Monthly Archives: August 2013

Suggested Listening

These are some of my personal favorites.

Classical Singers


  • Kathleen Battle
  • Barbara Bonney
  • Maria Callas
  • Natalie Dessay
  • Renee Fleming
  • Edita Gruberova
  • Sylvia McNair
  • Beverly Sills
  • Cheryl Studer
  • Joan Sutherland
  • Kiri Te Kanawa
  • Dawn Upshaw
  • Deborah Voigt


  • Cecilia Bartoli
  • Susan Graham
  • Marilyn Horne
  • Christa Ludwig
  • Frederica Von Stade
  • Elina Garanca


  • Brian Asawa
  • David Daniels
  • Drew Minter
  • Bejun Mehta


  • Jussi Björling
  • Andrea Bocelli
  • Ian Bostridge
  • Franco Corelli
  • Plácido Domingo
  • Jerry Hadley
  • Luciano Pavarotti
  • Fritz Wunderlich

Baritones and Basses

  • Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
  • Sherrill Milnes
  • Samuel Ramey
  • Bryn Terfel
  • Mathias Goerne

Non-Classical Singers

Audra MacDonald – A music theater singer with a Juilliard-trained voice.  Very expressive.  I especially like the CD, How Glory Goes.

Baltimore Consort – A renaissance /Celtic folk group with a great lead singer, Custer LaRue.

Christine Lavin – A singer/songwriter who sounds very natural and easy to listen to.  Her songs are about real life and sometimes very funny, like “The Shopping Cart of Love”.  My favorite album is Attainable Love.

Ella Fitzgerald – What’s to say? Just about the greatest jazz singer ever.

Il Volo – Like The 3 Tenors but not strictly classical and very young. They hit it big when they were about 16 years old.

Ute Lemper – A German theater/jazz singer.  Very intense and original as an interpreter.  I love the dark cabaret songs on Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill . She’s not afraid to make unattractive sounds for emotional reasons and it really works.

Therese Schroeder-Sheker  – If you want something really beautiful and relaxing, try Rosa Mystica.

Alfie Boe – Came to fame as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, but classically trained. Wow, what a tenor!

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole – His name’s a mouthful, but just call him Iz. He’s the only Hawaiian musician I want to hear. A great musician. Perhaps his most famous song is “Over the Rainbow” blended with “What a Wonderful World”.

Bobby McFerrin – He’s so fun to listen to, you might not notice that he is a terrific singer. He has a free sound that he can use over a very wide range and can adapt to varying timbres. You may know him from “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Other belters: Bernadette Peters, Linda Ronstadt, Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, Vanessa Williams

Glossary of Vocal Terminology

Aria – A solo in opera or oratorio. There are also concert arias, which are the same sort of thing but not from a larger work.

Art Song – A song in the classical tradition. It may be simple or almost as dramatic and complex as an opera aria.


  1. A register with a lot of power and edge. More like a trumpet than a flute. Heard in all popular styles of music and also musical theatre. Women belt in the middle part of their total range. A man can belt, too, but it’s usually on the high end of his range. Examples would be Ethel Merman, Barbra Streisand and every rock singer you ever heard.
  2. To “belt it out” means to deliver a song solidly.

Cadenza – A portion near the end of an aria where the singer seems to go crazy with fast notes, high notes, whatever. Generally unaccompanied and without words. Basically the singer gets to show off. A cadenza is either improvised or (more likely) written out and learned beforehand.


  1. A word applied to any (classical) voice that sings very fast – even basses! Since such flexibility is easier for high, bright voices, it is mostly used to refer to the highest sopranos, who sing trills and staccato notes and frequently cover over an octave and a half within a few beats. “The Queen of the Night” is a famous coloratura role.
  2. Those fast notes that she sings.

Concert – In classical music a performance with many musicians, such as a chorus. Unlike rock concerts, there shouldn’t be any screaming from the audience.

Countertenor – A classical male singing voice that covers the same range as a female contralto or mezzo soprano. Since he usually does this by singing falsetto, he probably has a baritone speaking voice.

Dress rehearsal – Final practice before a performance held in the performance hall, if possible. In theater it generally means that costumes, make-up, orchestra, lighting, set and props are all in place as in the performance. For a recital or choir concert, it means the last rehearsal, often held at the performance site, but no tux, gown or uniform.

