Applying the most effective of these Old World vocal principals
toward problem- solving has been a fulfilling journey: one that has been
extremely important in the development of my work in diagnostics. In
order for a vocal technician to diagnose correctly, he/she must train
the ear to the point that they ‘feel’ what is physically happening in
another singer just from the sound. These skills have offered me the
unique challenge of specializing in career crisis intervention for the
professional classical singer. For over 35 years, I have fine honed instruction
to include the most effective concepts; concepts that can move the singer
forward more quickly and help them to regain lost confidence and to resume
a successful career.
Famous for his vocal work with professional singers experiencing chronic
vocal problems in mid-career, Alan R. Lindquest established himself as
a well-known master teacher. A pioneer in therapeutic singing for damaged
voices, Lindquest shared a great amount of his experience and knowledge
during my study with him in 1979. Many of the Lindquest vocal exercises
were acquired from two teachers with whom he studied in Stockholm in
1938 and 1939: Joseph Hislop (one of Bjoerling’s teachers) and Mme.
Haldis Ingebjardt Isene, who taught Kirsten Flagstad from 1925 to 1939.
Vocal pedagogue and researcher Dr. Barbara Mathis proved the therapeutic
value of these exercises on damaged voices through her scientific research
in the office of Dr. Van Lawrence, laryngologist for the Houston Grand
Reconnecting the instinct to sing with healthy body coordination is of
major importance in re-establishing vocal realignment. It may take an
investment of time for the singer to rediscover a positive emotional
response in singing. Realize that the joy of singing is directly connected
with vocal efficiency and ease of production and musical expression.
As a singer studies these vocal exercises, and the physical act of singing
becomes easier and easier, psychological anxiety dissipates, allowing
them to re-establish a higher performance level.
Offering professional singers the vocal tools to help re-establish lost
vocal function has become a large part of the work that I do in my New
York Studio. Singers travel from many other countries to study these
vocal concepts; concepts that were instrumental in the vocal training
of such great singers as Kirsten Flagstad, Jussi Bjoerling, Birgit Nilsson,
Karin Braunzell, Nicolai Gedda and many many others. To read the list
of Lindquest’s teachers is like reading a star-studded list of master
teachers, including two Garcia-trained teachers, Henry Walker and Maestro
Barron in Chicago, Maestro Rosati, teacher of Gigli, Mme. Novikova, who
taught George London and many other famous singers, Joseph Hislop, who
taught Bjoerling, Haldis Ingebjardt, a teacher of Flagstad, and other
vocal pedagogues from the 1930’s who were instrumental in developing
Pursuing the Dream of a Professional Career
Many singers work for years toward a career as an international operatic
and/or concert artist. But it is important to understand that far from
the mystique and wonder of such a career comes the reality of the hard
work and pressure; a pressure that can be overwhelming at times. Usually
inspired by a vocal gift and the desire to express it at an early age,
many of these naturally talented singers perform strictly from instinct
rather than through an established understanding of vocal technique.
Performance instincts often motivate a singer’s stage career in the earlier
years. In most cases these performance instincts serve as a tool to inspire
a body-connected vocal response. I call this the power of intention:
an intention to communicate to the audience.
But over the years smaller vocal problems can develop into larger ones.
They can be caused by (1) a sudden maturing of the voice, (2) the development
of chronic allergies, (3) hormonal changes brought on by menopause (or
andropause for men), (4) consistently singing in different acoustical
environments, (5) trying to find vocal balance in dealing with a grueling
rehearsal schedule and (6) too much travel in a short period of time.
The natural singer may not develop the self-understanding of how to diagnose
and solve technical issues when they occur in mid-career. It is understandable
that vocal problems can put the singer in a difficult and uncomfortable
position, creating insecurity and self-doubt. It is usually more of a
challenge to problem-solve in mid-career than early in vocal development.
This is why I tell my students who are in their 20’s how fortunate they
are to develop a solid technique earlier in vocal development. As for
the career singer, working on the realignment process during performances
and rehearsals is always more challenging. Nevertheless, it can be done
with concentrated study and slow deliberate application. Old World vocal
concepts offer solid vocal solutions. The purpose of this article is
to help the seasoned professional singer define the typical causes of
vocal problems, and offer concepts to help solve them.
