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It has been requested repeatedly that I write about vocal

techniques that can result in vocal stress or even damage. I

have hesitated to write about this because it is a difficult and
controversial subject. Nevertheless, I believe it is a subject that
needs to be responsibly addressed. Most singers know little if
anything about the voice when they begin to study singing. Nor
do they know what is healthy or unhealthy vocal technique.
Having suffered vocal damage myself, I can only speak from
my own experience. In the following paragraphs, I will list the
causes of such vocal damage. Not only have I witnessed vocal
damage, I can say I have suffered vocal damage and have
recovered from it through the concepts of Alan Lindquest, his
students Virginia Botkin, Martha Rosacker, and Dr. Barbara
Mathis, and Dr. Evelyn Reynolds, my present teacher who has
studied the Italian School extensively. All of these teachers
have accomplished a deep understanding of the concepts of the
Italian School in great detail and they all developed diagnostic
hearing plus tools to solve vocal problems. All of them have
been extremely influential in my development as a teacher and
they have given me an expertise that I value greatly today. This
is why I encourage young teachers to find a real master teacher
with whom to study. Lindquest continued his vocal research
until his death at age 93. This is the sign of someone who
pursues the deepest truth in vocal concepts. Singing is a life-
study. It is exciting in the sense that one can learn at any age
and the journey need never end.

The Damaging Effects of a Flat-Tongued

So many teachers and singers are confused about the healthy
position of the tongue in singing. I have worked directly with
singers who have studied a 'flat tongued' technique and
attempt to sing on this type of production. The flat-tongued
technique is basically a non-productive futile attempt to find
more acoustical space in the throat. I can tell you without
hesitation that this is an incorrect and damaging technique. If
the tongue is flat, then the mass of muscle at the back of the
tongue (tongue root) is forced into the pharynx. This fills up
the primary resonator (pharynx) with tongue mass which can
be compared to singing with a pillow in one's throat. Trying to
teach a singer with such a background can be a difficult
journey at best. Healthy nasal resonance cannot be present in a
flat-tongued technique. It is important to understand that
healthy nasal resonance (not nasality) is the only concept that
completely releases tension at the root of the tongue.

In a flat-tongued technique, the singer is primarily using a

technique which does not allow for a healthy change of register
as one ascends upward within any scale or arpeggio. The root
of the tongue places direct pressure or stress at the vocal cords
or glottis. After hearing a singer trained in this destructive
technique, it becomes obvious that this incorrect vocal concept
does not allow for the healthy pivoting of the vocal folds.
Therefore there cannot be a healthy transition into the head
voice register. Loss of high notes is typical in such an approach
to singing. When the tongue is too flat, then the singer has to
force the voice into the upper register with a tremendous
amount of breath pressure. This breath pressure irritates the
vocal cords and the result is usually hoarseness and an
inability to phonate healthily. Some singers have also suffered
damage such as vocal hemorrhage, bowed vocal cords, nodules,
or polyps from singing with the tongue depressed or flat. This
constant pressure on the larynx and vocal cords created by this
technique is completely unhealthy for the voice. I warn
teachers and singers that those who pursue such a technique to
get a 'bigger sound' (this kind of sound is only big in a small
room and is quite small in a theatre.) can destroy their vocal

Case Study: Tenor Singing Baritone

Recently I had the opportunity to work with a young

professional baritone. At 23, he was loosing his voice through
hoarseness after each performance. There were two primary
culprits that worked together to destroy healthy production:
tremendous breath pressure and a flat-tongued technique.
Because he was trying to create false color with the back of the
tongue and because he thought he was a baritone (see article
on Vocal Fach), this young singer was flattening his tongue.
There were four negative results (1) absence of healthy nasal
resonance, (2) inability to achieve 'ring' in the voice through
nasal resonance, (3) chronic hoarseness from a flat tongue
position creating direct pressure on the vocal cords, and (4)
absence of an easy transition into the upper passaggio and high
range. After working with this singer for a period of about 10
minutes and having heard the absence of true resonance in the
voice, I decided to vocalize him higher. Because of Lindquest's
great understanding of the tenor voice, partly from his
association with Jussi Bjoerling, and because his exercises
invite balance in the upper passaggio, this singer could quite
quickly go up to the high C and even to the high D without
major difficulty. I began to analyze the singer's tongue position
and realized that at times it was completely flat in an attempt
to manufacture a baritone color in the voice. Since he was not
really a baritone, this was impossible. After listening to his first
lesson, he described his own voice as sounding simply like a
"tenor who was trying to make a baritone sound".

