Singing exercises are very effective to improve the sound of your voice. Singing scales and arpeggios when done right will expand your range, develop power and allow you to sing with more freedom. There is one major drawback with vocal exercises though, they aren’t exactly the most inspiring things to sing! I’m sure you would much rather sit at the piano, or grab your guitar and sing a selection of your favourite songs for an hour instead of grinding away singing countless “mums”, “nays” and lip rolls!
In this article I am going to show you how you can apply many popular vocal exercises and techniques to songs. This will make the process of developing your voice much more enjoyable and you will see “real world” improvements to your range and tone. I am going to discuss a series of scenarios you may face when working on a particular song.
Scenario One: You are having trouble hitting a certain high note in one of your favourite songs.
Let’s say that you are working on a particular song that has a high note that you are finding difficult to hit. What most singers do is attempt to hit the note over and over again which will lead to frustration and a mental block regarding the note. Sound familiar?
Step One: Isolate the phrase and treat it like a vocal exercise.
Step Two: Substitute the words in the phrase with a lip roll. Lip roll the phrase at least three times in a row. This will train your singing muscles to relax. You may also want to do a strong “SHHH” sound in between lip rolls. This will make sure you airflow is activated.
Step Three: Isolate the note before the high note and also the one after it. Lip roll (or tongue roll) these three notes five times in a row, again adding a “SHHH” between each attempt.
Step Four: Replace the lip roll with a vowel of your choice. I recommend either “EEE” or “OOO” as these will help keep your mouth in a neutral (not widened) position. Sing the three notes on your chosen vowel five more times, each time adding a bit more volume. Make sure you don’t start out too loud!
Step Five: Sing the three notes again but this time add the words.
Step Six: Sing the phrase again as written (with words).
This six step system is very effective for conquering high notes within a song.
Scenario Two: You are having trouble hitting a series of low notes within a phrase.
Let’s say you are more comfortable singing in the middle and upper parts of your voice and you are working on a song that has a series of low notes in a verse. You find that your voice gets “stuck” and unable to sing the notes with any volume.
Step One: Isolate the phrase and treat it like a vocal exercise.
Step Two: Do three strong “SHHH” sounds. Low notes allow more air to pass the through the vocal cords so you need a consistent flow.
Step Three: Speak the phrase. Your speaking voice uses the same vocal structure as you chest voice. Now try and speak the phrase “on pitch”.
Step Four: Replace the words with an “AHH” vowel. Try and maintain the same tone as when you were speaking the phrase. Put your hand on your chest and make sure that you are feeling vibration in your chest cavity while doing this exercise.
Step Five: Sing the phrase again adding the words.
This is a great five step system for accessing you chest voice. When doing these exercises make sure you keep a tension free throat. It will allow your sound to descend much easier.
Scenario Three: You are having trouble sustaining a phrase which sits right in the middle of your voice.
Let’s say that the chorus of a song you are working on has a series of notes which sit right in the middle of your voice. You find that your voice shifts between head voice and chest voice causing your tone to become very inconsistent. You have tried singing it with a louder volume but find that your voice tires quickly.
Step One: Isolate the phrase and treat it as a vocal exercise.
Step Two: Replace the words of the phrase with a lip roll. This will help to keep your singing muscles relaxed and your larynx low. Do this three times.
Step Three: Sing the phrase using the word “mum”. Do this three times adding a strong “SHHH” between each attempt.
Step Four: Sing the phrase using the word “nay”. Do this three times adding a strong “SHHH” between each attempt. Try and add a crying sound to your “nay”.
Step Five: Sing the phrase again adding the words. Try and maintain a crying sound to your tone.
This five step system is great for singing in mixed voice. It is designed to train your muscles to stay relaxed and maintain a low larynx. The crying sound helps to shift resonance into the nasal cavity.
Scenario Four: You are told that your tone is “muddy” and your words are hard to understand.
Singing is really just another form of communication. If your words and tone are not clear you will have trouble connecting with an audience. The following exercises and techniques will help to clear up your tone.
Step One: Isolate the phrase and treat it as a vocal exercise.
Step Two: Stick out your tongue and attempt to sing the phrase with as much clarity as you can. This will get your articulators (tongue, lips and jaw) working overtime. If you find that your tongue retreats back into your mouth move to step three.
Step Three: Repeat previous exercise but hold your tongue with your fingers to stop it moving back into your mouth. The tongue is a major reason for most tone problems.
Step Four: Sing the phrase again with words. Focus on making the words as clear as you can. You should find that your tone is greatly improved.
This four step system for improving tone is a fantastic way to add clarity to your voice.
