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Singing Tongue Vowels

singing tongue vowel positionsOdd picture, isn’t it?

But the truth is, we all use our singing tongues to communicate with each other.

Somehow that doesn’t sound quite right, but hey, I’m just going to get this information out as fast as I can, so forgive me if I don’t edit myself while I’m writing.

I really meant to say that we all use vowels to communicate with one another and that we form the vowels with the shapes of our tongues.

Anyhow, here’s the important part of what this picture is all about:

  • The vowels are what you use to sing on, not the consonants.  I mean, really, try singing on an “sssss” sound.  Good luck!
  • Each vowel requires a slightly different position of the tongue
  • This chart uses phonetic symbols to show 4 cardinal vowels.  That just means 4 vowels that use an “extreme” tongue position, but I don’t want to spend too much time on the definition, I want to get right to the point about how these vowels and their tongue positions affect your singing voice
  • Let’s take them by color and how they sound.
    • The purple is for the vowel sound you hear in the first syllable in the word “Alaska” (I used to live there)
    • The green is for the vowel sound you hear in the word “cat”
    • The blue is for the vowel sound you hear in the word “pet”
    • The red is for the vowel sound you hear in the word “feet”
  • You can see that the purple one is at the lowest position and the red one is at the highest position

Now, take a hand mirror and watch your tongue as you say each of the words above that are used to represent the sounds in the chart and answer these questions in the comments section below:

  1. Where does your singing tongue go?
  2. How does it feel in your mouth.
  3. Which vowel is the hardest to do while your singing tongue is touching your lower lip?
  4. Why do you think it’s the hardest?



Try this and then tell me what this felt like when you tried this.  Use the comment section below.

You will never think of your tongue the same again after you begin to keep the tip of your singing tongue forward!

ENJOY and ask questions in the Comments section below!



Want Help With Your Breathing?

How Yoga Breathing Works

Yoga is a timeless method for obtaining optimum health through breathing exercises called pranayamas and muscle stretching exercises or positions called asanas.

  • Prana=’life force’
  • Yama=’self-discipline’

Although yoga is considered to be a spritiual practice, many people, especially in the Western world, learn yoga more for its health benefits rather than its spiritual concepts.

Basic yoga breathing exercises concentrate awareness on the length and power of your inhalation and exhalation, listening to the sound of your breath, learning how to control your breath when you are stretching the other muscles in your body and why this is important to your health.

The idea that air is the vital force in life is at the root of all yoga principles and so when you breathe, the more control you have over the ebb and flow of your breathing, the more you will be able to discipline your entire body, both mentally and physically, for optimum health.

When you do yoga breathing, you will get deep down into the muscles that control your breath and will learn how to use them for optimum health. Some of these muscles include:

  • diaphragm
  • abdominal
  • pelvic

Beginning Yoga Breathing Exercise

A basic beginning breathing exercise is to rapidly breath in and out twenty times through your nose, making the exhalation stronger than the inhalation, and then taking one slow deep breath, holding your breath as long as you can and then slowly exhaling. This is also a good breathing exercise if you are having upper respiratory tract problems.

Other Breathing Exercises To Help You (not yoga)

Slow Leaky Tire

Dog Pant


Are You Breathing Like A Baby?

“Breathing should be as easy for you as it is for a baby, so get back to the basics and stop sweating it so much” – Joy Sikorski

Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale….zzzzz….inhale, exhale….

Breathing is as natural as sleeping. Or is it?

I love this picture because you can just feel how calm this baby’s breathing is.  No big effort, just breathe!  Should be simple for adults too, right?  After all, we were all babies once.

So why is it sometimes so hard when it comes to breathing for singing?

When we’re babies, we don’t think about how to breathe. We just breathe. As children, we’re not puzzled by how our lungs fill up with air or how our diaphragm (die-uh-fram) works with intercostal muscles to regulate that air. We’re not anymore aware of these natural functions than we’re aware of the air we inhale.

Ah, but just wait until we grow up! It’s amazing how messed up the breathing process (respiration) can become.

Time to Get Back to Basics, Like a Baby

In my role as a teacher/coach/trainer, I’ve worked with all age groups and one thing I’ve observed is that about 50% of adults breathe backwards without realizing it.