By the third lesson, this singer was singing the tenor solos in
Handel's Messiah with great beauty of tone. It became more
and more obvious to me that this young singer was singing in
the wrong fach. The flat tongue position was only one of the
negative results of singing in the incorrect vocal fach. As I
mentioned above, chronic hoarseness would follow each
performance. This is yet another case of a young singer who
was on the road to vocal damage because of an insistence from
his instructor that he was a baritone. There is absolutely no
denying the truth; that he is a high tenor. This is an example of
a situation where a teacher's ego dominates over real concern
for the singer. This is criminal and there should be laws to
protect singers. True, he could sing in the baritone range by
depressing the larynx with the root of the tongue. However,
this created false color and forced the voice to phonate lower
than intended. As a light skinned blond person, (usually these
singers have blood vessels right on the surface of the vocal
cords.) had he continued to sing with this false and unhealthy
technique, he most certainly would have suffered vocal
damage, probably through a major vocal hemorrhage.

Tongue depressors: The ultimate in vocal abuse: I have taught

singers who were taught to depress the tongue with a tongue
depressor while looking into a mirror. This is absolute vocal
abuse that most certainly results in vocal damage. In this kind
of circumstance, there is absolute and obvious confusion by the
instructor. The confusion lies in the idea that what appears to
be filling the mouth space can be flattened to make more space
in the throat. This concept represents a basic ignorance in the
physiology of the voice. In actuality, flattening of the tongue is
filling up the pharynx or back wall of the throat with tongue
mass. Singers trained in this way often sound as though they
are gargling marbles and trying to sing at the same time. On
the other hand, when the mouth space appears to be filled with
the forward and arched tongue; the back of the throat
(pharynx) is actually much more open. Remember Lamperti's
quote: "The singer's pronouncer is in the pharynx NOT the
mouth." When the tongue is arched healthily as in the 'ng'
position (Lindquest's home position of the tongue), then the
singer can pronounce the vowels clearly. The integrity of the
clear Italian vowel sounds is never sacrificed. The tongue
should never be frozen in place. Otherwise clear pronunciation
is impossible. Those who have forced the tongue flat cannot
make a clear transition from vowel to vowel. The result is a
large forced ugly sound with lots of breath pressure forcing the
voice to go higher. Many singers have suffered vocal
hemorrhage or nodules from this tremendous breath pressure
alone. I warn teachers and singers alike that this is extremely
dangerous. A singer who has suffered from this kind of
instruction and suffered vocal damage should seek legal action.
One famous court case in the United States awarded a singer a
very large sum of money. The technique taught this singer was
extremely destructive and included an unhealthy depressed
tongue approach. I had one lesson with a New York teacher
who taught this technique because he had a big name. I was
searching for another teacher at the time because Mr.
Lindquest had died. This teacher gave me a vocal hemorrhage
trying to make me a high C tenor when I was actually a lyric
baritone. I left his studio unable to speak and cancelled all of
my teaching for the next 3 days. Later when I had my vocal
cords videoed at the University Hospital at Groningen, The
Netherlands, the scar on my right vocal cord from the
hemorrhage was evident. I now have a scar on my right vocal
cord because of this teacher's dalliance and irresponsibility (he
had a huge ego!) Luckily the scar is on the fold and not on the
vocal lip. Therefore it does not impede my singing ability.

