Don’t Be A Dobby, Get Yourself A Rose Book!

A while back, I wrote about becoming a positive listener and the importance of being able to hear the positive things that are being said to us in a singing lesson.

Sometimes the need of training positive listening stretches outside of the singing lesson. We might not only be unable to hear the positive things that are being said to us in a lesson, but we might also be deaf or “immune” towards other positive comments or feedback about our singing in general, or about the shows and concerts we give.

I was reminded of this today, when I worked with a fabulous singer. She has her own show and is touring with it internationally, something many singers are dreaming of doing. Not only does she have a singing career that leaves many singers jealous, she can “sing the stars off the sky” – as the Dutch saying goes (“de sterren van de hemel zingen”). In other words, she can sing challenging repertoire including “Defying Gravity” from Wicked, like many singers would only dream of singing.

I’ve been working with this singer for a while and I can recognize when her “Inner Censor” is kicking in during the singing lessons, analyzing and making opinions about her own singing as the song proceeds. She’s like many other singers I know, making comments while we are singing (either verbally: “that sounded awful”… “that was supposed to sound different”…. or non-verbally, by rolling eyes or with various cringing facial expressions).

What breaks my heart is not only that she doesn’t believe my positive comments about her singing, but also that she is like so many other singers out there who keep telling themselves they absolutely suck at everything, despite all the positive comments they receive from their audiences, teachers or peers. It’s as if there’s this whole bunch of singers who act like Dobby the House Elf from Harry Potter, who keeps punishing himself. Instead of taking in the positive comments, we like to do this to ourselves:



I’d like to share another tip for becoming a positive listener with you, because we talked about it today with the singer I worked with. It’s a simple and powerful strategy: you document and keep track of all the positive feedback and comments you receive (about your singing, or sometimes even about other things). Keep doing this at least for one month.

This is especially good for people whose ‘Inner Critic Voice’ has become way too loud. And in case you wonder if your ‘Inner Critic Voice’ has become too loud, you’ll recognize this if:

  • people tell you they loved your show
  • if you keep being booked to do the job again and again
  • if your vocal coach tells you what you’re doing is great
  • people in your audience are touched or moved to tears
  • or similar things

…but you still can come up with 1000 reasons why you are not satisfied with ANYTHING AT ALL about your singing.


photo credit: studio-d via photopin cc

photo credit: studio-d via photopin cc



Christina Kürstein-Lecocq, who was one of my teachers at Complete Vocal Institute, once called a collection of positive comments “The Rose Book”, and because I really like that name I keep calling it the same. “The Rose Book” could be a notebook or journal (or iPhone/iPad app) in which you write down ALL the positive comments and feedback you receive. Think about those positive comments, and now imagine someone giving you a bunch of roses after a performance you’ve had (see why I love the name?).

…and now, I challenge you to keep a Rose Book for the coming month! 

Here’s how it goes:

Write down every compliment you receive during the coming month. It might be a compliment about your singing. Or it might be a compliment about other things. Read your Rose Book and your compliments daily, or at least once a week. 

Don’t be a Dobby, get started today!


Online Vocal Anatomy & Physiology Resources For Singers

The internet is full of wonderful (free) resources for singers and singing teachers. But sometimes it might be difficult to filter out the “good stuff” from the massive amount of links that are being shared on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. And unless you happen to be very organised in keeping track of your internet bookmarks, many great links tend to get lost somewhere down the road.

Here I have collected some of my favorite online resources for singing teachers and singers who want to learn more about the anatomy and physiology of the voice. The list is far from being “complete”, so if you have more quality online resources on vocal anatomy and physiology you’d like to be added to the list, please mention them in the comments below.

The resources below are listed in alphabetical order:



Anatomia is an electronic resource developed at the University of Toronto, designed to assist medical and dental students with understanding of functional human anatomy. The site is a wonderful learning tool and contains a tutorial section on the anatomy of the larynx in 3D, a digital dissection of the larynx, video laryngoscopy, and self-evaluation tests (basic and advanced levels).

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Anatomyzone is a website with free video tutorials on the anatomy and functions of the body. Especially interesting for singers and singing teachers are the 3D videos on the respiratory system, including tutorials on the ligaments, membranes, mucosa and muscles of the larynx, as well as the videos about the musculoskeletal system.