Huh? What does that mean?

Breathing backwards means that the diaphragm is going in the wrong direction when you inhale or exhale. It’s supposed expand down and outwards when you breathe in and then contract in and upwards when you breathe out.

Here’s why: [continue reading…]


Your Voice Makes Sound Waves

“It is true that we do not have conscious control of all of the actions of the sound waves, but sensitivity increases in direct proportion to receptivity–you cannot control what you are not aware of.” – Arthur Lessac

First, here is a definition of what a sound wave is.  Very cool from Wikipedia.

Sound is a traveling wave that is an oscillation of pressure transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas, composed of within the range of hearing and of a level sufficiently strong to be heard, or the sensation stimulated in organs of hearing by such vibrations.

So what does it have to do with your singing voice?

Well, when you begin to speak, hum, sing or make any sound with your voice, how you start these sounds is going to make the difference between a pleasant sound or a harsh sound, a healthy throat or a hoarse throat.

Because the sound waves travel while you are singing, you want to get them out of your body with the least amount of effort for the most power.

That is how you will reach your audience, how you will move people, persuade them, comfort them, stir them up or calm them down.

Then there is the subject of the volume of sound waves and how that volume affects your hearing.  But that is a subject for another post.

For now, learn how to start singing sound waves with JOY!


Joy Starts Your Singing Note

“The sensations of tonal action are an internal event – you must feel them, from beginning to end, within the body.” – Arthur Lessac

  • What really starts your singing tone?
  • Are you supposed to push the sound out?
  • Does it take a lot of effort?
  • Why does my throat get sore?
  • Why am I hoarse?

I’m frequently asked these questions and many like them, so I’d like to address them in a way that will make it easy for you to understand how truly simple natural singing is.

  • The tone starts in the mind as a desire to sing, a sense of joy inside of you wants to get out
  • That thought sends a message to the vocal membranes (cords) to close
  • Air coming up through the trachea (wind pipe) builds up pressure below the vocal cords enough to ‘puff’ through, which sets up an incredibly fast vibration in the cords that causes a sound wave
  • At this point the breath that helped to start the sound wave is not as important as it was. As the air stream weakens and passes out of the mouth and nose, the sound wave, independent of the breath, travels up and away from the vocal cords
  • As it travels upwards, it finds hard bony structures in the head to bounce off of, which causes resonance those secondary vibrations that give power and beauty to the voice
  • This resonance is the true power of the voice and it happens naturally and effortlessly when you relax
  • Sound waves get out and to the audience when you don’t try to push the sound or push the breath

So how do you let resonance take over?  How do you let the joy out? [continue reading…]


“Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out – Vaclav Havel, Czech playwright

One of the most common disorders that people write to me about is hoarseness or a raspiness in the throat. Here are my thoughts on that subject.

Have you ever felt like you were losing your voice?  I sure have!

In fact I’ve lost it several times and it’s a nasty experience, especially because my life is centered around being able to use my voice to perform, communicate and teach.

So I’d like to tell you what I do when my voice starts to get hoarse, which means I first have to tell you why it gets hoarse.

  • I’ve drained my energy by working too hard
  • I haven’t been exercising enough
  • I haven’t been laughing enough
  • I haven’t been resting or sleeping enough
  • I’m talking too loudly or harshly
  • I haven’t been eating right
  • I’m frustrated with my life, the outside world and the people around me, so I push my voice outside of its safe zone because I’m not paying attention to what if feels like inside of me

Sound familiar?

Here’s what I do about hoarseness: I do all I can to rein it in before it strangles me or I get polyps!

  • I gargle with salt water
  • I soften my voice and speak very little
  • I give myself permission to rest – this is a tough one!
  • I eat more fresh green vegetables
  • I drink fresh squeezed orange/grapefruit juice
  • I drink licorice tea
  • I suck on fresh ginger and drink fresh ginger tea
  • I rinse out my nasal passages and sinuses with a warm saline solution
  • I sleep and dream nice dreams
  • I look at my throat with a flashlight and a mirror, face the nasty swelling or infection and then ‘talk’ to my throat as if it’s a friend of mine who needs my encouragement and lots of TLC.
  • I use an anatomy book to visualize what’s physically going on in places I can’t see and then focus on making it better. All healing starts in the mind.
  • Did I mention rest?
  • Did I mention rest?
  • Did I mention rest?

