Beginner voice students often ask this question. It feels reassuring to classify ourselves, to feel we belong somewhere. Plus, newer singers believe knowing your voice type gives them other information about their voice, such as their range. What seems like a simple question doesn’t have a simple answer though. To understand why, first learn what “my voice type” even means, why voice type exists, and why a singing novice might not be able to find their voice type.
What is Voice Type?
A “voice type” is the classification of voices based on certain qualities and characteristics of the voice. These characteristics include:
and Tessitura: the part of your range you feel most comfortable singing in.
Men tend to have four options when it comes to voice type: countertenor, tenor, baritone, and bass. Women tend to have three options: soprano, mezzo-soprano, and contralto.
All of these variations depend on a number of physical elements just like they do in instruments. A cello has thicker strings than a violin, resulting in a lower range. Similar variations apply to the voice as well. Therefore, the variations in voice type depend largely on physical sex, but also on genre.
These identifications vary according to genre because different genres require different characteristics. A musical theater soprano may be considered a mezzo-soprano in opera because of the average range, tessitura, and timbre of the music.
Why Classify the Singing Voice
While some people like labels, others ask, “Who needs them?” There are pros and cons to identifying your voice type.
The number one benefit to knowing your voice type is for auditions. If you audition as a singer, the panel can get an immediate idea of your voice through your stated voice type. Why? Because the “rules” of voice type allow others to understand what characteristics your voice possesses.
Similarly, you can select music for yourself this way. If a song has a certain note you can’t reach, or spends a lot of time in a part of your voice you’re not comfortable with, you will know not to sing that song.
Identifying your voice type can become unintentionally limiting. Especially for younger or newer singing students, a voice type can make you feel boxed in to certain guidelines, discouraging you from exploring new songs.
Voice types are also hard to identify. The voice is a tricky instrument. It’s not like other instruments where you can see and feel exactly which notes the instrument can hit. Each voice is unique, and it can even change based on age, hormones, and more.
What’s My Voice Type Then?
Only a qualified voice teacher can help you identify your voice type. Even if you know your range right now, you may be able to extend it after learning different technical aspects of singing like posture, breathing, and more. And as stated above, no one element alone points to voice type. The subject is so complex, voice teachers have written entire books dedicated to it.
Again, the best way to find your voice type is to sign up for voice lessons today and learn all about your voice. Your voice type will reveal itself to you after developing a solid technique. And remember, it may take some time, but the process of discovery will be a lot of fun along the way.
“Sing from your diaphragm!” This phrase is almost mythical in the world of voice lessons. Somehow this concept has passed on to students who haven’t taken a single voice lesson, yet even students who have taken years of voice lessons may not know what it means. It doesn’t help either that some teachers say you should sing from your diaphragm while others say you shouldn’t. Who is right? And if you should, how do you do it?
What it Means to “Sing From Your Diaphragm”
The short answer to the question of “who is right,” when it comes to whether or not you should sing from your diaphragm is – both teachers are right! Obviously that requires a longer answer though.
Here is your diaphragm. As you can see, it sits right below your lungs. Think of it as an upside-down bowl-shaped muscle. Because of where it sits, when your lungs expand (when you breathe in), the diaphragm flattens out to make room for the now larger lungs. When your lungs contract (when you breathe out), the diaphragm curves up again. You can see this motion here.
Students often get lost right around now because what isn’t agreed upon is whether the diaphragm is a voluntary or involuntary muscle. In other words, do we move it consciously like our arms and legs, or does it move on its own like our hearts? For singers, this is largely irrelevant. Why? Because the point of a “diaphragmatic breath” is not whether or not we can move our diaphragm. It’s whether we can take an ideal breath to create a steady release of sound for singing. Therefore, focusing on the diaphragm itself misses the point.
Instead, students of singing should focus on how to feel their breath lower in their body, as opposed to breathing high into the chest. This is why the phrase “sing from your diaphragm” may be helpful for some students and teachers; it creates the imagery of a low breath and a steady release for some people. For others, it creates too much focus on something other than the task at hand.
So in short, you should think about singing from your diaphragm if it’s helpful to you. Any one of the following exercises can also help you “sing from your diaphragm” without the terminology.