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CVT Research Site

The CVT Research Site is the number one internet resource for anyone interested in Complete Vocal Technique related voice research. Being an Authorised CVT Teacher myself, I am very excited about this site and keep referring to it a lot. The site presents the ongoing research and debate that forms CVT, and describes how CVT is being tested, discussed and developed. On the site you will find:

  • Illustrations and descriptions of the larynx and how the voice works
  • Definition of terms and a glossary
  • Sound examples from the CVT Sound Library
  • Descriptions and the sound of Neutral, Curbing, Overdrive and Edge, including the transitions between the modes
  • Description and sound of effects
  • Laryngeal recognition of the vocal modes and effects
  • Laryngograph waveform recognition of the vocal modes and effects
  • Endoscopy and high speed videos from CVT research
  • Extensive data and test results
  • CVT-related papers and proceedings
  • List of Conferences & Abstracts on CVT-related subjects presented at conferences since 1996

With the CVT research site, Complete Vocal Institute aims to make the data, research and knowledge easily accessible for everyone interested in voice research, and for anyone who wants to understand and study the human voice. The site is continued to be developed on a regular basis. A very handy feature are the notifications that readers can automatically receive whenever a page on the research site is updated. All old versions of any page will also be stored, and researchers can link to the exact version of any article or page so references can be used in scientific work.

This video gives you a little glimpse into the CVT research done by Cathrine Sadolin and Julian McGlashan:


Get Body Smart

Get Body Smart is an online human anatomy and physiology textbook. What I especially like about Get Body Smart are the tutorials with interactive animations that help you learn about the functions of the human body, and the quizzes that come in handy if you want to check your knowledge on the subjects! Although it might be tempting for singers to just study the anatomy of the larynxpharynx anrespiratory system, remember to also have a look at the functions of the rest of the body, such as the muscular system and skeletal system too. 

…it’s all connected!

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Music video: Better Man Than He by Sivu

I love this music video and keep referring to it as a vocal anatomy and physiology resource, because not only is it informative and interesting for “vocal nerds”, but it’s also connecting research with art and shows us the human instrument in action during singing. If you’re interested in learning more about the nasal passage and sound colour in singing with this video, check out a mini-lesson that I wrote inspired by the video.


Vocal Process / Build Your Own Larynx

Jeremy Fisher and Gillyanne Kayes from Vocal Process in The UK have tons of valuable resources available for singers and singing teachers. One of my favorite resources from Vocal Process is the ‘Build Your Own Tilting Larynx‘. In all its simplicity, this paper larynx can help you or your students learn many things about the larynx and its functions. The model is available as a free PDF template download, and you might also want to check out the video with building instructions:


3D View of Diaphragm

This simple video shows the movements of the diaphragm during respiration. I have found it a helpful learning aid for singers who need visual feedback or who are eager to know about the “logic” behind things:


The Nasal Passage and Sound Colour in Singing: Better Man Than He by Sivu

This anatomy and physiology resource for singers and singing teachers is a real piece of art! The music video for “Better Man Than He” by British singer-songwriter Sivu is created with MRI-images of Sivu singing. The video gives you a fantastic glimpse into the complicated movements of the vocal system during singing!

Inspired by the video, I wrote a little “anatomy lesson” for all you singers and singing teachers. In this lesson I’d like to zoom in on the soft palate, uvula and nasal passage. These parts, how they move, and how that in turn affects the sound, sometimes tend to create confusion in singers. So let’s study them with the help of this marvelous music video!



The “roof” of the mouth is a bony area called the hard palate. It extends into a soft, non-bony area: the soft palate. The soft palate forms a muscular arch and ends in the uvula, a small piece of soft tissue that hangs down from the end of the soft palate. The soft palate and the uvula are movable.

The doorway between the mouth and the nose is called the nasal passage, or nasal port. This doorway can be opened or closed with the uvula. When we swallow, muscles draw the soft palate and the uvula upward, which closes the nasal passage and prevents food or liquids from enter in the nasal cavity.

