Question: My voice tires quickly when I sing, and sometimes my throat feels sore and my voice is raspy. Is there anything I should be doing?

Laurie: Always do a thorough warm-up before singing. A good warm-up requires a variety of elements such as:

  1. Body stretches with attention to postural alinement
  2. Breathing exercises (inspiration & expiration)
  3. Lip trills or tongue trills
  4. Descending scales on different vowels
  5. Flexibility

If time is short, you can accomplish a certain amount by just humming, paying careful attention to the breath and feeling of resonance. Singing a song that is very familiar and does not exceed a comfortable range is a good way to end your warm-up.

Sometimes when singers are learning new music, they find it difficult to remember proper vocal technique because they need to pay so much attention to getting the music off the page. If you are working on something new, it may be advisable to take a break and stop singing for a short while. Yawn, wiggle your jaw, and take a moment to reestablish proper breathing. Then resume singing.

If you are having difficulty regularly when you sing, and your throat is sore or your voice hoarse, you may need to consult a medical professional. There may be other issues that are affecting your singing.

 Question: I find it difficult to manage when the choir sings repertoire in languages other than English. What can I do to become more comfortable?

Laurie: Mark your score thoroughly! Practice saying the text until you are comfortable, then say the words in the time of the music. You need to be sure you know the correct vowel sounds, and using IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) can really help. Listen to good recordings of the songs you are singing and pay special attention to the clarity of the language. Also, make sure you have a good translation, so you know the meaning of what you are singing. Try listening to other songs in the same language, so you can have a better grasp of the sound of the language.

 Question: Why do singers sing out of tune?

Laurie: Tuning issues are common, but with careful listening and concentration, singers can learn to improve their pitch sense. Flat singing often occurs because of lack of support and/or a low soft palate. Sharp singing is usually a result of tension, – in the jaw, throat, tongue, shoulders. The first step in addressing tuning is to listen. Can you hear when your voice loses the correct pitch? Can you tell if you are sharp or flat?

If there are regular places in the music where you lose pitch, then be sure to mark your score. If you are consistently flat, then you could put an upwards arrow by the note as a reminder. Check the breath you take at the beginning of the phrase with the problem spot. Make sure your breath is deep and your throat is open and relaxed. You can also make an exercise out of the phrase, singing it only to vowel sounds. Be curious about how it feels. We should always try for an open, free, healthy sound.

In choral music, one of the biggest reasons for out of tune singing is vowels. If the singers in a choir do not sing uniform vowel sounds, then the music will not be in tune. Make sure you know the correct vowel sounds in everything you sing. Mark your scores using IPA symbols.

Question: I have a limited range and cannot always sing the notes in my part. What should I do?

Laurie: Never force your voice. If you have done a good warm-up and are well-acquainted with the part, but still have difficulty singing all the notes, then perhaps you should be singing a different part for that particular song. If you are only missing a note or two, then try to work the passage into your voice, being careful not to tense your jaw or throat. Wiggle your jaw around, and try to sing on an open vowel. Check your breath support; make sure your inhalation is relaxed and your breath anchored.

Speak to your choir director to let them know you are having trouble. It may help to be moved to a different position in your section.

Question: I have a really big range. How do I know which part I should be singing?

Laurie: Tonal quality and timbre determine voice classification. Sing for your choir director, and ask them to place you where they think you should be.

Question: People who are thinking they’d like to get back into singing may not have sung since high school or university. What do you say to people who are worried about being able to keep up?

Laurie: There may be a learning curve at first, but be patient with yourself and don’t give up! We give out practice CDs of all the material we sing each term and schedule sectional rehearsals to help everyone feel more secure with the parts. That support combined with the regular weekly rehearsals should enable you to learn your music successfully.  If you need extra help, please let us know.

Question: Folks may recall being a soprano years ago, but now aren’t sure what choir section they should sing in.

Laurie: Your voice hasn’t changed, although you may be out of practice. I like to say to people to start out singing in the first soprano section and see if you’re comfortable. When you’re first learning something, you attention will be on many things – notes, rhythm, language, expression. Those high notes may seem uncomfortable at first. As you become more confident with your part though, the higher notes will become easier. If the overall pitch of the song lies too high, you can try moving to second soprano instead.

Question: What about people who’ve studied music and play an instrument, but have never sung. Do you recommend joining a particular section first?

Laurie: I always find it best to meet privately before choir and test a singer’s vocal range and tonal quality. There’s no better way to gauge where to start out. For those who feel nervous about singing privately in front of me, I may be able to tell from the sound of a person’s spoken voice where they should be.

Question: Another issue for some people who are thinking about joining a choir – they find ease singing the part when singing along with a CD, but when in choir, they get lost amongst all the parts being sung around them. What do you recommend?

Laurie: This is part of the learning curve of singing in a choir with other vocal parts. The solution is to keep working with your CD at home and try to attend sectional rehearsals. The more practice you get the more secure you’ll become, and you will find yourself able to hold your part. Don’t give up!