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Question from Blog reader:

Chris, I am having a voice problem and need your input.  I’ve been using your training CD’s for a few years now and they have helped me a lot.  But, here’s my problem: When I first start a song I feel short of breath.  My voice feels unstable.  After a few words it gets better, but I still have a problem with my voice breaking or quivering. It’s not solid, or stable. Is this a throat problem, breathing or ???  Your comments would be greatly appreciated.

Vocal Coach Answer:

When a voice is unstable, wavering, tentative or breaks and quivers there are several possible causes.  Here are some likely ones and some solutions

1.  Anxiety. When you are mentally or emotionally unsure about what is going to come out when you open your mouth it can interfere with breathing, posture, diction, tone, expression . . . everything.  The solution will be found in being more mechanically solid than you are anxious.  In other words, having such secure technique in the posture, breathing, tone and diction that nothing can interfere. Solid muscle memory, of right techniques will be your friend every time.

2.  Posture. If your posture is bent or broken it will interfere with breathing, tone and self-confidence and how the listener perceives your confidence. By lifting your arms straight up over your head you will discover your balanced posture.  As you slowly bring your arms back down be sure to maintain the upright alignment. The shoulders should be completely relaxed, not pulled up or back.  The feeling is one of being “athletically alert,” with a comfortably upright chest. Feel like you have a long back of neck and a shorter front of the neck. The head is back, over the shoulders, with the eyes looking straight ahead.  Don’t let the chin lift for high notes or fall for low notes.  Keep the head position neutral. Once you can sing your songs comfortably in this position you can look anywhere you want.  Just don’t move the head to help you hit a note; it won’t.

3.  Breathing. Securing good breath management will help you sing through the nervous times.  The muscles will just continue to get you the right amount of breath.  Not too much; not too little.  Good breathing starts with good posture. A good first exercise is to get on your back, on the floor and feel what parts of the body are naturally engaged when you breathe in, and out. Then start sipping the breath in through an imaginary straw, and out on a SSSSSSS sound. After you have memorized where the breathing is naturally felt, stand, check your posture and repeat the exercise with a still chest and ribs.

4.  Tone. Getting your posture and breathing more secure opens the possibility for your best vocal sound, or tone quality. The physical sensations of good tone are a relaxed throat, and lots of buzzing resonance (harmonics and overtones) vibrating through the face, mouth, sinuses and nasal passages.  These are all sensations that you can physically feel, memorize and reproduce. A gentle hum will begin the sensation. Adding a chewing motion to the humming will keep the face and jaw more relaxed.  And, don’t be afraid of all the vibrating you feel in the face.  That’s a good sign, and means you are allowing the voice to work and not forcing it. These are aspects of your vocal sound you can “feel,” and that means you can reproduce them using muscle memory.

5.  Diction. Another important area is diction, pronunciation or enunciation.  It just means that the listener gets the message, not just the music. The other bonus of clear diction is this: As your own ears hear clear words coming out they tell the brain to tell the larynx to just relax and keep giving the pitch. If, on the other hand, your ears hear mumbled words they often tell the brain, and the brain (for some unknown reason) gets the larynx involved. That just leads to useless tension in the throat since the larynx can’t help diction.  So, when in doubt, over-pronounce a bit so that even the least attentive listener hears your message.

So, there you have it. A systematic approach, to freeing up an unstable voice by paying attention to your POSTURE, BREATHING, TONE and DICTION.  Needless to say, there’s a lot more to be said on all these topics.  If you want to go deeper, with principles and exercises just go to the main site at vocalcoach.com and look for the Vocal Coach Singer package, or individual subjects by title.

If you have thoughts or comments leave them in the space below.  Thanks.

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  1. Hi Chris and Carole,

    I have a question that I hope you will answer on the blog. Both my daughter and I have the problem that after we sing for a time in our highest range (we’re both sopranos), we can no longer reach the lowest notes in our range. She had three or four years of private vocal training in college. I have learned from your tapes and workshops. Is there something we’re doing wrong? Thanks.

    1. GREAT QUESTION and common problem. The key is, first of all, to always workout the voice throughout the range, returning to the lower register after singing high. If you don’t, the many muscles that adjust the vocal folds for pitch will “forget” how to quickly adjust for lower notes. I regularly exercise my students using two, and even three octave arpeggios so the mechanism doesn’t get in a “rut.” Remember, this isn’t magic. The voice is a mechanical, acoustical instrument. Hope this helps.

  2. Hi Chris and Carol
    This is my first question on your website actually i wanted to become a singer and i live in Pakistan and there is no private English Singin Insititute for training.so i have deciede to give audition at Nickalodean at LA and start my singing and acting career there but before i give my audition i want make my voice good but ithink i have the same promblem of unstale voice because when start singing and 3 notes at the end of 3rd not my voice gets unstable so kindly i hope u will tell.

    1. Hello, Hassan. Remember that it is a combination of INSPIRATION PLUS PREPARATION that makes a good singer, or for that matter good anything. You have the inspiration and desire. Now it’s time to learn and own the mechanics. Without the skills your singing just stays a “desire,” and not a skill. As far as what we have to offer, the Vocal Coach Singer or other training materials are very thorough and easy to work with. And, they can be downloaded right to a computer and put on your mp3 player to use anywhere. There are also lots of good free tips on the blog. And, after you work with the materials for a while you can purchase an Online video coaching session. So, those are my thoughts.

  3. Hey Chris, my singing voice is awful and I want to change that. I have been working on my voice for a about 6 months and I am seeking no improvement, because I am not sure what I have to fix. My sister who is an aspiring singer and a very good singer told me that my biggest problem is that I don’t use my diaphragm.. how can I fix my voice?

  4. Hi Chris and Carol,
    I am a professional juvenile singer and my voice has recently lost its crisp sound and is now wavy and uncontrollable. I hadn’t sang for almost a year and was wondering what you’d suggest to help me tighten my vocal chords back up.

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