Jaw Forward Technique

I remember the first time I had a singer who had been taught
to place or relax the jaw forward. The resulting sound was that
of a small child; extremely breathy and throaty. The throat
was completely closed and the vocal cords would not
approximate properly. The voice lacked any kind of color or
warmth and would fatigue very quickly. When the jaw is
forward, there are several negative results: (1) the vocal cords
do not approximate correctly. (2) The tongue usually goes back
into the pharynx, filling the primary resonator with tongue
mass. (3) The larynx functions in a high position allowing only
a thin immature sound to be produced. (4) The soft palate
assumes a low position, often resulting in nasal or thin tone. (5)
Legato line is impossible because the tongue is so tense that
there cannot be a healthy separation between the jaw and
tongue function. (6) There cannot be a healthy breath line
because the breath is choked off by the root of the tongue. (7) It
is impossible to create a musical phrase because the singer
cannot crescendo or decrescendo healthily. (8) The vowels are
usually distorted because of a large of amount of tension at the
tongue root. (9) Since the back wall of the pharynx is closed,
there cannot be healthy resonance present in the voice.

High Larynxed Technique: Often

Associated with the Boy Choir Sound

I can speak from personal experience about this subject. I was

trained as tenor even though I was actually a lyric baritone.
This is extremely damaging to a young singer. My personal
belief is that many teachers are not taught to hear the
difference between healthy ring in the voice and a 'squeeze' of
the throat. Often college, university, or conservatory teachers
are teaching very young singers and are afraid to address the
issue of the high larynx. Their fear, and I understand that fear,
is of a depressed larynx technique which is truly incorrect and
damaging as well. However, it is crucial that the singer learn a
slightly low larynx production without overly depressing the
larynx with the root of the tongue. If taught with the nasal
resonance and the 'ng' tongue position, the slightly lowered
larynx makes for a healthy, warm, and balanced vocal tone
which includes both higher and lower overtones. I understand
that many teachers are afraid to allow young singers to make a
big sound. However, it is critical that teachers understand that
if they are teaching a young large-voiced singer and the singer
is not allowed to use the fullness of the instrument, then the
result is usually a squeezed throat which can be damaging. The
singer is trying desperately to 'lighten up the voice'. This
concept of lightening the voice needs to be taught with a deep
body connection. The only way a large voiced singer can
lighten up his/her tonal quality is to connect deeper to the

One of the largest problems for me personally was when I was

required to sing as a tenor in choirs when I was in reality a
lyric baritone. This created constant hoarseness, especially
when I was required by a conductor to sing a boy choir sound
with a straight tone. I would have difficult speaking clearly
after any choral rehearsal. This was primarily due to the fact
that I could not sustain the tenor tessitura with a lower larynx
position. The result was a constant irritation of my vocal cords.
A depressed larynx or a high larynx can cause irritation. I am
fortunate that the scar on my right vocal cord is not at the
vocal lip. However, this scar could have been catastrophic to
my singing and I could have suffered damage that would not
allow me to sing again. Scar tissue does not stretch as healthy
tissue does. The 'boy choir' sound is not a sound that is
designed for any adult to make. Demanding this kind of sound
by voice teacher or choral director from an adult singer creates
all kinds of vocal difficulties as I listed at the top of this

Straight Tone Singing:The Early Music

Some of my favorite music is of the Baroque period. I love
Bach and Handel and the beauty of their music. I personally
sing this music with a healthy shimmering vibrato. A healthy
vibrato shimmers with fast vibrations. It is not to be confused
with a wide vibrato or 'vocal wobble'. I certainly understand
that choral directors do not want any of their singers to
'wobble' because tuning becomes impossible. However,
attempting to solve this problem with straight tone singing is
futile and destructive vocally. Usually the singer with the wide
vibrato gets even worse because of the holding in the throat.
This is of course a response to trying to 'straighten out' the

