Happy New Year and a Resolution for Principles




Happy New Year, readers! I hope your New Year will be bright and happy, filled with health and prosperity. I’ve had a wonderful holiday with family and friends, and time for lots of reflection and quietude.

What fills my life with greatest joy is the personal, musical-artistic, and developmental journey that I share with every student. We both know that FREEDOM is the ultimate goal, but no two journeys are ever the same. My role as teacher serve merely as a guide, and to gently lead the way for each singer. The way is not always easy, but the journey is worth the rocks and vales we explore together.

While each student is an individual, one thing that does not change, are principles of function. I can NEVER know what any student will sound like at the END of the journey, but our principles never change.

Principles of voice training should be firmly seated in the mind of anyone who chooses to teach. These principles are unchanging, but application may vary based on the diagnostic needs of the moment, as well as the habits that the singer has acquired. For those teachers unfamiliar with how the voice actually works, special systems and methods of voice training have appeared to fill those gaps. Since the mid-nineteenth century, particular methods and schools of training have littered the landscape, offering singers visions of stardom, success, and solutions to every vocal problem.

What these ‘methods’ fail to remember, however, are core principles. They work to the ‘end’ to prove the method rather than the ‘means whereby’ a voice can be brought to fullest flower. If you are working in lock-step with a ‘method,’ you may be in dangerous territory when that method is not able to work in every student.

So, what ARE these functional principles?

They include attention to the following elements:

  1. Pitch – the selection of specific pitches determines the particular tension on the vocal folds. For pitches to be operative, the vocal folds must stretch to meet the demands of that pitch. If this is not possible, range extension is not able to be carried out with any success, denying the singer any feasible way of adding notes to the top or bottom of the voice .
  2. Vowel – choosing a vowel has an effect on vocal fold behavior. For example, an ‘oo’ vowel at a moderate dynamic encourages a different configuration of the muscular system of the throat than an ‘ah’ vowel. The proper selection of vowel can elicit a certain function in the voice which will help the teacher in the training process.
  3. Volume – a particular dynamic encourages a thickening or thinning of the vocal folds, and vocal function cannot be properly calibrated without the assistance of volume. Softer volumes tend to thin the vocal folds and permit a freer passage from chest voice the head/falsetto. The sounds result in tones that are ‘sweeter,”flexible,”youthful,’ and ‘hooty.’ Louder dynamics stiffen and tense the folds, resulting in greater resistance to the airflow. The ear perceives this as an augmentation of volume and calls into play the muscles which might be heard as resulting in a ‘chest voice’ quality.
  4. Rhythm – the speed of an exercise determines the effectiveness of the movement of vocal muscles. Muscles that are sluggish are stimulated into action through exercises that facilitate swift movement. Fast moving scales and arpeggios work beautifully for this purpose. When the voice is tremulous and unsteady, slower exercises will build a sense of strength and firmness in the tone.


The combination of these principles are limitless. They are limited only by the creativity and ingenuity of the teacher. There is no such thing as a ‘magic exercise.’ There is merely the need of the moment (as understood by the diagnostic capacity of the ear) and the application of an exercise which is meant to allow a new response to emerge.

Great instrumentalists of all stripes regularly re-connect to the foundational principles of their technique. This assures that foundational principles of their technique are not lost as greater and greater skill and technique come to the fore. What good is it to sing a very high tone if that tone is not beautiful? What good to end a rousing cabaletta with a glistening high-E if everything that came before is not beautiful and well-executed? 

History is replete with singers who spent hours and hours in the pursuit of a simple 8-tone scale. There is a REASON that these singers went on to become the most technically and artistically advanced singers in the history of the art form.

Make 2015 a year that you connect with foundational PRINCIPLES. You will be surprised at the the growth and skill you can acquire by this loving and dedicated attention.

One thought on “Happy New Year and a Resolution for Principles

  1. It doesn’t get any simpler than this. Good post with which to begin the new year, with content (message) to keep in mind forever. Thanks, Justin! (One further thought, fellow blog-followers: SIMPLE in principle doesn’t of necessity mean EASY in application. But, as our auto insurance friends say, “Everybody knows that.”)

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