4 Questions Every Singer Must Answer

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Before every performance, I’m going to ask myself these jargon-free questions –says Craig Lees.

He’s been described as ‘mad scientist meets vocal alchemist’.

Dane Chalfin uses incredible physical and intellectual energy to reinforce his central claim: ‘we can produce any sound we want, both safely and efficiently’.

He is also asks questions that cut through the ‘vocal-jargon’ in favor of simplicity and clarity.

As singers, we are often given complex and sometimes bewildering instruction; breathe from the diaphragm, lower the larynx, sing from your head or chest voice. But what does this all mean? And more importantly, do we actually understand the instruction being given?

In contrast to this, Dane gives singers a clear set of instructions – here are my four favorite statements from his last public master class at Leeds College of Music:


Checkbox  How Does That Feel For You?
‘As a coach’ he explains, ‘It is important that I remove my own preconceptions and tastes from the equation. In order to fully develop as an artist, the singer must be allowed to make his or her own artistic choices. It is my job to help them fulfill these ambitions as efficiently as possible’. This question, says Dane, is also true for technique – healthy technique should never hurt. He asks students constantly about the “effort level” in the region of the larynx. On a scale of 1-10 (1=no effort at all; 10= crippling pain) he insists that your singing should be around the 2-3 range. That’s because the rest of your body should be recruited to help your singing out.


check_02Are You Letting Go of Inhibition?
Dane insists that, ‘as humans we are the only mammals with the ability to inhibit the sounds we make. Therefore, when it comes to singing we have the ability to get in our own way’. As an audience member, it was plain to see that many of the volunteers that took to the stage had unrealized potential, it was just a case of getting them to believe in their vocal power. ‘Imagine two tiny versions of yourself on each shoulder’ he encouraged, ‘one is the voice of doubt, telling you you’ll embarrass yourself if you try this sound/note, while the other is telling you go for it! Listen to the latter, believe in it, and see what happens.’


check_03Have You Gotten Primal?
The idea of primally sourced sound, be it a yell, scream, whinge or sigh, is central to Dane’s work. He’s convinced that often our unconscious use of these sounds employs naturally healthy vocal technique. Using ‘real world’ examples he encourages his students to connect with these sounds, at one stage having the whole crowd on their feet, doing their best “toddler tantrum” impression to a chorus of “It’s not fair”! He calls this, “whinge quality”. Using the ‘whinge’ Dane unlocked areas of a student’s voice that even she didn’t know existed; the resulting performance was met by whoops and hollers of approval from the crowd.


check_04Are You Making Others Feel Something?
‘Why do we go to watch a performance?’ Dane enquired. ‘We go because we want to feel something, because we want to be moved emotionally, to be captivated in the emotional journey that the artist takes us on’. As singers, we spend a lot of time perfecting our art, practicing the perfect warm-ups, stretching our range and solidifying our riffs and runs. However, how often do we stop to really look closely at the song – to deconstruct it and figure out what it means to us? In doing this we let go of our inhibitions, let go of vanity, and perhaps even technique! But in the end, both audience and singer are left with an altogether more authentic and satisfying experience.


I am in no doubt that you will have all found Dane’s advice on VoiceCouncil to be both insightful and thought provoking – check out his article on Extreme Singing.

If you ever get the opportunity to experience one of his workshops in person I implore you to do so!

Every time I sing, I’ll never forget to check in with myself on these 4 messages.

-Craig Lees