Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Holding workshops at voice conference in Prague!

Hello Singers!

We still haven't told you about the exciting trip to Prague we made recently, but here it comes! The Pan-European Voice Conference (PEVOC) is a big conference for voice professionals from all over the world and is arranged every other year. This year it was held in beautiful Prague and the two of us attended as both participants and presenting workshops.

The subject of Annika's workshop was Complete Vocal Technique - Effective and healthy practice methods for singers - and combined the learning and training methods from CVT as well as from the field of Psychology (especially Sports Psychology). Ville presented on Artistry (- What is it and how to teach it?) and his workshop also included a group assignment and a collective discussion of the subject.
We were delighted that our workshops and themes attracted such interest and audience and inspired many interesting discussions and new acquaintances.

Annika's workshop at PEVOC about CVT and Sports Psychology
The program of the conference was full of interesting subjects and presentations. Apart from keynote lectures there were about six different subjects overlapping all the time so it was often hard to decide where to go and what to listen to. Some highlights for us were Ingo Titze's keynote, Cathrine Sadolin and Julian McGlashan's CVT related presentations and research on high soprano flageolet made in the Freiburg Musicians Institute medicine lab.

The wonderful thing about these conferences is that it brings together people who share the same passion for human voice even if they come from very different backgrounds. So singing teachers, voice doctors, and all different kind of scientists gather and share their ideas. We believe that it is essential to alter yourself to new thoughts and points of view, especially those contradicting with your own thinking. These collisions will produce new, improved thinking.
Ville's workshop about Artistry - what is it and how to teach it
The schedule was tight but thankfully there were also evening activities arranged (like dinners :) )so we got the chance to get acquainted with other participants.
Next Pevoc will be arranged in Florence, Italy in 2015. We're already looking forward to it!

Ville & Annika

Finish participants gather for a group photo.
(Ville in the top row!)

Annika holding a CVT workshop at Pevoc.
People gather along the walls as the seats are full. 

Voice Researcher Johan Sundberg with Annika & Ville. 

Ville with Camilla and Cathrine from CVI

Annika with Cathrine and Kristoffer from CVI

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Producers Seminar and working together in Stockholm


Last month was an exciting one for us, this time working together in Sweden with seminars, workshops, songwriting and planning. We set up these things due to a commission we got initially to hold a seminar together in Stockholm on the 18th of April. Taking care of the opportunity of being at the same location, we then added more activities around the event. 

The commission we had was from the Swedish magazine Studio who invited us to be the guests of their recurring event "Producers Seminar", for which we designed a special programme about singing and vocal recording, tailor-made for producers, sound engineers and recording vocalists. We both have a lot of experience from working in the studio, both recording ourselves, being recorded by others and coaching singers for and during studio sessions. From our many hours in the studio, we know that there is a lot of knowledge that can make the work of producers and sound engineers a lot easier and more efficient. It is about several things: understanding how the voice works and the singer's situation, how to communicate to get the desired results, how to chose and use your equipment and much more. There are quite some efficient and concrete techniques that producers can use to help singers in the studio and get really good results even if the producer is not a singer or vocal coach. We combined our knowledge in order to share some of our tips and tools for how to make vocal recording the best it can be.
Part of it was coaching and recording invited singers live. We recorded some parts and then worked quickly tweaking for instance dynamics, vowels, sound colour etc. and recorded new takes. This was especially fun as it became even more evident than usual how much improvement can be achieved and how fast. Usually when we teach in master classes and time passes between the first performance and the coached one, listeners clearly hear a lot of progress, but this time we also had it on tape! We were delighted to hear that the audience chose the tweaked examples every time asked.

Seminar - Live coaching

Since we had to fit so many subjects in this short seminar we could only share some of our many tools. Many of the subjects we briefly mentioned also contain a lot more interesting and useful information and it was clear there was a great need and interest for more. So we have decided to arrange a longer course for both producers and singers. This workshop will be in Stockholm in the middle of August. Let us know if you're interested in joining!

The weekend following the Producer's seminar Annika was teaching singers at the 4-month singer education at Vocal Soul. Ville joined in a few hours to guest-teach some wonderful singers in the master class. Both this and the producer's seminar were great experiences in teaching together. Ville will return to the subject soon to share thoughts why it is such a good idea to work together with another teacher.