Tip One: If you have a word that has two distinct vowels directly after each other, always make the first vowel longer than the second. This is called a diphthong.
Tip Two: Always make the vowels in your words longer than the consonants. This will help create a very smooth tone. Having shorter vowels will create a choppy tone.
Tip Three: If you are finding a high note pretty much impossible to hit try having a bit of fun with it. Siren on vowels “ee” and “oo” as high as you can. When you feel a bit more relaxed have a go at singing the high note again. Don’t take things to seriously. Have a bit of fun with your voice and notice the difference it makes to your energy.
Singing exercises for hours on end can often be a boring and mundane task. By isolating phrases in your favourite songs and treating them as vocal exercises you will see instant improvements to your voice and have a bit of fun doing it!
To view video examples of some of these techniques enrol in my Free Course
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What is the most embarrassing thing that can happen to you when you sing? Having a vocal crack is certainly high on my list! This has happened to me in the past in both a private and public situation. While it is hopeful to think that people will remember the hundreds of perfect notes you have sung in the performance, the reality is the moment your voice cracked will be first and foremost in their memory. In this article I am going to share with you the reasons why your voice breaks and how you can prevent it from happening.
What is a vocal crack?
A vocal crack is a sudden shift or jump between your vocal registers. The most common break is from chest voice to head voice. Another break is from chest voice to falsetto. This is particularly problematic for male singers who haven’t developed their head voice. Have you had the experience of singing low in your range and find that as you sing higher your voice flips into a weak uncontrolled high sound? That’s a vocal crack.
Why does it happen?
There are many reasons why your voice can crack:
- Wrong muscle coordination
- Wrong airflow
- A rising larynx
- Loss of connection
So what do I mean by muscle coordination? There are muscles that are attached to your vocal cords. These muscles are responsible for lengthening and shortening the cords which results in changes of pitch. The chest voice has different muscle coordination than head voice. When singing low in your range the cords are “slack” and relaxed. When you sing in head voice the cords lengthen and become tighter. The reason your voice cracks in between these two registers is muscle balance. There is too much influence from the muscles that control the chest voice as you sing higher. Your muscles will get to a point where they can’t stretch any further and a sudden “shift” or break will occur.
Airflow can be the cause of vocal cracks. Too much air can bombard your vocal cords with pressure and tension. Too little air can have the opposite effect leaving your cords struggling to vibrate. There needs to be a balance between the two. Your vocal cords need a consistent amount of pressurised air to vibrate efficiently. You can find out more about airflow here.
A rising larynx is one of the major reasons for your voice breaking. It is very closely related to muscle coordination. Your larynx is the bump you can see and feel in your throat. Next time you sing, watch yourself in a mirror and notice what your larynx does as you start to sing higher. Does it also start to move higher? If it does, that means that you are pulling chest voice up too high. This is also referred to as vocal weight. You will reach a point where your tone starts to resemble a “yell”. If you try and take this weight up any higher your voice will crack.
Fear can do strange things to your mind and body. Perhaps you have had the unfortunate experience of your voice breaking during a public performance? This is certainly embarrassing and something you will want to avoid happening again. Unfortunately when this happens once, you can get into the habit of thinking that it will happen again. I know I have had this experience. It’s as if I can see the note coming from a mile away. My body starts to tense, my throat seizes up, my heart rate increases and then……..”crack”. Fear can cause a lot of tension in your body and throat and can actually be the cause of a vocal crack.
People feel the need to control things in their lives. This makes a person feel safe. When we are not in control what do we feel? Uncertainty. So how does this relate to singing? I’m sure you have heard the expression “that singer has great control.” I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that control, for a singer, is not necessarily a good thing. I believe it is also a big reason why vocal breaks occur. If you are trying to control your voice then I believe at some point you are going to run into tension problems. Your voice is designed to be relaxed and free. We complicate things by trying to control our voice, wanting to sound good, trying to sing higher, trying to sing louder. Our voice will do these things naturally, if we let it. I’m suggesting that in order to fix your vocal breaks you need to stop trying to control your voice around your problems areas. Experiment with your voice, don’t be afraid to make some mistakes and you will gain a greater feeling of freedom when you sing.
The biggest and most obvious vocal crack is complete loss of connection. This occurs when your voice flips into falsetto. Falsetto is very different from your “connected” vocal registers. When you sing in chest, mixed and head voice your vocal cords remain connected the entire time. Sound is created on the inner edges of your vocal cords. When singing falsetto, sound is created on the extreme external edges of the vocal cords and a breathy tone is created due to the space between the cords. The break occurs when a singer extends chest voice far beyond the speaking range. It is impossible to continue to sing higher in this muscle and vocal cord position so the muscles and cords basically “give up” which results in a break into falsetto.
