fiends.
    • He greased Phoebe’s knees.
    • Greedy eels eat cream.
    • Leave me peas teased, Eve.
  • ih
    • Hip chicks knit big mitts.
    • Cliff fixed its clipped wick.
    • Tim’s busy with his chips.
    • Dig Phillip’s little sister Lilly.
  • ay
    • Great Dane saves whale.
    • They say Abe gained weight.
    • Kate saves pale ale.
    • James blames Dave’s fame.
  • eh
    • Deb’s pet pecked every peg.
    • Ed shed wet red.
    • Edge any hedge, says Ned.
    • Kelly’s mellow fellow fell dead.
  • a
    • Lance can’t glance last.
    • Ask half after Fran.
    • Vast masks pass fast.
    • Prance aghast past grassy path.

Singing the front vowels

You want to make precise vowel sounds as you sing. Singing a song requires you to move quickly from one vowel sound to the other; you must quickly change the arch of your tongue to accommodate the different vowel sounds.

You have to make the shape happen at the speed of the music. If you practice singing the vowels alone, you give yourself the chance to really get them solid before you add consonants in words.

You may not be able to tell the difference between each vowel sound as you’re singing the pattern in the illustration below. So record yourself singing and then listen to the recording. Pretend that you’ve never seen the pattern and try to distinguish which vowel you’re singing.

Notice which vowels aren’t as precise as others, and you can make those a priority in your next practice session. If they aren’t clear, go back and practice making the shape, saying the words with the vowels, and then singing again.

Work the vowel sequence in the following illustration to get that tongue arched quickly to get the right vowel sound. If your tongue doesn’t move fast enough, you may sing a different vowel. No problem — just keep trying. When you’re able to clearly distinguish each vowel sound, insert some words into the pattern for variety and spice in your practice routine.

Leave a comment »

Vocal Health Basics

Vocal Health Basics – How to Properly Care for Your Voice



It seems that hardly a month goes by where a top singer isn’t forced to interrupt a tour, take a break, or undergo a medical procedure due to problems with their voice. Vocal health is often taken for granted, but once problems develop, they can stop a singer dead in his or her tracks, and in some cases require surgery and a lengthy post-surgery period of rest and recovery.

While we don’t normally think of singers as world-class athletes, some medical professionals are making the case that the demands put on one’s voice when singing one to three hours a night is as intense as those made by an Olympic marathon runner on his body. Additional factors such as nutrition, smoking, drug use, noisy environments, and proper voice training (or the lack of it) all play a role in a singer’s ability to hit the stage night after night and perform at their best.

Like many health-related issues, prevention is much easier and less expensive than having to undergo surgery, so it’s important to understand how to keep your voice in good health.

Superstars Losing Their Voices
During the last half of 2011, three major recording artists dropped out of circulation due to vocal health issues. Each developed a slightly different voice problem that required rest and eventually surgery.

Arguably, the most valuable voice in pop music at the moment, that of the talented British pop singer Adele, whose sophomore album 21 has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, was silenced when she was required to cancel seventeen US dates mid-tour and have laser surgery due to the condition of her vocal cords. While she is expected to make a full recovery, her condition is just one example of a high profile artist facing problems maintaining their vocal mechanism. Adele’s condition, reported in the press as two hemorrhages of the vocal cords (the terms vocal cords and vocal folds are often used interchangeably), was likely exacerbated by the stresses of touring.

Such hemorrhages are often the result of phonotrauma, the physical stresses caused by vocalizing, upon the tiny blood vessels of the vocal fold. Loud singing or pushing the voice when it is tired or if one is ill may predispose a singer to such vocal hemorrhages. The latest news reports suggest that as Adele’s recovery progresses, she will start back very slowly taking what she has described as some “very basic voice lessons.” She will likely take the first half of the year off from performing to help ensure a full and complete return of her famous voice. Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler was reported to have struggled with the same condition in 2006, requiring a similar surgical procedure as Adele. Noted voice expert, Dr. Steven M. Zeitels, a Harvard Medical School doctor who practices at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, treated both artists.

Country icon Keith Urban also underwent surgery in November 2011 to remove a vocal polyp, a lump that may develop near the midpoint of a singer’s vocal cord. (According to the glossary found at, a polyp is a specific and clearly demarcated mass – the word polyp means “lump” and does not imply a cancer or pre-cancerous lesion). The midpoint location of such a polyp suggests that it too may be the result of phonotrauma. Urban was ordered to take three months off from singing as his recovery is monitored by a team of health professionals. In the midst of his globe-spanning 2011-2012 “Get Closer” tour, the country superstar’s website resumes listing upcoming tour dates with shows in May 2012, a move likely deemed necessary to allow a full recovery of his voice.