Why is straight tone singing damaging? The answer to this

question is simple. When a healthy tone is produced, the result
is a taut and shimmering vibrato. The vibrato is a result of the
healthy function of the vocal cords. It has a direct relationship
to Flagstad's comparison of a 'silver sound' or 'silver thread'.
If a singer is required to sing a straight tone for any choral
director or teacher, then that singer has to squeeze the vocal
cords in order to stop the vocal cords from fully vibrating. This
does not allow a healthy amount of air through the vocal folds.
This holding of tension in the throat can create all sorts of
negative results including a closed acoustical space. The largest
problem is vocal fatigue accompanied with an imbalance of the
registers. Most straight tone singers find it impossible to allow
for a healthy transition into head voice. This kind of singer is
actually unaware that he/she is belting from the lower register
upward. However, the straight tone sound is so thin and light
with a high larynx that it disguises chest voice as head voice. I
speak from personal experience on this issue. When I was
singing as a high larynxed tenor, I thought I was singing head
voice when in actuality I was belting the middle voice as high
as I possibly could. The vocal cords became extremely fatigued
and beauty of tone was impossible. The healthy pivoting
process of the vocal folds was impossible and I had no
sensation of a high soft palate. With age, my voice became
more and more brittle in sound. There was a complete absence
of warmth of tone in the voice. By the time I got to Alan
Lindquest, I was suffering vocal damage at age 29.

The Smile Technique

There is one large-scale incorrect technique that I must speak

about; the smile technique. So many teachers and singers think
that it is important to smile at the mouth opening while
singing. This absolutely is destructive to the throat. The Italian
School teaches the inner smile which is actually a high and
wide soft palate, lifted cheeks under the eyes, sunken cheeks at
the back teeth (this creates more acoustical space in the
pharynx), and all this with an oval mouth shape. The smile is
actually in the eyes, NOT the mouth.

So many singers are taught the smile technique in an attempt

to brighten the tonal quality of the voice. Instead brilliance of
tone should be produced by bringing the tongue forward and
arched out of the throat. The smile technique is related to the
'boy choir' sound in an adult voice; something that should
never be taught. It does nothing to enhance the voice and the
results can be extremely damaging over time. This smile of the
mouth technique raises the larynx, drops the palate, invites the
jaw to move forward, the tone to be bright and thin, and
usually the singer is flat in pitch. The vocal cords also do not
close properly. Absolutely NO body part is in the correct
position for healthy singing to occur. The absolute negative
result is a closed throat that causes hoarseness after singing.
Again this is another technique which is widely excepted as one
of vocal health. The truth is that is it extremely dangerous and
detrimental to true vocal health and should never be taught.
This has been scientifically proven through the use of
fiberoptic research.

Although there are some excellent early music singers, this

smile technique is quite popular amongst many in that genre of
music. Those who use this concept in an attempt for
authenticity will and do suffer the consequences. I can name
several early music singers who have large scale recording
careers, yet they sing constantly flat and out of tune. I have
never understood why their recordings sell. Do people not hear
that they are singing flat? Over time the voice will deteriorate
completely. Again, I am speaking from personal experience. I
was taught by a high tenor who had me smile while singing.
The result was an extremely high larynx position and constant
vocal fatigue. By the time I got to Alan Lindquest in 1979, my
voice was stiff, rigid, and had a flat and unpleasant tone. It was
impossible for me to go into the upper passaggio and high
range because the larynx position was too high. The vocal
cords could not pivot properly for the correct register changes.
There is not doubt that the smile technique is quite dangerous.
The Pulled Down Facial Posture in

I have witnessed many singers who pull down the cheeks and
cover the teeth completely while singing. This simply makes
singing very difficult and hooty. Again, the Swedish/Italian
School attempts to create a balance between higher and lower
overtones. The lift of the cheeks under the eyes brings the soft
palate up. Quality of tone is directly effected by one's facial
posture because of its effects on the interior posture of the
throat. If the facial posture is pulled down, then singer must
work twice as hard with breath pressure to blow the soft palate
out of the way. The result is usually pushed and unpleasant
tone. When the facial posture is lifted, then high overtones
come into the singer's production. Without lift, the singer's
voice does not carry properly in a concert hall or opera house.
The lift brings ring into the voice and therefore carrying

