Archive for the ‘technique’ Category

This might be useful to you voice students and teachers out there.  I’ve posted before about the Vaccai vocal method book being available on IMSLP, but it didn’t dawn on me until recently that many more vocal methods/studies and related writings are available there.  Here are links to the relevant categories on the IMSLP website:

And here are some items that caught my eye from the pages above:

Related Posts:

I’d like to be more knowledgeable about the anatomy of my vocal instrument.  As a first step, I’ve been working my way through this series of YouTube videos from Anatomy Zone.  (Check out their whole YouTube channel here.)

The 3D model used in the videos is The BioDigital Human.  You can try out a free version on their website, and it’s also available as a paid iPad app.

(Thanks to the folks at Your Accompanist for the tip about these videos.)

Introduction to Muscle Actions of the Larynx (2:59)

Muscles of the Larynx – Part 1 – 3D Anatomy Tutorial (8:29)

Muscles of the Larynx – Part 2 – 3D Anatomy Tutorial (10:45)

Larynx – Ligaments, Membranes, Vocal Cords – 3D Anatomy Tutorial (13:15)

Larynx – Cartilages – 3D Anatomy Tutorial (12:20)

Mucosa of the Larynx and Vocal Cords – 3D Anatomy Tutorial (15:05)

Credit: Six Flags

These last couple months, I’ve been thinking a lot about vocal technique. I came across a couple of blog posts that really resonated with me, given where I am right now on that journey.

The first post, “How’s Your Technique?” by guest contributor Mark Watson at the Auditions Plus blog, opens with the following:

In full voice, at a medium-slow tempo, sing a steady, ascending 12- or 16-note scale on “ah.” Breathe, then sing a descending scale. Do not force or go to either extremities of the range. Kid stuff, right? Let’s see.

Watson follows with a aural checklist for evaluating this exercise. Read the post for the full details, but I’ll summarize it here:

      1. Intonation: Was every note in tune?
      2. Stability of tone: Was the vibrato even and matched on every note?
      3. Ease of production: Was every note produced effortlessly and neatly?
      4. Rhythm: Was the rhythm solid and steady?
      5. Evenness of scale: Was every note of equal volume and weight?
      6. Volume: Would all the notes carry in a theater?
      7. Legato: Were all the notes connected cleanly and smoothly?

Just seven items in the list – but it’s incredible how many physical and mental processes have to be developed and then coordinated perfectly in order to achieve these goals.

I need to print out Watson’s blog post and nail it to my practice room door.

The other blog post that caught my attention was by Richard Sparks, guest contributor for the ChoralNet blog, who wrote a post titled “Mindset” about success, failure, and learning. He quotes a story about violinist Nadja Solerno-Sonnenberg’s early technique, which worked well enough to earn her a debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at age 10, but which had limitations that held her back and caused her to be surpassed by her peers when she commenced training at Juilliard. The point of the story was how difficult it was for her psychologically to make the leap from her old technique that was somewhat successful but ultimately limiting, to a new technique that could throw her into a period of awkwardness for an unknown length of time, but which offered the only way forward. Sparks then shares the advice he gives to his conducting graduate students:

All of you are talented and have had some success […] However, to really succeed, especially long-term, you have to be ready to give up past “successful” habits (like Sonnenberg’s way of holding the violin) and go through the struggle of taking away what is comfortable and do something new. This means you will be worse for awhile (a new gesture, new way of rehearsing) and feel awkward and uncomfortable. But unless you’re willing to go through that “failure,” you will cap how much you can grow and how much you can achieve.

This basically sums up what my own learning experience feels like, with respect to vocal technique. A roller-coaster of periods of awkwardness and feeling/seeming worse, followed by breakthroughs where the things that were awkward suddenly click into place and I’m better than I was when I started the cycle. It is not a comfortable style of learning for me, and the awkward periods can last long enough for me to start questioning myself, my path, my teacher, the universe, etc… It is not every singer’s style of learning – others have more of a “slow and steady wins the race” learning modality. And to compound things, once one is performing in any sort of capacity, the process of vocal evolution becomes a very public one, however smooth or bumpy it may be.

I didn’t choose this style of learning, but maybe it chose me. And so maybe I have to just own it. The blog post from ChoralNet doesn’t necessarily make me feel better, but at least it makes me aware that there are others out there who must ride this roller-coaster in order to find the way forward and grow as musicians.

My news feed from one of the vocal technique blogs I follow, by Gioacchino Li Vigni has been broken in my feed reader for the past couple of weeks, and today I finally tried to figure out why.  It turns out that Mr. Li Vigni has just launched a new website this month,, and his Tenor Talk blog has moved to a new home on the website at  You can subscribe to the blog by email via the form on the bottom right corner of the blog or by entering this link into your feed reader: .  The only thing is that I am not sure that all the informative video/audio clips got moved over from the old blog location to the new one.  I hope the webmaster can restore them because they were really useful for illustrating the discussion in the blog posts.

Ladies and basses/baritones, don’t be fooled – there is actually a lot of food for thought on the Tenor Talk blog for the rest of us regarding vocal technique.  Like any voice teacher, Mr. Li Vigni has his own way of explaining things, but he contributes a lot of knowledge and thoughtful discussion.  In addition, his new website also has a vocal technique discussion forum, and you can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Related Posts:

My technology-enabled, singing-related activity for yesterday was to watch Chorus America‘s Feldenkrais Method for Singers video series, where practitioner Karen Clark gives a basic introduction to Feldenkrais.  I actually have very little familiarity with body work other than one “Yoga for Singers” session I did a few years ago, and I know nothing about Feldenkrais, so I thought I would check it out.  About half of the videos (marked “$”) are behind Chorus America’s subscription paywall so I couldn’t access them, but I watched the rest:


Episode 1 was a lecture-style introduction.  The remainder of the episodes feature Karen working with a student.