Exercises to Sing From Your Diaphragm
The Milkshake Breath – When we drink a big, delicious milkshake from a straw, that milkshake goes right to our bellies. We can think of breathing in the same way. Imagine your favorite flavor of milkshake. Then, pretend to hold it in front of you and drink it all in. In this scenario, the milkshake will be your breath, and your goal is to fill your breath all the way to your belly. You can even put your hand on your belly if that helps you place it. If you don’t drink milkshakes, you can imagine whatever drink you’d like – as long as you’d normally drink it through a straw!
The Balloon Breath – When a balloon expands, it expands all the way around, not just to one part of the balloon. It does, however, start at the bottom of the balloon. Our lungs, ultimately, are like this as well. We want to use all of our abdominal muscles to create a steady release of the breath while singing, so we want to inhale with that in mind. Take a breath while imagining your torso is a balloon, and your goal is to fill up the whole balloon, starting from the bottom up.
Dog on a Hot Day – Have you ever seen a dog on a hot day, its tongue sticking out and its whole body working to breathe? We can use this for singing, too, although our breaths should concentrate on our belly. Stick your tongue out for an added tongue stretch, then release short breaths from your abdomen like a dog would on a hot day. This is a great exercise to introduce the release of breath along with the inhalation of breath.
The Snake Sound – To start working on the release of breath along with the intake, breathe in on four counts. Then immediately release the breath on a steady “ss” sound for eight counts. The “ss” sound should be strong but not forced, smooth and not jagged. This will encourage your body to release air as a stream rather than all at once, which is vital for singing.
There are numerous other exercises you can use to learn how to sing from your diaphragm (if you choose to think of it that way). These are my favorites because they all come with an organic understanding of how breath works without trying to manipulate our breath in other ways. Feel free to find your own creative ways to take lower breaths, too! Just make sure that no matter which exercises you use, you don’t do too many at once. These exercises can over oxygenate you and make you dizzy if done too many times, especially without practice. Try two or three a day at first for maybe a minute, tops. A little effort will go a long way to getting you towards diaphragmatic breaths in no time.
Taking lessons and practicing is something that all musicians have to spend most of their time doing, but it all pays off at the performance. Just this December we returned to the Ethical Society of Philadelphia for our largest recital yet. We featured students on piano, violin, cello, saxophone, voice, and guitar for a fantastic afternoon of music making. Our recitals provide our students with the opportunity to show off their skills to friends and family alike. Not only is it a great time for everyone involved, but it’s a crucial experience for becoming a well-rounded musician.
The wide diversity of genres and styles reflects the amazing diversity and talent of all of our students. From Beethoven and Saint-Saëns to The Beatles and Coldplay, enjoy this musical cross-section of our Philly Music Lessons family. We’re so glad to have seen so many people at our recital this past fall, but in case you missed it, here’s a little something to give you an idea of how talented our students are!
From our multi-instrumentalist teacher, Jen Pague, come the mind-blowing vocal ballads of Vita and the Woolf. Catch this burgeoning band in Philly while you can!
Jen’s been teaching piano, voice, guitar, and songwriting at Philly Music Lessons. Hearing her lessons from the next room, there’s no doubt Jen brings ease to her sessions and can draw out confidence from anyone. Her teaching strengths lie in an ability to connect with students. Keeping herself inspired and current, Jen’s been working at composing original music when she’s not teaching. With epic vocals reminiscent of Florence and the Machine, these tunes are worth a listen:
Philly Music Lessons at the Ethical Society
Fall Recital 2015
November 21st, 1 PM
It’s become somewhat of a tradition to have our Fall recital on Rittenhouse Square. The Philly trees have ushered in the Fall, and the park is starting to show signs of the holidays by the end of November. This will be our first recital at the Ethical Society. Equipped with a stage and abundant space for an audience, we’re excited to bring families and teachers into a new venue to support the accomplishments of our students.
The show is a great way for students of all ages to see various skill levels in action, and to put their practice into context. The project oriented learning required for recital performance will no doubt push participating students to higher levels. For this reason, recitals are something we encourage all students to consider, no matter their age or reason for taking lessons. In the past, Philly Music Lessons recitals have embraced true beginners to advanced students studying anything from classical music to pop composition. Thus, our recitals are often diverse and present a wide range of musical styles.