We'd also like to thank the two singers whom so bravely and professionally let us record and coach them live for a big audience at the Producers Seminar. If anyone is looking for a great vocalists we warmly recommend you to ask Åsa Lundman (Nordin) and Herman Gardarfve. Ask  us if you need help getting in touch with them and we will assist you.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Off track can be the right track

Recently Complete Vocal Institute arranged one of the recurring update seminars which Authorized CVT Teachers regularly need to attend to keep their authorizations. At the least teachers must be updated with the latest research and findings about the voice and pedagogics once every third year. CVI has concluded this reasonable in order to both make sure teachers maintain the highest level of teaching possible - while still not pressuring anyone with impossible demands.

Update dinner at CVI
Me and Ville attend more often, simply because we want to. It is nice to keep in touch with the community, to get inspired by new knowledge and tools and to just sip in the atmosphere of the school and staff there. However this time we decided not to attend the actual update since we have been at several in a row -  but still visit CVI to join the dinner party. This way we still got a chance to meet up with our friends and collegues plus had time for some meetings and getting some things done together.

We did get a good deal done but not exactly as much as we planned… The two of us really have a tendency to drift off into interesting conversations as soon as we get going and this time was no exception :) Among the subjects we discussed but hadn't planned, was for instance; 
- levels of ambition and expectations in teaching situations
- a long talk about all elements of singing and performance
- if a performance really has to include a message..
..and much more. I think the longest one lasted about 3 hours!
We concluded that we either need to get better at staying on track when having our meetings, or, always book 2-3 extra days around every meeting :)  If life allows us, I vote for the last! 

Our good friend and collegue Inge Rambags seems to be
 in the flow most of the time :) It was really great
to meet up with her again after far too long time apart!
After a meeting with Henrik Kjelin at CVI one of the days we found ourselves staying on not one, but two hours afterwards, talking about other things. Henrik pointed out that it is often in connection to hanging out casually, after actual meetings that the most interesting conversations take place and the best ideas are born. The funny thing, is that my collegue, pianist Birgitta Henriksson, told me an anecdote from her former workplace with the exact same punchline today. 
I find this viewpoint interesting and relate it to what often is refered to as "flow" in psychology and especially in performance psychology of various fields. This is the state when one is completely absorbed in an activity and things seem to flow without disturbance. An important part of it is the total focus on the subject and moment, and - the total lack of focus on oneself. 
Planned and organized work and meetings (as well as practice, learning and everything really) of course have many advantages. But one disadvantage could be the expectations and ambitions that follow with such type of planned activity. 
I think this is the core reason to why casual conversations often are beneficial in this sense - the ambitions and expectations are set aside and ideas and thoughts can flow freely. 
Actually… when i think of it, perhaps we shouldn't even book any meetings anymore and just go straight to the party! :D

Annika with Kadri Koppel (Estonia)

Ville with Mariann Schei (Norway)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Technology and teaching singing | Vol. 4

Hello singers!

This time I write what ways I have found for using a software called Sing & See. This software is available for Mac and Windows. For the pitch tracking part of Sing & See there is also a similar software for iOS called Sing-inTuna.

Sing & See gives visual feedback on pitch and also has a spectrogram. I wrote about using a spectrogram last time and to be honest I find SpectrumView on my iPad better and easier to use than Sing & See's. But what kind of help can we get from the pitch tracking?


One thing I use it for is visual feedback when doing support exercises. If you do a simple exercise with 5 notes up and down and see the pitch jumping a bit when going higher in pitch you might want to check that you're not locking your support. The support might be working otherwise but in order to "secure" a note it's often tempting to put a bit too much energy when changing the note. So, try to make  changing the note look like a fast slide. And check that your abdomen around the navel is moving in slowly, not in jumps. If it's difficult you might want to try sliding slower first and then make it faster. This method can help in songs too. You can put extra attention in consonants and how they affect the pitch and support.


Sing & See gives a very clear picture what vibrato is about, modulation of pitch. The pitch goes up and down. The more regular the pattern is the more stable the vibrato sounds. You can use pitch tracking to train vibrato even if you don't know how to do it. You can start by alternating between two notes and then trying to make it faster. Some singers might also find it just by trying to achieve the right visual representation of vibrato.

Some more advice

It's wise not to look at the picture too much. After all, the most important thing is how it sounds. I think Sing & See is a valuable tool in analysing why something sounds good to you. If you do a long powerful note does it sound better if there is slide down in the end? Or do you see vibrato in certain places but not others?

