Monthly Archives: March 2016

How can you place your voice?

By | March 18, 2016

How to place your voice

All sound is vibration. In other words, waves moving through the air, like ripples on a pond.

Singing is no different – when you sing, you disturb the air between yourself and the listener.

That’s a scientific fact, and not one that many people – even singers! – would dispute.

But when it comes to the movement of air inside the body, it seems that a lot of singers and teachers get confused.

“Place your voice in your … (fill in the blank)” is a phrase that lots of us have heard. It’s certainly one that caused me much confusion when I was learning to sing.

Let’s think logically:

  1. sound is produced by the vibration of the vocal folds
  2. the air above the vocal folds is disturbed
  3. this disturbance travels through the air above it in waves
  4. these waves are absorbed and reflected by the various structures of the vocal tract (throat and mouth, essentially)

So where’s the ‘placement’?

Below is my all-time favourite video of the voice, and one which a lot of pupils are amazed by. On first hearing, it seems fake, as it some post-production editing was used to produce the sound.

In essence, it shows the effect that different shaped resonating spaces have on a fundamental vibration. As you watch it, bear in mind that the vibration stays the same, it’s the shape of the resonator that produces the ‘human’ sound.

In Estill, we refer to the vocal tract as the ‘Filter’ and I think it’s a great way to understand the role it plays – it dampens certain harmonics and enhances others, giving us patterns of sound we hear as language and voice quality.

Of course, you can manipulate the structures within the vocal tract (larynx height, epilarynx closure, pharyngeal width, tongue position, soft palate closure, lip position) and good singing requires you to do that efficiently and with skill.

When the voice is produced well, you’ll feel lots of sympathetic vibrations in various parts of the vocal tract, and these vibrations can be extremely useful feedback devices that you can learn to monitor.

But these vibrations are effect, not cause.

You can no more ‘place’ the voice than you can direct the ripples on a lake!

Stop singing, start explaining

By | March 10, 2016


A common problem I encounter when working with voice coaches is the difficulty they face when trying to demonstrate to their pupils.

“It’s too low for my voice”
“It’s too high for my voice”
“I get tired singing in falsetto all the time”
“The tone is just ‘wrong'”

At a fundamental level, teaching by imitation is flawed, for three main reasons:

  1. Your pupils don’t all have the same voice as you.
  2. Not all of your pupils can imitate you.
  3. Your pupils can’t hear themselves accurately.

To take each in turn:

1. Your pupils don’t have your voice

Everyone’s voice is unique, primarily determined by physiology. Teaching pupils of different ages, different genders, different heights and weights etc means that very few will naturally sound like you. Encouraging them to make sounds that your physiology makes will by definition make their production unnatural.

And there are other factors, such as emotional connection and tapping into life experiences that should be encouraged in your pupils. All of which should make their performance individual and therefore different to yours.

2. Your pupils can’t all imitate you

Fleming’s Visual Auditory Kinesthetic (VAK) model of learning suggests that most people possess a dominant or preferred learning style.

If we take a rough estimate that only a third of your pupils are Auditory-dominant, demonstrating won’t be the best option for over 60% of them.

Combine that with the physiological aspect above and you can quickly see that teaching by demonstration will probably only be effective for around 20% of your pupils at best.

3. Your pupils can’t hear themselves

When a singer is encouraged to try to imitate the sound they hear, it ignores the fact that their internal hearing clouds their perception of their own voice.

You can prove this very simply by recording yourself singing the same section of a song with your hands in front of your ears, with your hands behind your ears, with your hands over your ears. To you, it will sound completely different, but the recordings will sound almost identical.

If the sound in your head is the same as the sound you hear in your ears, it will by definition be different to the listener!

So how should I teach?

So what instead? Explain and Encourage.

Explain the physiology behind the voice, discussing the various options each singer has and how it affects the sound (eg altering larynx height to influence bass / treble resonance).

Encourage the singer to explore these options, altering each individual structure until they find the sound they desire.

Understanding these ‘nuts and bolts’ is vital for all singers.

Do this, and you’ll have a body of students who all sing easily and effectively with their own natural voices, not a series of robots rolling off a production line with poor imitations of yours.