Handle with Care: Vocal Health (Part 2)

“Although nature has gifted us all with voices, correct singing is the result of art and study.” – Aristotle

Oren Browncontinues to share important principles for voice training.


We can’t hear our own voice the way it sounds to someone else. The voice quality identified with speaking covers only about a third of our actual range. Every person with a healthy voice has the potential to sing in the upper two thirds of his or her range with proper guidance.

Remember, high notes have a different quality than low notes in ALL musical instruments, including the voice.

If it feels easy and not strained, it’s probably right. Don’t try to make the high notes sound like lower speaking quality tones.

To allow upper and lower parts of the voice to mix or combine, let the larynx rest in a low position without pulling it down.

When an easy breath is taken, the larynx naturally lowers. Try to let it stay low in all singing. Use the voice in a light easy manner in the beginning; in time it’ll grow to its natural potential.

The cricothyroid muscle tenses and elongates the vocal folds affecting pitch.


  • Give at least ten minutes of vocal exercise at the start of each rehearsal.
  • Vocalizing with a light quality is best for all age groups.
  • Good choral rehearsals exercise the brain as much as the voice.
  • Trust your common sense working with your own voice and in training others; if it’s not easy for you, it probably isn’t right for students. Better to do too little, than too much.
  • Voice development progresses at different rates depending on a student’s age, and individual voices vary in potential size, range, and quality.
  • Many types of sounds can be made on almost any musical instrument without damage to the instrument itself. With the human voice, however, every time a sound is practiced, a habit is being formed that can be good or bad. If vocal sounds aren’t easy to produce, they’re probably harmful.
  • Voices need time to grow; be patient, and you and your students will develop healthy vocal habits.*Oren Brown was faculty emeritus at the Juilliard School  and faculty member at the Voice Foundation.

    Parts One and two adapted from Oren Brown’s article “Maintaining Vocal Health”; Teaching Music; April 1999. Available at KU

    Voice Problem
    National Association of Teachers of Singing
    Boston singers resource 
    MENC health position statement
    Techniques for Muscle RelaxationTeaching Music, August 2008 (workshop); not available on line
    Vocal health in choral rehearsalMusic Educators Journal, May 2007 (available on line)
    The Bernoulii effect 

    –Sue Rarus, June 15, 2011 © National Association for Music Education