It seems that men are often the singers who use this technique
the most. I remember hearing a British baritone who was
flown over to sing Elijah in a concert in Connecticut. This was
a catastrophic performance. The production was hooty and
dark and he sounded somewhat like he was imitating a moose
call. I actually felt sorry for the singer because of his own
obvious discomfort. The audience was shocked and
disappointed at the lack of beauty of tone. I believe that people
can keep their voice as long as they can keep their health. This
is also very related to exercising the voice properly. If a person
is physically healthy and exercises his/her voice properly, then
vocal longevity is quite easy. This baritone was only about age
55 and should have been at his peak. Sadly the voice was quite
stiff and ugly and the high notes were completely flat in
intonation. All this was directly related to his confusion
regarding correct facial posture. Since I had a mezzo in the
performance, then I got more of the inside story. This man was
quite arrogant because of his own insecurity. It made him quite
a bad colleague. His own unhappiness and insecurity turned
him into a difficult and demanding performer. I will be writing
an article on facial posture and the acoustical relationship to
healthy tone shortly. It will also be a long chapter in my
upcoming book.

The Belting of Breath Pressure: Over-

Development of the Chest Register

The more of this article I write the more it becomes obvious

that every vocal concept is connected to another. If one element
is out of alignment, then the result is that other aspects of the
voice become unhealthy as well. When I was incorrectly
trained as a high larynxed tenor, I had to use a tremendous
amount of breath pressure to force the voice upward. This was
not a conscious or aware reflex, but there was really no other
choice. My tongue not only was flat, but in the upper range it
also dipped like a spoon. This tongue problem was a direct
result of the breath pressure that I had to use to try and go up
into the higher range. I especially wanted to try and go higher
because teachers had told me I was a tenor. I was actually a
lyric baritone. This tenor training was extremely damaging.
This was because it resulted in every body part being in the
wrong position for healthy singing. This includes a larynx high,
flat and back tongue position, breath high under the chest and
little or no lower body support. The result was the support of
tone by the tongue, little or no vowel clarity because of the
forward jaw and low palate, and tremendous lack of resonance
because of a complete lack of acoustical space. It became
obvious in later years that I was constantly doing a close dance
with vocal damage and no one really offered me any answers
until I met Alan Lindquest and the other teachers I mention at
the first of the article.

One thing is for sure; hard belting is damaging to the voice.

There is absolutely no way to belt with breath pressure and
have the vocal cords survive without damage. It is unfortunate
that pop and Broadway singers feel the necessity to belt in
order to compete. Usually the singer must use a lot of breath
pressure or breath compression in order to push the chest
register upward further than it is designed to sing. I was
fortunate to survive with only one vocal hemorrhage. I have
the scar on the right vocal fold to prove my vocal distress. I
was intelligent enough in my instincts to seek help and it took
years to find a teacher who knew about vocal technique.
Locked Solar Plexus Technique

Tragically, many young singers are taught a technique that

tries to get only to the 'big vocal sound'. Some teachers think
that a singer must have this in order to compete in the business
of classical singing. True that any singer needs a large amount
of 'ring' in the voice. But this is not created by pumping a 'big
sound' out of the mouth space with lots of breath pressure.
Healthy resonance is created with the help of nasal resonance
that takes away the pressure at the root of the tongue.

