New Music

A Word About Words

Posted By singingcoach 34 days ago on Music - As singers, it’s our job to deliver a message!  Sometimes that message might not have a single word, or might just have simple, repeated words.  Sometimes those words might be poetic, or obscure, or sometimes the words might need to be sung (or rapped) lightning fast!  In a time before the internet, we couldn’t look up the words to a song we couldn’t understand.  My mom teases me to this day about some of the words I thought I heard as a young child, like “so swallow your pie” in the song, “Lean On Me, ” which made a lot more sense to a kid than, “so swallow your pride.” While an emphasis on making words decipherable is more often the case for choral and classical music than pop genres, we need to consider that the message might get lost if we’re mumbling the words.  Has anyone told you to improve your diction?  What does diction mean?  We’re going to take a quick look at the most common words used in singing lessons to describe a desire for a clearer delivery of the words of a song.  They are fairly interchangeable, but here is precisely what each word means:Pronunciation The act of saying a word correctly, based on our language, and our region.  For example, pronouncing the word, “chief” as “chife” (rhyming with “knife”), is incorrect pronunciation.  In pop singing, we might purposefully loosen precise pronunciation, more to the way we speak words, to match the informality of pop music vs. the formality of classical singing.  For example, in a pop song, you might pronounce the word “believe,” as “buh-leeve,” and in a classical song, you might pronounce the same word as “bee-leeve.” Pop pronunciation is largely at the singer’s discretion.  Classical and choral singing have stricter pronunciation guidelines.  Vowel modifications also play a role in pronunciation.  Using the same word as an example, it might be easier to sing “buh-leave” on a high, held note for the “buh,” because it’s a more open vowel sound. Enunciation Singing each word in a clear and concise way.  Also, singing with a focus on making the words of a song easily understood.  This means, for example, leaning into consonants, and at times, intentionally over-pronouncing them.  For example, in Taylor Swift’s song, “Blank Space,” her lazy  enunciation of the “t” consonant-sound in the phrase, “got a long list of ex-lovers,”  made a lot of people think she was singing, “got a lonely Starbucks lover!”  See Taylor mention this snafu here.  Articulation “The physical act of using your tongue, jaw, teeth, lips, palate (roof of your mouth), and breath to create sounds.” - Integrated Learning Strategies: Articulation & Enunciation In singing, if your teacher suggests your articulation could be improved, they are telling you you need to make your mouth more active.  Maybe your lips are loose, and not shaping the consonants clearly.  Maybe you’re clenching your jaw and not opening your mouth enough for vowels to resonate.  Good articulation is required for good enunciation (unless you’re a ventriloquist!).Diction The particular and proper way we pronounce and enunciate our words as we sing.  The word “diction” encompasses all three of the above words, pronunciation, enunciation, and articulation.   For example, a singer might have excellent English diction, but when they sing in another language, their diction might be disastrous!  That could mean the pronunciation - the correct way to say a word - is off.That could mean the enunciation is off - perhaps the singer is mumbling words she is having problems deciphering.That could mean the articulation is off - perhaps the singer isn’t used to shaping her lips for vowel shapes that aren’t used in English, such as an “ö.”And all three issues could be happening all at once!If you want an even more detailed discussion on diction, check out this article:

And now for some fun!  Let’s practice some diction exercises (in the form of tongue twisters) with my unlisted diction exercises playlist.  You’ll only find it here (or if you’re on my mailing list!). What is your favorite diction exercise?

