Vocal Fundamentals

Watch the video below and complete each of the following lessons in your own time.  When you finish drop a bit of feedback and move on to the Vocal Growth Blueprint!

How the Voice Works

Alright, so before you begin this journey on building a bulletproof voice… it’s important to understand how the voice works.  Where does the sound come from and what causes the sound?

This video will cover some of the basics of vocal anatomy,  because when you understand how your voice works, you begin to see the relevance of each vocal exercise and and vocal workout and how they are designed and intended to grow and strengthen your voice like a muscle. Because your voice is a muscle. It can be grown and it can be strengthened.

There are two key factors in the production of sound from a voice:
  1. Vocal Cord Vibration
  2. Resonance

Let’s start with the first factor: Vocal cord vibration.

The vocal cords are a pair of flexible shelves of tissue (or folds) that stretch across the top of the trachea housed in your larynx. If you want to find your larynx, place your finger on your chin, press inward, and slide down the neck until you feel a “V-Shape” in the neck. That’s your larynx. That’s where your vocal cords are living.  When we breathe, or exhale to be exact, the breath from our lungs up and then works in conjunction with our vocal cords to create sound.  How fast do they vibrate? The answer: from 100 to 1000X per second depending on the pitch of the sound we make. To put that in perspective… that is 10X as fast as the average flapping of a hummingbird’s wings per second. Very fast!  When the vocal folds come together, they are set into vibration by the passing airstream.  So why is this important to know? Inability of the vocal folds to close sufficiently will hinder the necessary vibration for your voice to produce sound.

This is why vocal nodules are especially problematic. Nodules, as defined by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association are simply “growths that form on the vocal folds”.  When you have a blister-like bump on one of your vocal folds, your cords will not be able to close correctly resulting in:
  • Vocal fatigue
  • Loss of vocal range
  • Chronic hoarseness
  • Feeling like you have a “lump in your throat”
… and the problem can compound upon itself quickly if you don’t take some serious rest your voice and let it recover.

Side note: if you suspect you have a nodule, you’ll want to get it checked out by an ENT. They’ll be able to identify the problem quickly and give you proper treatment. Often times the best treatment is strict vocal rest.
However, it’s crucial to identify the root cause - sometimes it’s because we screamed our heads off at a sporting event the night before. But in other cases, it can be a result of poor singing technique. And if this is the case, it will happen again and again until the technique is corrected.

But that’s why you’re here! I’ve been the victim of nodules in the past - but once I started training my voice with these methods on a regular basis, truly making it part of my daily routine to keep my voice in shape, I haven’t gotten nodules and I haven’t lost my voice ever since.
… But do try to be careful at those sporting events.

So, there was your first factor in producing sound: vocal cord vibration. It’s gotta happen and it’s gotten happen in a healthy, balanced way.

The SECOND factor in how your voice produces sound in RESONANCE.
Resonance is how the tone is modified and amplified as it travels through the corridors, hallways, and spaces (in your head and body) before it leaves your mouth.  There are multiple areas in the body that may be listed as resonators… but I’ll group certain areas together to identify the TWO MAIN vocal resonators.


I’m not talking about vocal registers just yet - you may have heard terms like “Chest Voice” and “Head Voice” - but rather, I’m just calling attention to the parts of the body where the voice resonates.
The chest resonator is the biggest resonator we have and it’s where we speak. As I’m talking right now, if I place my hand on my chest, I feel vibration. That is the sound resonating throughout the chest cavity.
Now, when we sing, we don’t really want to push all the sound into the chest resonator, because the sound will be trapped as we ascend in pitch. It puts a lot of strain on our throat and we won’t be able to ascend through the middle range of our voice.
Our aim should be to send the sound up behind the soft palate and into the head space which is the head resonator (refer to example in video)
And there is a blend of head and chest happening. The sound is resonating in the chest and head. You could call this MIXED VOICE by definition. However, usually when people refer to mixed voice, they are referring to the middle voice where the resonance is mostly SPLIT down the middle.
In general, the mixed voice is like a recipe:
3 parts chest voice, 1 part head voice.
2 part chest voice, 2 part head voice.
And with good technique, the resonance should shift from our chest space to our head space as we ascend in pitch.
This lesson has been just a fly over of how the voice works. I know I threw out some elusive terms like mixed voice and you might still have questions on how to find your own mixed voice… Don’t worry! We’re going to cover more below.