Sing & See can be an useful tool for singers who can't sing at all. You can practise your ear by playing the note on piano and then trying to sing that yourself. Also, you can slide up and down and try to find the right note. However, I've noticed that it's most often more useful to concentrate on working with the support than the visual feedback. The emphasis should be in physical sensations and sound, not in the visual feedback.

What ways do you use Sing & See?


Thursday, February 21, 2013

More dynamics ≠ more volume


I want to share a song that really moved me. Obviously I listen to a lot of music and really enjoy it but it doesn't happen so often that I get this captivated by something. But James Blake's new single Retrograde does it for me. 

Some people don't like to discuss or analyse music that's important for them, maybe in fear of losing some of the mystery or magic of it. But I don't mind and I thought there's something in James Blake's vocal performance we can learn from.

One interesting thing is that one of the hooks of this song is a part around 1:28 where James Blake sings a phrase in the lower register. Since most of the song is sung higher and softer it stands out. It's a good reminder that in order to make a dynamic vocal performance you don't always need to belt out high notes. Also, if you feel like you're lacking dynamics in your expression I feel it's often better to widen the dynamic range towards softer than louder volume. More dynamics doesn't necessary have to mean more volume.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Can you sing?

Some people book a singing lesson to find out if: "Can I sing?" 
That very question may already contain a number of myths and misundertandings all at once and it's hard to know where to start really to answer it. 

First of all, what does it even mean - to be able to sing? 
That's a complex question and needs to be answered bit by bit so that is the way I'm gonna do it.



To be able to sing, you will first need the physical prerequisites making it possible for you to use your voice. Practically everybody has that, with very few exceptions. If you are one of those few exceptions you are probably very aware of it already. We are talking about deformities, illnesses and severe damage. If you are in any doubt, you can easily find out by visiting an ENT doctor (the kind of doctor who can look down your throat with a camera). Or if it is some other part of your body hindering you (like your lungs, your abdominal muscles or such), start by visiting your physician who can either treat you or refer you to the right specialist for your condition. Physical conditions so severe that they impede your vocal ability are very uncommon and the fact is, even if you do have some kind of disability there is a good chance it can be worked around anyway. The human body is an amazing creation that can do marvelous things.. 

Then there are cases when there is a physical condition, but it is caused by functional problems, i.e. - unhealthy technique. This is more common. But don't worry, if it is not severe, even pretty bad vocal damage can be solved simply through rest and technique (and if it is very severe, through medical care and then technique). Again, if you have any suspicion there can be damage, always start by visiting a Physician.

OK, let's say we have now ruled out any physical conditions or illnesses hindering you to sing and that you do have the physical prerequisites needed to sing, just like most people do. 

Then can you sing? Now that depends on what meaning we put into it.

Do you mean - can you produce the notes you want? 

Well maybe you actually can't, but you can learn to. Not being able to reach notes is a functional hinder, i.e; it is all about technique. The same goes for volume, dynamics, staying in pitch, sound color, effects, stability, brightness, -  all aspects of sound really. And not only for sound. Also for rhythm and language. With the correct technique, knowledge and pedagogical tools you can learn how to do all these things with your voice. There can be a number of reasons for why a person's technique might not be working. There can be psychological hinders, misinformation and misunderstanding, the lack of understanding of how the voice works and how to make it work like you want. Whatever the reason is, there is help to get.

Perhaps you haven't learned how your voice works yet, but why wouldn't you be able to? No one expects you to be able to play the drums if you never learned to, right? There are many common and pretty strange ideas about singing. I plan to cover this topic in another post,- or actually - there are so many myths and misunderstandings that I plan to write a whole series about it! But for now all you need to know it that it is possible to overcome technical hinders. What you need is just access to the right knowledge. 

….but perhaps you mean, can you sound good

But to answer that, we first need to know, what is good? That is a matter of taste. You can pay me to find out what I think but is that really worth the money? Everyone has different taste and mine is just one of everyones.. Perhaps you love singers like Whitney Houston, Celine Dion or Mariah Carey and perhaps I only like death metal singers. Now I'm not saying that is true, but it could be. So if you sing like Celine Dion and it is not my taste, does that make you a bad singer? Of course not.
I recommend people to rather hire me for learning how to sing according to their own taste.

But can you move someone with your singing? 