7 Ways to Prepare Your Voice For a Performance (besides warming up!)

Posted By singingcoach 57 days ago on Music - The first and most obvious way to prepare for a performance is to warm up your voice.  That one goes without saying, so let’s discuss some other ways to get that voice ready to wail on stage.Hydrate. Simple right? Well, there are some liquids that can be helpful, and some that are harmful. Do you know which is which? Let’s start with another obvious choice here: water. But again, there’s a twist! Did you know cold, icy water is not good to drink before or during a performance? That’s right, ice water can tense up your vocal cords, and we want them relaxed and limber. Here are a few good, bad, and “depends on it” drink options:GOODWater - Warm or room temperature (not ice water) for the win!Tea - Throat Coat (Traditional Medicinals) is a great one for the voice.  Most herbal teas are also ok.  Avoid black tea, due to the acidity, iced tea (it’s cold AND caffeinated), and other caffeinated teas including green; caffeine can dry out your vocal cords.  Sweeten your tea, if needed, with a small spoon of honey.  I use a few drops of stevia, and haven’t found it to effect my voice one way or the other.BADAlcohol - Yes, it might relax your nerves, but so will breathing in for four counts, holding it for four counts, releasing for four counts, and holding for four counts (aka “box breathing” - huge fan of this, give it a try). Unlike alcohol, the breathing exercise won’t impair any of your physical and mental abilities.  Alcohol not only dehydrates your body, it dehydrates your voice, and it impairs your ability to control your voice with precision.Caffeinated beverages - Caffeine can dry out your voice, and won’t be remotely helpful in calming any stage jitters you might have.Milk, milkshakes, any dairy-based beverage - Unless you want to sing with a bunch of mucus irritating your vocal cords, avoid consuming dairy for 3 or more hours before singing.  The coughing and throat clearing you might need to do to loosen the excess and thickened mucus will irritate and inflame your throat. Got Milk?  Not this time!Sugary beverages (i.e. soda, juices) - Sugar, like dairy, tends to thicken mucus.  There is always a certain flow of mucus in your nose and throat.  And most of the time you don’t ever notice it, because it passes through your system effortlessly.  But the thicker it gets, the slower the flow, which can irritate your vocal cords, and cause interference to your singing.DEPENDS ON IT -Lemon water / lemon water with honey  - On the plus side, lemon can cut mucus if you find you are coughing or needing to clear your throat (And remember, the less coughing and throat clearing you do, the better for your voice).  But because it is acidic, it can also dry out your voice.  Honey can soothe the vocal cords, if used in moderation.  But when that drink starts to taste too sugary-sweet (meaning you’ve put loads of honey in it), the positive effect of honey will turn into the negative effect of sugar.  Now that we’ve gotten the complicated topic of hydration out of the way, let’s look at 6 more tips to prepare your voice for a performance.Straw Exercises - Ok technically a warm up, but I can’t resist including them here. These are SO good for your voice. Doing a few extra of these right before you get on stage will make sure you voice is warm and feeling good. Better yet, do some straw exercises into a glass of water for a little more resistance, helping your vocal cords find just the right air pressure for optimal singing. Want to know more about the benefits of straw exercises? Read more here.Moderate Vocal Rest - Wait, didn’t I just say to warm up? Yes! And aside from that, take it very easy on your voice, think of it as conserving your vocal energy. Avoid shouting, talking loudly, or whispering for the whole day pre-show, and particularly the hour before getting on stage. Time Your Food Intake And Avoid Dairy - It’s best to not be singing on a full stomach, especially if you’re prone to acid reflux. Allow two to three hours between eating and getting on stage. As we discussed in the drink section, most people will experience thickened mucosal secretions after consuming dairy, so best to save that pizza for after the show.Get A Good Sleep - If your voice is tired, it won’t be in optimal form, simple as that. You might not have the vocal stamina to get through a whole set, you might not have the power to nail those tricky notes, and you might not have the agility for those complicated runs.Get In The Body Space, Get In The Mind Space - The voice is part of the body, and the whole body is connected. If your body is tight and rigid, it makes sense that your voice may also sound/feel tight and rigid. Stretch out a bit, do some head rolls, massage your neck. Take a minute to give yourself a singer’s self-massage. Conversely, if you’re feeling mellow, you may need to amp yourself up before getting on stage. Do a few jumping jacks (these will also help loosen up some nervous energy) to get the blood flowing. As for the mind, I have a whole blog separate blog post about getting in the right mindset before a performance, check it out here. In a nutshell, don’t get in your head: Surrender to the moment, surrender to the music, and do it because you love it!Chew (sugar-free) Gum - Pretty much any vocal coach is going to hands down agree with all of the above tips. This one is a bit more controversial, but it’s something I ALWAYS do before a performance because I have found it to be very helpful for my voice. Like many people, I experience a dry feeling in my mouth if I feel nervous. But I don’t like to drink TOO much water because then I have to go to the bathroom every five minutes. So the last half hour before I get on stage, I like to chew a piece of gum. This keeps my mouth moist, and bonus points for the fresh breath! Singers with jaw tension also report it to be helpful in loosening up a tight jaw. Just be sure to throw that gum in the trash before actually getting on stage, though. It looks terrible and is a total choking hazard to keep it in your mouth while singing.

Are You Doing “Singer’s Face?” Three Reasons You Should Give It a Try.

Posted By singingcoach 112 days ago on Music -

Ok singers, I admit this one is a bit silly, but hear out my reasons why I am calling attention to this. Are you doing "singer's face" (yes, I made that term up) when you sing? Here are three reasons you should give it a try!