How can a vocal crack be fixed?
As you would have realised by now one of the major reasons for the breaks in your voice is incorrect muscle coordination. You need to learn how to transition between your vocal registers smoothly. You can reprogram your muscles by learning how to sing with mixed voice. You can learn about mixed voice in this article.
Vocal exercises to achieve a smooth voice.
I recommend the following exercises to help you “iron out” the cracks in your voice:
- Ascending and descending lip roll slides
- Ascending and descending lip roll slides followed by “vowel slides”.
- Ascending arpeggio using a lip roll to a descending 8 note scale.
- Double octave arpeggio using “nay”.
Access 5 FREE Video Lessons HERE and learn to transition freely.
Eliminating nasty cracks in your voice will boost your confidence as a singer and allow you to sing with freedom without the fear of an embarrassing break.
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The number one way to improve your voice, to extend your range and create the voice of your dreams is to recognise and release unnecessary tension in your body and the muscles that control your voice. If you are struggling with singing high notes, or running out of breath quickly it is most likely a singing tension related problem. We hold tension in many areas of the body and in this article I am going to show you how to recognise it and release it with effective (and sometimes crazy) exercises.
Why is tension a bad thing?
To sing naturally and with freedom is easier than you think. Most singers use far too many muscles to sing a note, whether it is high or low. Have you ever witnessed someone trying to sing a very high note? You will notice muscles in the neck, face, abdomen and torso tense up as they try and belt that high note. All of that singing tension is not helping the situation, it’s actually preventing the singer from performing at their best. Singing with tension can have a number of negative effects:
- Prevents a singer from reaching true potential.
- It’s a “High Note Killer”.
- It will affect your breathing.
- Your Tone will suffer.
- It can lead to vocal disorders.
I am going to show you how to avoid these problems. Before I tell you how to release tension you need to discover where you are holding it.
Where do you hold tension?
The most important areas of your body to check for tension include:
All of these areas of your body can have a dramatic impact on how you sound and the amount of effort it takes for you to sing. For each of the areas we will be checking I want you to sing a phrase of a song.
To check for tension in your neck you will need to use a mirror. Sing your phrase and watch in the mirror for any visible tension in the front of your neck. Are your tendons sticking out as you sing? Does your neck become red? These are signs that you have tension.
To check for tension in your throat you will again need to use a mirror. Sing your phrase and notice if the bump in your throat (called the larynx or “adam’s apple”) starts to rise when you sing. This is a sign that the muscles which control your voice are not coordinating the right way and will certainly lead to vocal tension and fatigue.
Your jaw is another common area for tension. I want you to sing your phrase but this time chew at the same time! I know it sounds crazy but trust me on this one. If you find it difficult to chew and sing at the same time you may be holding some tension there. Tension in your jaw will affect the tone of your voice. Your jaw is one of 3 articulators which determine your tone.
The second articulator and prime suspect when it comes to unwanted tension is your tongue. I want you to sing your phrase with your mouth slightly open, just enough so that you can see your tongue. See if you can keep your tongue relaxed at the front of your mouth, sitting on your bottom teeth as you sing. If you find that your tongue wants to retreat back into your throat as you sing it’s a sign of tongue tension. This will affect your tone.
The third articulator is your lips. Singers often over stretch their lips when they sing. Try it. Notice what it feels like to sing with tense lips. Now relax and sing without the tension. This technique of experiencing the tension, then experiencing the relaxation is a great way to program your brain to recognise the difference. I encourage you to try this with all of the possible tension areas.
Next we have the shoulders. This was a major tension area for me as a student. To check for tension you will need your mirror. Stand in a natural position. See if you can drop your shoulders from this position. Don’t force them down, just see what happens if you relax them. Do they drop further? If so, like me, you are holding some tension there.
Finally let’s check your abs. They need to be relaxed and tension free to allow for optimal low breathing. Sing your phrase and check to see whether you are tensing your abdomen as you sing. If so then you will need to work on relaxing those muscles.
Remember, it’s a great idea to experience what it is like to sing with tension in these areas of your body, then sing without the tension to re-program your brain to recognise the difference.
How To Release Tension
Okay so now you have a good idea about where you can/are holding tension. Let’s discuss some ways to release it.
Let’s start with your neck. Gently move your head from side to side and back and forth. Get used to the feeling of relaxation. Now, sing your phrase while doing the head movements. Doing this will prevent the muscles in your neck tensing in one position. Another great exercise to release neck tension is bending over to let your head drop and sway. This is very effective for relieving tension in the back of your neck.