At 0:15 in the video, look at the tongue. It is a big muscle filling up almost the whole oral (mouth) cavity. On top of the tongue there is something hanging down, touching the lower back part of tongue. This is the soft palate relaxing. Notice how the “tube” of the vocal tract reaches straight up towards the nasal cavity, when the soft palate and uvula are drooping down. The nasal passage is now open, allowing the air/sound into the nose. Your nasal passage is open for example when you say “ng” (as in “sing”). In fact, ALL sound comes out through the nose when you say “ng”, because the soft palate is down and touching the tongue, blocking the sound from entering the oral (mouth) cavity. Try this: say “ng” and pinch your nose. The sound and breath stops.

When Sivu proceeds to singing “lo-lo-lo…”, you can see the soft palate pulling up and back onto the back wall off the pharynx. The uvula closes the nasal passage, which in turn stops the sound from going into the nose. If you could pinch his nose now, the sound would not change at all, because all of it is coming out through the mouth.

Now Sivu continues singing the lyrics “you can end this anytime you want to”. Notice the soft palate/uvula moving back and forth, opening and closing the nasal passage. This is what is happening all the time when we speak or sing. When we speak or sing words that contain nasal consonants such as “n”, “m” or “ng”, the nasal passage is open. If the nasal passage would be closed all the time, we could not produce nasal consonants and it would sound rather strange!

When we sing (or speak) vowels, we have a choice: the nasal passage can be either closed or open.

The nasal passage is open for example at 03:03. Notice how the soft palate is relaxed and hanging downwards. You see both cavities, the oral (mouth) cavity and the nasal cavity, are open. The sound now comes out of the nose as well as the mouth, and becomes nasalised in character. Remember the nose pinching test? If you sing a vowel sound with an open nasal passage, the sound will not stop but it will change sound color.

Can you follow it so far? 

Here’s the video one more time, to make it easier for you to read the lesson and play the video as you read on:


Some singers use an open nasal passage to affect the sound colour.

At 01:14 when Sivu sings “doom”, the nasal passage is open. If you listen to the vowel sound in the word “doom” you can hear that it is nasal.

Compare this to when he sings “lo-lo-lo…” at 0:17, where the soft palate has pulled up, and the uvula is closing the nasal passage. Now the sound cannot travel up to the nasal cavity, and it is coming out only from the mouth. When the nasal passage is closed, the sound becomes more powerful and the sound colour darkens.

How much the sound should be nasalised in singing is an artistic choice.

You might think, “So if nasality is an artistic choice, why would I bother practicing singing with a closed nasal passage?” Remember, if ALL your vowels are nasalised because you are unable to close the nasal passage with the uvula all together during singing, we are not talking about a “choice”!

It makes a lot of sense to practice closing and opening the nasal passage, because this will give you more control over your instrument and more options in sound. If you cannot close your nasal passage when you are singing, you could lose a considerable amount of resonance. The oral cavity is bigger than the nasal cavity, so it is a more efficient resonator. There are also other benefits of gaining control over the nasal passage, such as breath efficiency.

I hope you enjoyed this anatomy lesson!

Although I chose to use the music video as a teaching tool, please do also watch it for pure enjoyment. Enjoy the music and singing of Sivu, marvel at the artistry of director Adam Powell who created the music video, and the wonders of the human voice!

©2013 Katja Maria Slotte

How Song Interpretation Can Save You From Your Nerves (part 3)


In this series of blog posts we are examining some tools that will help you create a concrete structure for working on song interpretation. The title of the blog derives from my fascination with the connection between interpretation work and relieving performance anxiety.

Today we will create characters (a Sender and a Receiver) for your story, and talk about how using characters can help you relieve performance anxiety.



Photo credit: Postaletrice via Photopin

WHO is singing?

Who is the Sender?

You can sing the song ‘being yourself’. Or you can create yourself a character. This can be especially helpful if you have to sing a song that feels difficult to relate to, or if ‘singing as yourself’ feels to vulnerable for you.

When you’re creating your character, you could even think of details such as:

  • Where does the character come from?
  • How old is s/he?
  • What does s/he do for a living?
  • …and so on.

You get the picture. This is like creating a ‘passport’ or a life story for the character.

