So you want to take voice lessons?

Get ready for a flood of competing views on how to sing properly: Put the tone forward. Put the tone in the nose. Don't put the tone in the nose. Don't put the tone anywhere. Cover the tone. Belt the tone. Support the tone. It's enough to make anyone throw up their hands and quit.

Singing is not a mystical process. It is simply an extension of something that comes naturally to us all: speaking. In fact, let's simplify the whole vocal process by talking. Say "Mary had a little lamb." Now, sing "Mary had a little lamb." Did you hear or feel a noticeable difference between the two besides the fact the latter has a melody? Did your singing sound breathier, more like whispering? Or did it feel tighter and more strained than your speaking?

Most of us have a healthy speaking voice because we care more about what  we are saying than how  we say it. We don't care what we sound like--we just want to communicate. But we start singing, and suddenly we are keenly aware of what we sound like. At this point, many alter the sound of their natural voice to approximate what they feel sounds "nice" or "cool". Healthy? Probably not. Limiting? Most definitely.

Where we usually get into trouble is on higher notes. Do this with me: Sing the vowel "eeeee" and ascend up in pitch from low to high . What happened? Did your voice crack in the middle into a breathy, "Mickey Mouse" voice sometimes called falsetto?

Or did you have to sing louder to make it to the top, almost shouting out your high note?  Let me point you to the problem: put your finger on your "Adam's Apple," the bump on the front of your throat also called the larynx. Now say "eeeee"  again. What happened? Did it go up? Now, with your finger still on the bump, swallow. What happened? The larynx went up again.  So you are swallowing your high notes!

Let me explain. When I swallow, my larynx pulls up, completely closing off my throat in a sphinchter action, so that when I drink water, it can't get into my lungs. My windpipe is closed. That's great for eating and drinking, but it's terrible for singing! If your larynx pulls up as you sing, you are choking off the very opening where the sound needs to come out.

Do you feel like you can't sing high notes unless you belt the note out? Then you are probably singing with a high larynx. And sooner or later, it will catch up with you. As the larynx pulls up, the vocal cords (housed in the larynx) get compressed by the swallowing muscles, putting undo stress on them. This means your vocal cords are now pinched and rubbing together, and like any other part of your body, they don't appreciate the irritation.

Do you get hoarse easily? Do you suffer from frequent bouts of laryngitis? Is your voice permanently raspy? Then you may be singing with a high larynx. All that pressure on your vocal cords is making them irritated and swollen. What do vocal cords look like? Have a look. (video coming shortly) What are those nasty bumps on the cords?

They are called vocal nodes. They are basically a callous that the tissue builds to protect itself from the irritation.  Nodes are very serious; some can only be treated with surgery. If any voice teacher ever tells you to push/belt/yell your way through your high notes, leave them immediately. I am currently working with students who learned to sing by this method of opening the mouth wider and yelling more sound. They are now recovering from vocal nodes.

So what should we do as we sing higher, let go completely and go into that breathy falsetto? Not at all. Make a squeaky door" noise with me. Didn't sound breathy to me. If you did it correctly, you would have felt a buzzy feeling throughout, which connected your top and bottom range.

This is the feeling of your vocal cords staying closed as you inflect up from the bottom to the top.  Flipping into falsetto on the other hand is the sound made when your vocal cords pop apart due to excessive air pressure.

When we connect two areas of our voice by not cracking in the middle, we are singing over a bridge or "passaggio" ("passage" in Italian.) The resulting middle area is called a "mix", a combination of the bottom and top resonances.
Is your larynx still pulling up doing the "squeaky door." Then put a "woofy" yawning sound into it. Sounds like a cow, doesn't it. This should help you connect your voice together with less strain because of the lower larynx. Put your finger on your Adam's Apple and yawn. Goes down, doesn't it?

Ultimately, we want to be able to sing any note in a 2.5-4 octave range at any volume with our larynx stabilized in the middle and our vocal cords staying together. Does that sound impossible? Put your finger on your larynx one last time and say, "Mary had a little lamb." Larynx stayed relatively still, cords were buzzing away. You do both all the time, every day, when you speak.