Category Archives: music

professional development information for performing artists & interested others

What is Sound?

What is sound? If you watched this video from earlier posts, you know, and could see that it’s air in motion.

When we’re talking about voice and sound, we mean either talking or singing – right? (Luckily, they use exactly the same parts of our bodies.)

First, let’s talk about getting our bodies to do a better job of putting air in motion when we’re making sounds!

Anybody ever heard of a body-part called a “diaphragm?” Many choir directors will tell their singers to “breath from your diaphragm,” (but possibly don’t explain further).

Here’s a simple exercise to help you feel exactly where your diaphragm is, and what it feels like when you make it work.

WARNING: Do NOT Do This Exercise More Than Once Or Twice. If you feel light-headed STOP IMMEDIATELY! It just means you’re not used to getting so much oxygen!

  1. Sit down on the edge of a solid surface like a chair or sofa.
  2. Scrunch forward so your elbows are on your knees and your chin is in your hands.
  3. Now make one or two emphatic “HA’s” like you’re panting.
  4. You should feel your midsection make quick movements every time you say “HA.”
  5. That’s your diaphragm lifting up to expel the air out of your lungs to make the sound.

Now try standing up, putting one hand on your midsection, and saying “HA.” You should feel the same movement. If not, get into your crouching position again and do one last “HA.”

REMEMBER: Do NOT Do This Exercise More Than Once Or Twice.

Why? Because your head may not be used to so much oxygen getting into your body and you may feel light-headed. (The same reason why beginning woodwind and brass players of any age are told the same thing!)

Here’s a moving model of a working diaphragm

Today’s Gaslighting (updated Dec 2021)

This post was originally published 5 January 2012. The links have been updated. Why is it in the “Music” category? Because it’s so relevant there… and sadly, today’s world in general.

Gaslight was a 1944 noire film that starred Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman. The term, ‘to gaslight,’ comes directly from the plot.

Updated 4 December 2021 with the following suggested articles.  See if they ring any bells.

talking tips #3

Just wanted to put these out here for you to look at.

See what you think! Maybe drop me a line (below). Meanwhile, I’m off for a bit of a yarny faff . . . 🧶

❣️ ❤️ ❣️

Here are a couple of books and a couple of exercise programs I’ve found beneficial, and thought you might enjoy knowing about, too. Truth be told, I could do with using those exercise programs more. 🥴 All are TNT (tried & true, to use the online sewing community’s terminology.)

The Actor Speaks: Voice and the performer; Patsy Rodenburg. My copy is UK, Methuen Drama Series; ISBN 0-413-70030-5; Forward by Dame Judi Dench.

  • Ms. Roderburg’s website is here.*
  • Watch and listen to her here (6 min.), and here (10 min.).
  • An excellent NPR interview (from 2002; 29 min.) is here.

The Use and Training of the Human Voice: A practical approach to speech and voice dynamics; Arthur Lessac, 2nd edition, 1967; Mayfield Publishing Company, Mountain View, CA.; ISBN 0-87484-845-8.

This has great illustrations of consonant use being similar to orchestral instruments, the facial shapes for better diction, and physical exercises to relax specific body tensions. There are also videos on the Lessac Institute site.

The Royal Institute’s 2017 Christmas Lectures started with a wonderful program of sound in animals and humans (60 min.),  “Say it with sound.”

My outline of the program is here.

Callanetics by Callan Pinckney is an exercise program that combines yoga and ballet. It gently trains core muscles and is particularly good for those with back problems. The exercises also help actors and singers with their breath and support work. The program isn’t high impact and can be modified so people of any age can benefit. Note: I remember some sort of controversy when Pinckney sold the company, so be sure to get the original Pinckney teaching.

Flex Effect is a program of exercises specifically targeting the face and neck. If anyone seems to be speaking/singing lower as they mature they should try the Short Program’s Cheek Press exercises. I use the Tongue Press exercise with singers and actors to relax tongue and jaw tensions. Works a treat!