Some great exercises to release tension in your throat include:
- Lip rolls
- Vocal Sighs
These exercises are excellent ways to keep your throat relaxed and your larynx low. They allow the muscles that control your vocal cords to coordinate in the right and most efficient way.
The best exercise to release jaw tension is actually the same one used to discover it! Chewing. This will stretch the muscles that control your jaw, allowing for more flexibility.
To eliminate tongue tension you can do 2 things:
- Stick out your tongue as far as you can and hold it for 5 seconds. Repeat 3 times. This will stretch the root of your tongue which is responsible for most tongue tension.
- Hold the tip of your tongue with your fingers (gross I know!) and attempt to sing your phrase with as much clarity as possible. This will stop your tongue from pulling back into your throat. It will also add clarity to your tone.
To release lip tension I suggest a lip roll. What is a lip roll? Think of the sound “brrrr” a person makes when they are cold. You need to make your lips vibrate together. It is impossible to do this with tense lips so it’s a good indicator that you have released the tension.
Rolling your shoulders is the best way to relieve shoulder tension. Sing your phrase while doing this.
Finally, to release tension in your abdomen, lie down and place an object on your stomach. Your goal is to make the object move up and down as you breathe in and out. If you can achieve this it means your diaphragm is descending. This is very important for breathing and is impossible if you are tensing your abs. Something else you can try is panting, yes just like a dog! Try and make your stomach move in and out as you pant.
Well that’s it for this article. I hope you learned something valuable about your voice. I recommend incorporating these exercises into your daily vocal routine to get the most out of your voice.
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In this article I am going to share with you some techniques, tips and exercises on how to sing low notes. Developing the lower part of your voice is an often overlooked way to increase the range of your voice. Let’s firstly discuss some reasons why you may be struggling in this area.
What’s Holding You Back?
- Wrong Compression
So what is vocal compression? It is simply the relationship between your vocal cords and your air. When you are singing or speaking in the lower part of your voice your vocal cords should remain quite “slack”. This allows air to pass through your vocal cords easily. As you sing and speak higher the cords lengthen and the space for the air to pass through decreases. This creates a build up of pressure behind the vocal cords causing a “compressed” sound. I encounter a lot of singers who try and use this compression in the lower part of their voice to get more projection and volume into their low notes. When I ask them how it feels, the usual response is “it feels like it’s getting stuck in my throat”. The compression isn’t allowing the sound to vibrate and resonate in their chest. More about that in a minute!
Singing low notes requires relaxation. Your body needs to be relaxed, your vocal cords need to be relaxed, the muscles that control your cords need to be relaxed. Sensing a theme here? Tension in your throat is going to result in the same problems as compression. I’m going to share with you some exercises on how to release throat tension shortly.
Where your sound resonates (vibrates) when you sing or speak can have an impact on your ability to sing low. There are three major areas where your sound can resonate:
- Your Chest
- Your Throat
- Your Head and Nose
Singers who have a naturally nasal or “heady” speaking voice can have a hard time singing in their lower range. The head and nasal cavities are great for singing high notes, but not so great when it comes to the low notes. To test whether you have a nasal or “heady” speaking voice do this experiment:
Have a conversation with yourself and place your fingers on the bridge of your nose. Feeling any vibration? Now place your hand on your chest and speak. Any vibration there?
If you felt vibration only in your nose you have a nasal dominant voice and may have issues singing low. If your only felt vibration in your chest you have a chest dominant voice (which can lead to some high note problems). Did you feel vibration in both areas? Great! You have a balanced voice which is perfect for developing an even tone and range.
Your beliefs about your voice can often be the cause of vocal problems. If you tell yourself that you can’t sing low then you are probably right. Singers sometimes use the excuse “I’m a high singer, so I can’t sing low notes”. The same applies with singers who say they can’t sing high. It’s not a matter of “can’t” it’s just that they haven’t been shown the right way. Change your beliefs into something positive and see what happens!
I can. I will. I must. I’m working on…
These are possibility beliefs and not a dead end CAN’T.
Sorry to get all “new age” on you… let’s get back to the reason for this article!
How To Sing Low Notes.
When you sing low notes the majority of the resonance needs to occur in your chest. You may have heard of a term called “chest voice”. Chest voice is a vocal register. You have 3:
- Chest Voice
- Mixed Voice
- Head Voice
These are the areas of your voice where sound can resonate and are responsible for allowing you to sing throughout your range. Your chest voice handles the low notes. I’m not going to discuss the other two. I’ll save that for another article.
