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contemporary vocalist singing technique - jeannie devaBy Jeannie Deva

Having worked with thousands of singers over the years, I have found that many are confused about vocal technique and what they should be doing when singing. They are uncertain whether the directions they have been given are correct because they are usually based on opinion or personal taste rather than on fact.

So how do you know if a vocal technique is right or wrong? Unlike a guitar where you can see the frets and strings, you can’t see your vocal folds or vocal muscles to see if they are in the correct position or if they are too tense. Often you can feel the tension but still may not know what to do about it. So how do you know if what you are doing is right?

The short answer is that a right or correct technique aligns with how the body naturally produces sound. This means you need to have some understanding of vocal anatomy to be sure that you are working with and not against your body. It doesn't take a degree in biology, but you do need to be free of some of the common misconceptions about the diaphragm's location and how its function during singing is different than ordinary breathing.

Full details about this can be found in my Contemporary Vocalist Vol. 1 course. Post your comments to let me know your thoughts about vocal technique. Do you have a specific question you'd like answered?


  1. Kim Lancaster on June 23, 2014 at 9:25 PM said:
    I agree. Honestly, my college education in music didn't teach me much about the functioning of my vocal instrument. Your course and other vocal training methods I've studied in the last few years helped me to finally be able to "put my finger" on what I can't put my finger on! (I'm a flute teacher too...being able to tell a player how to literally "put their finger" on the problem is such an advantage!). I find that now I can listen and more accurately analyze what I'm hearing and what my students are doing (or not doing). What I find is missing on the market is a systematic vocal technique book. Something that includes vowel production, breathing and vocal apparatus and then also exercises for rhythm development, sight reading, and know, basic music skills! something like I teach from for flute. Maybe some day I'll write it. But I do have a question I'd love to have answered about technique. How do you go about teaching or developing vibrato in a singer? I have taken the approach of letting it develop naturally as the voice is ready, but recently found some very direct instruction that I use for teaching vibrato to flute players and really wish there were something like that for vocalists. Do you have any recommendations or specific exercises for building natural, healthy vibrato that you recommend? Thanks!
  2. Jeannie Deva on June 24, 2014 at 11:36 AM said:
    Hi Kim! Thanks for your input. Actually, my Contemporary Vocalist Volume One (book & 4 CDs) teach breathing, vocal apparatus and vowel production. To answer your question about vibrato: If there is too much air flow pressure against the vocal folds; if the base of the tongue is in someway being held tightly, vibrato will not occur. My method addresses and resolves whatever is needed, so that the singer can choose between vibrato and straight tone, using sound choices freely for artistry and expressive singing.
  3. Mary Lou on June 27, 2014 at 11:19 AM said:
    Jeannie, I've come quite a way from where I started when someone turned me onto your vocal training materials. Thanks for that! I'm becoming much more confident and relaxed. I especially appreciate you breaking down what is happening physically when a person is singing vs speaking. Very helpful. I have been wondering lately, what is happening physically when a person is using vibrato? What is moving to create the sound? Vocal folds? How is it different than non-vibrato singing?
  4. Kathy Veer on June 27, 2014 at 1:00 PM said:
    Hi, I don't know if you've been asked this question or not, but do you think any one can be a teacher? I have been singing for a long, long time. I've had a total of about 3 months of lessons (from a broadway professional) who taught me how to breath correctly. Other than that, I just sort of sing because I just sort of know how. I've thought about teaching others, and have even tried a few times, but I don't seem to be any good at getting across what it is I do. I don't seem to know how to help people improve . . . Any thoughts? Thanks!
  5. Jeannie Deva on June 29, 2014 at 7:12 PM said:
    Hi Mary Lou, I'm very happy to receive your feedback regarding working with my training materials and your success with them. Re VIBRATO: Frankly, in my research on this even up to recently, there is still a variance of "opinion" on how it is created. But essentially, it has to do with the interaction of the air with the vibration of the vocal folds. I have been able to put enough research together to write an entire chapter about vibrato and the THREE TYPES of vibrato that I've discovered. This chapter is in my eBook "Singer's Guide to Powerful Performances" - available for all digital tablets (iphone included) as well as downloadable from my website for PC and MAC.
  6. Jeannie Deva on June 29, 2014 at 7:24 PM said:
    Hi Kathy, Thanks so much for your question. There are several key aspects that someone should have to be a teacher. And to be a good voice teacher: 1) They should care about other singers and want to help them improve; 2) They should understand the true physiological basics of how the voice works, not opinion about it, but have a good factual knowledge of the voice 3) They should understand how people learn and be able to impart information in a way that can be easily assimilated and owned and applied by the student. Not to invalidate what you learned from the person you had lessons from, but there are many who teach "correct breathing" yet when you compare the directions given with how the body is designed, the directions in fact do not align. Many singers teach because they've been singing a long time but as you know, that does not really qualify one to be a teacher. I have a teacher training program which I've been running since the late 1980's. It combines what to teach with how to teach it and certifies teachers in my method. There are some prerequisites to being accepted, starting with enough study of my method to know it works and works for you.
  7. Judith Ross on June 30, 2014 at 7:01 PM said:
    Techniques of warm-ups is so varied, and I guess there is no perfect answer. I know one singer who feels singing the scales fast is the best, but I feel singing tones slowly, holding each note and controlling the breathing, and not always just scale passages. Ah, Breathing!! I started all my warm-ups as a choir director, recently retired, with eyes shut, and good posture, with inhaling for a count of 4 and exhaling for a count of 8, increasing the numbers gradually. On the last one, I had the choir be snakes, and control the exhaling to stop and start. When we completed 10 minutes for so, vocal warm ups, we found they could control their breathing better, hold notes without losing the pitch and at the end of our rehearsals, the fatigue was minimal, in fact, some were really on a high. There are always those members who regularly come late and miss the warm-ups, and I always had sneaking suspicion it was deliberate. They felt that priming the voice and breathing was a waste of time. They were the ones who usually sang flat, and/or were really exhausted at the end of the evening.
  8. Jeannie Deva on June 30, 2014 at 9:35 PM said:
    Hi Judith, thanks for your input. The exhale exercise, increasing numbers is a good one. I use it to help singers recognize they do not need to push air out when singing. Interesting what you say about those in your choir who would miss the warm-ups and coincidentally how they sang. :-) I've devised a series of warm-ups that use different kinds of vibration to awaken all the vocal muscles and resonators while simultaneously limbering and toning the voice. I think you'd enjoy them. The main ones (though not all of them) are on my vocal warm-ups and cool-downs CD. I'd love to know what you think of them once you try them out. :-)
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