Join us for our Fall 2015 student recital at the Ethical Society this November:
We’ve officially joined the future (or we’re just catching up to the present)! We offer some lessons via Skype. So, if you’re really loving your teacher, but have to move or travel frequently, you can still meet with your instructor via Skype. Our piano teacher Anabelle (who we love so much!), had to move across the country. She’s been giving Skype lessons remotely for classical piano. This is a really great option for adults. Skype allows students to stay motivated with a teacher while squeezing lessons into a busy schedule. You could say Skyping falls into our category of “in-home lessons”, but it is a slightly cheaper option, allowing those who travel or who would rather hang at the screen to easily stay in touch with their weekly practice.
Here’s what you’ll need:
A Skype account
An internet connection (high-speed)
A camera & mic (built-in or attached to your computer)
Once you’ve tested out your setup and are ready for some Skype lessons, give us a holler! Next up, VR lessons (just kidding! We can’t quite afford the future yet.)
Theory, Composition and More – Lessons with Annabelle Corrigan at Philly Music Lessons
We’re pleased to announce Annabelle Corrigan as the latest addition of teachers at Philly Music Lessons (piano lessons, voice lessons, and studies in music theory & composition). Annabelle lives in the ‘hood (Fishtown, that is), right down the street! She’s soon to join the ranks of Temple alumni (alongside many of our teachers), as she will be graduating in May from the Boyer College of Music with a degree in theory and composition. Annabelle also has her associates in piano performance and has studied voice as well. For students looking to learn piano or voice, or for those who want to explore music theory, Annabelle is a great guide – especially for those with an interest in songwriting or who want a deeper understanding of music (theory). Annabelle spends a lot of time composing, and her experience studying at a high level enables her to work with a wide variety of interests. Her own interests have taken her from opera, to classical, to jazz, film scores, and more. Schedule a Lesson
When did you begin playing [instrument], and why?: I’ve been singing since I was about 8. I began to play piano when I was a teenager, because many of my classmates were really good at piano or some other instrument, and it inspired me to be like them.
What are your personal goals as a musician?: I love opera, and my goal is to compose my own. I plan on working closely with the librettist, since I’m a poet as well.
Do you have a memory of a time when a musical concept or technique really clicked? Something you’ll remember forever?: I never knew what perfect pitch was until I was much older. I also didn’t realize I had perfect pitch until a professor at an audition made me aware of my ability. Since then, it’s become a wonderful tool.
What is your favorite piece of advice from one of your past (or current) teachers?: Being compassionate with a student will allow them to fearlessly open up to their potentials.
What was your most challenging moment learning an instrument?: In the winter months, my body feels tight and cold, and sometimes this causes tension during playing or singing. That’s why to me it’s important to work in a warm environment, do proper daily stretching, and have a healthy lifestyle (good diet, exercise, proper sleep).
What is your biggest musical achievement?: Composing a fugue.
Favorite thing about teaching?: I love sharing my passion for music with other human beings.
What is a piece of advice you would like to share with anyone learning music?: If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. Music is meant to be fun, enjoy it!
Personal music projects: i.e. bands, groups, shows, recording, etc. (if any): I am in the process of composing a work for my sister’s wedding. Additional compositions underway, member of American Composer’s Forum, member of Contemplum (composition club at Temple), participant in the Oticons Film Score Contest.
Annabelle Corrigan’s Bio I have always been involved with sounds and music from an early age. My greatest forte is my ability to hear. When I was young, people thought I might become a voice actor, because my skill at replicating voices was quite apparent. Still, I loved to sing and had been regularly involved in choirs. I dabbled in violin in the fifth grade, but I didn’t feel a “click.” Without despairing, I tried my luck with piano and felt instantly in sync. I knew this was the right instrument for me. During my piano studies, I continued to work on my voice. In addition, I studied the workings of a sound board, and was head sound chief at my high school. At the college level, I began to pursue composition, while still continuing with my piano and vocal studies. I hold an associate degree in music, piano performance, and I am currently working towards my degree in music theory and composition. I will be graduating from Temple University this coming May. I have been teaching music since 2006 and have worked with a wide range of ages and various group sizes. My joy is working with people in a field that I’m passionate about. My interests include music (jazz, classical, opera, new age), ballet, composition, yoga, meditation, going to the gym, hiking and camping, scuba-diving, sailing,Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture, cooking and baking, film-editing, sound engineering, poetry, reading good books, building websites, and watching documentaries.