To develop your chest voice there are 2 aspects you need to focus on:
As I have already discussed, you don’t want a “compressed” sound when you sing low. You need to get air flowing consistently through your vocal cords without any pressure or tension. Try speaking in an “over the top” breathy sound and aim to get some vibration in your chest while doing so. If you are struggling, try exhaling on a long “HHHHH” and gradually add an “AHH” to the breath. Once you have felt some vibration try doing the same exercise using “PAHHHHH”. This will remove the excess breath. I need to stress that the use of breathiness in your tone is only to help you discover your chest voice. To take that sound higher will lead to problems with your upper range.
Relaxation is one of the most important aspects of singing, whether you are singing high or low. I’ve already told you why it’s important, now I’m going to share with you some tips on how to release tension in your voice and body.
- Imagine you’ve had a hard day at work. You get home and release a big “SIGH”. Let the sigh slide right down as far as you can vocalise. Sighing is a natural release of tension and is great for relaxing the muscles that control your voice.
- Roll your shoulders and move your neck gently from side to side. This will release any tension in those muscles. You can also do the sighing exercise for great results.
- Don’t try and control your sound. Let it drop naturally. If you try and force the sound lower it will get stuck in your throat.
Vocal Exercises To Develop Chest Voice
There are certain vocal exercises that are designed to develop and strengthen your chest voice. Here are my Top 3:
- Humming on a 5 note ascending and descending scale.
- Ascending Hum to a descending MA on a 5 note scale.
- Descending 5 note scale on MUM
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Learning to sing low notes without tension and compression is a great way to extend your vocal range and allow great freedom in your voice.
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In this article I am going to show you how to sing high notes without straining your voice or suffering embarrassing breaks. I struggled for a very long time when I was developing my voice. I can now sing in a much wider range and I actually look forward to singing high notes! I am going to show you the Do’s and Don’ts and take you through a system that you can apply to develop your own voice.
The Major Reasons Why You Can’t Sing High
- Wrong Information
- Too Much Weight In Your Voice
- Using The Wrong Amount Of Air
There is a lot of information available online from a variety of teachers that promise to show you how to sing high. Private singing teachers are also a great source of expertise in this very specific singing topic. Unfortunately while there is a lot of great and useful information there is also a lot of bad advice and teaching in the industry. Unfortunately I didn’t get the right information and teaching early on in my development. I actually lost range in the higher part of my voice because of the techniques my teacher taught me. The title of singing teacher or vocal coach brings with it an expectation of trust. My advice to you is don’t blindly trust a teacher or expert. Experiment with techniques and ideas and find what works for you.
Carrying too much weight into the higher part of your voice is another major reason why singers struggle to sing high. So what is vocal weight? The lower part of your voice (chest voice) has a different vocal structure than the higher part of your voice (head voice). When you are singing low notes your vocal cords a quite “slack” which allows vibration over most of the vocal cord. This gives it a “meatier” tone. There are “singing muscles” which co-ordinate this vocal cord position. The problem that I had and many other singers have is trying to maintain this vocal cord position into the higher part of the voice. The muscles and cords cannot maintain this position for long without resorting to raising the larynx. The larynx is the bump you can see in your neck. You are carrying too much weight up if you see the larynx rise when singing higher notes.
The wrong amount of air can make it very hard to sing high notes. Too little air and your voice will sound weak and unsupported. Too much air will cause your vocal cords to be put under too much pressure and strain will occur. Many coaches advise that you don’t need as much air when you sing higher because there isn’t as much vocal cord surface to vibrate. This is only partly true. When a student hears this advice the first reaction is too cut the amount of air that they usually sing a note with. This usually results in a weak head voice, or a flip into falsetto. While it is true that high notes require less air to pass over the cords to create sound, this is not something that you need to control. It will happen automatically. You need to maintain the same amount of air throughout your entire range. The vocal cords will naturally “zip up” limiting the amount of air that can pass through. By maintaining the same amount of air you will create the right amount of pressure behind the cords to allow a bigger and more focused sound in the head voice. Here’s a tip:
Do a series of strong “SHHHH” sounds before you attempt to sing a high note.
Are you afraid of heights? I know I certainly am. This fear is also very prominent in singing. This fear of singing high usually comes from past experiences which we use as reference points. Perhaps you feel strain every time you sing high. Maybe your voice breaks as soon as you sing high. Does your voice end up sore after singing high notes? I know I have certainly experienced all of those painful moments. What happens if you continue to struggle with these problems is you develop a fear of singing high notes. Basically you will start to tense up as soon as you know that “high note” is coming, giving yourself no chance of hitting the note. I see this problem on a daily basis. The earlier you can get over this fear the better. You need to give yourself new reference points to reprogram your brain. You can do this by doing specific exercises which I will share in this article.