Obviously, there will always be a part of you in the character, because you are using your own life experience when you create and play the character.


To WHOM are you singing?

Who is the Receiver?

Who are you communicating with?

In my work with singers, I have found this a helpful tool for many that are suffering from performance anxiety. Having an imaginary Receiver gives you someone/something outside of yourself to focus on while you are singing. Focusing on communicating with the Receiver feels safer for most people than having to focus on the whole audience.

The Receiver can be a character you invent, or a real-life person that you don’t know (some people use historical characters, movie stars or film characters as the Receiver). You can use people from your own life too, but be aware that you don’t cross the ‘emotional safety line’ doing this. It is, for example, not advisable to choose a real-life person with whom you are having an open conflict as your Receiver.

If it feels emotionally safe for you to use people from your own life, go ahead and do so. If it does not feel safe, invent a character that you are singing to. The Receiver is your own secret. You do not have to the audience about your Receiver or about the situation you picture. Remember, these are just tools you use to make your interpretation better, and/or to relieve your performance anxiety.


Can’t I just sing the song to myself?

Singing the song to yourself is not necessarily the best option, because this might result in an introvert performance. Introvert can work well in a recording situation, but does not work on stage. So think of another person, or something else outside of yourself  (for example God), to use as your target.

Singing the song to a Receiver will also help you keep the song interesting. Remember the Kenny Werner quote about music being communication? Well, that’s what we want to achieve. The communication (drama) will also be useful in other ways. It will help you remember the lyrics better, and it will help you stay focused on the story. We will talk about creating drama in tomorrow’s blog post.

An exercise

Listen to these two different versions of the jazz standard ‘You’ve Changed’. What kind of character do you imagine is telling the story? What is the difference between the first character (song version #1 performed by Billie Holiday) and the second character (song version #2 performed by Sarah Vaughan)?

1. ‘You’ve Changed’ performed by Billie Holiday

2. ‘You’ve Changed’ performed by Sarah Vaughan


©2012 Katja Maria Slotte

Saying Yes Or No To Practice

Here are some thoughts on how to make sure you get the most out of your practice session by becoming clear about your intentions and what it is that you want: practice or make music? Satisfy your inner ‘technician’ or your inner ‘singer/artist’?


Photo credit: Konrad Foerstner via

Vary practice sessions with making music

This is how I like to think about it: singers have a split personality of some sorts!

There is a singer or an ‘artist’ in us, that wants to sing and make music because we have something to express, because it makes us feel good, because we love music, and so on. There is also another part in us – let’s call it the ‘technician’. The technician wants to practice, learn new skills and develop. It is focused on details like technique, sound, timing, intonation, and so on. These two parts need to co-exist, but they cannot be equally present all the time. Can you identify yourself in the “split personality description” of inner artist versus inner technician?

We need to make sure to satisfy the needs of both the inner ‘artist’ and the inner ‘technician’. This is why I find it important to vary practice sessions with making music.

Do you want to practice or make music?

A common reason for ineffective practice, next to not having clear enough goals, is mixing the desire to practice with the desire to make music.

It might help to make a deal with yourself, and choose to say either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to practice. Being focused when you practice means saying ‘yes’ to practice, and telling the ‘singer inside ourselves’ that it needs to step aside and allow the ‘technician’ to operate for a while.

On the other hand, give yourself permission to sometimes say a clear ‘no’ to practice. Saying ‘no’ to practice means you allow yourself to sing and make music without focusing on technique or other details. It means singing songs because you feel like singing, singing for the sake of expression. Saying ‘no’ to practice means telling the ‘technician’ inside ourselves that it has to step to the side for a while.

Yes? No? …Maybe??

Also, be aware that you sometimes might actually be saying ‘maybe’ to practice. It might happen more often than you think. ‘Maybe’ is when you are not quite clear about our intentions. It is an in-between state where a part of you ‘just wants to sing’, and a part of you wants to practice. ‘Maybe’ results in an unhappy singer, an unhappy ‘technician’, and ineffective practice.

So satisfy your inner ‘technician’ with focused practice, and make your inner singer happy by making music and regularly singing your heart out!


