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When Classical Training Can Go Wrong

Hi Leontine,

I am wondering if you could help me in the direction that is the best vocal training for a young new singer just discovering that she has a musical voice and wants to explore her talent further.


Dear M.,

Yes, that is a good question. The most important thing to avoid at this stage is that her voice is trained in an unbalanced way.

It is a little like training in a gym: a young person should not do lots of heavy weight lifting nor should they spend lots of time only, for instance, building up their upper body whilst neglecting the legs.

Voices work in similar ways. These days, many young people find it easy to access vocal styles that require the vocal folds to vibrate on a very thick edge.

Qualities such as speech quality and belt, which are used in pop and rock and some musical theatre, are difficult to teach to classically trained singers but easy to teach to youngsters.

As a result, many stage schools work with young singers and allow them to only use their voices in this way – telling them they are altos.

The result is that they have good loud belt voices and then a massive ‘break’ in the voice where they change into their head-voice.

This undeveloped head-voice is often a feeble, breathy ‘choir-like’ falsetto, rather than real head-voice.

To fix this later takes quite a bit of time and I am constantly frustrated by this set-up as it turns a voice into an inflexible instrument.

In other words, training the head-voice properly is absolutely vital; when I say head-voice I do not mean a breathy soprano tone but a nice, clear, bright and well connected sound that carries all the way up to at least a high C.

Some classical teachers do train the head-voice, but encourage an overly classical position in a young singer, which again is not helpful.

One of the fundamental differences between a classical tone and a contemporary sound is that the larynx is lower in the former.

Teachers who are former opera singers sometimes sing with a very low larynx that is artificially pushed down (albeit unconsciously) by the tongue root.

This is a potential disaster area for young singers as tongue root tension and a pushed down larynx encourage a heavy vibrato and an unstable and difficult vocal facility.

So- I do apologize about the long answer, but try to look for someone who develops her head-voice in the main, and does a little bit of work on her speech quality and belt.

The head-voice should sound free, she should sound her age and not like an older classical singer, her range should grow rather than shrink and, above all, she should enjoy it and sing some songs and make some music.

I think musical theatre teachers are often very good for young singers as musical theatre requires many diverse voice qualities.

The teacher should have a good understanding of physiology (although many think they do and sound as if they do, but actually do not).

She should enjoy singing but not overdo it at this stage. Voices are the last thing in the body to mature at around the age of 27- so there is plenty of time!

Leontine Hass
Director, Advanced Performers Studio

Questions for Leontine Hass can be sent to the VoiceCouncil editor: editor@voicecouncil.com