Take care of your voice because it’s the only one you’re going to get in life, and you won’t be able to replace it at a music store if you badly damage it.


“Is there not an art, a music, and a stream of words that shalt be life, the acknowledged voice of life?” – William Wordsworth

What’s Up With Articulation and Diction?

Basically, if you do not articulate your words well, people will not be able to understand what you are trying to communicate. If you learn to launch your vowels by exaggerating your consonants to be understood, you’ll be able to project without pushing (pushing can cause hoarseness and other more serious problems).

The act of producing sounds (particularly consonants) in order to form words by using the articulators (muscles of the tongue, lips, cheeks, soft palate, jaw).

One way to improve your articulation is to work with a mirror and watch to see whether or not you are fully using your lip and facial muscles to form your words. Another thing to watch for is a tight jaw or frowning cheeks because it’s not a good idea to let these obstruct your potential.

More on this in future posts.


7 Singing Truths from 1911

“It has been said that speech differs from song as walking from dancing. Speech may be called the prose, and song the poetry of vocalization.” – Thomas Fillebrown, M.D., D.M.D.

I love this guy. He wrote about 100 years ago about the voice. But the things he says still apply. They may seem a little old fashioned now, but the principles of how the voice works are exactly the same. Perhaps a bit of the psychology and philosophy about the singing voice or what makes a good singing voice change from generation to generation, but nothing truly changes.

Check out what he wrote back in 1911 and see it you agree!

1. That the singing and speaking tones are identical, produced by the same organs in the same way, and developed by the same training.
2. That breathing is, for the singer, only an amplification of the correct daily habit.
3. That “registers” are a myth.
4. That “head tones, chest tones, closed tones, open tones,” etc., as confined to special parts of the range of the voice, are distracting distinctions arising from false education.
5. That resonance determines the quality and carrying power of every tone, and is therefore the most important element in the study and training of the voice.
6. That the obstacles to good speaking and singing are psychologic rather than physiologic.
7. That, in the nature of things, the right way is always an easy way.

I am particularly love the way he uses the word “psychologic” when it comes to problems with the voice.
It is SO TRUE!

I have written about this in the Inside Voice Outside Voice


Singing Vibrato

singingmastermind image for singing vibrato bird
I get asked a lot about how to sing with a vibrato, so I thought I would answer that question with some of my readers’ questions and my answers that I’ve collected.

Maybe I should do a video about this.  What do you think?  The more you let me know what you want, the better I can help you.  Leave your comments, suggestions or questions in the comments box below this post.


  • “What is vibrato?”

It’s a natural process of a balance between breath support and vocal cord adduction (vocal cords closed for making speech or singing sounds). Hard to teach with written words but at least you can start thinking about it.

It’s a natural process of a balance between breath support and vocal cord adduction (vocal cords closed for making speech or singing sounds). Hard to teach with written words but at least you can start thinking about it…and be sure to utilize the resources on my website!


  • “Joy, how do I do tremolo? I’m getting this bad habit of naturally trying to make it, since I can’t ….only forceful…so I use my diaphragm, which is bad massively bad…What muscles in my voice do I contract so make that volume go up and down for that tremolo effect, with no loss in pitch?”

Tremolo? Do you mean vibrato? Vibrato happens naturally as you learn to balance your breath when you sing. Not sure what you mean by the last part of your question. Volume doesn’t really have anything to do with vibrato. Breath control does though. Have you worked with my breathing exercises yet?


  • “Balancing –  would that not make your voice just be plain, as in just one loooong note? just that sort of waving/wobbly touch…not in a bad way.”

Vibrato, when it’s natural, gives the voice a rich full sound (I think what you mean by “waving/wobbly touch…not in a bad way.”) So yes, balancing the breath will help this process.