Imagine the following scenario. An international singer is performing
in major opera houses all over the world. One night, while waiting in
the wings for their character’s entrance, a sudden fear takes over. There
is a distinct dryness in the mouth due to nerves, a thick feeling of
mucus under the cords (also a result of nerves), and a slight quivering
in the solar plexus due to adrenal release. The breath feels too high,
making a low preparatory breath challenging. Then there is that deep
internal voice of self-doubt. Every emotion is running through the singer’s
mind: fear, embarrassment, doubt, sadness, and possibly frustration that
he/she did not develop a solid technical understanding of how to handle
such situations. All these internal emotions are real and foster insecurity
in the singer. Many speak of the glamour of singing opera or concerts,
but few predict the development of vocal problems. In the classical singing
world, one of the worst rumors of all is that of a singer has developed
technical issues. In this area, the public is quite cruel and judgmental.
Human beings are not machines. They are people with feelings and emotions
and they are not going to sing exactly the same way every day. I once
attended a master class given my Birgit Nilsson. I remember she said,
“During my career, I had about 50 days when I woke up feeling fantastic
vocally, physically, and emotionally. Unfortunately, I only had about
2 performances on those perfect days”. The subtext to this quote is that
singers need to establish a daily vocal routine that assists them in
accomplishing vocal consistency; even on days when they do not feel as
Avoiding the development of serious vocal problems is usually dependent
upon finding high-level vocal information; information that will establish
a solid foundation for security in singing. It is only logical that if
a singer is fortunate enough to find an excellent technical teacher early
in his or her training, then that singer will be less likely to develop
vocal issues. The key to what Lindquest called vocal security in singing
is the development of vocal and emotional self-understanding, or self-dialogue
with body, mind, and voice. This is the seed to developing as a more
self-reliant singer. Due to constant travel, career singers cannot always
afford the luxury of having an excellent teacher in their same location.
So it is important that they learn how to work the voice in a healthy
and productive manner. Every singer needs to develop a healthy daily
vocal routine that can be repeated in order to sustain vocal balance
and vocal health. Many singers have purchased my instructional CD, “An
Introductory Lesson with David Jones: A Resource for Singers and Teachers”.
I have received letters repeatedly from professional singers who say
they use the exercises in the dressing room as a healthy vocal warm-up
before a performance. It is designed to help the singer warm the voice
without over-singing, aligning the middle and upper passaggio registers.
Vocal Changes: Dealing with Andropause or Menopause
A fascinating part of my work is helping singers
through hormonal changes that have in turn created changes in the voice.
Most professional singers come to me for vocal help between the ages
of 46 and 52, a time when the voice can change dramatically due to hormonal
shifts in the body. Often professional singers are dealing with the emotional
stress of feeling that the voice changes in sensation from day to day,
making consistency impossible.
In the male singer dealing with andropause, and the female singer dealing
with menopause, hormonal shifts can change the voice by making it larger,
thicker, lower in tessitura, and less controlled. Sometimes the voice
does not phonate cleanly at the onset. This is because the singer has
unconsciously employed too much thick cord mass, a typical characteristic
of hormonal changes in the voice. Successful realignment is dependent
upon re-awakening the thin edge function of the folds, which re-balances
registration. Lindquest used staccato exercises to legato exercises,
having the singer imagine he/she is touching the finest point of the
vocal folds when executing staccato.
Development of Typical Vocal Problems
Before getting into problem-solving, we must first clarify typical vocal
issues that can surface from years of singing in different acoustical
environments, singing over allergies, with different sized orchestras,
in dusty theaters, etc. One example of an acoustical disadvantage is
that of a concert where both the singer and the orchestra are on the
same stage-level. This situation always creates an acoustical disadvantage
for the singer: one that usually invites pushing of breath pressure.
There is a reason orchestra pits were designed, not only to house the
orchestra and separate it from the stage, but to also create an acoustical
cushioning which allows the human voice to sing over the orchestra.