Encore – An additional song at the end of a recital because the audience clapped long and hard, refusing to let the singer leave without singing one more. It’s usually a familiar or fun song that the singer has prepared. (“Just in case” the audience response is overwhelming. Some singers don’t take much convincing to sing more.)

Fach – Voice type, according to a system that’s much more specific than just soprano, alto, tenor, bass. There are something like 25 categories.

Green Room – Where performers wait. Usually bigger than a dressing room, and shared with others. The stage manager will make announcements here to warn you when your cue is coming up. The performance is often played over a speaker, too. Only very big stars have spacious rooms to themselves.

Intonation – How well you match the pitch. Flat means you’re below the target note and sharp means you’re high. “Pitchy” (used by folks like Simon Cowell) means there are general intonation problems in your singing, i.e., bad intonation.

Laryngologist – The specialist you should go to when you think you have a medical problem with your voice. Also otorhinolaryngologist or Ear, Nose and Throat doctor. (ENT)

Larynx – The voice box, which holds the vocal cords or folds. The Adam’s apple is the front of the larynx. Often incorrectly pronounced lar-nix.

Libretto – The text of an opera.

Lyrics – The words of a song.

Master Class – A session that’s like having a voice lesson in front of a room full of people. A visiting performer or respected voice teacher will hear a student, and then work with him/her for about 15 minutes. The singer is often more nervous than usual because the room is full of voice teachers, but they’re not there to critique the singing. They want to see how the master teacher works.

Prima Donna – “First lady,” or, the leading female singer.

Recital – A performance of only a few musicians, or made up mostly of solos or duets.  Often in a small venue. (See Concert)

Recitative – In opera and oratorio, a passage that is rhythmically like speech and not very melodic.

Register – The “gear” of your voice at any given time. You may have noticed registers if you can sing a note in two different voices. Or if your high notes can’t be sung with the same feeling as the low notes. Chest register (mostly for low notes) and head (mostly for high) will blend in mid-range. Belt is also a register. Think of it like a color or flavor. But choosing the wrong color in this case can result in a weak note, a crack or even damage to your voice.

Vibrato – A slight variation of pitch that makes a note pulse pleasantly. Vibrato is most often noticed in classical singing because it’s continuous, but almost all singing has vibrato. Each style of music tends to have a different type or speed. There are good ones and bad ones, as well. So if you think you don’t like opera because of all that “wobbling,” it might be that you heard one singer with a poorly produced vibrato!

Vocalise – A singing exercise. The final syllable is pronounced like “ease.”

Vocalize – To sing! The final syllable is pronounced like “eyes.”

Essential Repertoire

Online Music Sources

These are some of the books I often use for teaching:

Musical Theater

  • The Singer’s Musical Theatre Anthology — Available for Soprano, Mezzo/Belter, Tenor, Baritone/Bass – 6 volumes each and 2 of Duets. The later volumes tend to have more from recent musicals.
  • First Book of Broadway Solos — Available for Soprano, Mezzo, Tenor, Baritone/Bass.
  • Contemporary Disney

Classical Collections

  • First Book of Soprano Solos — Also available for Mezzo/Alto,
    Tenor and Baritone/Bass Opt. CD Also First Book Part 2 and First Book Part 3.
  • Second Book of Soprano Solos — Also available for Mezzo/Alto, Tenor and Baritone/Bass Opt. CD Also Second Book Part 2
  • Easy Songs for the Beginning Soprano — Also Mezzo, Tenor, Baritone with CD.
  • 26 Italian Songs and Arias — Medium High or Medium Low
  • Opera Arias for Soprano, ed. Robert L. Larson(also Mezzo, Tenor, Baritone and Bass, Coloratura Arias for Soprano) ed. Larsen
  • Songs through the Centuries — (High or Low)
  • CD Sheet Music, CD-Roms containing a lot of music for you to print out. A great value. Check out the website for more information.

Voice Class Books

  • Basics of Singing
  • Foundations in Singing
  • The Singing Book

Frequently Asked Questions

Can anyone sing? Just about anybody can learn to sing. Some people sing more naturally than others, and need fewer lessons before sounding polished. That’s not to say that everyone can become a star if they just work at it a bit. But most individuals who are interested in singing can train to the point where they enjoy singing in the shower, in the car, in front of friends, in a chorus and perhaps as a church soloist.You might be saying, “Oh, but I just can’t sing. My third grade teacher called me a non-singer and my friends make fun of me when I try to sing.”I’d say you have set yourself up with mental blocks that make it very hard to sing at all,
and the first step may just be to put yourself in the hands of a competent and sympathetic teacher.Consider that how you sang at 9 has very little to do with how well you can sing as an adult. Perhaps you had trouble matching pitch. Beginning singers often need guidance until they get used to following the melody. (Your teacher probably didn’t have time to work with you one-on-one, so telling you to just mouth the words was the simplest way to get the Christmas program to sound good.)