Four Important Strategies For Singing the National Anthem

Posted By singingcoach 155 days ago on Music - Every year when July rolls around, I assign new students The Star-Spangled Banner.  Since we celebrate Independence Day in July, it’s a good excuse to work on this song.  Any singer living in the US has a very good chance of performing this song for an event, big or small, and the song is quite difficult! It has a huge range and is often sung a cappella.  It’s a bit of a high-pressure situation too - everyone is silent, watching and listening to you, and you are kicking off an event that often comes with high stakes and wild crowds (read: sporting events).  So you are very much in the spotlight – no pressure, right?!  Does anyone remember the singer who went viral for singing the anthem at a CPAC Conference not too long ago?  When I watched it, I could hear that she actually had a nice quality to her tone, but not many people could hear past her disastrous, frequent, and unintentional key changes.  You can watch it here.    Here are some strategies to help ensure that you rock the anthem, instead of it rocking you!CHOOSE YOUR KEY CAREFULLY – This one is the very most important and deserves some serious thought and experimentation.   Some singers have huge ranges, but most of us only have a comfort zone of about 1 ½ octaves.  And guess what, the range of the Anthem is 1 ½ octaves!  So if we’re going to be able to sing that “land of the freeeee” (highest note of the song, which you also have to hit on ”red glare”) in a strong, strain-free voice, we need to make sure we don’t start too high.   The safest bet is to start at or near the very bottom of your range.  A lot of singers will unnecessarily struggle in the higher moments of this song, simply because they didn’t start low enough. The word “say” in the first phrase, “O say, can you see,” is the lowest note in the song, and is repeated on “gleaming,” and “whose broad stripes”.  Make sure you can hit that note, but it’s ok if it’s a little weak or soft – you’ll want to really sell the peak moment of the song later on beginning at “and the rocket’s red glare.”  If you start too high, you’ll have to flip into a pure head voice or falsetto and will lose the momentum at the biggest moments. VOWEL MODIFICATIONSVowel modifications are one of the great secret tricks singers utilize to hit certain notes.  Singing a word the way you speak it doesn’t always work so well.  Opening your mouth to a very pure “ah” sound, or closing it to more of an “ee” sound can help you nail challenging notes such as the high notes in the anthem.   The peak phrase “o’er the land of the free,” has a closed vowel which might be hard to create a powerful belt tone on.  Try opening your mouth to “frah.”  You’ll notice in the video link to the girl with the multiple key changes, the mouth shape on “free” is one thing she does well (though she holds the note too long for my taste). CONSIDER THE “BONUS” NOTE IF YOU CAN’T BELT “FREE” Speaking of that peak phrase, don’t be discouraged if you have a hard time belting that high note.  It will take a combination of the right key, air flow, vowel shape, and mix placement to get a belted tone there, more than the scope of this blog post (may I suggest taking a lesson with Your Online Singing Coach!).  If you find that you do have to flip into head voice or falsetto to hit that note on the money, first of all accept it!  Don’t try to belt it out and end up singing it flat or have a crack in your voice.  Play it safe and hit the note perfectly, if softly.   But there’s another option to impress the crowd, which you have probably heard in some renditions.  There is an optional second note on “free” a fourth above the first notes (i.e. from C to F).  The second, higher note, sounds harder because it’s higher!   But once you’re in head voice, going a little higher really isn’t much harder.  So it sounds impressive, but is actually pretty easy to execute!  PRACTICE STAYING IN THE KEYIf you will be singing the anthem without the accompaniment of a track, piano player, band, etc (in other words, “a cappella,” It’s important to start in one key and stick with it!  Beware that your voice may try to trick you, because it wants an easy job, so it might try to switch to a more comfortable key as you get to the high end of the song.  In the below lyric sheet, I have bolded every “root” note in the song.  If you have a piano, or a piano app (I use a free app called “The Piano”), just play this note every time you see a syllable in bold.  You will hear if you’re matching up on the note.  The more you practice this way (playing the root note each time you sing that note) the more engrained the key and the placement in your voice will become.  You will subconsciously hear that root note playing along with you and keeping you on track during your performance.   If you notice you are not matching up at a certain point when practicing, go back to the beginning and start again, paying special attention to the section just before the mismatch.  If you continue to struggle with staying in the key, see if you can sing along to a karaoke track.

 Download the lyric sheet with root notes in bold print here.I created a video demonstrating all these concepts for a deeper dive.  You can watch it here.  Let me know if these tips helped you, and how you do the next time you sing the Anthem!

How To Sing a Breathy, Falsetto Tone

Posted By singingcoach 175 days ago on Music - Learn how to sing with a breathy, airy, falsetto tone - a very popular and effect style tool in pop music today, used by artists like Olivia Rodrigo, Ariana Grande, and Camilla Cabello. Just don't overdo it! And I don't think I need to tell you, but if you use a candle when practicing, please be careful! ;)

Glamorous and Grueling: All About Party Bands, with special guest, Mollie Weaver

Posted By singingcoach 178 days ago on Music - Mollie Weaver is a recording artist and vocalist who has performed at the Grammys, Carnegie Hall, and on The Voice to name just a few or her amazing credits. She has also performed for - and with - some of the biggest singers, celebrities, and politicians on the planet in a different context - as a part of the most sought-after Party Bands in both LA and NYC. Mollie has agreed to dish some of her exciting experiences just for us here at Your Online Singing Coach!  Could this be the singing career for you?  Read on and decide for yourself.