  • “…yes tremolo and vibrato for instruments as well are where the confusion comes in…I hear this rapid swell and diminishing of volume and that’s what tremolo is…. most singers can use it liberally I can’t find the technique and it sometimes happens when I loosen my diaphragm…it’s that really professional technique, but not hard to do, once you know how I suppose, say you sing a plain not, then add this wobbling to it, tremolo/vibrato thats what I don’t get how to do…I’ve come a long way since I posted this on general singing since I am beginner, I can sing songs that nearly killed my throat from exhaustion and strain….still should start on these exercises though…well puffed out.”

Forced vibrato doesn’t work well. It adds an unnatural sound to the voice. Keep working on the breath support and you’ll continue to improve.


  • “I am a high tenor, and I have a clean sound. but unfortunatley very little vibrato. I was told not to move the jaw or use the stomach to make vibrato, but unless I hold a note for a while, I get little vibrato if any. What can I do?”

Have you tried singing softly and slowly on your back with your eyes closed? If not, give it a go and feel what happens.


  • “What if I don’t feel the vibrato in my nose? Or near my nose area?”

It is important to get the sound waves into the bony structure of your head. I suggest doing some very slow 3-5 tone scale patterns on “aw” so that you can get deeper into the inner sense of what’s happening with your voice. This all has to do with resonance.


Did I Do Permanent Damage To My Voice?

Another question has come in from one of my YouTube followers.

This one has to do with a hoarse throat and wondering about permanent damage.  Here is what he writes (I’ve corrected a few typos and spelling errors so you can read it more easily):

“I was training for about a year and recently tried a few high notes and may have strained something…I waited a month and still feel a bit hoarse and like my voice is thick….no clarity..really upset..should I brake again or see a throat doctor?? I’m scared I may have done permanent damage…”

Here is what I wrote back to him:

“Without hearing you, it would be difficult for me to advise you. However, I do know this: often the fear of damage will cause even more tightness in the throat area. There are a number of things that you can do to relax the muscles that affect your vocal cords….focus on how you can relax and let go of the fear. I have worked with hundreds of people and find that usually there is not permanent damage done in these types of cases. But, again, I am not a doctor and without hearing you, I cannot say for sure.”

Now here’s the thing. This man who asked the question also confided in me that his voice teacher teaches with an opera style, but he himself likes singing pop style.

He also said that his teacher doesn’t mention head voice or vibrato, and then concluded by saying, “…they say if u can do opera, you can sing anything…”

Opera versus Pop Styles

The question of what style to sing is a common one so I want to write a little bit about it today.

First, let me say that my teaching philosophy regarding opera versus pop is to go with what makes the person feel most happy when singing. After all, it is supposed to be something that gives us joy not fear, right?

However, learning how to sing requires certain techniques that are based on the anatomy of the voice and we cannot really go against the natural laws of that voice anatomy and expect to get very good results.

I think the difference in approach has to do with attitude and a singing mindset.

When I teach people how to sing (and yes, I do take on a few private online students), I always approach their voice with tremendous care and respect, as though their voice is the ONLY voice in the world and needs to be treated like a precious jewel.

That’s because the truth is this: your voice is the only one like it in the world. You cannot go out and buy a new one if you ruin it or don’t like it, and it is more valuable, in my opinion, than much of what we consider valuable in this world.

In other words, your voice must be approached from the stand point that
you are truly the only one who knows what is best for it.

I know….that’s a shocking or peculiar statement for me to make as a master voice teacher. But stay with me here. This is what I mean.

Your voice is inside of you and only you. Not I, nor any other voice teacher, can get inside of your head or into your throat. All we can do is listen, watch, observe and give guidance based on our experiences and training. Ultimately, you are going to have to search deeply inside of yourself in order to find the answers you are looking for.

I believe those answers are already inside of you and you just need someone to help you find them. That’s what I do. I help you find what is best for your voice.

If opera or musical theatre is not your thing but pop, rock, jazz, folk, blues or something is, then utilize the timeless vocal techniques that work no matter what style you like and apply it to your own personal style of singing and the unique voice that is yours and yours alone.

And if you want more personal help from me, leave a comment below that says, “Joy, I need more help with my singing voice,” and explain what kinds of problems you are having.

singing book A MUST HAVE singing mindset eBook for singers, voice teachers, students, choir directors, cantors, actors and more!