Category Archives: Articles

Voice-Related Links

Some good information on the physiology of the voice and voice disorders can be found at:

The Voice Foundation.

Vocal fry is very common these days. Is it hurting your voice?

What about those kids on America’s Got Talent?

What things cause wear and tear on your voice, and what happens as you get older?

Alexander Technique

This is Dr. Larry Hensel’s website. Alexander practitioners are rare in this part of the country. He’s in Laramie.

Would you like to see what the vocal folds look like? – Explanation and diagrams  – Quartet scoped – Scope and no scope

I’ll bet there are some things you’ve got wrong about the Copyright law.

What can you do with a music degree?

Interesting talk about what your speaking voice conveys to the listener, regardless what you say.

Your thinking can have a lot to do with your success as a performer, perhaps especially so for singers.

Beginner’s Guide to Musical Theater

From comic strip characters (Annie, Li’l Abner) to real people (like Fiorello LaGuardia, Maria Von Trapp, Eva Peron), wars (in Shenandoah and Miss Saigon), novels (Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera) and Bible stories (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar), musicals are more than just song and dance.

The Best-Loved Musicals

Note that the film version of a musical may be quite different from the original. Songs are often cut, added, transposed, re-ordered or given to a different character.

  • My Fair Lady
  • Evita
  • Hello, Dolly!
  • Fiddler on the Roof
  • Anything Goes
  • West Side Story
  • Oklahoma
  • The Sound of Music
  • Cats
  • Les Miserables (often just “Les Mis”)
  • Wicked
  • The Phantom of the Opera
  • Music Man

An interesting one that isn’t very well known is Lost in the Stars, which is based on Cry, the Beloved Country.

1776 isn’t one of the big ones, but it’s one of my favorite. You may think a musical about the Continental Congress and the signing of the Declaration of Independence would be as interesting as junior high History class, but it is quite entertaining, even while quoting from historical documents, like George Washington’s letters to the Congress from Valley Forge. And the hero is – wait for it – John Adams! Who knew?

Important Composers of Musicals

Cole Porter

Andrew Lloyd Webber

Irving Berlin

Stephen Sondheim

George Gershwin

Some are better-known as a composer/lyricist pair, such as:

Lerner and Loewe

Rodgers and Hammerstein

Gilbert and Sullivan

Famous Music Theater Singers

The Broadway singer has a bright sound which helps get the words across. Not always as beautiful or as “round” a tone as the classical singer’s. Their priorities are clear words and emotions, along with character. Even ugly voices have a place. Madame and Monsieur Thenardier in Les Miserables are ugly people, and their voices show that.

  • Betty Buckley
  • Bernadette Peters
  • Robert Goulet
  • Julie Andrews
  • Pearl Bailey
  • Carol Channing
  • Barbra Streisand
  • Ethel Merman
  • Barbara Cook – She sang the songs in many of the film musicals without credit.
  • Mandy Patinkin
  • Rex Harrison
  • Florence Henderson
  • Zero Mostel
  • Topol
  • Bob Hope
  • Kristin Chenoweth
  • Shirley MacLaine
  • Jimmy Durante
  • Dick Van Dyke
  • Patti LuPone
  • Jeanette MacDonald
  • Alfie Boe

You may want to check out Auditioning for Musical Theater.

Beginner’s Guide to Jazz Singers

A jazz singer does not have to have a perfect voice. The feeling and the musical style are more important. Vocal imperfections can even be a plus, as it makes the singer memorable, like Louis Armstrong’s rough voice. “Scatting,” or improvising with nonsense syllables, is an important skill. These are the big names you should be familiar with in the world of jazz. (Some have also sung in musicals.)