Some readers will have no idea what a Party Band is.  Can you tell us about this career option for singers?  A party band is a live band that is hired to play for events of any kind. It’s usually famous/popular songs (cover songs) that are being performed.  The events can be anything you can think of…weddings, Emmy or Grammy after-parties, art installations, corporate events, brand launches, super bowl parties, birthdays, tea parties with Martha Stewart, dinners with Oprah - you name it, if you want a live band singing your favorite songs, a party band is for you! The band is usually contracted through an agency and the agency books the musicians and takes a percentage of the money. You don’t have to work for just one agency, in fact most musicians I know work for several different agencies at a time. I started working almost 20 years ago for party bands/cover bands/casuals. In NYC I worked for Starlight Orchestras and Marianne Bennett (now Element Music) and currently I work for West Coast Music here in LA. Can you give us a ballpark range of how much money you might make in one night as a singer in a party band, from the very low end to the very high end?The rate really depends on the agency’s popularity and your experience. If the company is one that gets all the best gigs in town, they can charge the client a higher price and, in turn, can offer you a higher rate. However, those agencies are typically harder to get in with. There are smaller companies that typically get smaller gigs, don’t charge the client as much, and in turn don’t pay the musicians as high, but will likely take a chance on hiring someone new to the field. Rates may have changed a bit since I started two decades back.  Typically, if you are starting fresh and are not coming with a resume packed with experience or cred, you will be given a chance but at a starting rate. I think the starting rate is probably somewhere between $300-450 for a 4-hour gig. If, however, you are coming with experience and a huge knowledge of songs that you can perform lead on, you have some weight to negotiate higher. If you are in a band that is consistently booking a lot of gigs (and making the agency a lot of money) and have been proving your “worth” over time, it’s possible to negotiate a raise up to as much as $800-$1000/gig. Typically, someone making $1000 per gig is a band leader or someone providing more responsibility than just being in the front line – and that high of a rate is pretty rare. Somewhere between $500-700 / gig seems to be the going rate for singers who are seasoned, and/or have a lot to offer an agency.I really appreciate this type of work because it became a way for me to support myself without leaving home for months on end. The older I’ve gotten the more important it has become for me to stay home and not put stress on my relationships and those that need me. This career option is a stable one if you can land the right company and band. It can be a great way to have consistent work and a consistent paycheck while also having the freedom to take other opportunities that arise because typically there are several singers that can fill in for your spot. If you can get yourself a permanent position in one of their bands with a good agency, you will have yourself a good job, singing for a living. Self-employed musicians have to be good at budgeting. One month could be packed with work and the next one could have nothing. It’s a feast-or-famine life that calls for a lot of hustling to book tours and land enough session work to keep the cash flowing. Singing in a Party Band can be more consistent and a career you can rely and count on…a luxury not too many full-time touring and session singers have.What are the most glamorous and fun aspects of Party Gigs?  Let’s hear about some of your most memorable events, drop some names, baby!The most glamorous and fun aspects are certainly the gigs when you get to sing with or for some of the biggest and most recognized names in entertainment, and subsequently add it to your resume. You also get to go to some of the most amazing places and homes in the world.

I have been a part of several private events for Oprah, sung with President Barack and Michelle Obama at Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson’s wedding anniversary… at that same party we played for Bruce Springsteen and Steven Spielberg and a whole slew of famous actors, directors and musicians. We were the band backing them up for whatever songs they wanted to sing. Like a live, very expensive karaoke band LOL. I have sung for a person who was knighted and at that event, got to sing with Ringo Starr, Carol King, Tom Jones, and late-night host James Corden. One of my favorites was when I got to sing backing vocals for Neil Young and Mick Jagger.   The home and grounds were so big I got lost going to the restroom and barely made it back on stage - just in time to sing “Sugar Mountain.” One time I got to sing at an Egyptian princess’s home that she was renting here in LA. She wanted the song “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” as a special request. She asked for it 5 times during the night!! HA!  The list goes on and on but those are some fun ones. Another perk is getting to travel to places that are in magazines. Just last week I sang for a wedding in Mexico on a private estate on 30,000 acres of protected land…with zebras and crocodiles and a baby turtle release. Each casita had its own chef and pool. I’ve performed in a wine cave (sound nightmare), I’ve performed on a boat where I got to sing with David Foster, I’ve performed at parties in Antigua, the Bahamas and Hong Kong (where we traded sets with Lionel Richie and performances by Dita Von Teese) to name a few. On occasion you can meet someone at an event that can lead to other work. I was asked to sing at the Grammys after working on a gig with a vocal contractor who had been Michael Jackson’s MD. I have booked some session work from people I’ve worked with. Just recently I sang with an owner of a record label who subsequently offered to help me with any advice I needed for releasing and getting my own music out. So sometimes doors get opened from these types of gigs and being around so many influential people.   Wow that sounds amazing!!!  Are there any down sides?Yes, there are down sides. The wear and tear on your body and voice is one. If you don’t have a company who really invests in good sound, you can over-sing and damage your voice. I can say this as someone coming from a place of conservatory schooling and a degree in Vocal Performance. This work is demanding. It’s 4+ hours of singing - some lead singing, some backgrounds - but always singing… And on your feet, for women that means in heels!  Not only do you need vocal stamina and energy but a lot of bands require you to create a similar sound to the artists you are covering. You aren’t being hired to “make it your own” at these types of events. Trying to emulate someone else’s voice, tone, vibrato and style can put a lot of strain on your vocal cords. To really succeed at this type of gig, you can never phone in your performance. You have to belt, project, and deliver with every song. A breathy voice won’t cut it, this isn’t recording. It’s being the voice of Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Rihanna or Pink – it requires a LOT of diversity. That can be exciting because you can grow a lot vocally but if you do it without conscious technique or training like you can get from YOUR ONLINE VOCAL COACH (thanks for the plug, Mollie!), you are putting yourself in a place of potential vocal injury. The flip side is that it’s a great way to keep your chops up, strengthen your weaknesses and build vocal stamina. Which can, in turn, help you with all the other singing work you do, not to mention it’s a fantastic way to build a solid repertoire, learning the songs that have and will stand the test of time. Sometimes you do have to sing songs you actually hate, and you have to make people believe that it’s the most fun song ever to sing LOL. Sometimes we get gourmet food and sometimes we are given cold “band-wiches” for our dinner. That’s never exciting. The most fun I have on gigs are the ones where whoever hires us recognizes what we bring to the event and are thankful, treating us as they would famous artists. Sometimes people have just stopped dancing on the dance floor to stand and watch us like a concert. That feels great. This is a very competitive field to get into - especially with the big gun companies like West Coast.  What does it take to get into a Party Band, what are they looking for as singers and performers?  Do you have to have a lot of experience and credits, or is it all about talent?Choosing the right agency is probably key to success. If you are brand-new to this type of thing, I’d try starting somewhere smaller and build a foundation for a few years. Then start auditioning for bigger agencies.  Ask fellow musicians for recommendations of agencies they work for and ones that treat them well. Some companies will want you to audition, some will just put you on a job and see how you do. The latter