How To Sing High Notes
Okay so we have now determined what has been holding you back. You know the wrong things to do, so now let’s discuss the right things to do. The secret to singing high tension free notes is accessing the head voice.
What Is The Head Voice?
The head voice is one of your vocal registers. You have three main ones:
- Chest Voice (Lower notes)
- Mixed Voice (Middle part of your voice)
- Head Voice (High Notes)
It is called the head voice because the sound vibrates (resonates) in the cavities of your head and nose. It is the most foreign part of your voice to develop and experience because it is rarely used in speech. When we speak we do so using the chest voice and occasionally the mixed voice. This is also the reason why most singers drag the chest voice up too high. It is a familiar part of the voice and the brain sends signals to take it higher.
How To Access Head Voice.
Experiment 1: Imagine you are at an amusement park with a child, or playing with a small child. Think of the sound you make when going down a slide for example. “WEEEEEE”. Now I’ll bet that you have done this at least once in your life and not even thought about it in terms of “a high note” but that is essentially what it is. You are accessing head voice.
Experiment 2: Imitate someone (possibly a woman if you are a guy) calling out to someone they know. “YOU HOOOOOO”. See if you can make that sound in a feminine “hooty” way. This example again accesses your head voice.
At this stage you may be thinking that the sound is not very impressive but that can be developed with some experimenting with resonance.
What Is Resonance?
Resonance is a fancy word for describing where the sound vibrates in your body. There are 3 major resonating areas:
These areas can be isolated or combined to change the tone in every part of your range. You can get a brighter/lighter chest voice by adding some head resonance. You can also get a bigger/meatier head voice by adding some throat resonance. I am going to share with you some exercises on adding “oomph” to your head voice shortly.
3 Secrets For Developing Head Voice
- Moving Through Your Mix
- A Low Larynx
Your mixed voice is the gateway to your high notes. Establishing vocal cord connection during your transition into mixed voice will allow you to continue up into head voice. This is a complete article in itself so I will include a link at the end of this article for singers wanting to know more.
Keeping your larynx low as you ascend will help you transfer into head voice. A rising larynx is a head voice killer! As I have already discussed, this will cause your voice to become incredibly heavy. I’m sure you have experienced the “break” or “flip” into falsetto as a result of this. To maintain a low larynx you must practice singing in front of a mirror. This will give you a visual aid. The exercises I suggest next will help your voice re-coordinate to allow a rested low larynx.
Relaxation is so important when you sing, not just when singing high notes but singing in any part of your range. Muscle strain will cause you many problems in your quest to sing high notes. The muscles in your neck, face, and abdomen all work together to create your voice and also limit its potential. Some areas to watch for tension:
How to discover and release this tension is the topic for another article. Again, using a mirror will help you become aware of your tension areas.
Exercises To Develop Head Voice
The following exercises are recommended for discovering and developing your head voice. I suggest you start with:
- Liproll arpeggios
This will help you drop the weight from your voice. A liproll is a silly sound. Imagine making the “BRRRR” sound when you are cold and adding a dopey “UH” sound at the same time.
- Liproll to Vowel Arpeggios
This will help you drop the weight and help with muscle coordination as you sing a vowel directly after the liproll. Your muscles have memory and will learn the new position.
- Exercises on “GI” “GO” and “WI”
These exercises help with keeping the voice connected as you ascend. They are also very effective for keeping your larynx low.
- Nasality exercises “NAY” “NYA”
Nasality is a great way to add some focus and brightness to your head voice. These specific exercises incorporate some throat resonance which changes the tone from “Hooty” to “Edgy”.
You can learn more about Head Voice in my FREE MINI COURSE
By learning how to sing high notes by discovering and developing your head voice you will be able to eliminate strain, drop the weight from your voice and lose the fear of singing that plagues so many singers.
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How To Sing In Mixed Voice
Let me ask you a couple of questions. Do you find that your voice hits a ceiling as you sing higher? Do you feel a lot of strain as you sing higher? Does your voice appear to have gaps in your range? If you answered yes to one or all of these questions then chances are you are either struggling to find your mixed voice or have no idea what it is and how it can help you.