I am not affiliated in any way with any of these programs; they’ve dropped into my experience through the years, I’ve used them myself and with students, and they work.

(If you’re intrigued, Talking Tips #1 is here, and #2 here.)

*Links updated February 2021 to reflect current health guidelines.

talking tips #2

How many of you have called a friend and known from the minute they said “Hello” that something was wrong?

That shows you how instantly and unconsciously peoples’ voices can change.

The violinist’s instrument is a violin, the drummer’s instrument is a drum, the singer’s and actor’s instrument is . . .

Their entire body, not an entirely separate, inanimate object.

So what can they do when something goes wonky and they have to perform?

The violinist or drummer can send out their instrument for repair, and carry on with a substitute. But singers and actors can’t send out their throats for rehab, and carry on with a sub.

“Wait! You can’t equate singing with speaking!” I hear someone say.

Yes, you canit’s the same instrument. I repeat: It is the same instrument.

What makes one sound better can make the other sound better, too.

It takes learning new habits to replace the old ones, and practice-practice-practice!

We’re not talking astrophysics, folks! Just replacing old habits with new.

Just like better sports practices have passed from the pros to the general public. (Think stretching before jogging instead of jogging without a warm-up.)


Don’t like the way you sound?

  • Wish you sounded better on your vlog?
  • Wish you sounded more confident in public?
  • Wish you sounded better every day?

You can.

If you didn’t watch the video, “Say it with sound,” in the previous Talking Tips, please follow the link to see it. The video introduces concepts and terms you will need for Talking Tips #3.

talking tips #1

Spring/Autumn has started in both hemispheres. 🌷🍂🌺🍁 Maybe now’s the time to think about basics.

Many of us take our speaking voice for granted until we have a problem. Here are some ideas to think about and try. They should help you keep talking. 😉

❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ ❤️

Below is an exploration of sound — what it is, and how animals make it and use it to communicate.

Please have a listen and let me know what you think.

The Royal Institute’s Christmas Lectures, 2017 began with the lecture, “Say it with Sound.”

To tease you a bit, here’s an outline of what’s covered.

  • 0 min. The recording Voyage carried.
  • 2 min. Making Mold, the rat, laugh.
  • 5 min. Crickets’ wing sounds.
  • 7 min. Structure makes a difference.
  • 8 min. Seeing sound with a giant slinky.
  • 13 min. Sounds inaudible to humans.
  • 19 min. Mosquitos’ love duet.
  • 24 min. How cockroaches hiss.
  • 27 min. A camera and a working larynx.
  • 33 min. Why the audience is blowing raspberries.
  • 34 min. Balloons, a shower curtain and a leaf blower.
  • 37 min. Why Resonance?
  • 38 min. Christmas baubles and breaking a wine glass.
  • 43 min. Strings and tea chests.
  • 45 min. How tea chests are like vocal tracts.
  • 47 min. Male deer and mens’ voices.
  • 51 min. Reeps* demos plosive sounds (think consonants).
  • 54 min. Beat boxing meets Verdi.
  • *** GRAND FINALE ***

*Reeps One is an extra on beat boxing, in case you’re interested.

Giving Voice,” The New Yorker, 2013; by John Colapinto If you really wat to get into some details, here’s an excellent article.

A note to parents of young singers:

The human voice doesn’t mature until approximately 30 years of age for women, and later for men, which helps explain why so many men’s voices seem to fluctuate between tenor and baritone for so long.

Remember that boys’ voices shift downward during their teen years. Young women have a much less noticeable shift, and consequently reach vocal maturity sooner.

A note to maturing singers:

Both men and women may experience a deepening in vocal quality as they mature, but this does not mean an inability to sing higher notes. Sometimes the physical technique may need to shift slightly to accommodate body changes, but if the technique is solid to begin with, it should be a matter of slight adjustments.

Talking tips #2.

needed: inspiration

I took a break from work yesterday afternoon and spent an hour listening to Dame Eva Turner, British soprano absoluta.

Why? Because her “In questa regia” (from the opera Turandot by Puccini) never fails to move me.

