We’ve talked before about the embarrassing number of myths floating around in the field of vocal pedagogy. Some of these ideas have been passed along from generation to generation of singers, sidestepping most of the vocal research that’s been conducted along the way. It’s understandable how these vocal myths have gained potency over the years: After all, excellent vocal teachers who’ve produced great results in their students have repeated these myths, as have working singers who don’t necessarily have the time or inclination to dig through vocal science journals. But we do have more information than we used to, and it’s time for the field to come into the 21st century.
10 Vocal Myths
1. Your Larynx Should Remain in One Position When You Sing.
You’ll hear voice teachers talk about how you should maintain a low larynx, or a neutral one at all times. This idea has not been supported by vocal science. Even in classical singing, your larynx will rise slightly as the pitches get higher. We talked in detail about larynx position a few weeks ago.
2. If You Sing Classical (or SLS, or Musical Theatre, or Any One Technique or Genre) You Can Sing Anything.
No! It’s like saying that you should learn soccer in order to get better at basketball. Are there crossovers between the two? Yes. But if you want to get good at soccer, play soccer. If you want to get good at basketball, play basketball. If you want to get good at classical singing, sing classical music! If you want to get good at pop singing, sing pop music! There are plenty of crossovers between the genres, but you’ll find that you’ll need a different arsenal of skills for each type of music you learn.
3. Belting Will Harm Your Voice.
Belting can absolutely damage your voice. So can singing in your head voice. There are healthy and unhealthy ways to sing in every register, and while it’s true that belting has a tendency to be abused more, there are most certainly healthy ways to do it. Singers are vocal athletes, and like any form of athletics, overuse can lead to problems. The healthiest thing you can do as a singer is to explore the many colors your voice is capable of and do everything in moderation, always backing off if you begin to feel any throat tension. For some studies on the health of belting, check out Belting Studies, Part 1 and Part 2.
4. Singing Breathy Will Harm Your Voice.
This is a subject that often leads to confusion. Because singers with excessively breathy voices have often suffered vocal trauma, people make the false assumption that breathy singing causes vocal trauma. In reality, there’s no evidence that singing with a relaxed, breathy tone will harm your voice.
5. You Should Take Breaths From Your Abdomen. Nothing Else Should Expand.
Your abdomen should certainly expand when you breathe. So should everything else. Taking a low breath without also allowing your rib cage to open will not afford you much air. Allow your rib cage to open and your abdomen to expand in all directions.
6. If You Have Vocal Problems, It Means You Sing With Poor Technique.
It can mean that, yes, but that’s not the whole story. Singers can wind up with vocal problems for any number of reasons. Some are born with preexisting problems that don’t manifest until later in life, often during a grueling singing schedule. An even more common reason is that singers on tour are usually overworked. Regardless of how excellent your technique is, singing long shows every night, coupled with lots of interviews, can take a toll on a singer’s voice. When professional singers get sick, they often can’t cancel a performance without being out a lot of money in ticket sales, and singing full out under these conditions can eventually lead to vocal trauma.
7. Drinking Alcohol Has a Long-Term Detrimental Effect on Singing.
To keep their instrument in shape, singers need to stay hydrated. Because alcohol dehydrates you, it can have short-term detrimental effects on singers. The intoxicating effects of alcohol can also render singers less in control of their technique, so they may be more likely to sing in a damaging way. But given enough time and water between alcohol intake and singing, these effects are washed away, so moderate alcohol use should not cause any permanent damage to your voice.
8. You Should Never Raise Your Chin to Hit High Notes.
This is an extremely widespread myth that’s just now being researched. Tensing up your neck muscles is an extremely ineffective way to hit high notes, but lifting your chin in a relaxed way can have positive effects. We talked in more detail about head extension on high notes in another entry.
9. Babies Can Cry All Night Without Harming Their Voices Because of Their Relaxed Diaphragmatic Breathing. If Singers Could Just Learn to Breathe Properly, They’d Have the Same Ability.
It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s not their phenomenal breathing techniques that allow babies to cry that long. It’s the gelatin in their vocal folds that gives them that kind of protection.
10. Children Shouldn’t Take Singing Lessons.
There’s lots of misplaced rationale about this one. Some argue that children’s voices haven’t yet changed, and they shouldn’t take voice lessons until vocal maturity. In reality, voices continue to change through adulthood, and singers don’t reach vocal maturity until their late twenties or even mid-thirties. A great voice teacher should be able to guide children through the difficult process of voice change.
Another argument is that children aren’t psychologically mature enough for voice lessons. While this may be true of some children, it’s certainly not the norm. I’ve worked with children as young as 4 who’ve learned to match pitch and navigate vocal registers just by coming to lessons regularly. While you shouldn’t necessarily run a children’s voice lesson the same way you’d run an adult one, there are plenty of gains that can be made.
A third argument is that voice teachers will force kids to make bigger sounds than they’re capable of. This may be true of an inadequate voice teacher, just as an inadequate voice teacher may force adults into sounds they really aren’t capable of making. Children’s voices should be developed in a way that’s healthy for them, and they should certainly not be pushed into producing sounds they aren’t capable of making in a healthy way.
The silliest argument to me is that kids sing anyway and that it’s better for them to sing without any training. This one makes zero sense. If kids are singing anyway, isn’t it better for them to have a teacher guide them and ensure they’re singing in a healthy way?