Breathing Properly

Alright singers, in this video we’re going to be talking about BREATHING.  After all, breath is what makes the voice work. Remember, it sets the vocal cords into vibration. Your breath is necessary to make the voice function correctly.

In the last video I said “ one of THE PRIMARY GOALS of all vocal training is to connect your chest voice to your head voice without a break in between.” If we think of that perfect connection like a house, then BREATHING is the foundation.  

THE REASON we want to establish correct breathing now (before we get into the extensive vocal workouts and exercises to come) is for the same reason you want to build a proper foundation before laying the framing of the house.

But, so often as singers, we want to start right away with the interior design phase of singing, that is “the riffs, the textures, the crazy high notes”. But you don’t even have a house yet! Nor the proper foundation, which is breathing, to begin building your voice.

So, I’ve put together 3 KEY QUESTIONS on breathing that not only will help you to grasp the concept of correct breathing but also function as a way to SELF-EVALUATE during songs or workouts to ensure there are no cracks in the foundation.

So having said that, the 3 Key Questions are as follows:
1: Is my ribcage expanding?
2: Is my diaphragm moving downward?
3: Am I exhaling at the end of a phase?

Now starting off with number one, “Is my ribcage expanding?” Here’s a simple truth: the more space you can give your lungs to fill, the more breath you will have to work with. This is a natural process. Some people naturally take shallow breaths. If that’s you, pay close attention to your ribcage. You want to feel an EXPANSION OF SPACE in the chest.

This leads into the second key question which is, “Is my diaphragm moving downward?” What is your diaphragm? Healthline.com says this about the diaphragm: "The diaphragm is a thin skeletal muscle that sits at the base of the chest and separates the abdomen from the chest. It contracts and flattens when you inhale. This creates a vacuum effect that pulls air into the lungs. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and the air is pushed out of lungs.”

They’ve also got a pretty neat 3-D rendering on their website where you can see where the diaphragm is located.
So, the diaphragm is a muscle. It helps to PULL air, COMPRESS air, and RELEASE air.

Let’s take an INCORRECT breath first so that you can feel the difference. Put one hand on your chest and another on your stomach.

Breath in - allowing your chest to expand and your stomach to suck in. So, stomach in - chest out. That is an incorrect breath.

Let’s take a different type of INCORRECT breath. Breath in - allowing your stomach to stick out, but keep chest pressed in (in other words, your ribcage has not expanded). Yes, your diaphragm is moving down. That’s what’s causing your stomach to press out and that part is correct, but you're not allowing your lungs to expand properly. This will result in a very shallow breath because you’ve got restricted lung capacity to take in air.

Finally, let’s take a correct breath. Let me start by saying this: Correct breathing is relaxed breathing. So, stay relaxed. One hand on stomach, one hand on chest. Breath in - but focus on allowing the stomach to expand, then ALLOW your ribcage to expand along with it. Don’t try to force anything, just feel it.

Got it? One more time. Breath in - stomach expanding, ALLOW your ribcage to expand your lungs are filling with air and the diaphragm has move allowing full capacity of inhalation. Now let it out. That is a correct breath.

Which brings us to the third key question: “Am I exhaling at the end of each phrase?” Now of course, when we finish a breath, the next thing that happens is that we “inhale”… but there’s a split second where we can identify how supported our breath really was, right as we finish a breath.

Remember what we learned from Healthline… “When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes and the air is pushed out of lungs.”

This summarizes the idea of breath support. When we take that correct breath and the lungs fill with air and the diaphragm moves down.. we can compress that air by tightening our abdominal muscles as we sing a phrase, and then when I relax the muscles, the air is pushed out.

Now, I can’t thoroughly explain this concept without discussing the role that your vocal cords are playing the process. In a nutshell, the air is becoming pressurized between the diaphragm and the vocal cords.

When the air is released by the opening of your cords, that is what results in the noticeable exhale.

Keep in mind, you don’t always need (or want) so much compression to where the exhale is noticeable. But I still like to include this as a key question for those moments when you are struggling to sing higher. Sometimes, just remembering to keep the air compressed by way of “finding the exhale” is enough to recalibrate your focus on correct breathing.

Now, because vocal compression is an advanced topic, we aren’t going to go too deep into it yet. Week one is all about the building blocks of vocal connection. There’s just a few more building blocks to set into place before we get to vocal compression.  