Using the Microphone, Playback, and Recording Process to Critique your Voice and Improve Vocals
Singing Well – The Art of Knowing Your Voice
“Just sing it like you did outside of the booth” is what I continuously heard from my producer and sound engineer the first time I stepped into a recording booth. “Okay, I’ll try”, replying out of frustration.
I still was not producing the same vocal ability and performance that I could when I was singing to a group of people in an acoustic room with no amplification. It became more than exasperating. So I took a break. In fact, I took many breaks the first few months that I recorded in the ‘booth’, as we vocalists call it, because I just wasn’t hearing the voice that I knew so well in my head. The microphone had this ability to make me perform in an entirely different way, with an entirely different focus, and it happened on stage too. The difference between performing acoustically versus in a recording booth or through a live feed microphone can take any singer, trained or beginner, and bring them back to square one. I thought I had this whole singing thing “down-pat” until I began to realize that in singing (and most definitely in all music), you never really have it that way at all.
In learning to sing with technique, any trained teacher will teach the student about posture, breathing exercises, intonation, diction and all of the tools for learning how to perform. However, there is so much to learn about the voice, and not all of it comes with a teacher. Each of us have a different timbre, a unique tonal quality particular to ourselves. For most vocalists, pair this with a passion for music and singing, and it becomes soulful. There is absolutely a benefit to learning technique through training with a voice teacher, but sometimes we must learn from experience in order to grow. In this case, while recording in a booth may be frustrating at first, there are many benefits to learning to sing through amplification.
While not getting too technical explaining the art of singing through a microphone, there actually is a beauty and a science to it. As a vocalist, we begin to hear ourselves sing through our own head. Have you ever listened to yourself on a recording machine and thought to yourself, WOW! that doesn’t sound like me at all! It not only is interesting to learn how to “work the mic” but also, how to listen to yourself. You can learn a lot by listening to your recordings over and over, learning what sounds good and what doesn’t.
Play around with the levels of the instrumentation and your own vocals in the headphones. You can make the instrument levels higher if you need to be able to hear them better. Also, you can add sound levels to your vocals so you can hear them better as well. Listening to your singing voice may be one of the hardest things to get used to, but it truly is very important when recording. This is where you start to learn how to work with the microphone and really get the most out of a recording. It is nice to hear a rough mix of your vocals so you can learn where to improve, even if it is just in your own home studio! Here, you can start to learn the difference between your acoustic voice and your recording voice.
Also, it is always about the performance! You may be the best singer in the world but if you don’t perform with your heart and soul, it will come through on a recording. When listening back to your recording, take notice of places where you may be able to improve. Can you show a little more emotion in a certain area? Can you step away from or step closer to the mic to make a portion of the song come to life? This is almost like a dance. It can be difficult in the studio, because you may think you don’t have the energy cultivated in front of a live crowd. But you can access that. Pretend you’re in front of an audience, if that works for you.
Last, but definitely not least, don’t forget to ENJOY yourself! Though at times it may be frustrating, this should be fun. It is a great experience and a talent to pursue, and it is more than worth it when you can play your vocals for friends and family and be proud of what you’ve accomplished.
Introducing New Jazz, Blues, and Soul Voice Teacher, Hayley Cass
Hayley Cass – Voice Lessons in Fishtown
We’re so grateful for our newest addition to the group of vocal teachers at Philly Music Lessons! When I first met Hayley, I was immediately struck by her positive energy, enthusiasm for music, and ability to inspire. She not only has a passion for music, but also a genuine desire to share that passion with others. Its clear that her goal is to help people find their own voice and experience joy in music. I almost signed up for lessons right then and there!