Singing as a Senior: How the Voice Changes and How to Sing Your Best

Posted By singingcoach 207 days ago on Music - The proof is in the pudding: seniors know how to rock.  The Rolling Stones, fronted by a 78-years-young Mick Jagger, raked in 115 million dollars in 2021 for their concert tour (#headjustexploded).  Tony Bennett, at 95, just won another Grammy here in 2022. Today we meet once again with voice therapist, Mary Hanson, to discuss how our voices age as WE age, and some exercises to keep our voices cranking out the tunes.  1.     At what age can singers expect to hear changes in their voices? There isn’t any one benchmark age that singers can expect to see changes, as those changes tend to be gradual and coincide with overall loss of muscle and decline in efficiency of multiple symptoms in the body. Muscle loss related to aging (sarcopenia) begins as early as mid-30s, though those changes are more likely to be noticed somewhere in the 70s.  Atrophy, loss of elasticity and overall stiffening across the lungs, the larynx and the supraglottic region (the throat, nose and mouth) results in the typical voice changes related with presbyphonia (age related voice changes). 2.     What are some of the typical changes that occur in older voices? Though all the above areas are impacted by age related changes, the changes in the larynx most impact our voices. The muscle loss we see with aging, directly impacts our vocal cords, because they really are just muscles! We tend to see that the cords thin out and this leads to them not closing all the way, resulting in a gap in the middle. When we are voicing, we have to build up air and release it to create a nice clear, loud sound. As you can imagine, if the vocal folds don’t close-you can’t build up all that good air! Because of this and the imbalance that comes with it, we tend to see that the elderly population have quieter, weaker voices that get fatigued easily. (*Note from Your Online Singing Coach – it’s also common for vibrato to become wider and slower with age.  Female voices tend to get a bit lower pitched, and male voices tend to get a bit higher pitched).  On top of that, many people will try to compensate for these vocal changes by pushing their voices in unhealthy ways which can create another type of voice disorder. 3.     What exercises or strategies would you suggest to keep the voice at its fullest potential in the senior years? Use that voice! Meeting up with friends, singing or reading aloud can help keep our voices healthy. Straw phonation is a great tool, as it can relieve that tension and also strengthen/rebalance the vocal cords. If keeping up regular vocal activities aided by straw phonation isn’t helping or isn’t enough, there are other options. A speech pathologist can help with personalizing an exercise plan to help strengthen the vocal cords. When exercises don’t work, some may even be a candidate for vocal fold augmentation with an ENT, which is done by either injecting or implanting material in or around the vocal cords to reduce the gap between them.

 Thank you, Mary!  Here are some specific exercises from Your Online Singing Coach for you Senior Singers:-       Exercise your voice in the morning, and work through all three registers (chest, mix, and head voice)-       Be careful not to “oversing,” as mature voices fatigue more easily.  This means being cautious about how much and how long you sing, particularly in your chest/belt range.-       Incorporate singing exercises that focus on agility into your practice time (runs and coloratura work).-       Don’t ignore your head voice.  Our normal speaking voice doesn’t exercise this range so we need to give it some extra love.-       Practice breathing exercises (and/or yoga!), and exercise your abdominal muscles to maintain your skills of projecting, supporting the tone, and singing long phrases.  Bonus points for your body: “Singing is an excellent aerobic exercise for the lungs, abdominal muscles, and blood circulation.”  (Reference:       Stay hydrated to keep your voice hydrated – drink plenty of water through the day.-       For more reading, here is another great article.