Once you’ve worked with a voice teacher and you’re singing the tune, your friends will be happy to tell you that you’re improving.

“But I have a ‘bad ear’.” Often this problem fades away as the student learns to better control the voice, so I think it’s sometimes a matter of the voice responding to the mental command, not a problem with the ear.

A few people have specific voice or hearing problems that interfere with being able to sing. These are the only ones I would say “can’t sing”. But if that’s you, you can still enjoy yourself with your favorite CD. The results just may not be ready for prime-time.

How long does it take to learn to sing?

Oh, boy. Complicated question.

First of all, everyone starts at a different point, with different strengths and problems. And each person’s goals are different. If you already do a pretty good James Taylor but need some help with high notes, you may feel happy after a few weeks of lessons. Then you’re ready to sing at open-mike night and that’s all you wanted to do. You could go further if you continued to take lessons, but that’s up to you.

Now, if you’re 15 and want to be an opera singer, it almost doesn’t matter how good you are right now. It will take years and years (and years) to learn all you need to know.

In general I would say that you should count on six months to several years. You can always keep going and get even better.

How often will I have a voice lesson?

Most teachers will have you once a week. That may be an hour or a half hour.

How much do voice lessons cost?

It varies a lot. A half hour lesson with the local voice teacher (who may be very good) might be only ten dollars. An hour with a New York City teacher can be $150 or more.

How do I find a voice teacher?

Start by asking at the music stores. They may have a list or business cards. Ask your school or church choir director. Anyone in music or theater may know someone.

Some teachers ask you to audition for a slot in their studio. If you don’t get in, that’s okay. Maybe you can find a teacher who takes beginners.

How do I know if it’s a good voice teacher?

Word-of-mouth recommendations are helpful. Select a teacher whose name comes up frequently. Recommendations can also give you a feel for the teacher’s approach and preferred style of music.

Once you are with a teacher, stay for a while. Whether you’ve had lessons before or not, this teacher will be different. Maybe that difference is exactly what you need, but you won’t know if you quit after 3 lessons.

On the other hand, there are some teachers out there who are not very good. (There are no certifying organizations for voice teachers.) If your voice is not improving, talk with the teacher to see what he/she has to say about it. Some things just take time. If it’s getting worse, that may be your perception, or it could be a phase you will have to go through in order to eliminate some old habits.

But keep in mind that SINGING SHOULD NEVER HURT. If your teacher can not help you avoid pain, then get out of there.

How do I go about changing voice teachers?

DON’T stop showing up to lessons without an explanation. You might try, “I don’t think this is working out for me,” “These lessons are not what I was expecting,” “I feel frustrated and I’m sure you are, too,” or at least, “I need to take some time off.”

You could also be straight forward: “I want to try another teacher.” This may leave the teacher horrified, especially if he/she has a “Method” that is written on golden tablets passed down from the dawn of opera.

Note: You probably don’t want to mention which other teacher you’re thinking of going to. That only invites trouble.

How can I help myself succeed in my voice studies?

  • Be regular and prompt for all your lessons.
  • Practice.
  • Practice the way the teacher asked you to practice.
  • Know your music when you arrive at the lesson.
  • Ask questions.
  • Try to limit how often you say, “But my old teacher said.…” Another bad one is, “I can’t.”
  • Keep a journal of your practice time and write down questions as they occur to you.
  • Be sure your teacher knows what your goals are.
  • Be willing to try new things.
  • Give a new song a fair try, even if you don’t like it at first.
  • Know something about the song you are singing, like who composed it and when. If you are doing repertoire in a language unfamiliar to you, do your homework – translations, phonetics, background story, etc..

What’s Your Voice Type?

