Classical vs. Non-Classical Voice Coaching, Pt. 1 - The Real Bottom Line

Sunday, February 2, 2014 by Thomas, Michele | Vocal Technique

by Michele Thomas

The Discussion Is On The Table

This discussion is nothing new in many respects.  But I notice that it is a discussion that’s rarely under the spotlight.

And though this subject is something I’ve talked a lot about over the years, yet never do I see enough being written about the matter. So, I’ve decided to do it. While there are an endless amount of articles about various singing techniques, few explain why these techniques exist in the first place and how experts determine “best” techniques. Over a series of posts I’ll explore the culture and attitudes surrounding the world of vocal coaching and what singing students should be aware of in their pursuit of vocal training and development.

The Unspoken Truth About The Common Voice Lesson

Some time ago I read a post on a music teacher's blog where an upset voice teacher wrote, "A few weeks ago, I had a young student be told by the music director of a local Children’s Theater group to stop studying with me as I was teaching her to be “too classical.”

Clearly this voice teacher had cause to be upset at the implications drawn from such comments. It was obvious the student had abruptly discontinued lessons after a long period of instruction. This left the teacher feeling discouraged and also created a gap in her studio roster, impacting her financially.

Regarding the music director's comments, however, I couldn't jump to the instant conclusion that his words were meant in malice or disrespect towards the voice teacher or her methods. Primarily because he presented a legitimate and underlying point, which is a conventional classical vocal technique should not be assumed to work for other genres of music. The long-standing theory that there is one basic technique (code word: classical) covering all genres has long since been debunked.

Research in vocal pedagogy over recent decades has proven that there are methods, which are better suited for non-classical, non-operatic singing styles. Additionally, these newer methods show that a safe, and natural approach to singing popular styles of music can be developed - even in the short-term – if guided effectively through instruction.

Yet given the current state of the vocal teaching community at large, it's obvious that many instructors, including myself at one time, remain uneducated or resistant to developments in vocal science. This is certainly true particularly as it relates to contemporary singing techniques.

Additionally, there is often a deeper issue of cultural bias and ethnocentric attitudes surrounding music outside of Western European classical traditions. These attitudes can fuel musical elitism that often shuns popular music in voice teaching culture. In that case, I think it's a fair assessment that many voice instructors may be unequipped to teach more contemporary singing styles.

I believe it's fair for students to ask the critical question, "Will the technique I'm taught work for the type of music I want to sing?" Ultimately, the training a student receives should be applicable to the kind of singing they do outside the studio versus reflecting their instructor’s personal musical tastes. Also, vocal instructors should be able to teach, in no uncertain terms, how to develop such techniques. A voice teacher shouldn’t assume their students must automatically default to their expertise as a voice teacher. On the contrary, teachers must earn credibility by producing clear and tangible results that the student experiences directly.

After a given time of instruction, if one of my students felt they weren’t progressing as they expected, I must re-evaluate their original goals AND examine my own teaching strategies to ensure that I'm giving them the tools that they actually need and want. Over the years I’ve taught, I’ve continued to evaluate my knowledge for vocal training and match it against current research and new developments in vocal pedagogy and science.

A great article exploring these ideas with great clarity and conviction is in the NATS Journal Of Singing called, "The Recovering Female Opera Singer" by Randy Buescher. Mr. Buescher is creator of the "Your True Voice" technique and a certified speech pathologist. He addresses what I believe to be the bigger ethical questions for voice teachers: do conventionally accepted teaching methods really meet the demands of our contemporary musical culture? If not, is it ethical to continue teaching those techniques?

These questions stir controversy in the vocal teaching community. But what about you?  How would you answer this question?  I would love to know!  Share your comments or ask more questions below.  I would love to hear from you! 

Releasing Vocal Tension by Guy Babusek

Wednesday, August 8, 2012 by Thomas, Michele | Vocal Technique

From the Guy Babusek Vocal Studio Blog - June 29, 2012

There are two different sets of laryngeal muscles, the inner (or “intrinsic”) and the outer (or “extrinsic”) muscles. The inner muscles govern processes such as the adduction and abduction (bringing together and separating) of the vocal folds, the changing of the shape of the vocal folds, and the increase and decrease of the tension along the length of the folds. The extrinsic muscles govern things such as the positioning of the larynx (depressing and raising) for processes like swallowing, chewing and yawning. The tongue and jaw muscles can also be categorized as outer muscles for the purpose of vocal training (even though most of these muscles aren’t directly connected to the larynx itself).

Usually when a singer complains that their voice feels tense, it is due to the fact that the outer muscles have been recruited to to assist in the pitch making process. Unfortunately, the outer muscles can offer very little help in making pitch, but they can cause many problems with allowing a full free sound when they are incorrectly involved. If you think about it, a person swallows, chews and yawns very many times throughout the day; therefore these muscles are very strong. When a person is attempting to coordinate muscles inside the larynx to create pitches in ways that they have rarely, if ever done before, it is easy to understand how the large, strong muscles which are close in vicinity are often easily recruited. If you think about doing a sit up and notice how easy it is for the neck muscles to get involved, you get a good idea how the phenomenon of muscle recruitment works.

Usually the first order of business for training a singer involves encouraging these outer muscles to stay as neutral as possible during phonation. Often this period of training will require that the intensity of tone being worked with be lower than is ultimately desired by the singer. Also during this phase of training, the quality of sound can often sound a bit odd to the ear. This odd sounding condition is frequently known as “unfinished” sound. If, for instance, the singer is recruiting a lot of swallowing muscles while singing, we will often temporarily utilize an exaggerated low larynx sound. This can be a quite comical “dopey” or even “hooty” sound. I try to make sure that the singer understands that these are very temporary sound qualities which are being used for conditioning purposes in order to free up the voice, so that the student will ultimately have the full and beautiful sound they are after.

Until the unwanted outer muscle activity of the larynx has been eliminated, working on building a “full-voiced” sound will yield poor results and will often only further imbed the tense habits into the autonomic neuro-muscular system, thus making it even more difficult to “undo” these undesirable habits in the future. A singer must understand this very clearly so that they are not unduly impatient during this “releasing” portion of their training. It is important that the singer understands that while they are releasing the voice, they need continue to vocalize in this same manner at home as well. Coming into the studio once a week and releasing tension only to go home and grip and belt again for 6 straight days is definitely not a recipe for success. Usually this phase of training will be complete in a relatively short period of time, and a more “normal” sound will come into practice and the singer will be very happy with the results.

Read more tips from the Guy Babusek Vocal studio at:

Top 10 Exercises for Your Vocal Health By John Henny

Monday, June 11, 2012 by Thomas, Michele | Vocal Technique

I posted this article on my Pinterest page and it was so popular I thought I should post again here. This also gives you a taste of the types of vocal methods used at Soulstream Music Studio. Enjoy!

"As a voice teacher, I've found certain exercises that work well for most singers and help get fast results. Unless noted, they can be used with any scale. But a word of caution: Don't take any of these exercises higher than is comfortable. You can listen to my podcasts at for some examples.

1. Glides Through a Straw

Blow air through a small stirring straw while phonating glides up and down through your range. The backpressure created by the resistance of the straw presses down on the vocal cords and helps decrease puffiness, a major source of vocal trouble.

2. Lip Trills

This is a variation of the straw exercise. Gently blow air through closed lips, keeping them relaxed, and sing an uh vowel underneath. Your lips should start to trill. The resistance of the bubbling lips helps maintain cord closure, an important element of good singing..."

Read the rest of the article here...