Vocal Onsets: How to Begin Singing a Note

Posted By singingcoach 219 days ago on Music - Your Online Singing Coach breaks down the four main types of vocal onsets for beginning a note: balanced or simultaneous, aspirated, glottal, and vocal fry. Learn which of these is preferred, which to be careful with, and why you might use different onsets.

How Your Physical Body Effects Your Voice

Posted By singingcoach 241 days ago on Music - If you’ve ever watched a “vocal coach reaction” video on youtube, you’ve probably seen one of Elizabeth Zharoff’s.  She is an internationally acclaimed opera singer, producer, multi-genre vocal coach & guru, video game voice actor and YouTube star with over 800,000 subscribers to her channel, The Charismatic Voice.  She taught me everything I know about reaction videos, a journey I have ventured into in the last few months at Your Online Singing Coach on YouTube.  I first met Elizabeth at a holiday party in LA several years ago. When we discovered we were both singers, her eyes twinkled with excitement as she made a very interesting comment about my facial structure for singing which really fascinated me.  Today, I am talking to Elizabeth about how our anatomy influences the sound of our voice.

Elizabeth Zharoff / The Charismatic Voice

Voice lessons are generally focused on what you can do with the voice inside the body you’re in.  But it’s fascinating to learn and understand how each person’s unique body influences the voice.  Did you have a teacher that taught you about this, how did you learn about it? A combination of private voice teachers, colleagues and voice science courses helped me to better understand how the body influences the voice. Since the larynx and structures supporting singing are inside the body it is inevitable that how your body feels on a particular day will affect your singing - and it’s also inevitable that genetics and cultural conditioning will affect how you may optimize your particular instrument. What physical factors go into a person’s range?  Imagine a line of orchestral instruments, and if you’re a keen observer then you’ll note that often bigger instruments (like the bass and tuba) are associated with lower pitches, whereas smaller instruments (like a violin and piccolo) are associated with higher sounds. Similarly, longer vocal folds and a longer vocal tract more easily create deep and lower sounds, whereas shorter vocal folds and a shorter vocal tract more easily create bright and higher sounds. It’s fairly common to see a basso profundo who is really tall and a coloratura soprano who is really tiny, so it isn’t unusual to associate the size of a person with what kind of voice type they may naturally have. However, this isn’t always the case - it’s simply a trend. I’ve met many people who broke this pattern. It’s also worth mentioning that the differences in natural vocal fold length we’re talking about are very small. The average length of an adult male’s vocal folds is around 22mm, and the average length of an adult female’s vocal folds is around 15mm. Children have shorter vocal folds (hence higher voices) until they hit puberty, and then the vocal folds lengthen - especially in males.  What physical factors go into a person’s tone?  Are there any physical factors that make certain styles of singing easier, like doing riffs, or singing opera? I like dividing singing into three main parts - breath, phonation (when the vocal folds come together to create a pitch), and shaping the sound. Tone is primarily made in the latter two parts - phonation and shaping. During phonation, the amount of contact that the vocal folds have can cause the tone to be more or less airy, or more or less pressed. The true vocal folds are responsible for creating a defined pitch, but there are also other sound sources in the larynx - like the false/ventricular folds and aryepiglottic folds - which can create distortion (or grit/growl) in the sound. This also massively affects tone. Once you have a sound created by a source (whether it’s true vocal folds and/or a source of distortion), that sound then travels through a resonance cavity called your vocal tract. Think of it like banging a pot in a bathroom or a closet - your vocal tract shape can define how that original sound is amplified and shaped. Some people have naturally larger or smaller spaces, which you could compare to a larger or smaller room. The tissue in your vocal tract also controls how the sound is shaped. Your tongue and lips determine what vowel or consonant is created, and your soft palate determines if the sound will exit through your mouth or nose. People can train to shape their vocal tract and adapt to various styles, but some natural shapes could make a person’s voice more inclined to one style or another. Opera singers don’t typically use microphones - so any additional amplification that can be found in their tract formation is useful (in addition to creating powerful phonation). Belting that’s required in contemporary singing styles typically has a more forward placement and less room in the back of the vocal tract, so singers that are genetically inclined towards this could have an advantage. But again - training makes a huge difference. What parts of the face effect a person’s voice?   There is so much in the face that affects a person’s voice! All of your facial bones can provide resonance, and soft tissue in your face can direct and/or dampen the sound. If you do anything to change your face or mouth shape, it will change how your sound is also shaped. A common surgery that professional singers have is a tonsillectomy (where the tonsils are removed). This is likely because singers are much more sensitive to inflammation in the throat, and even catching the smallest cold can drastically affect a singer’s performance. Having the tonsils removed increases space in the vocal tract and many singers report that they notice a significant change in resonance. This change isn’t necessarily good or bad - it’s just different, and requires some adjustment. Myth or Truth - Heavier, or big-boned bodies can sing louder/more powerfully? Myth - but perhaps with some nuggets of truth. It could be that bigger-boned people have more natural inclination for power, but I’ve personally witnessed tiny singers vocally overpower their larger colleagues. The biggest factor that contributes to loudness is breath pressure that builds-up underneath the site of phonation. Resonance helps - but breath pressure is a larger factor. People with a naturally larger breath capacity can have an advantage in this, but training can increase a person’s breath capacity. It’s also crucial to develop good vocal technique to sustain that pressure build-up without causing harm to the vocal folds, which again can be accomplished through training. Nature vs. nurture:  When it comes to improving your vocal skills, which is more significant?  If we take years of voice lessons, can we expect to make significant improvements, or are there certain limitations created by the architecture of the body, that can never be changed? I think that one of the most difficult things to train is pitch matching - which is more mentally than physically centered. Very few people are actually tone deaf, but some people have a better inane sense of pitch than others. This absolutely can be developed, but it takes more time for a person who is less “talented” at pitch than someone who was likely raised with early musical training or pitch awareness. Cultural conditioning plays a huge role in pitch awareness, which can be seen simply in speech patterns from different languages. Around 60 percent of raised Chinese speakers have perfect pitch, whereas only 14 percent of US non-tonal language speakers have perfect pitch. Ultimately good voice lessons will improve a voice - that’s inevitable, as long as someone is practicing/training regularly. How quickly they’ll improve or how far they’ll go though is more dependent on natural talent (whether genes or cultural conditioning). One person may practice for 5 years to achieve a particular sound while another is able to achieve it in 1 month. There are also limiting factors like vocal fold length and age. For me, it’s often crucial when training a voice student to emphasize that communicating message and emotion is more important than having perfect vocal technique. We have many instances of great performers who embraced their unique sound and message - performers like Johnny Cash and Chris Cornell, for instance. They left a huge mark on society. Studying voice and improving your technique will help you to have more freedom in expression and more easily communicate emotion, so it’s absolutely worthwhile to do! Just don’t lose sight of the main goal - connecting with other humans. 