 ©2012 Katja Maria Slotte
Originally published in Vocal Blog as a part of the article: How do you practice? 

If You Can Talk You Can Sing?

Some of you might know the Zimbabwean proverb: “If you can talk you can sing, if you can walk you can dance”. Is this true or is it one of these things that idealistic singing and music teachers post on their classroom and studio walls?

I have to admit: years ago, when I was teaching music in an elementary school, I too had a banner like that on my classroom wall… And my reasons for having such a banner in my classroom were mainly based on the idealism of a young, enthusiastic music teacher. Years have passed since I taught in that particular classroom, and in the meantime I have spent a lot of time studying the voice, the anatomy and the physiology of the voice, the principles of healthy sound production, and the techniques behind specific sounds. I’ve worked with singers of all levels, from children to adults, and from beginners and “tone-deaf people” to professionals and recording artists. So it’s time for a reality check. Would I still have such a banner in my studio?

Yes. But with a little correction. I firmly do believe that anybody with healthy vocal folds can talk and also sing. And…now comes the ‘but’: Singing is an ability that needs to be developed like any other ability. So let’s rephrase the proverb:

If you can talk you can (learn how to) sing.



Photo credit: State Library of Victoria Collections via Photopin

Understanding How The Voice Works

I don’t believe anybody would come to think of asking a person (adult or child) to play a song or a scale on a musical instrument without having learned HOW to play the instrument first. Yet, when it comes to singing, an attitude is often assumed that ‘you either can do it or you can not’. And subsequently: if you can’t do it, you better shut up and let those who can, do it.

Singing in tune is often the main aspect we focus on when we define if a person can sing or not. I do agree that singing in tune is an important goal in mastering the ability of singing. But there are other aspects that need to be taken in consideration as well, even before we consider the aspect of singing in tune (and how it is done).

Just like we need to learn how to play a musical instrument, we need to learn how to play our instrument (the singing voice). In order to do this we need to understand how our instrument works so that we can work with it instead of against it. Understanding how the voice works will also help us understand what singing in tune is, how it can be done, and what we can do about not singing in tune. We need to understand the techniques behind the various sounds, so we can learn how to use our instrument, make different sounds with it and control it. We also need to develop awareness (and later on, control) over aspects such as pitch, melody, rhythm, dynamics, and so on.

Singing Careers And Fame Belong In Other Discussions

The ability of singing can be developed with the right instruction, in a positive learning environment, through successful experiences, through trial and error leading to new insight, by practicing in the right way, and last but not least: by singing. The more time we spend exploring the singing voice and making music, listening to and learning from other singers, the more we learn about the language of music, the deeper our understanding becomes.

If you can talk you can (learn how to) sing…but not everybody will have careers in singing. And not everybody with singing careers will become famous singers. A singer can be famous in one country, and completely unknown in another. Some singers become world famous, but that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with their singing skills. Singing careers and fame belong in different discussions. But one thing is for sure: everybody has the possibility and the right to learn how to use their singing voices, to enjoy singing and express themselves through singing and music.

©2012 Katja Maria Slotte

Being A Diva In Your Own Garden

Last week I received a message from a singer I have been coaching:

Hi Katja, I just wanted to let you know that my last rehearsal went much better. Being in ‘my own garden’ helped me a lot.

In our session, we had been working on how to deal with nerves and staying centered. This singer is soon going to perform as a solist with a big choir and band, and one of her problems was that she did not get along with the conductor very well. She felt he was rushing her, and the negative, impatient vibes made her feel it was difficult to stay centered while singing. Her solo included some technically challenging passages, that we had been working on in the sessions. After two sessions focusing completely on technique things were going smoother, but in her rehearsal the situation with the conductor made her became nervous again and she couldn’t perform optimally.


We talked about how to feel grounded, and put some extra attention to balance.

Imagine there are magnets under your feet pulling you towards the ground, keeping you attached to the ground no matter how you change your balance, sway from side to side, and so on. Another image that works for some singers is imagining having roots under your feet. Mind you, however, that ‘having magnets or roots under your feet’ does not mean you have to stand in a rigid position while singing. We tried out the effect our knees have on our balance, and experimented with the difference between the knees being locked and unlocked. Locked knees will also lock your energy and will get you off balance faster.