Listening to the glory of her  deep, rich sound, the resonant freedom of those high notes evident despite 1920‘s & 30‘s recording technology. . . always uplifts & refreshes me.

That’s what grand opera used to be all about. Here’s a link to a YouTube. Have a little listen for yourself. If you’ve not time for the whole thing, listen to the last 30-to-60 seconds.

Petite Dame Turner didn’t need deafening amplification, strobe lighting, or smoke. She did it with her voice, her knowledge of how to sing properly (a.k.a., vocal technique), and her inspiration.

The secret in singing lies between the vibration in the singer’s voice and the throb in the hearer’s heart

Kahil Gibran

That’s communication beyond words.

Christmas Eve from Cambridge

Coming up live via the web or on BBC Radio 4 on Christmas Eve  ~ this year’s programme is available here.

Details from their web site ~

“A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is broadcast live on BBC Radio 4 on 24 December at 3pm (10:00 EST or 07:00 PST). The service is also broadcast at 2pm on Radio 3 on Christmas Day, and at various times on the BBC World Service.

“In the United States the service is broadcast by around 300 radio stations, including American Public Media and its affiliates (Minnesota Public Radio and WNYC-New York, for example). Unfortunately there is no list of radio stations that are broadcasting the service, so it’s best to contact your local stations or check their online listings.”


a weekend treat

For several years I’ve made a point of listening to the Last Night of the Proms. Whilst drinking tea & dunking digestives, I listen on-line.

This year I thought I’d also sew, but got too involved in listening.  I always sing along at the end, thus my copy of “Jerusalem” (above).

BBC web site
the BBC web site from my computer screen

Want to plan your own listening party? The complete concert is available here and here. BBC will have both halves available  “from Sunday 13th September for 30 day.”

There are some video clips of various performers here and here.

I’d heard both the tenor and the mezzo many times a few years ago, and was interested to hear how their voices were aging. Both sounded good.

Voices change as their owners grow mentally and physically. They also tell immediately if the singer is under stress.

(Can’t you tell if your BF is stressed out, often from a single “hello” over the phone?)

Even women’s voices change, particularly if they have children, as Ms. de Niese did recently. Her voice seems to have darkened slightly, having more heft to it, but she’s kept the agility.

Herr Kaufmann’s tenor is also perhaps a bit darker, and his top notes are maturing nicely.  During an intermission interview, we learnt he’s just added the famous aria from Turandot, “Nessun dorma” to his repertoire.

Wisely, he’s allowed his voice to age and develop into this pressure-laden aria. (Men’s voices mature more slowly than women’s.)

Voices are more stubborn than mules. If you think you’re going to do something your voice isn’t mature enough for, or the right type of voice, you will have problems.

A voice can’t take much stress before it starts going haywire! It can develop wobbles, loose agility, lose top and/or bottom notes, develop nodes, or become permanently disabled.

When your voice is your career, you need to understand how to care for it wisely.

one thing led to another, or tetrazzini in san francisco

A look around the trio of web sites from this prolific blogger reminded me of a story about a soprano singing on the streets of San Francisco over one hundred years ago.

Memory proved accurate, and I can now suggest another site for piccies next time she’s on Market Street with a camera.

Famed soprano Luisa Tetrazzini (1871 – 1940) loved San Francisco, and had a knack for creative programming. During a contractual dispute on New York City, she reportedly said, “I will sing in San Francisco if I have to sing there in the streets, for I know the streets of San Francisco are free.”

On Christmas Eve in 1910 she did just that.

To an audience of somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 San Franciscans, she sang ~ no microphones in those days ~ for 30 minutes.  And was heard blocks away. The lady had technique. She had heart.

The concert also recognized the rebuilding of the city after the 1906 earthquake. Her final song was “Auld Lang Syne.”

From all I could gather, the bronze plaque commemorating that concert is still attached to Lotta’s Fountain, on Market at Geary & Kearney.

An artist who used her art to help heal a city.

References include:

More reading at Project Gutenberg: