SUSAN SWENSON             Vocal and Piano Instructor
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To sing and let the sound out you must recondition yourself. Open your mouth, move the tongue out of the way, and open the throat.  When you were an infant you could not walk, talk, or feed yourself.  You relied on voice projection for survival. 

Babies naturally open their mouths and shape their tongues to express their needs. As one matures this instinctive progress is lost through socially acceptable conditioning.  

Compare the baby’s tongue position to American Idol finalist Jessica Sierra’s:  tip touching inside lower teeth, U shaped curve, creating a round open path to freely project her voice. 

When a baby cries, we cuddle her and say, “Don’t cry, shhhh, you’re needs will be met”. Thus as the child matures she learns to “keep her voice down”, lower the volume and pitch.
Most new singers try to sing like they talk, minimally moving the tongue and jaw.  The result is similar to playing a trumpet with a hamburger in the bell, muted.  

You need two tools: a mirror and a flashlight.  Open your mouth and pull your tongue down the back of your throat, a natural yawn.  You can see the back wall of your throat behind the uvula and tonsils.  Sing “Ah”.  Siren from a low pitch to a high note and watch the throat muscles move the sides and top walls.  If the uvula touches the tongue, it creates two different size holes to pass sound through creating double harmonics, a fuzzy unclear sound.  Imagine a sound generated by a trumpet with two openings in the tube before the bell.  Watch the uvula buzz if it is not up and taunt.
Place a hand on your throat to sense the muscles that pull the tongue down and out of the way.  Feel the throat expand when you yawn with your mouth closed.

A page from Susan Swenson's "Sing it Right", a book soon to be published.  Clear Tone Chapter Two.
HEALTHCOACH: incensed dietician, Dr. Weightcure, explains a common sense, fun way to trim your body and enhance your appearance.  Feel good about how others perceive you.  Learn how to prepare delicious meals tailored to your specific needs.                      Click the Star!
Inflamed tonsils are not only painful, but they definitely prevent a clear tone path from the larynx.  If they are troublesome and become a painful nuisance, do think about having them removed.  Tonsils gradually shrink with age, but so does everything else.  Many doctors today advise against removal; however, not everyone is a singer who does not want to chance an infection.

Mozart died from tonsillitis.  The body produces a substance to fight a streptococcus infection which unchecked can later cause kidney problems.   
Nashville, Brentwood, Franklin area
Learn to lift the uvula off the tongue and open the back of the mouth.  Eliminate uvula buzz and double harmonics.
Open Mouth

Uvula Up


Vocal Range



Vocal Care

A baby has a small larynx, voice box, but for survival can be heard for quite a distance.  It is all a matter of proportion, size ratio, air pressure and many other factors.  A small larynx can only produce a few octaves of high notes, say from G4 to G6 (counting octaves from the bottom of the piano keyboard A1 to A8 at the top).

A one to seven year old child larynx proportionally grows with the rest of their body and consequently can make lower notes C4 to E6.

Age seven to fourteen again a larger larynx lowers the voice, G3 to C6.

At approximately fourteen the male larynx is able to produce tones from G2 to C6, but the female range constant is normally from E3 to C6, occasionally E6.  Many variables exists depending on maturity and genetic factors

A person’s vocal range should remain constant until old age, “Use it or lose it”.  Yes, men can sing a high C6 plus a low G2 and most have a four-octave range.

Our social environment determines our speaking range.  Most men speak around C3 and women C4, middle C.  Men can talk at C4, but it may seem strange.  Some women talk lower than C4, but this range is not feminine. 

If you blow a flute and cover all the holes would the note be high or low?  If all the holes are uncovered is the note high or low?  More air space in the tube produces a low note, just as a large drum will produce a lower tone than a tiny one. A large air space creates large sound waves that are low tones.

There are many factors that determine different ways a pitch is created:

1)Size of the hole between the vibrating vocal chords,
2)High or Low position of the hole between the vibrating chords,
3)Air pressure, 
4)Back of the throat opening, 
5)Lip shapes,
6)Vocal chord stretch, watch the larynx move up as you sing from a low note to a high note,
7)Jaw position, keep the tip of your jaw in line with the tip of your nose.  The jaw naturally rotates in the direction we     mash food. To the right for right handed people.  Move the jaw up and down, not to either side.
8)Air space in the trachea and back of the throat that we will discuss here.

To produce high or low notes a singer can alter the airspace.  Picture brass and reed instruments created to emulate the human voice.  Visualize the difference between a Tuba and a Trumpet, a flute and a piccolo, a saxophone and a clarinet.  These different physical shapes produce different note ranges and timbers.

Our bodies create these difference pitches and sounds automatically; but now we are going to learn to do it on purpose, to change physical shapes to make sounds these instruments copy.

The trachea is like a vacuum cleaner hose.  It stretches up and compresses down, but different from a vacuum cleaner hose our air tube also expands outward in circumference.  If we stretch our head up, it contains more air, thus helps make lower notes.  If we shrink our head straight down into our shoulders, head upright, making jowls, it shortens the air passage making high notes possible.  However, you need to push your jaw out to keep the throat open when you lower your head.  When your head is pulled up for a low note your jaw goes back, like a “Goofy Duhh”.  This keeps the vocal chords taunt over the vocal drum and prevents a frying sound.   Think Low note “Up and Back”. High note Down and Out.

High note:

Upright head down, do not bend head forward or back, neck shrinks into shoulders, jaw forward, lower teeth ahead of upper teeth.

Low Note:

Neck and head stretched up, Jaw back, lower teeth behind upper teeth – duhhhh..

There are two sets of vocal cords that work in unison, the lower true set, and the upper false set.  The second set is a fail safe, like wisdom teeth.

When you whistle, the hole between your lips is small for a high note and large for a low note.  Picture the same situation in your voice box.  If you apply too much air pressure on the vocal chords when trying to sing a high note, it will break through the true set of vocal chords onto the false set creating the falsetto sound.  To sense the top set of vocal chords, create a sound on an “in breath”. 

Breath Support, Air pressure,  is very important.  Pretend you are a beach ball underwater with a small hole allowing the surrounding water pressure to force the air out.  Control the outward vocal air flow so that the bubbles are uniform in size, like the beads in a string pearls, flowing up and out at an even rate  -- no baseball or football sized bubbles.  We will learn more about breath control later.

Open the jaw straight down.

Use a ruler to line up the nose, dip between lips, spaces between top front and bottom teeth, and chin.

A bent trumpet produces a warped sound.
Open the mouth as far as possible.

Observe the protruding cheek muscle. 

Low notes: visualize up and back, head and neck stretched up.  Pull the jaw back, upper teeth over bottom.
High Notes:  think down and out, head into shoulders and jaw forward.
A closed mouth generates a muffled sound.  Picture a horn with the bell squeezed together. 
Don't show lower teeth.
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Pitch is difficult for singers because they cannot simply press a key or lever and expect to produce a perfectly pitched tone.  The problem is intensified if a person cannot read music. The sound is just out there with nothing to relate to.  They must record the sound in their head, analyze it, and reproduce what they hear.  The result is often a "pitchy" too sharp or flat tone.

An actor auditing for a part in a film or stage play may be able to recite a passage and act out the words par excellence.  However, if he or she is not able to read the words of another script, the result is “Next!” Why is it then, many amateur singers expect to sound as good as a professional performer on a perfectly edited CD or film?  Or worse yet, perceive that they sound as good, not aware of what they do not know.

“I do not want to be bothered with all that boring theory and technique stuff.  I just want to sing” is similar to saying, “I do not want to learn to read or type.  I just want to surf the net”.  However, this person dreams about making a CD and becoming a wealthy musician.  Who will do all the unexciting theory and technique? 

Let’s compare pitching a baseball to singing on pitch.  First one must learn to catch a ball.  Factors such as speed, arc, or touch down determine where you need to position yourself to catch it, weather you miss it altogether, or it hits you.  If one is a pitcher, the ball must be consistently “pitched” as fast as possible directly over the plate at a predetermined height.

Most people begin their music adventure by singing with a song in a car or other familiar source. Some folks have a definite advantage because they begin sharing music with friends and family, school, church at a young age.  Talent is not a gift that someone is born with.  Neither is computer programming, surgical procedures, or other skilled professions. We all have to start the process somewhere.  It just takes the will and determination to “do it!”

How is pitch accomplished?  First we need to be able to determine where is the tone we hear or produce in relation to other notes.  This is where learning to read music is necessary. Is the next note the same, higher, or lower? The singer who learns to play a keyboard can press a note and associate a singing tone with a sound they hear, see, and feel.  They can perceive a note’s relativity to other notes.  One does not have to be a virtuoso pianist, but know where to place the sound.

At first, many students are able to sing the first note of a musical sentence on pitch.  As they progress the last note is on. Soon the middle or climatic note, and then they become aware the rest of the notes are off and fix them as well. 

Timing is a major factor.  How long do I sustain the note?  Where do I breathe?  Many new songs are complicated syncopated rhythms.  As a result those that do not understand timing miss the style and character of the song.

Breath support can determine the ability to sustain a note on pitch, plus ad technique to color and create a specific style.  Without it, nothing happens.  Breath support techniques can be applied to other activities, such as sports, speech delivery, acting, and stage fright.

Pronunciation plays a dramatic role determining how you are understood.  Jaw and tongue positions produce vowels while lip positions create plosive, silent, fricative or glutteral consonants. Dogs and cats probably understand everything we say, but they cannot speak as we do because they have thin tongues and cannot manage vowel sounds plus thin lips that cannot form consonants.  However monkeys and apes can manipulate their thicker tongues to produce vowels, yet their lips are too thin to make consonants. 


Pitch is influenced by the position of your lips, jaw, tongue, opening in the back of the throat, air support, space between the vocal folds, distance between the larynx and epiglottis, and most of all making it all happen at once on purpose.  The size and combined action of these different apertures, breath speed, pressure and maintained support constitute pitch variables.

Resonance can be produced in your mouth, mask (face), head, or chest.  Most musical instruments imitate the human voice because our physical audio receivers (ears) are geared to familiar sounds we prefer.   The human body can produce a trumpet (mouth), a clarinet (mask), a flute (head), a saxophone (chest), or a combination (violin or cello) sound in a high or low pitch.

Projection utilizes the whole body.  Watch a baby cry, a bird chirp, or a dog bark.  Clear tone, breath support, pronunciation, resonance and projection are all required to create and sustain a note on pitch.

The process is not easy.  One must accumulate many skills and multitask numerous thought and physical processes at once. Those who have the verve and want to become professional know how to read music because it makes the whole process easier.  They know when, where, why, and how to make music because the score explains what to do.  Ultimately they can write songs for others to enjoy.  

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Vocal Care

This simple inexpensive system cures sinus, allergies, skin eruptions, diminishes wrinkles, and rejuvenates your complexion as well as conditions your vocal cords

Items you need:

Small bottle of virgin quality olive oil
Two washrags
A two-quart size bowl
Tray of ice cubes
Witch Hazel astringent  (not rubbing alcohol)
Cotton balls or disks 
Johnson’s Baby Cream, Pond's Dry Skin Cream,
or a jar of any inexpensive moisturizer that is better
than body cream or lotion.

The Process:

1)While sitting in a warm tub of water, cover your face with olive oil.
2)Trickle running hot water from the faucet onto a washrag and cover your face.
a. Water temperate is warmer than the bath water, but not unbearable.
3)Breath with your mouth closed through the washrag until it cools to lukewarm.
a. Five or six deep breaths
4)Squeeze the second washrag in the bowl of ice water and place over your face.
5)Again breath with your mouth closed through the rag until it is lukewarm
a. Place back in the bowl of ice water by the side of the tub to cool.

Repeat steps 1 through 5 at least five successive times.  As debris loosens, you will need to blow your nose and cough or clear your throat.

6)After you finish bathing moisten a cotton ball or disk with witch hazel astringent and apply to your face to close skin pores and remove olive oil residue.
7)Put on baby cream or another inexpensive moisturizer. 

You can purchase the ingredients in a grocery store for less than $10.  You will find the Witch Hazel next to rubbing alcohol.  Once a week is enough to achieve noticeable results.  However, you may want to do this more often if you are experiencing allergies or sinus symptoms. 

A few more tips:

1)Breath steam from a kettle of boiling water.  You can place a funnel in the spout to direct the steam.
2)This takes a little practice.  Catch lukewarm water in the cup of your hand.  While holding one nostril closed very slowly suck the water into your nose.  Stop when you feel the water begin to trickle down the back of your throat.  Careful not to suck in too much and choke.  You can also use a cup or glass.  Do not use salt because it dries nasal tissues. Keep your head perfectly upright so the water does not enter your sinus cavity and cause discomfort.  This will wash pollutants, allergens, and bacteria from your nostrils and the back of your throat.  Three times in each side is enough. You can accomplish this while bathing or over a sink.  Afterwards place a small amount of olive oil in your nostrils to catch other particles during the day and prevent the delicate tissue from drying. 

Drinking certain liquids or avoiding particular foods before you sing is a myth.  The epiglottis covers the larynx and trachea when you swallow, so it does not matter what you eat or drink.  Food and beverages go down the esophagus to the stomach.  If the epiglottis did not cover the larynx you would choke.  Particles of food and liquid would enter the lungs and you could develop pneumonia.

You need a substantial meal to provide energy required for singing or performing.  Just don’t eat something that would chance indigestion.  Chose carbohydrates and protein for energy and stamina.  Too much liquid will most likely necessitate a not so convenient trip to the restroom.  You can celebrate with an alcoholic beverage after the performance, but not before.  You need all your wits about you.

What you breathe can harm your vocal cords.  Smoke, cigarette or otherwise, hair spray or cleaning sprays, fumes from glue, paint, fingernail polish and remover, bug poisons and so forth obviously irritate the vocal chords and surrounding area. 

Antihistamines, nasal sprays, and inhalers ruin voice quality and cause all sort of vocal difficulties. Antihistamines dry out tissues in the whole body including the vocal chords.  Especially avoid nasal sprays that create a vicious cycle by causing nasal membranes to shrink and then swell when the effect wears off blocking the nasal passage more than before using the spray.  Inhalers are disastrous.    


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Whether you're a karaoke singer or preparing for an audition, the ProVocal series is for you. These books contain lyrics, melody, and chord symbols. An included CD contains demos for listening and separate backing tracks so you can sing along. The CD is playable on any CD,but it is also enhanced for PC and Mac computer users so you can adjust the
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