Her talents can be heard around Philly and beyond in her band, Red Martina. Hayley writes for the group while also contributing lead female vocals. We’re looking forward to seeing this talented act move up in the world of hip-hop and soul. They’re worth checking out! Here’s some material from their newest release:
When we chatted, Hayley told us about her own experience learning music. She’s an experienced teacher and is psyched to share valued insights from her own training. A true believer that anyone can find their voice through technique, exploration, and practice, Hayley is a great vocal teacher for all ages and styles of singing. Read more about Hayley in her bio and interview below:
I teach voice, piano and composition. I started singing at a very young age and was always involved in church choirs and bands, as well as school chorales, competitions and a cappella groups. Although I attended Penn State University for science, I took many music courses. I have been trained by talented and prestigious music teachers outside of schooling and have used my background to pursue a full-time career in music. I have recorded two albums with my band, Red Martina, and have performed shows consisting of much of the music I have written. I am primarily a blues, jazz and soul singer and love to write songs on my free time. Much of the time, the songs that I write are used in Red Martina’s music and (with the help of my band members) we work together to make the songs come to life. I am excited not only to teach students and help them grow but to learn with them, as well. Schedule a Lesson
When did you begin singing, and why?: I started singing before I can even remember. I always remember listening to my dad play blues and jazz guitar while I went to bed as a kid and I’d just sing a long until I’d fall asleep. I might have even been singing before I could speak but you’ll have to ask my parents about that! I then started singing and playing piano in church and Sunday School plays and my love and passion for music continued to grow. I started studying piano around 6 years old under a fantastic pianist in Warwick, New York and was lucky enough to learn piano ranging from classical and jazz, theory, and the importance of discipline. I don’t think there is a reason to why I “started” singing and playing. It is and has always been a part of me that is an expression of myself. Music has a way of taking over the soul and, for me, all else just falls into place.
What are your personal goals as a musician?: I am currently the lead singer in a band called Red Martina and we have been working hard to do an international tour. I am lucky enough to have a great support system and we are always working very hard to create music that resonates with those it reaches. I wish to continue polishing my craft as a vocalist, composer, and musician and to never give up even when it gets tough!
Do you have a memory of a time when a musical concept or technique really clicked? Something you’ll remember forever?:
Yes! I’ll never forget when a vocal teacher of mine in college told me to “drop your birdcage”. It’s a breathing and diaphragm technique that helps with control of the breath and overall vocal delivery. I’ll never forget it! I remember exactly where I was when it “clicked” too!
What is your favorite piece of advice from one of your past (or current) teachers?:
While it may have not been a “teacher” per say, everyone in life can be a teacher if you let them. A friend gave me advice a few years ago that just stuck with me. A lot of times, things may be fearful, such as learning something new, trying something for the first time, or going to a place you’ve never been. Yet, instead of going into that experience with fear, go into it with love. Be excited, and don’t forget its okay to make mistakes. If you find that you have the passion for whatever it is you want to do, its normal to be scared, but don’t give up! The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.
What was your most challenging moment learning an instrument?:
Getting into the recording studio for the very first time and singing on a microphone through a PA system. I had never heard my voice other than acoustically and it was so tough for me to get used to it! The microphone can also serve as an instrument if you know how to “work it” properly and in vocals it’s important if you’d like to perform.
What is your biggest musical achievement?:
Writing and recording two albums with my band and performing to a sold out show for our very first live performance (my very first time singing and performing my own music). I am definitely proud of myself for remaining diligent with my work and continuing to live my dream when others have told me to give up. It has been tremendously gratifying to see my growth as a singer, composer and performer over the past few years. Also, one of the happiest moments for me was singing my brother and his wife’s First Dance at their wedding. It was incredibly beautiful and I’ll never forget it.
Favorite thing about teaching?:
I love teaching for so many reasons. I’ve had great teachers and I aspire to be like them as I grow in my teaching personality and technique. I hope to coach my students to truly find the fire within themselves and help them discover what they’re capable of. When students can take home with them something new and make it come to life in their own image, it brings such delight and wonder.
What is a piece of advice you would like to share with anyone learning music?:
It’s much easier to give up when you get frustrated and just walk away. In those times, that is when you slow it down. I mean REALLY slow it down. Relax and let yourself actually FEEL the music. Almost like a meditation, it becomes you.
Personal music projects: i.e. bands, groups, shows, recording, etc. (if any):
I am primarily with a band called “Red Martina” and we have released two full length albums and a live studio session album. It has absolutely changed my life and I couldn’t be any happier. You can check us out on Spotify, Bandcamp,Pandora, iTunes, Youtube and other sources where you can find music online these days. Our debut record is called “Intransit” and our sophomore record is called “Come on Home”. It’s definitely worth listening to!