Remember we need just enough air to pass through the set the cords into vibration. We don’t want all of the air pushed out at once. This will result in drying out your vocal cords, blowing them apart with too much air which causes your voice to crack, let alone the simple fact that you will be out of breath before the end of your phrases.
So, control of the breath equates to controlled singing.

Head, Chest and Mixed Voice

Hello singers, in this video, we’re going to talk about VOCAL REGISTRATIONS.

Before we go any further, understand that different vocal instructors will use different definitions for each register.

I like to use the BEL CANTO approach to the voice.

Bel Canto is usually associated with an operatic style of singing, but there are basic principles of this technique that apply to every style of music. Including the definitions of each vocal register.

So, for the sake of continuity in this course and making the learning experience be the most cohesive and practical for you… I want to establish those definitions now so that we can be on the same page as you progress through future training.

You may remember in the first lesson I discussed how resonance is a distinguishing factor between vocal registers. Chest voice resonates in the chest. Head voice resonates in the head.

But in addition to resonance, your laryngeal muscles are coordinated in a unique way for each register.

You might be wondering why I like to put an emphasis on vocal anatomy…

Think of it like this… have you ever played an instrument before? Could you see the instrument? It probably helped hat you could see the instrument, as you learned to play it, right?

Singers don’t have that luxury when they learn to sing and grow the voice. It can be a frustrating process for some to not understand why the voice clamps up in certain parts of their ranges and to not know the physiological reasons for the error - which, if you know this information, then you know specifically what you need to work on to correct the error.

So with that said, let’s dive into the registrations.

Starting with… your CHEST VOICE. Chest voice is generally going to be the lower range of your voice, like where you speak. When I am singing in a chest register the “TA” muscle (or Thickening Muscle) is active. This muscle is responsible for shortening and thickening the vocal folds. As a result, a larger bulk of the folds becomes active in vibration.

Now, for every singer there comes a point in there range when chest voice transitions to…

…HEAD VOICE. So let’s take head voice now. Head voice, again, resonates primarily in the head.

Some might call this falsetto… which is not necessarily incorrect, because both head voice and falsetto generally resonates in the head. If all we’re doing is looking at resonance, the two terms are interchangeable.
However, the vocal cord coordinations are very different. Falsetto is a mode of singing that sounds breathy. Disconnected. Usually in the upper registers.

Remember that when we sing the vocal cords are coming together to vibrate. If you are hearing a breathy tone… that is indicative of a lack of resistance to air flow at the cords. Sometimes this is for effect, we may want a breathy sound, other times it’s because our vocal cords are weak and lack the proper training to support the sounds in the upper ranges.

You will want to build up solid cord closure in your head voice to begin connecting your registers together.
Chest voice made use of the TA muscle, while the Head Voice involves the “CT” muscle (or Stretching Muscle). This muscle connects the two main cartilages that hold the voice folds and when it contracts, the folds stretch and thin out.

This stretching helps to change the pitch. Additionally, as the folds thin out, we can DISENGAGE the TA muscle (the thickening muscle) which allows just the edges of the folds to vibrate, allowing us to sing much higher more easily.

As you may have guessed the TA muscle and CT muscle are opposites. As one increases, the other must decrease.
One of the biggest puzzle pieces to singing higher without a break is learning how to navigate the trade off between the muscles.

Fortunately… You won’t have to constantly think about this when you sing. The vocal exercises do this for you. Everything you’ve heard me discuss up this point are by-products of a trained voice. It’s all muscle memory. Stick with the program, you’ll see results.

So what about that middle ground…

MIXED VOICE. Again, mixed voice is a blend of resonance between chest and head… but how are the laryngeal muscles coordinated to produce a mixed sound?

As you may have already guessed.. the mixed voice, physiologically speaking, is when the two muscles (TA and CT) are working together. And it is counter-intuitive because the muscles have opposing responsibilities. But remember, it’s all about balancing that trade off.

Imagine a baton passing competition.

The first runner is your chest voice.
The second runner is your head voice.

One thing that DOES NOT happen when the baton is passed is that the runners stand still. They are constantly moving. And yet, there is middle ground where the baton is held by both the first runner and the second runner. That’s the trade-off… and that represents the middle register of your voice.

The more you practice this trade-off… the stronger your mixed register will become. The breaks will literally vanish. And it will feel as though you have one single voice. Not a chest voice and a head voice, but rather one voice that is fully connected all the way up and all the way down.

Exercises Versus Warm Ups Versus Workouts

Vocal Practice Tips


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