I feel your pain. As a young singer I had some real issues with the higher part of my voice. My voice would feel fine and sound great until I started to sing higher. It was as if my voice was hitting a ceiling. It really frustrated me because I had no idea why it was happening. The higher I tried to sing the harder it became. My voice would eventually give up due to the amount of work my “singing muscles” had to do. My teacher at the time offered no solutions to me. He concluded that there must be something wrong with my voice. This really affected my confidence and I developed a real fear of singing high notes. I found myself forced to sing in a small range which didn’t do my chances of making a career out of singing much good at all!
Fast forward 14 years and I do have a career as a professional singer and vocal coach. I can now sing very high notes without feeling like I’m about to burst a blood vessel! My voice is seamless from top to bottom and I’m not limited to what I can perform. I don’t write these things to impress you, I write them to give you hope because I was once in your shoes. I know your frustration and pain, but I also know there is a solution.
My voice found its freedom when I found my mix voice.
What is Mixed Voice?
Okay it’s time for me to go into teacher mode. I don’t want to bore you with too much theory on how the voice works as I want this article to be of practical value and not purely theoretical, but it is important that you know certain things.
Your voice has three distinct areas:
- Chest Voice (The lowest part of your voice)
- Head Voice (The highest part of your voice)
- Mixed Voice (The area in between)
These areas are commonly called vocal registers. Chest voice is called that because when you sing lower notes the sound should vibrate in your chest. Head voice gets its title because as you sing higher the sound should vibrate in the cavities of your head. Mixed voice is a combination of Chest and Head voice. You get the best of both worlds. The nice full texture of the low notes and the lighter less weighted sound of the higher notes.
Why Is Mixed Voice Important?
As you start to sing higher you need to drop weight from your voice. Nearly every singer I have taught has come to me with this problem of carrying too much weight into the higher part of their voice. The reason for this is related to our speaking voice. We naturally speak in our chest voice. Try it. Put your hand on your chest and say a few words. You should find that your chest vibrates when you speak. Because we are very familiar with this part of our voice it is natural for a singer to try and carry this sound up to the top of the voice. This is where problems start to occur. The muscles that control the vocal cords can only hold that “chest position” for a certain amount of notes before it physically becomes impossible to do so. You will find that if you try and carry that heavy sound up it will resemble a yell and the voice will eventually hit a ceiling. Have you had this experience? The answer? Drop the weight! I will tell you how in a moment.
The second important role of mixed voice is fixing breaks in the voice. There is nothing more embarrassing as a singer than having your voice break or crack during a performance. These breaks always occur in two places:
- Between chest and mixed voice.
- Between mixed and head voice.
I have some news for you that should make you feel better. Everyone has these breaks in their voice. They are natural transition points commonly called “bridges”. I’m only going to discuss the “first bridge” in this article which is your break between chest voice and mixed voice. This is a very important part of your voice because it primes your vocal cords (and singing muscles) to sing higher.
Most singers are not aware of this first bridge and it is the main reason why I struggled so much in my early days as a singer. I would take my chest voice up past this transition point giving my voice absolutely no chance to “re-coordinate” or change gears. The solution? Blend some head voice into your sound before you get to the “bridge”. In fact it is a good idea to always have an element of head voice present in your sound as it will help you create a seamless voice.
Exercises To Develop Mixed Voice.
I am going to share with you two aspects of developing your mixed voice and the exercises associated with them. The first and most vitally important is keeping a low larynx as you start to sing higher. Your larynx is the bump in your neck (also called the adam’s apple). To maintain a low larynx two great exercises are:
- 1. A Liproll
- 2. A “dopey” “mum” sound.
To perform a liproll you need to blow air out and try and make your lips vibrate together. Imagine the sound you make when it is bitterly cold, or similar to the sound a horse makes. The liproll is very effective to drop weight from your voice. The “dopey mum” sound will help keep your larynx low. I am going to include some video links at the end of the article that will show you how to do the exercises properly.
The second aspect of developing your mixed voice is the use of nasality. Nasality will help transfer the vibration (resonance) into your head. Exercises which I suggest are:
- 1. Scales and arpeggios using “mm”, “nn” and “ng”
- 2. Combining those nasal sounds with vowels.
My favourite exercises are scales using “ng” and the sound “nay”. If you are struggling to work out how to do an “ng”, say the word “sing” and then hold the “ng” at the end. It’s a great exercise for balancing the tone of your voice. I will include links to these exercises at the end of the article.
Benefits Of The Mixed Voice.