  • Louis Armstrong (1901-1971)
  • Cab Calloway (1907-1994))
  • Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996)
  • Nina Simone (1933-2003)
  • Ethel Waters (1896-1977)
  • Della Reese (1931-    )
  • Bing Crosby (1903-1977)
  • Dinah Washington (1924-1963)
  • Jane Monheit (1977-    )
  • Billie Holiday (1915-1959)
  • Judy Garland (1922-1969)
  • Sara Vaughan (1924-1990)
  • Bobby McFerrin (1950-    )
  • Nat King Cole (1919-1965)
  • Mel Torme (1925-1999)
  • Frank Sinatra (1915-1998)
  • Diana Krall (1964-    )
  • Lena Horne (1917-2010)
  • Rosemary Clooney (1928-2002)

Behind the Judges’ Table

What are those adjudicators thinking? Don’t you wish you knew? Well, I can give you a good idea. First of all, they’re human and frequently distracted. If they yawn, they may be thinking, “I really need another cup of coffee,” or, “These things are always so long. I wonder what time it is.” But if you’re lucky, they may be thinking, “I love hearing new people. Let’s see what this one has to offer.” And that may very well be the case. These are teachers, agents or conductors who truly enjoy singers and vocal music.

If you’re listening in on their thoughts you may also hear, “What in the world was he thinking, singing that piece. He’s not ready for it. I wish I could hear him sing something he’s good at.” Or perhaps, “She sings it pretty well, but I can’t see her doing that part.” So always sing what suits you.

If you seem a little “green” and inexperienced, that’s not the end of the world. But do thank the judges and be pleasant and appreciative to your accompanist. This will not go unnoticed. Opera managers have been known to ask the stage manager just how singers behaved backstage. Snooty prima donnas who can only appear nice onstage are cut.

Excuses and complaints will not be appreciated. If you have a cold and want to sing anyway, don’t tell them about it unless they ask.

What to Wear

The visual impression you make can be very important, so think carefully about your clothing. What you wear can telegraph a message you are unaware of, like: “I really don’t know anything about the world of opera,” or “I don’t care what you think of me.” The last thing you want to do is offend them!

Let’s start with what is expected at something like the district NATS auditions. At this level you are learning all about singing for judges, including the unspoken rules about attire. Judges may write comments about your clothing because it’s an opportunity for you to learn what is expected.

One thing to always keep in mind is that what you wear should show respect for the person listening. This is not the time to “make a statement” or to “be edgy” or “look really hot.” Don’t try to be noticed by wearing an extreme or bizarre outfit. If people can only think “That’s outrageous/punk/ugly” the whole time you’re singing, that’s all they’ll remember about you. This is like a job interview, and you should be demonstrating that you respect the auditioner and appreciate their time.

In general, judges absolutely do not want to see:

  • Your tattoos
  • Jeans
  • T-shirts
  • Clothing with words
  • Tennis shoes
  • Sweats
  • “Goth” makeup
  • Belly button
  • Flip-flops
  • Piercings (More than one per ear)

Men should think in terms of dress pants with a button-down shirt and a tie. Jacket is optional. Closed-toe dress shoes, not sandals. When auditioning for an opera company or conductor you should wear that jacket.

Ladies, since you have so many style choices, you can go wrong in many more ways. Ideally you should choose a dress no shorter than 2 inches above the knee. Pantyhose are preferable to bare legs and leggings are out. Heels look nice but don’t go too high, especially if you’re not very comfortable walking in them. Don’t show too much skin, like spaghetti straps. Some singers feel that looking sexy will get the judges’ attention, but judges can be very turned off by it, perhaps even offended that you would try it. You want to go for elegant and sophisticated.

Formal wear is appropriate for some elite competitions. Basically, if it’s the finals of something like the Metropolitan Auditions or if it happens in the evening in a concert hall with an audience, a tuxedo or gown is probably expected. Ladies, you can go one degree more revealing, like a V-neck or leg slit.

Some Common Pronunciation Errors

The way we usually speak is not necessarily appropriate for singing.  What with regional dialects and general sloppiness, we put up with much inaccurate speech that we don’t even notice. When singing in English the best way to be understood is to use what’s sometimes called Elevated Standard American English. It’s what has long been equated with “correct” pronunciation. Before CNN came along, all national newscasters would have sounded like this. It was considered understandable to all Americans, with just a bit of an educated and authoritative quality.  (Note: This may not be the way to say the words of a country song, spiritual, character piece or Death Metal hit, but familiarity with proper pronunciation helps all singers make better choices.)

There are a huge number of words that are commonly mispronounced. See if you say these words correctly:

  1. Recognize – Don’t forget the G.
  2. Strong – There is no SH at the beginning.
  3. New – Should rhyme with few.
  4. Pen – In this part of the country it often rhymes with pin. Incorrect!
  5. Immediate – Does not start with uh.
  6. Dream – There’s no J at the beginning
  7. Tree – No CH at the beginning.
  8. Twenty – Eh, not uh, and there’s that second T to remember.
  9. Educate – That’s a D, not a J. Try Ed-yoo-kate
  10. I’ll – Should rhyme with aisle.

For some reason, Israel is not sung the way we say it. It is sung Iz-rah-el. That’s actually closer to the way it’s spelled.

Remember that English is hardly ever phonetic. When you learned to read, sounding out a word may have given you trouble with  nuptial, iron and thigh, along with many others. And if you compare through, though, ought, and rough, you can see that the way words are spelled can be very misleading. Singers need to be aware of the sounds of a word not the spelling.

The International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA, is used to write out the way a word sounds, and is used by singers to notate foreign words as well as correct English pronunciation.

Beginner’s Guide to Opera

You’ve just started lessons and want to learn more about music history, opera singers and classical song. Good for you! This is the great historical tradition behind all western singing.

You might start with the vocabulary list at Vocal Terminology, and then read through “Singing” on Wikipedia. Lots of good information there. Need to know more? Opera for Dummies is a really good introduction – fun, informative and easy to understand. And remember: You need to read up on the story before hearing or seeing an opera, unlike music theater, which is usually easy to follow. And don’t be surprised if the stories sound familiar. There are operas based on Shakespeare (Othello, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Falstaff), fairy tales (Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella), Bible stories (Salome,  Susannah) and historical figures (Richard Nixon, Ann Boleyn, Julius Caesar, Harvey Milk, Ghandi, Lucrezia Borgia). Some are funny, like the one with aliens subdued by a music teacher (Help, Help the Globolinks!), or the one where a man can’t get his girlfriend off the phone (The Telephone). Gianni Schicchi is all about a family arguing over a will. The part of the dead man is sometimes “played” by a non-singing personality, like a local politician. Opera is not scary!

Note: You may not want to use a name before you’ve learned how to properly say it. If you let people know you’re new to opera, they’ll help you out. But pretending you’re well educated in this field could backfire. That being said, here are some names to get you going. I hope you will look them up for more background and listen to the singers on YouTube.

Classical Singers You Should Know

Beauty of tone is frequently more important than acting, in opera. I think as you continue your voice studies you will begin to appreciate the operatic voice.

I may have missed your favorite singer, but, hey – it’s my list.

Opera Singers

Names are linked to YouTube, where you can hear these greats. In most of the clips you can go to the end if you’re anxious to get to the high notes.

  • Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) – Often called the greatest tenor of all time. Hard to tell, since the recordings are from the earliest years of phonographs.
  • Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007) – No one ever accused him of being an actor, but Man! could he sing. I think he’s better than Caruso. Listen through to the end of this one for one of his thrilling high notes.
  • Maria Callas (1923-1977) – A revelation in that she proved one can sing opera and act at the same time. Sometimes that took her over the edge vocally, though.
  • Beverly Sills (1929-2007) – Probably my favorite coloratura soprano. Beautiful singing and always full of personality on stage. She really showed her fun side when singing with Carol Burnett.
  • Joan Sutherland (1926-2010) – Australian coloratura.
  • Lily Pons (1898-1976) – Very famous French/American coloratura from the 30’s,40’s and 50’s. She sang in Hollywood movies and was quite popular. In this clip she is wearing a very daring outfit that most sopranos could not pull off!
  • Placido Domingo (1941-    ) One of “The Three Tenors.”
  • Jenny Lind (1820-1887) – “The Swedish Nightingale” A 19th century soprano that P.T.Barnum brought to the U.S..
  • Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938) – Perhaps the first Russian opera singer to be a familiar name in the west. I don’t know if any other bass ever became a household name.
  • Marian Anderson (1897-1993) – Broke the color barrier at the Metropolitan Opera when she appeared there in 1955.
  • Anna Netrebko (1971-    ) – A Russian soprano with a dark sound and movie-star looks.
  • Fritz Wunderlich (1930-1966) – Who knows what he could have done if he hadn’t died so young? A beautiful tenor voice.
  • Leontyne Price (1927-    ) – Had a very successful career when black opera singers were still uncommon.
  • Bryn Terfel (1965-    ) – Since he’s still in the middle of his career I’m not sure if history will rank him with the others, but I think he’s got a wonderful voice.
  • Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925-2012) – Yes, he sang opera, but may be better known for his Lieder (German song) singing.
  • Natalie Dessay (1965-    ) – A fine french soprano who could sing the spots off of the hardest coloratura roles while delivering very fine acting. Things get very interesting in this clip at 4:55. Unfortunately, she has retired from the operatic stage. No one can sing those coloratura notes forever.
Not Exactly Classical
  • Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944) – Famous, not good. Recordings of her singing are available from the 30’s and 40’s, and you will probably howl with laughter. The sad part is that she believed her audiences were filled with people who came to adore her, not to laugh.
  • Anna Russell (1911-2006) – A wonderful comedienne who sang her way through Wagner’s famous Ring Cycle singing every part and cracking jokes all the way. What Victor Borge did for piano she did for opera.
  • Mary Schneider, Australia’s Queen of Yodeling (1932-    ) Not a classical singer, but the CD is all classical orchestral music. I don’t know if I like yodeling, but this is jaw-dropping.
Classical Singers Best Known for Films
  • Paul Robeson (1898-1976) – Famous for singing “Ol’ Man River in the 1936 film Showboat, but he was also known for “straight” (spoken) shows and political activism.
  • Jeanette MacDonald (1903-1965) – Sang many film operettas with Nelson Eddy in the 30’s and 40’s.
  • Mario Lanza (1921-1959) – Perhaps best known for The Great Caruso.

Famous Operas

Opera is usually sung in the original language. Experts will tell you that it is never the same if the words are not what the composer had in mind, but it may not matter much, in the end. Opera singers must be able to sing in at least Italian, German and French.

Some operas are equally well-known by their English title.

  • La Boheme, 1897
  • Tosca, 1900
  • Aida, 1871
  • La Traviata, 1853
  • Die Fledermaus, 1874
  • Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), 1786
  • Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute), 1791
  • Candide, 1956
  • Porgy and Bess, 1935
  • Tristan und Isolde, 1865
  • Carmen, 1875
  • Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), 1818
  • I Pagliacci, 1892
  • Madama Butterfly, 1904
  • Eugene Onegin, 1879

Famous Arias

I’m guessing you’ve heard these, even if you’re new to opera. Don’t believe me? Look them up on YouTube.

  • “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi
  • “La donna e mobile” from Rigoletto
  • “The Toreador Song” from Carmen
  • “Habanera” from Carmen
  • “Largo al factotum” from The Barber of Seville
  • “Der holle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” from The Magic Flute
  • “Letzte Rose” from Martha

Famous Oratorios

Oratorios are similar to operas, but usually on a sacred story and not staged. Cantatas and classical settings of the Mass are usually categorized here.



Carmina Burana – Not very sacred!

Some Famous Composers of Vocal Music

  • Verdi
  • Puccini
  • J.S. Bach
  • Handel
  • Schubert
  • Schumann
  • Wagner
  • Mozart
  • R. Strauss
  • Debussy
  • H. Purcell
  • Rossini

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