Well that is a good question! Singing is all about expression. You want to express something and listeners want to be touched by it. You want to reach them. You are most likely to do that if you tell them a story and they can relate to it. One that triggers memories and feelings of their own. It is your way of telling the story (and there are very many ways..) and the listeners own story that decide if the both connect. It's just like people, they have different personalities and different backgrounds. Sometime's they connect and sometimes they don't… Some people are easy to like, right? And some people you just can't stand.. But luckily those people are someone else's favorites.
Expression is the whole picture. The core of it is the story you are telling, the message. The way you chose to deliver it is what makes you unique. What materials do you use to paint your picture? With your voice you can put together different elements to create your sound - vocal modes, sound color, effects… How do you work with dynamics, language and rhythm? How do you move or perhaps you don't? Which facial expressions do you show and how intensely? There are so many variations and combinations, there is no right or wrong. There are just choices, what you chose to do - and not to do.. Together, that is your expression. Your way of getting your message across. 

If you want everyone to love your way of expressing yourself, you better think again, cause it's not gonna happen... This is the harsh and lovely reality of our uniqueness. There will always be people who won't like what you do, but there will also always be those who love it! Therefore my advice is, do what YOU like. Cause actually you are not THAT unique. I guarantee you that there are other people who like and are touched by the same things as you, so if you stay true to yourself and to a way of expressing yourself that feels right for you, you are going to move those people. If you enjoy your singing, others will too. Isn't that great? You have everything to win from being yourself and doing what you like!

So what was the answer to the question really.. can you sing? :-)

- Annika

Ph.D. Nandhu Radhakrishnan at the University of Missouri, Columbia (Communication Science and disorders) explains it very simply - 
"...there are people who do not sing but it is not because they cannot, but because they do not sing".

Friday, January 18, 2013

Technology and teaching singing | Vol. 3

Hello singers!

This post is about spectrogram and spectrum analysis. You can use whichever software. There are some differencies in how they visualise the sound. SpectrumView is an iOS app that works with both iPhone and iPad. There are others for iOS but I haven't found a one I would like to use better yet.


I find myself using SpectrumView surprisingly often, especially on iPad. This is basically a combined Spectrogram and spectrum analyzer app. It shows the partials and how powerful they are. So, what can we see from the spectrum? It would be lovely to see which vocal mode or sound quality we are using but it's not possible, at least not yet. However, looking at the first partials we can usually see if we are using neutral mode because then the first partial is usually the loudest one. In metallic modes the second partial is usually the loudest.

Kids often love to use all kinds of new software. With one very talented young singer we used this software to keep the air out of the voice. First we checked how it looks when there is air and concluded that the lines should be clearer. He had the program on his own iPod so he kept on practicing with it and seemed to love it. We also worked a bit with vibrato. You can see it quite clearly in the spectrum because the pitch is modulating in laryngeal vibrato. There are better programs for that but SpectrumView is very fast to start and so easy to use.

Another quite specific use I've been working with is creaking. When there is creaking in the voice you can see quite clearly that there are two tones with their own overtones (our ears might not be able to spot it so clearly because of how our brain works in analysing the sound). So, this can help separating creaking from distortion. In distortion there shouldn't be two clear tones but a "messier" overtones because of the noise the ventricular folds create. Of course, you can use creaking together with distortion if you want to.

I also use SpectrumView to demonstrate how the acoustics of the vocal tract influence the sound. You don't really need to understand all about the science and the research and still get a very clear visual representation of why the sound changes when we alter the shape of the vocal tract.

Let me know if you have more ways of using spectrograms and spectrum analysers!


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Researching, relaxing and raving in Copenhagen

One product of all the discussing and experimenting we have done together are some new theories we have developed about vocal technique. After trying out our theories in numerous ways the past few years we finally decided to present them to Cathrine Sadolin at CVI. 
Thankfully she is a very openminded and curious person who constantly wants to develop her methods. The point of view she presents is that it is a great asset that there are different approches to voice pedagogy but that there shouldn't be different "camps". There is no point in debating about the credibility of techniques that are helpful for some people, as they are obviously working and have an important place in voice pedagody. Instead of conflicting about which method is the best, all singers and teachers should come together as a community and share knowledge and exchange experiences. That is the vision she has for CVI in Copenhagen and that is becoming more true for each day. Any knowledge or experience that can improve the pedagogy should naturally be utilized. And so CVT is always developing.