Singer/songwriter John Mayer was another major artist to recently face vocal health problems. Last October, his manager announced that after a series of extended rest periods, Mayer’s voice was not improving and he decided to have surgery. Mayer’s condition was described as a granuloma, a benign growth that results from irritation or trauma to the vocal fold. It’s often found at the back of the vocal fold, over a part of cartilage called the vocal process, which lies just underneath the membrane covering the larynx. As with Adele and Keith Urban, Mayer stopped work on his new album, taking the advice of his doctors to not resume singing until his voice has fully recovered from the trauma and surgery. At that point, it is anticipated that he should be able to finish his new album and resume performing sometime in 2012.

While it may seem like there’s an epidemic of vocal health issues affecting the music industry, there are various common-sense factors that play into the increase in high-profile artists addressing these challenges.

First, awareness and treatment options have increased dramatically since the 1990s. Dr. Zeitels was quoted in the New York Times as stating that the use of fiber optic cameras to scan performer’s vocal cords for abnormalities and miniscule injuries has become more common over the past fifteen to twenty years. At the same time, vocalists have become more aware of the possible long term consequences of letting small problems go untreated and now consult more readily with health professionals.

Another factor is that, since recorded music sales often represent a smaller part of an artist’s overall revenue stream, touring schedules have become more extensive. To further maximize touring profits, concerts are often scheduled back-to-back on consecutive nights, placing greater stress on the vocal instrument, which can benefit from having a day or two rest between performances whenever possible.

To prove the point, Paul Stanley, front man for the legendary rock band Kiss, recently had vocal surgery to tweak blood vessels in his vocal cords. Commenting on his forty years of touring in which the band’s shows were packed as tightly together as possible to maximize profits, he offered that “the nature of rock singing is a strain on the voice, and when you compound that with [the number of shows we play], you’re not giving yourself enough time to recuperate and the problem is compounded. I was finding myself working harder and harder to do what was once effortless, and having passed through puberty, I was surprised to hear my voice cracking.”

How to Properly Care for Your Voice
While there is no doubt that singing in front of a rock band requires practice and stamina, vocalists who sing for hours at a time with no amplification, over a full orchestra in a packed house holding 4,000 people, place even greater demands on their voices. Enter the opera singer and those who train them, such as Dr. Lynelle Wiens, Professor of Voice at the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music in Stockton, CA.

Dr. Wiens is a former faculty member at the Symposium on the Care of the Professional Voice in Philadelphia, and at the Pacific Voice Conference in San Francisco. She was also a recipient of the prestigious “Van L. Lawrence Fellowship” that is awarded jointly by the Voice Foundation and National Association of Teachers of Singing in order to foster interdisciplinary education among laryngologists, voice scientists, singing teachers, and speech pathologists. Dr. Wiens has taught aspiring classical singers for more than thirty-three years and offers a number of simple, common sense tips that can help any singer to reduce the risks to their voice.

Like any other musical instrument, the voice needs proper care in order to be ready when called upon to perform. Wiens counseled, “In order to function properly, the voice needs to be well lubricated. The effects of alcohol, cigarette smoke, marijuana, and other drugs cause dryness of the vocal instrument and can lead to vocal fold edema and inflammation.”

Wiens advises that “It’s essential to drink lots of water before, during, and after performances. It’s also very important to get plenty of rest and exercise and eat properly between performances. To the extent that is possible, try to avoid noisy places where you will have to shout to be heard.” For example, trying to be heard above the sound levels backstage during an opening act or in a typical van traveling for hours on the freeway come to mind as situations that might lead to further strain on one’s voice.

Dr. Wiens cautions that “throat clearing, yelling or screaming, singing too loudly for an extended period of time, singing a song that is pitched too high or too low, or putting too much pressure on your voice, all increase the strain on it. If it hurts, you’re doing something wrong. Listen to what your voice is telling you.”

Over-singing on stage, especially when the monitor situation is not optimal, is another potential cause of vocal strain. Especially for musicians on tour, Wiens counsels, “You have to prioritize what you absolutely need your voice for and then make the best decisions to protect it.” So if you are out on tour and have been nursing a sore throat, maybe the band’s guitar player can give the interview and appear at the local record store for autographs while you stay back at the hotel to rest your voice for that night’s show. Wiens added, “Taking care of your body and learning to manage your physical and emotional stress are also key factors in maintaining good vocal health. Perhaps the best preventive care is good training. Finding a good coach is the best thing you can do for yourself.”

Dr. Wiens advises that a singer should seek a professional if they have a concern about their own vocal health. “If there is a sudden change in your voice from what is normal, or if you experience persistent hoarseness and/or vocal fatigue for more than two weeks, I would suggest you see an otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat doctor) who is experienced in caring for singers. Be sure to ask for a strobovideolaryngoscopic examination in order to get the most thorough assessment of the health of your voice.”

If there has been damage, a singer should ideally be treated by a team of professionals that may include an ENT doctor, a voice teacher/vocal coach that can help a singer avoid any techniques that may exacerbate problems, and if appropriate, a speech pathologist who can assist with proper rehabilitation of the voice.

“The voice is a delicate mechanism,” Wiens concludes, “so it makes sense to take preventive measures in order to help ensure a long and productive singing career.”

Leave a comment »