Most professional singers experience vocal difficulties of one kind or
another at some point in their career. Flagstad spoke of her vocal realignment
process with Dr. Gillis Bratt. It was Dr. Bratt who helped her solve
the breathiness and lack of resonance in her voice. Singers usually avoid
discussing the subject of any vocal issues because of the public’s intense
judgment of singers. The public is unrealistic in demanding that singers
be almost super-human. The resulting pressure on the singer is beyond
Causes of Vocal Problems
Vocal problems often arise from attempting to satisfy the daily demands
of the career opera singer. These demands can range from a conductor
who takes a tempo too slow for a larger voice, to a stage director who
wants the singer to move like a circus performer while singing, to coaches
who want the singer to over-pronounce in the upper passaggio and high
range. In the end, the singer has to become a self-sufficient person
who can basically deal with many various situations, personalities, and
egos. Learning to keep the voice healthy while dealing with the daily
demands of a large-scale career is of critical importance and self-awareness
is the singer’s only protection.
Let us first discuss what form these vocal problems may take, so that
we can look at specific solutions and how to solve them. Remember that
there is a physical reason for every vocal problem and a physical solution,
unless you are dealing with severe vocal damage.
The following list is designed to clarify specific problems that often
develop in long-term international careers:
- Forward or downward thrust of the jaw, caused by a sub-conscious
desire for the inner ear to hear the voice. Remember that we sing well
through sensations, NOT sound.
- Incorrect postural habits, i.e. dropped chest, leaning back on the
heels for high notes, (which locks the breath), pulling down on the
rib cage, (which over-compresses the breath).
- Loss of ‘thin edge’ function of the vocal folds, resulting in too
much vocal weight. (Often results from pushing too much breath pressure
through the larynx.)
- Tuning issues resulting from a thickening of the voice, which can
be caused by andropause in men and menopause in women OR from pushing
- Loss of rounded embouchure, resulting in a high larynx position in
one or more registers. This can be a result of over-listening instead
of feeling for sensations.
- Breath control issues, often resulting from singing dramatic music
without finding the balance between holding back breath pressure with
the lower body connection and allowing the small breath stream to function
- Pushing for too much sound, or singing with too much breath pressure,
often caused by trying to hear the voice. Remember that healthy acoustical
singing often does not sound loud in the singer’s ear.
- Retracted or grooved tongue, which often paints a false color in
the inner hearing.
- Laryngeal bobble for pitch change.
- Opening and re-approximation of the vocal folds between pitches,
especially in smaller intervals.
- Lack of laryngeal pivot or ‘rocking’ motion in the middle register.
(This allows head voice to engage at the proper pitch point.)
Solutions to Vocal Problems
- For the forward thrust of the jaw, use a gentle chewing motion, and/or
use a mirror. You can also use two mirrors in order to see the profile.
- Incorrect postural habits can be corrected by going to an excellent Alexander
teacher. Avoid leaning on the heels for high notes because this locks
the breath. It is a trap because it can feel like support.
- For thickness at the folds, use staccato exercises in the middle
voice imagining touching only the fine points of the vocal folds. This
is only an image and will help thin the cords.
- The tuning issues from menopause or andropause can be helped by using
exercises that thin the cords, i.e. the voiced ‘v’ or ‘z’ to vowel
- A mirror can be useful when managing the spread embouchure or mouth
shape. Also remember that the spreading can originate in the forward
jaw thrust. Also remember that a forward jaw means a tense back of
- When singing dramatic music, feel an elastic opening of the lower
back muscles at the vowels, NOT the consonants. This balances breath
pressure during dramatic passages.
- Work toward feeling vocal sensations rather than ‘listening’ to the
- Use the NG tongue position as home position after consonant function.
Be certain that in the high range, that there is a slight alteration
of the vowels toward ‘ae’ as in the word ‘apple’. This will help avoid
the retracting tongue. Also remember that the actual cause of a retracted
tongue is the use of too much breath pressure through the larynx. Work
against a wall with the lower back into the wall and feel the resistance
between the lower back and the abdominal muscles.
- If you experience a laryngeal bobble at pitch change or a bouncing
motion of the larynx, work toward singing with the vocal folds fully
approximated on small scales
- When the vocal folds open and close at pitch change, use small scales,
stabilizing the jaw by caressing it with the hands. Imagine that the
cords stay perfectly together while changing pitch.
- Vocalize on ascending major 3rds imagining that the larynx tilts
slightly down and forward as you move upward in pitch.