Ville and Annika at CVI, Copenhagen
This is one of several things about Cathrine's way of working that attracted us to CVI from the very start. So when we came with our ideas Cathrine was all ears. Earlier this fall we traveled to CVI and had a good day together with Cathrine describing, demonstrating and trying out our theory. Some of this has now already been integrated in some updates of CVT that was presented at the teachers seminar in November 2012 and is also being further researched already.

Annika, Camilla, Cathrine and Julian in deep thoughts..
Cathrine has an ongoing cooperation with the ENT doctor Julian McGlashan whom she has done several studies together with. You can view some of their results at Youtube.
Now they are making a new study together covering the four vocal modes and their nuances and we were invited to take part. Not only are we thrilled about having this honor, we also use our trips to Copenhagen as a chance to work together as we do live far apart. 


Electroglottogram ready and tightly
strapped around the neck..
We arrived in Copenhagen on Thursday to check in to the hotel, made a quick visit to CVI and spent the rest of the day working and finally just relaxing.

Friday morning we had an hour each with the study team that analysed a long list of sounds we made by using several methods simultaneously; stroboscopy, fiberscope, electroglottogram...

It was really interesting to see what was happening and to compare it to our theories. Without revealing anything until the results have been analyzed we can say so much that much of what we thought seemed to be correct! We are so excited about this and can't wait to tell you more, but will hold our horses :).

Ville with Julian's stroboscope in action and Cathrine deeply engaged in the drama. 

Now one may think that the two of us do nothing else but working, analyzing and being dead serious.. But that is not completely the truth :)

After being very focused on the research and summing it up with discussions over coffee, tea and dinner with friends.. we actually spent the rest of the night having fun at a …karaoke bar!

We might want to add that our many singing performances there had very little to do with analysing vocal techinque but still very much to do with having fun :)


Obviously we didn't wake up early the next day.. but still managed to get ourselves together to do some work also Saturday. We then spent the evening with good friends over dinner and playing Singstar till the morning :) Again we put away our Teachers' hats as Singstar is really a game having very little to do with singing despite the name of it… and we had so much fun. Look at the photo of Ville below and you'll get the picture :)

For those of you who would like to have tricks for winning Singstar BTW… we can reveal some :) To have a chance at this game you actually need to put aside most things you learned about singing since it will probably give you bad points in this case..!

We have discovered the following tricks:
- Sing ahead in time (a lot!)
- Don't use the lyrics, just go "ah, uh, oh, bla bla.. "
- Sing legato (forget the rhythm and slide from note to note)
- Change octave if you wish
- Actually, even whistle instead if you want to!
:) Good luck!

Sunday we were obviously exhausted and after a long weekend of work and hard fun.. it was time to go home again for a few days off to build up energy to work again. 

All in all it was a terrific trip with happy memories, some new inspiring plans and a lot of exciting results from the research to look forward too. We need to be patient though. The results of the study will probably not be ready until about a year from now..  But we won't wait that long to visit Copenhagen again however. The next time will probably be in March when the next update seminar for Authorized CVT Teachers takes place at Complete Vocal Institute. We are excited to see what adventures this lovely city holds for us then.

- Annika & Ville

Copenhagen in a Christmas gown

Best Teahouse in Copenhagen

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Technology and teaching singing | Vol. 2

Happy new year to all singers and voice teachers!

I'm picking up where I left last with my technology and teaching singing subject. Last time I wrote about DropVox. This time I'm gonna write about a couple of quick and easy iOS apps.


QuickVoice is basically like the voice recorder app that comes with iOS. However, it's much nicer to use because all the functions are on one page. It's also free so there's no reason not to get it. I often urge my students to get this app because it's so quick to record a phrase, an exercise and then listen back to it. It helps to spot the problems and also what is already working. Also, it can help shifting the focus from listening to feeling because you know that you'll be able to listen to what you did later. Of course, we often need some time to get used to recording ourselves.

Video Camera

So how can we use the iOS camera? Recording video is often used to analyse performance and working with it. This is a great use provided that you don't get too critical towards everything you do. I use video recorder also when working with technique. Basically it works like a mirror. Even with mirror I sometimes find some singers looking elsewhere than they should. This is natural because there's so many things to focus on. So recording an exercise can help making it more simple. Video is a great tool when working with support, for instance. You see the movement of the abdomen or the lack of it.