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Finding Your Voice in Song

By: Stefanie Emery 

voice lessons

Many people are intrigued by the art of song and the beauty of the singing voice. For some, singing can come naturally, but for others it may be their life’s work to create the best singing voice possible. Either way, there are many mechanics and techniques that go into a well balanced singing voice.

When we learn that our natural speaking voice is in fact the same “voice” we use to match pitch for singing the mystery and challenge of singing can be simplified. The simple idea that we can transfer the speaking voice that we use to communicate every day to song will help a singer manage the obstacles of matching pitch, creating rich tone, and avoiding an overly breathy sound. 

Let’s break the singing voice down into three main areas. Chest Voice, Head Voice, and Mixed Voice.  Although we access these three “voices” differently, and they have different qualities to them, our goal is to create a consistent sound throughout all of our vocal “registers” thus leaving us with “one voice” instead of three completely different sounding voices. This is a big goal for most vocalists, as navigating between these areas can produce very different tones, volumes, and characteristics if not trained with proper control. Here are our three “voices” and some details on the resonators within our body that produce these sounds.

Chest Voice 

Most commonly recognized by the area where we use our natural speaking voice, the Chest Voice is accessed through the chest, acting as it’s external resonator, and in the mouth as it’s internal resonator. If you place one hand on your upper chest and say “HEY” you should feel a vibration in the chest. Chest Voice is where we produce our strongest sound which is usually the most easily accessed with lower pitches (think back to the speaking voice) and into a mid to higher register where we can produce big, belty sounds. 

Head Voice 

Head Voice is the opposite of Chest Voice because it is a much lighter sound and feeling. Think about taking all the weight away from a big chest voice and hitting pitches in your upper register, these are notes that feel higher and are not as easily achieved in a lower speaking voice area. Head Voice resonates externally in the back of the head and internally in the nasal cavity. To feel the Head Voice place one hand on the upper back of your head and say “WEEE” in a high pitch. You may feel that resonator vibrate slightly. Now say “What’s Up Doc” in the style of Bugs Bunny. Hear that very nasally sound you just created? You are using your Pharyngeal Resonator, or nasal tone, which is accessed externally off of the nose and internally at the back of the Pharynx. Your Pharynx is located internally towards the back of the head within the vocal tract. 

Mixed Voice 

Mixed Voice is where we combine the resonators of the Chest Voice and Head Voice, while  including the Pharyngeal Resonator to add in nasal qualities. Without this nasal component we won’t be accessing the “Mix” of these two other resonators to their fullest extent. All three of these resonators are present in a well balanced Mixed Voice. We use Mixed Voice to achieve rich, full sounds that span between our Chest and Head Voices allowing us to achieve the most consistent sound spanning our low and high registers. Mixed Voice can be used in our upper register to achieve higher pitches without them sounding thin or weak.

Learning how to access these three areas of the voice and how to coordinate the proper mechanics can be achieved through vocal technique exercises, experimentation, and application in song. 

Hearing Chest, Head, and Mixed Voice in Song 

While listening to a singer navigate through their vocal registers you can now start identifying which “voice” they are singing in. Dissecting a vocal performance is a great way to learn the different qualities of these areas of the voice. First, recognizing the pitch is most helpful because it will give us a clue to what register of the voice they are in. Is the singer singing low or high notes? Do they sound strong or light? If the sound is lower and strong there’s a good chance they are singing in chest voice, and if the sound is higher and light they are most likely in their head voice. Mixed Voice is sometimes challenging to identify because it usually sounds strong and has a large resonance. Many singers use their Mix to get powerful sounds in their higher register, thus, at times tricking the listener to think they could be in a powerful Chest Voice.  The song “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele is a great example of hearing all three of these voices. She uses her Chest Voice in most of the song but flips into her Head and Mixed Voices in many areas to create dynamic interest and to also achieve higher pitches with ease. Stylistically, she is choosing which voice to sing in to create differences in feel and tone, which creates an interesting performance rather than one that can feel monotonous and dull. When a vocal stays in the same area through an entire piece and lacks stylistic freedom the result is sometimes flat and underwhelming. Using your ear to analyze a vocal is a wonderful tool as it allows one to compare another vocalist’s abilities and begin utilizing the learned techniques in practice. 

Finding your natural singing voice is fun, experimental, and exciting. Knowing how your own voice operates is the first step to becoming a better more well-rounded singer,  and with dedicated practice you may start expanding your vocal range, techniques, and overall sound. As much as singing is technical it must also contain emotion and feel, because without those characteristics it may begin to sound lifeless or even robotic. Remembering that the tools, techniques, and mechanics of the voice are extremely important for vocal success should always be paired with the knowledge that music is an art and without personal expression and thoughtful emoting one will only be attaining, at best, fifty percent of their best possible sound. 

Fall Recital 2018 Highlights

The recitals are the best time of the year every time they come around. Not only do we get to enjoy great music, but we also get to watch the growth of each participant! A good concert, with a great community of people. What more could you want?

Our recitals happen twice per year, once in the Spring and once in the Fall. If you’d like to perform on one, let your teacher know!

Check out our talented students!

Our seasonal recitals are a great way for students to get an opportunity to perform for friends and family! It’s also great for friends and family to get a chance to see the progress they’ve made since last time, whether they are 6 years old or 60 years old. Check out this video offering up highlights of every students performance from our Spring 2018 recital at the Ethical Society of Philadelphia!

What’s My Voice Type?

voice, type, fach, philadelphia“What’s my voice type?”

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:

  • Range: how high and low you can sing.
  • Timbre: the “color” or quality of your voice.
  • Vocal breaks: the shift in your voice between head and chest voice.
  • 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.

Pros

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.

Cons

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.

How To Sing From Your Diaphragm

voice, music, diaphragm, fishtown, philly“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.

diaphragm, voice, singing, lessons

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.

Fall Recital 2016 Highlights

Students Showing Off Their Skills

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!

 

Philly Band Love, Vita and the Woolf

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:

Ethical Society Recitals, Rittenhouse

Philly Music Lessons at the Ethical Society
Fall Recital 2015
November 21st, 1 PM
Recitals on RittenhouseIt’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:
Saturday, November 21st, 2015 @ 1:00pm

Skype Lessons!

skype lessonsWe’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
  • A computer
  • An internet connection (high-speed)
  • A camera & mic (built-in or attached to your computer)
  • Your instrument

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.)

 

Composition Teacher, Voice, Piano Lessons

Theory, Composition and More – Lessons with Annabelle Corrigan at Philly Music Lessons

piano teachers, vocal coachWe’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.