Baritone: Several years ago, a baritone came to do
some technical study after finding my web site. He was performing quite
a lot at the time and we did not meet often because he commuted to New
York for lessons from another city. One evening in a performance at an
‘A’ opera house in Germany, his vocal folds stopped vibrating. This was
his inspiration to come back for consistent technical work. What I enjoy
about the Lindquest exercises is that they move the singer more quickly
than any other technical work I have found. Dropping old vocal habits
is fear provoking until solid technical balance is studied and developed.
This singer took the courage to realign his voice, which can be emotional,
frustrating, and fear provoking. His courage paid off, as he got his
first Met contract after realignment.
Soprano: This soprano was referred to my studio by
her voice therapist. Frustrated from her past performances at the Metropolitan
Opera, she was suffering from imbalance in registration, which had led
to pushing a large amount of breath pressure through the larynx. She
also suffered from edema (swelling) on the right vocal fold. Her doctor
had told her she might be a candidate for surgery. Within the first 10
seconds it was easy to diagnose what was wrong with her voice. Her jaw
had developed the habit of thrusting forward. We adjusted the jaw position
back, which was a challenge since the right side of the jaw had come
forward out of its socket. Just 3 months later, she met me in Europe
for 2 sessions. Her first good news was that the edema had disappeared
and she no longer needed vocal fold surgery. The re-alignment of the
vocal folds was due to the re-alignment of the jaw, which we had accomplished
in the New York lessons. This singer has continued her career without
Soprano: This young soprano came to me due to loss
of the ability to tune. She was suffering from a high larynx position
and a forward thrust of the jaw. The jaw thrust was due to breath pressure,
a result of a collapsing rib cage. We worked on the body connection,
which included a suspended rib cage, lower breath connection into the
lower lumbar region, and the antagonistic pull between the solar plexus
and the lower abdominal muscles during phonation. We then worked on the
laryngeal tilt (See William Vennard’s book), which created more closure
of the vocal folds. After 2 months of realignment work, this singer continued
her professional singing career in Europe with great success.
Helden Tenor: I was teaching in London when I received
an email from a well-known Helden Tenor. He was extremely nervous because
he was singing Tristan in Paris, and rehearsals had not gone well. I
was on my way to Paris, so we met there in the early morning hours for
2 sessions. The jaw was thrusting forward, which created imbalance in
registration, breath management problems, and general pushing of too
much sound, rather than trusting the resonance of the voice. Immediately
we worked on releasing the jaw slightly down and back. We also worked
on NOT taking too much breath, but we concentrated on taking a smaller
amount low in the body. His larynx then released, allowing his vocal
folds to come fully together. We worked on passages in “Tristan” and
also on his upcoming role in “Frau Ohne Schatten”.
Dramatic Soprano: An internationally known dramatic
soprano contacted me after reading an article on my web site. She had
developed a forward thrust of the jaw, resulting in a high larynx, and
a lack of lower body engagement, due to a surgery. Along with the thrusting
of the jaw, the tongue was dipping and retracting, due mainly to breath
pressure. We worked slowly on the jaw releasing back and the sensation
of the vowels originating under the base of the sternum. This helped
her to begin the process of developing pharyngeal vowel formation, a
must for large operatic singing. Because of her heavy performance schedule,
this realignment process took about one year. She worked very diligently
with CD recordings of the sessions, and the voice re-established its
previous warmth, color, and youthful sound. The tongue retraction was
also resolved due to re-connection to the lower body. The largest factor
in helping her find a healthy vocal fold adduction was to reduce the
amount of breath pressure used.
Searching for Vocal Help:
There are solutions to vocal problems that may have developed over decades
of singing. One major first step for any professional singer is to find
a good technical teacher who teaches Old World concepts as the basis
for problem solving. This is perhaps the most daunting task for any singer
and often he/she must ask colleagues for names of exceptional teachers.
It is important to realize that one teacher is not for everyone. Try
to find someone who is flexible in their approach and is willing to individualize
Questions may be addressed to David Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Jones’ instructional CD “An Introductory Lesson with David Jones:
A Resource for Teachers and Singers” can be purchased at www.cdbaby.com.
“Breath pressure is the enemy of the vocal cords!” Alan R. Lindquest
© 2010 by David L. Jones