Observing vocal technique in practice

We asked Singing Teacher’s Retreat graduate Ronni Bailey to write a short report on her experience of the follow-up she received after the Retreat. Here’s her article

Vocal pedagogy: Thoughts on observing vocal technique in practice

“After attending the Vocal Process Singing Teachers Retreat in September 2014, I had a mentoring session and discussion about my career development with Gillyanne who subsequently arranged for me to spend a day shadowing Vocal Process Accredited teacher – Anne Leatherland – to observer how she works with her Musical Theatre students at Liverpool Theatre School.

Private lessons

Observing the singing teacher giving vocal technique classes

I sat in on several of Anne’s private singing lessons which were a brief 15 minutes each. The focus of the lessons was to work on finding a legit sound in songs that students were preparing.

Through these observations I gained several ideas about legit repertoire. This was really helpful to me as I need to develop a substantial categorised and varied repertoire list for my own students for their audition portfolios

These were the highlights for me from the lesson observation:

• When approaching the belted note with a male student Anne suggested he kept his tongue forward using ‘n-yeh’; I observed he was using physical stabilisation and also looking upwards (‘looking up to the gods’). He practised a high calling voice with a little twang.

• Using ‘ng’ to sing over tricky leaps followed by ‘ng’ AH or what the different vowel sounds for the particular challenging words.

• Using ‘V, V, V,’ rapid release voiced fricatives with recoil to get full lungs. This is good practice for when you need a breath quickly.
Anne is quite insistent on the way she wants her students to learn a song to ensure they learn the song to the music they would take into an audition.

o Speak the words to the rhythm by looking at the sheet music.
o ‘ng’ the melody.
o ‘ng’ the melody mouthing the words.
o Sing the words and melody.

Preparing guide tracks is something they do at LTS to help students with their initial learning of the melody lines and is something I will look into discussing with our MD at my place of work.

Group singing class

The Second Year Group class came at the end of the day and the topic was:
‘register changes and transition choices’. Anne worked with the song ‘I’ve never been in love before’ from Guys and Dolls. The students all knew the song and had previously worked on acessing ‘thyroid tilt’.

After a brief warm-up, Anne engaged the students on the lesson topic by posing a question:
What things do you need to think about when singing Legit Musical Theatre?

Here were some of the answers the students gave or were discussed:
• Focus and tilt in thin folds (CRY QUALITY).
• Sense of line/legato smoothness in the lyrics.
• Amount of muscle / control. So that as you get higher you do not go into falsetto.

Anne demonstrated how a classical singer may sing in thinner folds where as legit M.T. would switch/blend between thicker and thinner folds with tilt and cry to keep the transition smooth. She drew a diagram on the white board from a visual that Gillyanne uses on course to explain the relationship between vocal fold thickness and range.

Gillyanne's "wedge" diagram is useful for visual learners wanting to understand thicker and thinner vocal folds

Gillyanne’s “wedge” diagram can help visual learners to understand the relationship between range and thicker/thinner vocal folds. The diagram can be used horizontally or vertically.

We broke into smaller groups and Anne allowed me to assist some of the students as they practised the techniques of using tilt to transition between thicker and thinner folds.

Points of focus and summary of the day

• The use of the ‘ng’ siren and how it can help with blending over the gear change.
• The use of tilt and amounts of vocal fold mass ascending and descending for use in legit songs.
• The use of the siren followed by oral vowels to access awkward jumps and notes above the gear change in a melody.

Thanks to Ewan Anderson of LTS for allowing the lesson observation and to Anne for being prepared to answer my questions on why she did what she did. And thanks to Vocal Process for organising the session as part of my ongoing professional development as a teacher”


To discover more about our Singing Teacher’s Retreat and the follow-up career advice we give, visit http://store.vocalprocess.co.uk/SingingTeachersRetreat

Ronni Bailey

Ronni Bailey


Ronni is a singing teacher working full time at a performing arts academy, passionate about helping students develop a healthy use of the voice and guide them as singers and performers into the professional working industry