The Essence of Vocal Technique

(No, it’s not about breathing)

I have been singing and teaching voice for over 40 years and have lately come to a realization: Singing (or acting for that matter) is about being able to put your body in the position to freely make a strong emotional statement.
To illustrate this, let’s try a little experiment.

1) Pretend to happily laugh hard but silently. Notice your breathing mechanism, the openness of your throat (open or closed) and the general engagement of your body (active or relaxed).

2) Pretend to cry or sob really hard again in silence.. Look again at your breathing mechanism, the openness of your throat (open or closed) and the general engagement of your body (active or relaxed) and any other sensations or changes in these areas.

3) Say “I love you” out loud and really mean it. Again look at the bodily sensations involved in this expression.

In each of these you probably noticed changes in various places in the body.

No reason to get all choked up!

Notice in my first statement I said express freely. If you found your throat closing in any of the above it’s perhaps because you drove your breath too hard or you are not comfortable making these strong expressions. You’ve probably heard someone say something like “I was all choked up” or

“At the funeral so and so was choking with emotion”. This sensation of constriction can be present when we hold back our expression or push too hard. Singers need to be able to “let it all hang out”. With training we can learn to override this muscular manifestation of the urge to close (physically or emotionally) and consciously hold the throat open even in high effort voice qualities.


Bottoms up? Top down.

Singing technique is a matter of top down processing. Normally we have an emotional reaction to the various circumstances of our lives. This emotional reaction causes physical changes. This would be a bottom up reaction. (External changing the internal)

In top down we consciously put our bodies in the position that we want it to be in to express a given emotion or make a specific sound. (Internal changing the external) You don’t have to believe it. Just do the position, Even though we’re making it up (pretending) this physical position can trigger the feeling in ourselves, change the vocal mechanism and thus change the quality of the voice. The question you may ask yourself is “what exactly are these positions you’re talking about? “

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

The various parts of the voice and their positions have already been mapped out and are what I teach. Using the Estill Voice Training technique, I show the singer how to find feel and consciously manipulate the structures of the voice to produce the desired effect.


Who has the power?

There are those that feel silly or uncomfortable even pretending to express in public. We can feel vulnerable in front of an audience.

But what is power?

Power is the ability to cause change. When a singer accesses this emotional position which is reflected in his or her voice, the audience is touched, the hair on the back of the listeners neck stands up or, they get goose bumps and they are moved to experience the joy or sadness or love in the song. It is the performer that caused this to happen. So who has the power?

 A true story?

Here is a story that has circulated among actors that may or may not be true but I hope illustrates what I have been writing about.

To prepare for a scene in the movie the Marathon Man, in which he was supposed to look like he had not slept in three nights, Dustin Hoffman being a method actor, decided to stay up for three nights in real life. When he came to the set, Laurence Olivier (considered by many to be one of the greatest actors is the world) asked him why he looked so disheveled and Hoffman told him. Olivier then paused for a moment, and made the famous statement, “Try acting, dear boy it’s much easier.”

Or to paraphrase: You don’t really have to break up with your spouse, loose your dog and crash your pickup to sing a hurtin’ song.