Most people have heard of Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass. These divisions are
used in choirs in the western or European tradition, and basically just divide
high and low women and high and low men. Solo singers usually want to know their
own voice types more precisely. Classical singers have the most complex system,
which helps a singer to know what pieces suit his or her voice best. Categories
overlap and the terminology is even used differently by different people, making
it hard to be absolute about any of it, but here are the basics.
The highest voice is the coloratura. While the term can be applied to other
voices, it most commonly refers to the highest soprano, who can do fast passages
more easily than any other voices. The rest of the sopranos are called lyric or
dramatic. Lyric means a bright, younger-sounding voice and dramatic means the
darkest, heaviest and loudest soprano.A mezzo soprano can be a lyric or dramatic and often has a wide range with
nearly the same high notes as a soprano, and more sound in the middle and low
ranges. A contralto is the lowest female voice and is quite rare.

The countertenor is a man who sings in the contralto range. Usually he sings
falsetto, and is frequently heard in music written before 1750.

Tenors can be described as lyric or dramatic. Baritones, the middle men’s
voices, can also be lyric or dramatic. Basses are the lowest, with the term
basso profundo referring to the very lowest and darkest bass. Lyric and dramatic
are not generally used for contraltos or basses, although there are coloratura
basses – those who specialize in singing fast notes, like in Messiah, by G. F.

There are scores of other terms used for classical singers, but many singers
defy any categorization, or switch between categories.

If your voice seems to fit musical theater better, or if you just like to
sing it sometimes, be aware that the types are described differently here.
Usually (in the older, traditional shows) the hero and heroine are young, light
tenor and soprano voices, called legit. The mother or aunt figure is a lower
voice (maybe in the contralto range). The girl’s best friend (not quite as
innocent and pure) may be a belter. The other male parts are probably mid-range

In popular or jazz singing, the divisions are not made much of, but people do
tend to say they are low or high voices, or simply “A higher key would be better
for me.”

So what voice type are you? While some singers are pretty easily identified,
for many people it’s very hard to say before you have studied long enough to get
the voice secure and free in all its range. Having high notes doesn’t
necessarily mean soprano or tenor, while difficulty with high notes right now
doesn’t always mean you are a low voice. On top of it all, voices mature and
change, so just when you think you’ve figured it out, your voice goes through
another change. This can happen at least until you are 30 years old, and there
may be other changes for you based on improvements in your technique. In the
meantime, we’ll keep experimenting to figure out where you are most comfortable.

What is GERD?

GERD is the acronym for gastroesophageal reflux disorder, sometimes called reflux. It is essentially a chronic heartburn problem. There is a valve at the top of the stomach that prevents stomach acids from going into the esophagus. This is especially important when lying down, as gravity can not help to contain the acids in the stomach. If the valve is weak, acid will creep up, particularly at night when lying in bed. This is what causes the feeling of burning at the level of the heart and higher. Symptoms of GERD include heartburn, cough, interrupted sleep and vocal problems that are worse in the morning.

The acid rising through the esophagus will eventually reach the region of the voice box, which can result in irritation of the vocal cords. Left untreated, reflux can cause long-term or permanent damage to the voice.There are a variety of treatments for the condition, some of which are simple enough to try at home if you suspect you have reflux.

  • Raise the head of your bed so you are not lying perfectly flat. You could prop yourself up with pillows, but since this will cause you to bend at the waist, it may not be the best solution.
  • Avoid food and alcohol for several hours before bedtime. (Spicy foods are the worst offenders.)
  • Over-the-counter antacids may help, but it’s best not to take them regularly. There are other (prescription) drugs used for difficult cases.

Be sure to talk to your doctor about your symptoms, especially if these measures do not alleviate them.

What is Belting?

Have you heard someone refer to belting? Perhaps you’ve been told that it’s bad for you, but you don’t know why. And what’s the difference between just singing and belting?

Belt is something you hear all the time in popular styles of music. It’s the sound in a voice that tells you it’s not classical. Think of the loud Barbra Streisand sound or Ethel Merman. Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Bette Midler and Bernadette Peters are a few more. It’s not what you would sing in the soprano section of a choir performing church music.

I would define belt as a high percentage of chest voice and a lot of umph, which is exactly why it can be dangerous, if not done correctly. Plain old chest voice or anything that hurts would be incorrect. (Taking chest voice higher and higher will likely cause pain.)  Singing should never hurt.

Correct belting has a strong bright resonance sensation in the mask, much like classical does, but not so much floaty or “up”. It could even feel kind of brassy, nasal and nasty. It’s more like talking or shouting than what you might think of as beautiful singing. The sensation in the throat is more engaged than in classical singing, feeling rather like it leans forward in the throat. This is where people can get into trouble, because the throat shouldn’t push or grab. You should have a teacher helping you discover the right way. (Some people are natural belters, though, and have little trouble with this.)