Elizabeth Zharoff began her operatic career in France at the age of 18, and has since performed in major halls throughout America, Europe, and Asia. She has degrees in music and voice from Oberlin Conservatory, Berklee College of Music, and the Curtis Institute of Music. Ms. Zharoff has a uniquely modern career, bridging the gap between voice and technology. She has directed an album and lent her voice to over 50 titles in video game music, in addition to defining the speaking voice for an emotionally complex AI assistant.  Elizabeth has gained a mass following on her youtube channel, The Charismatic Voice, with nearly 1 million followers.  She is also the voice of “Charisma” sound library by Impact Soundworks.

Breaking Into LA Singing Session Work - with special guest, Laura Jackman

Posted By singingcoach 275 days ago on Music - Today I have the pleasure to introduce you to professional singer/vocal contractor, and COO of The Society of Composers and Lyricists, Laura Jackman, as she shares how to break into the competitive, but thrilling, world of session singing in Los Angeles. Laura shares her story with its interesting twists, and divulges MANY golden bits of wisdom in the interview below. Discover all it takes to be a session singer. 1.               Tell us a bit about YOUR journey from talented hopeful to singing in films like Sing 2, Spider Man: No Way Home, The Lion King (live-action), and Live on Jimmy Kimmel (among many more).

Laura Jackman

·      Most people, including myself, didn’t even know session singing was a path to pursue. My aunt was a vocal contractor in the 80s, 90s and onwards, so I was exposed to session-singing magic early on.  Being a kid who had decent pitch, could take direction well, and stand quietly for long periods of time, I was perfect for the gig. I got to miss school, eat craft services, sing with other kids who loved singing and movies as much as I did. Suffice it to say, I was immediately obsessed. I had the pleasure of singing for films, tv shows, Muppet straight-to-vhs-kid-specials, and albums for legends until I aged out of the “kid” category. From them on, serious musicianship was required to keep your spot at the music stand. I then concluded that singing was fun, I was lucky to have the opportunities and gain my SAG card in the process, get some money for college, but I now had to “buckle down and study for a real job”, and sing only as a hobby. Honestly, I have no idea why I thought that way, but I’m happy I did because it gave me a break from the competitive nature of the industry as well as experience and an education in so many other fields that ended up proving very useful to me when I ultimately decided to pursue music and session singing as an adult career.·      I studied art history at Bard College in New York, and after graduating, I worked in social media, marketing for studios, for a health food company, in the restaurant industry, and hospitality world. I always felt like I was trying to find my niche and nothing was really sticking. I started to feel like it I was the problem. I remember seeing a vocal jazz concert with my aunt and becoming irrationally angry at the performing singer. I couldn’t figure out where all this rage was coming from, and then realized that I was denying myself what I love more than anything, which of course was singing. ·      I promptly took my aunt out to lunch, and in my most professional manner, asked her what I needed to do to learn quickly, gain experience, and be taken seriously in the session singing and musician community as an adult singer and ideally without the bias of nepotism.·      I ended up joining the vocal jazz choir which rehearsed in the evenings at Santa Monica City College. It was amazing, and I learned so much including how much more I needed to learn. I ended up joining their Applied Music program as a Jazz vocalist. It was essentially a graduate program for me where I had access to working-musician-professors and received much more individual attention than I know I would have at a larger university program. I worked my ass off as I felt I was five years behind my peers, and I was determined to learn how to sight read as fast as possible. My professors noticed my enthusiasm and drive to become a working professional, and before I left SMC, they were hiring me to gig with them or to do freebee work, etc. I was so thrilled for any opportunity I could get, and I think my excitement and willingness to do anything to be a part of this made a big difference.·      I started making demos and sending them to contractors, but I think what helped me the most was that I was being talked about by people in the community. I kept popping up at any singer-related gathering or event, I was singing in a caroling group, I joined multiple high-level choirs, subbed at churches, and people knew I was reliable and always had a great attitude. 2.               What are the skills you need for session work?  