It is also not important what picture or mental image you use, what is important is that it helps you achieve the desired thing: being balanced and centered. Other balancing exercises I like to do with singers are the yoga mountain pose (tadasana) and tree pose (vrksasana).


Photo credit: Gulfu via Photopin

Not letting yourself be influenced by external factors

For singers, in order to be able to deliver a performance, it is important to learn how to create your ‘own space’ that allows you to block out external factors, such as negative vibes and stressful energy from other band members, conductors you work with, and so on. There are many techniques you can apply, I will share one exercise we did with this singer in question.

Imagine yourself being surrounded by a protective shield / wrapped up in a protective bubble, from your head to toes. This shield bounces off any negative or stressful energy that you might feel coming from people around you. I asked the singer if this image made any sense to her. If she would have answered no, we would have set out looking for another way. The shield did make sense to her, however, and she remembered having done a similar exercise before. In the lesson, she literally drew this shield around herself.

After this, we tried out another variation of the ‘protective shield’ exercise.

In order to be able to communicate with band members and conductors, we cannot block out all energy but do have to stay partly open. Also, I believe all people working together in a music performance share the same positive wish of making the performance as good as possible. Most of the time people transmit negative energy and stress not because they intentionally want to sabotage your performance, but because they are nervous or insecure themselves. If we can connect to the positive wish and focus on the positive energy, instead of the negative, we are far better off.If the shield exercise feels like you are blocking out all energy, you might want to try out the following:

Imagine yourself standing in a little garden. Into this garden, you want to invite good friends (the good / positive energy coming from people you work with). You want to keep out all that is not good for your garden (the negative and stressful energy). When you feel bad energy around yourself, instead of blocking all incoming ‘energy streams’ completely, imagine yourself surrounded by a big bunch of flowers. In this way, you don’t allow the negative energy to come to you, but you do send positive energy to the outside. That positive energy will invite the positive energy in others to enter ‘your garden’.

The singer I worked with liked this idea a lot. She said it felt good to think “You can look at these flowers, but as long as you behave like an ***hole you’re not allowed inside my garden.”

If imagining flowers and gardens don’t make any sense to you, you’re welcome to invent a variation that suits you better. Please do share your suggestions and experiences by commenting on this blog, I’d love to hear from you!


Photo credit: Alex Gooi via Photopin

Connect to your inner Diva / Divo

It might help to imagine protective shields and bunches of flowers, but let’s face it – we are human and if we feel frustrated about something that frustration can sabotage all our attempts in being all ‘zen’ about the situation. The last thing we talked about with the singer was how to turn the frustration she felt into power she could use in her interpretation, and even physically for singing the technically demanding phrases. This requires something I like to refer to as ‘diva behavior’.

Sometimes I hear singers say “I want people to feel comfortable when they work together with me. I definitely don’t want them to think of me as some kind of a diva.” Actually, I have thought like that myself. At some point I started thinking about how all things come with a positive and a negative meaning. I realized that I had been focusing on the negative meaning of the word ‘diva’. I associated this word with behavior such as taking up all the space, being ‘sharp-elbowed’, making a big scene about minor issues, ‘being difficult’, and so on.

But when I looked at the positive characters of the word ‘diva’, I found out that it included aspects like:

  • knowing what you want
  • self-confident
  • being clear about your boundaries and what you don’t want
  • taking the space or time you need in order to feel comfortable

By the way, did you know that the basic sense of the term ‘diva’ is goddess? There’s nothing negative about that, I’d say.

The ‘diva behavior’ also means you look for solutions instead of surrendering to things that don’t feel good to you. Does ‘making people feel comfortable around you’ mean you allow them to treat you without respect or push your boundaries?  Sometimes a good ‘I’ll show you what I’ve got’ attitude can help us a long way. Don’t be afraid to show some ‘diva behavior’, take your space, and speak out if you have to. Think about the origin of the term ‘diva’ and become a god(dess) who knows what s/he wants, is clear about his/her boundaries, and spreads only positive energy around yourself. Then, go out there and shine!

©2012 Katja Maria Slotte

Originally published in my blog katjamariamusic in March 2012