Is belt only for females? No, but the difference between belt and classical isn’t clearly heard in a man’s voice until he gets pretty high in his range, so we often tend to think of a belter as female. In musical theater “belter” is a female voice/character type.

Is belt always loud? No, but again, the difference between the classical sound and the belt sound may be more easily identified when it’s loud.

Is belting bad for your voice? No. When done correctly belting is not bad for the voice. That said, it’s a highly energized sound, and if you try to do it without getting it quite right, you will wear out your vocal instrument. (See above, concerning chest voice and pain.) Voice teachers used to be afraid of teaching belt because their training was classical and they didn’t understand it. Then they’d hear an untrained belter with vocal damage and say, “See! It’s damaging for the voice! I won’t let my students do it.”

Remember the golden rules: (1.) Belting is not the same as chest voice. (2.) Singing should never hurt.

What’s the difference between my normal singing and belting? Maybe none, especially if you listen to popular or theater music. When you are still pretty new to singing it may be hard to tell, because beginners do not energize the sound enough.

If it is not clearly indicated in the student’s singing or preference, I start singers with non-belt singing because it is probably a safer place to start learning about the voice.

What are some belt exercises? I’d hate to prescribe specific belt exercises without guiding an individual through them. It’s kind of like the doctor diagnosing and prescribing medicine without examining you.

If you think belting is what you are aiming for, then check out Lisa Popeil’s website:

She uses the term “lean” instead of belt, referring to the sensation of the larynx leaning forward. There are videotapes available and information on singing.

Imaging Techniques for Better Singing

Practice is the one ingredient you can not eliminate as you learn to sing. Or, to be more accurate, correct practice is the indispensable element, since practicing the wrong technique only strengthens its grip on your habits. Aside from singing correctly, though, you must train the mind to eliminate the bad mental habits that interfere with your performance.
If the gremlin in your head is always saying “I don’t want to be here, I sound terrible, I’ll never get it right,” your body will have to fight it in order to succeed. Better to have all your resources on your side!A beneficial technique when training the mind is visualization – guiding the mind through the best performance you can imagine. Such imagery can help you avoid the mental pitfalls of the piece you are working on. Say Joe usually sings easy high notes, but always balks at a particular note in a certain song, even though the note is not all that high. It could be that one time he cracked it, and expects to crack again each time he sings it. Such expectations set him up with tension and a big lack of confidence, both of which are detrimental to good singing. By repeatedly seeing himself sing that note perfectly, he begins to train his mind to expect success.There is much more to visualization than positive thinking, however. Here’s how I would suggest Joe create the images that will help him conquer the mental difficulties he has on that one note:Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Breathe softly for a few minutes until you feel relaxed. Now begin to picture your practice space. See all the items on the piano and the sick geranium in the window. Listen for the usual dogs and cars. Smell the dinner cooking. See the music of the song out in front of you and “sing” through it in real time without making a sound. Don’t rush. Make this rendition exactly as you want it to be. There’s no reason there should be any imperfections, because your imagination is not limited at all. Feel the vibrations of focus, the full breaths, and the easy flow of that difficult phrase. Repeat that phrase several times, to enjoy how easy it is.

Use as many details as possible, involving all the senses. Create the place and situation in your mind’s eye as realistically as you can. If Joe does this exercise every day, his mind will begin to accept the idea that he can sing it, and sing it well.

Another example: Perhaps you have a problem with stage fright. Imagine the room, the people, the piano introduction, and all the while you are doing everything perfectly. Even introduce something out of your control, such as a baby crying, and mentally rehearse how you will handle it. Try this with an emphasis on interpretation and acting, too.

Visualization has been used successfully by businessman and athletes at the highest levels. The U.S. Olympic Committee hires a sports psychologist (bet you didn’t know there was such a career, did you?) to teach the technique to Olympians, with positive results. A very interesting book called Thinking Body, Dancing Mind, by Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch, applies similar methods to sports and life goals. The exercises can be easily used by singers.

As a footnote, I’d like to suggest that you are defeating yourself every time you say “I can’t,” or “That was awful.” I hear these from students in lessons, and I sincerely believe that you will succeed only after you have removed this sort of negativism from your vocabulary, and consequently from your thought patterns.

So be sure you do perfect practice – not only with your voice, but with your mind, the most powerful tool you have in your journey to more beautiful singing.