With this cursory introduction, I’m still not I sure I totally get what Feldenkrais is about, but I did pick up some body-awareness exercises to try while singing.

Related Posts:

Today I watched this video by Joyce DiDonato on breathing for singing: Breath “Support” (16:14).  My coach had mentioned the video to me because it’s a technical area that I’m actively working on.

I know I have been living under a rock, because I didn’t realize that Ms. DiDonato has a very nice YouTube channel that’s not just about the usual performance/promo clips that you might expect on a famous artist’s YouTube page, but actually has a lot of her own vlogs about the craft and career of singing.  I’m always a bit pleasantly surprised when artists of a certain stature and renown take the time to share their knowledge and insights freely with fans, fellow artists (aspiring and established), and the general public.

Ms. DiDonato has a website with blog, as well as links on Facebook and Twitter (and YouTube, of course).

If you know of any other prominent classical singers whose online presence reaches beyond marketing fluff to the personal and insightful and generous, let me know so I can follow them.  Because, yes, I’ve been living under a rock.

Related Posts:

Credit: Pamela Elrod / Chorus America

This oldie-but-goodie has been bouncing around Twitter lately:

The Choral Warm-Ups of Robert Shaw (includes explanations and notated examples)

In addition to bookmarking it, I saved it as a PDF file using my computer’s print-to-file feature so I can import it into forScore and have it handy on my iPad even when I don’t have a data connection.

Related Posts:

A while back, I was at a rehearsal of Aida, sitting around while the tenor was singing “Celeste Aida.”  Just for kicks, I fired up the free MeionSpector app on my iPad to watch the live spectrogram roll by as he sang.  When he hit the high B-flat at the end, I took the screenshot shown to the left.  I’m an engineer by training, so I love this kind of geeky stuff.

When I began studying solo classical voice, one of the most difficult concepts I had the most difficult wrapping my head around was “color” in the voice – referring, in this context, to the strong presence of certain overtones.  I didn’t understand the difference in sound between when those overtones were present and when they where absent.  I didn’t understand what overtones sounded like in other singers’ voice, and I definitely didn’t understand what they where supposed to sound like in my own voice.

I think that if I had had an app like this just to play around with, it would have given me a little bit of insight and helped me understand this concept a little faster.  In the screenshot above, the various fuzzy horizontal-ish black bands correspond to all the different frequencies that are present in the tenor’s voice when he’s singing high B-flat as the fundamental pitch.  The B-flat corresponds to a frequency of about 466 Hz (you can look up the frequency of a pitch with an app like Pitch Freq 2).  If you look for the approximate location of 466 Hz on the tick marks on the left edge of the image, there’s a lot of heavy black squiggle in that area, since it’s the fundamental.  The rest of the narrower horizontal black bands above it are the overtones, and they should appear in the locations determined by the overtone series.

Knowing this, I can use the app for real-time visualization of the overtones in my voice.  I can sing a note, see the overtones, and modify my vocal production until the upper bands disappear, leaving only the fundamental and resulting in what many teachers and singers refer to as a “white” sound, and then bring the overtones back again.  I can experiment with different things in vocal production and see how they strengthen or weaken the overtones, and which overtones are affected.  It’s certainly not a silver bullet for learning vocal technique, but it can be an interesting exploratory tool that might yield a few insights.  I wouldn’t view it as a precision instrument for scientific measurements either, as I don’t know the limitations of the app software or the iPad’s audio hardware for capturing everything in the singing human voice, but if you need something more scientific, there’s always VoceVista and the associated hardware.

MeionSpector is just one of several iOS apps that do this – search the App Store for “spectrogram” to find others.  For starters, SpectrumView is free and has an even nicer display than MeionSpector:

Voice Analyzer is geared towards singers and has a free Lite version and a Pro version:

Credit: Voice Analyzer Pro / Dexus

Visible Sound has a 3D display that I’m not sure is actually all that helpful for our purposes, but hey, it looks neat:

Credit: Visible Sound / Alexander Valys

If you don’t have a tablet, there are also options like VoceVista for Windows, which I believe has a free version available here (look for the “Download Voce Vista” link), Sing & See for Windows/Mac, Audacity which is free for Windows/Mac/Linux (see a YouTube video on Audacity spectrographs here), and others.  [UPDATE: Blog reader Katia H. reports: “I’ve used Praat [for Windows/Mac/Linux] in the past, which is super-geeky and about the worst interface I could imagine (I think it’s geared towards scientists who actually know what all the words mean), and it’s good to know there are simpler and prettier tools!”]

One other fun and educational thing you can do with this software is feed the voices of other singers into it.  Below is a screenshot of VoceVista being used to analyze the same B-flat in “Celeste Aida” sung by Domingo (top half) and Pavarotti (bottom half).  VoceVista’s website has a discussion of how to interpret the graph and use it to understand the difference between Domingo and Pavarotti’s resonance strategies.

Credit: VoceVista

Choral warm-up from


Chris Russell over at Technology in Music Education has posted a collection of downloadable choral warm-ups.  Special note for iPad users: As Chris mentions, you can embed the warm-ups into your presentation app (Keynote, for example) in order to mirror them to a TV, projector, or even all of the choristers’ iPads.  By the way,  Chris invites you to contribute your own choral warm-ups, in MusicXML or Finale format.

The Vaccai method books are another resource for vocal technique building that is now available online.  You can download them for free in PDF format at either or IMSLP, in your key of choice.