Love it or hate it, it brings warmth to your voice!

Have you ever heard opera singers give vibrato some welly, or sat in front of someone in a carol service with a wobbly vibrato? Why does it sometimes make a voice warm and delicious, and sometimes make you want to put your fingers in your ears? 

Vibrato is when the frequency of a note fluctuates in pitch and amplitude. The frequency can vary up to a quarter of a semitone either side of the note. It is actually not physically possible to sing with no vibrato at all, as the human voice will always have tiny changes in sound – this is what gives it warmth. You can hear on tracks that have been pitch altered, creating a more produced and synthetic sound. Here, the fluctuations are removed, erasing the natural sounds that our voices make.

It is therefore harder to match pitch to straight sounds and this is why, when teaching, I ask students to pitch-match to my voice before using the piano. Teaching the technique of vibrato in singing is not quite as simple as it might seem. The difference in timbre can make a phrase more interesting – but if vibrato is too slow it sounds ‘wobbly’, and if it is too fast it can sound like a ‘bleat’. In order to effectively and beautifully use vibrato we need to understand and use it to varying amounts. This is done by training the muscles in the larynx to work together correctly.

When using vibrato the muscles are essentially tensing and relaxing; this added element of tiny relaxations allows the singer to sustain their efforts for longer and is most notably used in opera singing/performances.

Voicebox Part 2

Voicebox Part 2

Professional voice users such as teachers, performers and singers can develop voice problems due to poor voice technique and vocal health. But how can this be resolved?

I spent an evening with voice specialist  and speech therapist Madeleine Ashton to find out more. We left Part 1 of this interview at a cliffhanger – what therapies can benefit those experiencing voice problems?

LMT – what is it?
Laryngeal Massage Therapy.  This is like physiotherapy for the larynx, it’s about stretching the muscles and releasing tension in the larynx. It’s said to be beneficial for any type of voice problem, but particularly for Muscle Tension Dysphonia (see part 1). It’s about knowing how to stretch the muscles to help achieve muscle relaxation. Then the client becomes aware of this sensation of relaxation and tries to replicate it themselves.How many sessions does it take?
In theory you can do this in one session, but really it depends. If the underlying issue isn’t dealt with then the problem can recur.

So, for example, if a teacher finds their throat is often tight and hoarse, is that something LMT could work for?

Yes, teachers often use their voices a lot without necessarily having much idea of what is happening with their voice, so you would need to find out what they were doing to cause the tension so that you can prevent it recurring.

And that’s something you do?
Yes, I try to do manual therapy with anyone I think it would be beneficial for. Some people hate having others touch their necks, so you need to build a relationship first. There are also exercises that you can do which can be just as effective, as people get into a routine of doing them.What is the most interesting part of your job?
The people, and the stories that they tell. Voice clients tend to be talkers! So you do get into some interesting conversations with people.

Thank you Madeleine!

When we speak and when we sing we use the same set of apparatus – what affects the speaking voice can affect the singing voice and vice versa. Want to know more about how singing lessons at Punch Vocals can complement speech targets? Drop me a message here.

If you want to know more about Voicebox or if you feel you would benefit from advice on one or more of the topics mentioned, please contact Madeleine through her website here.

Listening With Your Body

Listening With Your Body

People usually assume that listening is done through the ear, but really there is so much more to listening.

Let me introduce you to the great Evelyn Glennie, a talented musician, speaker and educator. She is the first person to have a full-time career as a solo percussionist and recently received honorary membership from the Royal Philharmonic Society, and the Polar Music Prize (a big deal – the musical equivalent of a Nobel Prize).
Evelyn lost her hearing by age 12 and learnt to recognize the difference between sounds through the vibration in her hands and throughout her body. She started her percussion lessons by training herself to recognize tiny differences in the vibrations of sound.
As I carry out speech and language intervention at a school for deaf children this is so important to understand! During this TED talk, Evelyn asks the viewer to allow their body to be a ‘resonating chamber’ for the music they experience, to experience the journey of the sounds, not just the initial contact of the stick on the drum, or the bow on the string. To pay attention to the tiny changes in how the sounds are affecting our bodies.
During the talk she explores notions beyond instructions from sheet music, interpreting the music with feeling, and in the final stage to listen to ourselves, both musician and audience alike.
Let’s think differently about music. And start learning how to listen.

And click here to watch the talk!

Image by: King JG, Hillyer JF, on Wikipedia here

So you think you’re tone deaf?

So you think you’re tone deaf?

‘I can’t sing. I’m actually tone-deaf.’

This is a surprisingly common response when people find out that I’m a singing teacher. But of all the people in the world who get out of karaoke and carol singing with this line, very few actually are tone-deaf.

Tone-deafness, known as ‘amusia’ in its medical sense, is a cognitive issue linked to how the brain processes musical information. Usually sound is processed by the auditory cortex in the brain, before being sent on to the frontal and parietal cortices. This is a bit like when a document is proofread by one person for grammar, and then the corrected version is sent to another person to check for meaning. Amusia occurs when auditory information goes separately to these areas, but the two proofreaders don’t benefit from the insight of the other and so miss some errors. [1] This can show up as difficulty with recognizing pitch.

 is how high or low a sound is. How does this work? When any sound is made we hear it because the instrument makes the air vibrate. Imagine the strings inside a piano – of varying lengths. When a piano key is pressed, a hammer hits a string and it vibrates the air around it – shorter strings vibrate faster (higher pitch), longer strings vibrate more slowly (lower pitch). This vibration hits your eardrum, which sends a message to your brain.

Not all pitch problems are tone-deafness.[2] There are lots of reasons why someone might find pitch-matching difficult; lack of technique or experience, or perhaps growing up with little exposure to music. But in my experience the most common and most restrictive reason is lack of confidence. It only takes being told once or twice ‘that sounds awful!’ for a person to avoid it at all costs, creating negative associations with singing. Singing then becomes a psychological battle, inhibiting good breathing technique and tensing muscles in the vocal tract when they should be relaxed. This affects the sound produced, reinforcing the idea that they ‘can’t sing’, and so the vicious cycle continues.

In these cases, vocal training can allow the student to learn to correct their pitch through relaxation of their vocal instrument and through ear-training. This can be a revolutionary and exciting prospect for those who love to sing but have never been confident in their ability to hold a tune.

So, if you love to sing, but you’ve always thought you couldn’t carry a tune some vocal training could be the key – go on, try it!

[1] This process is discussed on singwise here, but the mildly shaky analogy is my own

[2]For an interesting article on how tone-deafness is measured see:
Sloboda, J. Wise. K, and Peretz, I. (2005) ‘Quantifying Tone Deafness in the General Population’ Annals New York Academy of Sciences, 1060: 255–261, which can be accessed here

Top left: ‘Loud noise’ By Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Middle right: Frequency sketches, by Victoria Punch