How important is sight-reading, etc?Sight reading is definitely important. And to be a good sight reader you have to have confidence, which I feel took me the longest to build. I absolutely had imposter syndrome for a long time, and I only realized after the fact how much it was blocking me from being a decent sight reader. More important than sight reading however is having a team-player attitude. There is no room or tolerance for a ‘diva attitude’. You have to be an amazing blender and pitch is very important. Being able to adapt quickly - to be musical as well as precise. Being able to shift between vibrato and straight tone at any pitch and style is always a necessary skill. Become excellent and rhythm reading and being able to count measures of constantly changing meters. And being dependable! Always get there early, and I would always stay late and see if the contractor needed any assistance or to make friends with the other singers. It’s not just about who you know but who knows you! I ended up being the person the people liked having around. I was a good hang! The singers like to having me around and the contractors knew they could depend on me, and at the end of the day, that’s more important than being the best singer in the world or even the best sight reader in the world. If you can establish a reputation for these things, it will be a huge asset and keep you called back again and again. 3.                What else do you need in preparation for seeking studio work?  A reel?  A headshot?  Etc?Especially if you’re not already known in the industry, having a great demo reel makes a huge difference. A session singer reel is unique in that you want to combine a variety of 10 to 30 second snippets of you singing different styles starting with the style/technique you do best. So many people come in saying, “oh, I can sing everything!.” I’m sure you can, however, a contractor is not going to hire you to sing everything. They are going to hire you to sing what you sing best and what you sing better than most others. For me, my selling point is my low voice, my alto tone and usually me singing jazz, showcasing strong pitch and control. I demonstrate that in my demo through various styles, but I know what my major selling point is. Most people don’t showcase a low voice and I know that could get me in the door. Indeed, that is what I’m hired to do 90% of the time, and I usually sing low alto. I can sing high soprano if needed, but I am in no way a ‘stand-out soprano’. My uniqueness is my alto tone and low range.. Start off not by saying that you can do everything, but highlighting what you do best. Aside from sharing your demo with contractors, having events and gigs where people can hear you in real time and vouch for you and your work ethic is huge. Being in a church choir or caroling group is great. Inviting contractors to your live show where you don’t have the crutch of a mixing board and effects will really showcase your pitch, style, and control in real time. 4.                Do you need to be part of a union to be taken seriously, and if so, how do you get in? No, you don’t need to be a part of a union to be taken seriously. Everyone has to be Taft-Hartly’d or invited in by doing at least three gigs not being in the union. To do the legit gigs, however you do have to be in the union. To be invited and to be given the opportunity to be Taft-Hartly’d, you have to do all the things I mentioned above. Be taken seriously in another way so you are approached and invited to the next level.  5.                How does studio singing differ from live singing?I think about this a lot because there are many similarities, but overall session singing is about precision and control. The luxury of session singing is that you can do multiple takes, you can add a passes, harmonies, you can fly whole sections of music but you don’t have to repeat, you can punch into a middle of a section and redo only a few measures at a time if you need. The point however is that session time costs a lot of money, so when you’re invited in there, you don’t want to waste a minute of that time. You are paid to come in and be as productive as possible. You want to be able to read it quickly and sing it flawlessly right away. It also gives the composer the opportunity to change their mind on the spot, so you have to roll with the punches and mix up your sound, mix up your pitch, mix up your rhythm, whatever they want. Pitch and control, again are everything because you can hear everything. It also showcases how you blend and know your strengths. That is so important. Sometimes I know my instrument on a certain day can’t do a pianissimo hi E, for instance, so I will not sing it if there’s enough people covering the note, because I don’t want to ruin the sound that day. It’s not about, ‘I want to make sure the people in the back row can hear me,’ it’s about the overall sound and vision for the composer and knowing your instrument and where it is an asset and where it is not. Again, being a team player and not a diva is everything in the session singer world. In a live performance, that confidence and bol