This 'big vocal sound' (which has become popular!) is

manufactured by pumping a tremendous amount of breath
pressure through the larynx. I call this the over-compression of
the breath. Often in such a technique the teacher puts his or
her fist in the singer's solar plexus area and then has the singer
'push out' with a great amount of pressure. The result is a loud
and pushed sound with little or no healthy nasal resonance. In
healthy singing, the solar plexus gradually turns freely as the
singer gradually fuels the small stream of breath through the
larynx. Remember that Caruso said he needed no more breath
to sing than to have a casual conservation with a friend. With
this pressurized technique it is quite impossible to achieve
vocal freedom. The root of the tongue becomes locked and yet
again direct pressure is placed at the vocal cords by the root of
the tongue. Usually these singers suffer an overly-chested
technique. Again there is no possibility for head voice
development. The singer suffers difficulty with high notes and
there is a large imbalance of registration present. I once had a
French mezzo who had studied a teacher who used the 'fist in
the stomach technique'. She was admitted into a very exclusive
conservatory and at the end of her study she could no longer
sing thanks to this damaging technique. She was not allowed to
perform her graduation recital and after a threatened law suit,
she was allowed to study with me outside the school for credit.
It took one and one half years to rehabilitate her voice. Her
teacher used the 'fist in the stomach' technique which creates a
gag reflex at the root of the tongue. Once this extreme reflex is
taught to the body, it is difficult to correct. After tremendously
hard work at recovering from the damage taught her, this
singer graduated and is now a successful voice teacher. She
was indeed a victim of a damaging technique taught by
someone who was ignorant of the resulting damage. She paid a
large sum of money to attend a conservatory, which not only
did not serve her, but also damaged her voice.

Breathy Technique

I first learned of the damage of breathy singing from my friend

and colleague Dr. Barbara Mathis. Her research is ground
breaking to say the least and she is on of the finest voice
scientists and teachers in the United States. She teaches at
Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.

During her vocal research, she decided to have a 'vocal abuse'

session using the fiberoptic camera. The discovery was nothing
less than amazing. She told me that after singing with a
breathy tone, the vocal cords turned more and more red and
the vocal lips swelled almost twice their normal thickness. This
was indeed an eye-opening event. I have had the privilege of
seeing Dr. Mathis' research. I consider her to be a great vocal
technician and she has done amazing work with damaged

My personal experience with breathy tone was revealed when I

worked with Alan Lindquest. My vocal cords would not come
together properly because of years of using breath pressure
and a high larynx. The vocal cords were 'bowed' and would
not come together like healthy cords. He offered me exercises
that changed my singing life. Suddenly after only about 2 days
my tone became healthy again. Lindquest used some of
Garcia's 'coup de glotte' exercises that healed a great deal my
vocal damage. I had acquired this damage over about 15 years
of incorrect instruction. It is scientifically proven that breathy
singing is damaging to the voice. It is sad to say that this
technique is being taught in an attempt to 'lighten the voice'.

Recently I had the experience of hearing a Cabaret

performance in New York City. The singer used a lot of
breathy tone for dramatic effect. This was a huge mistake.
After only about 3 songs vocal fatigue began to develop and by
the end of the performance the singer was trying desperately
just to get through the performance. All of this occurred
because of the swelling of the vocal cords due to breathy
The Final Analysis: Causes of Vocal

In closing, I think it is crucial that I list the causes of vocal

fatigue. Because singing is such a coordinated function, the list
of causes might seem repetitive. However, I feel it is important
to review the causes of vocal fatigue. Allow me to say
emphatically, a singer should NEVER experience vocal fatigue.
If he/she is singing correctly, the voice should not tire. I speak
and teach 7 to 8 hours per day 6 days per week and I never
experience vocal fatigue in my voice studio. Never should a
singer feel fatigue after a lesson. I have heard so many singers
tell me that their last teacher told them that the 'muscles had to
get used to the new technique'. This is irresponsible for any
instructor not to take vocal fatigue as a red light for future
vocal damage. Hoarseness should NEVER occur after any
voice lesson unless the singer is executing the instruction

(1) Smoking or drinking alcoholic beverages.

(2) Belting: using too much chest voice pushed up to

high in the scale.

(3) Using a technique with a tight solar plexus during


(4) Singing with a high larynx.

(5) Singing with a low soft palate.

(6) Singing with a forward jaw position.

(7) Singing with the vocal cords too far apart or too
squeezed together.

(8) Pushing too much breath pressure through the


(9) Incorrect posture; dropped chest or hyper-

extended chest.

(10) Singing with the head posture pushed forward

from the spine.

(11) Use of mouth vowels instead of pharyngeal


(12) Unsupported singing; lack of connection to the

resistance of breath pressure in the lower back and
abdominal muscles.
(c) David L. Jones/2001

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