There are some wonderful benefits you can expect when you discover and develop your mixed voice:
- An Increased Range
- Increased Power
- A more impressive and meatier tone
- Boosted Self Esteem and Confidence
- The ability to sing in a variety of genres
- Eliminated strain
- Increased vocal endurance
Learning how to sing with mixed voice solved so many vocal issues that I carried around for many years. Issues that held me back vocally and affected my confidence. I hope this article has given you some hope and ideas that you can use in your own vocal development.
You can learn more about the mixed voice and try and exercises outlined in this article by enrolling in my Free 8 Week Vocal Course
Aussie Vocal Coach,
Ian CastleShare on Facebook
There have been many times in my life as a singer where I have had to sing while under the effects of a nasty flu or fatigue from a heavy vocal session the night before.
For most singers the first reaction to this situation is PANIC! This is a naturally reaction to such a situation. Negative thoughts immediately start to rush through your mind:
- “I’m going to embarrass myself”
- “If I cancel I will let so many people down”
- “I could damage my voice”
- “My reputation will be tarnished”
These are all thoughts that I have had myself over the years and they are all valid thoughts. However it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. There are certain things you can do to give yourself the best chance to get through a performance with little to no evidence that you weren’t at your best.
The First Question You Should Ask Yourself
How serious is it? Are your symptoms affecting your vocal ability or not? It is very possible to sing through a simple cold or virus. As long as your vocal cords aren’t being affected, physically your voice and performance ability shouldn’t change.
Let’s say that your voice has been affected and you are finding it hard to sing, you have lost range and control. What then? Don’t panic just yet.
Your first step is to go and see your Doctor. I know that sounds like a no-brainer but so many singers put this off until the last minute. If it’s an infection to your sinus (like what I have right now!) throat or chest, the earlier you get on medication the quicker you will be back at your best.
There are many lozenges and remedies on the market that will relieve pain and inflammation. You need to keep away from anything that contains alcohol or menthol as they can dehydrate the voice and make it ever harder to sing. You also need to avoid anything with antiseptic in it. Yes antiseptic will numb the pain but it will also numb the control of your voice. What I suggest in the form of self medication is:
- Non Alcoholic Lozenges
- A Quality Vocal Spray
- Honey and Lemon Drinks
There are plenty of lozenges on the market which are singer friendly. I recommend Slippery Elm Cherry Lozenges. If in doubt ask your pharmacist. A quality vocal spray is vital to replace saliva and relieve dryness in the throat. I use Farleys Entertainers Secret Throat Relief Spray which is readily available on the net. Honey and lemon drinks are great soothe the throat and clear the nasal cavity. Here is the recipe I use:
- Squeeze 2 Lemons
- 1 Tablespoon of Honey
- 2 Dissolved Paracetamol Tablets
- 1 Cup of Boiling Water
Every 10% Helps
There isn’t an instant miracle cure that is going to get your voice back to its brilliant best. There are however other things which I called the 10 percenters that when combined can take you from the despair of being 40% vocally fit to a more manageable 80% vocal fitness. I have already discussed the use of self medication which will usually get you an extra 10%.
- A Hot Shower (with exhaust fan off)
- The Pot and Towel Technique
- Steam Inhaler
A hot shower first thing in the morning with the exhaust fan off is a great way to get your voice heading in the right direction. By closing the room off and turning the exhaust fan off you will create a sauna effect which will add instant moisture to your throat and help clear your sinus. I always combine this with a gentle vocal warm up for an instant 10% improvement to my voice.
Throughout the day you should continue to steam your voice as it will help reduce any swelling in your throat and vocal cords. There are a few ways you can do this:
Have multiple hot showers throughout the day, which isn’t the strategy I advise. Your family or housemates won’t appreciate the lack of hot water at the end of the day, or the massive energy bill at the end of the month!
Use the Pot and Towel Technique. This involves boiling a pot of water and sitting with your head hovering over the steam. Placing a towel over your head and pot will keep the steam from escaping and create a mini sauna for your face.
My preferred steaming technique is the use of a personal steam inhaler. They are compact enough to take with you to your gig or dressing room and unlike the pot and towel technique you will isolate the steam to your throat and nose and not your entire face! I recommend Mabis Healthcare Steam Inhaler
A humidifier is a device which will add steam to a room. It is especially effective for use at night while you are sleeping. The moisture in the air will help to relieve waking up with a dry scratchy throat. I recommend Vicks UV 99.999% Germ Free Humidifier
Steaming your voice throughout the day and before a performance will help you gain an extra 10%.
The Importance of a Vocal Warm Up
Warming up your voice is always a good idea. When you are sick or fatigued it is VITAL. Not all warm ups are created equal. The vocal warm up routine that you would normally use when vocally fit will be too strenuous on your swollen and sore throat. There is a particular system of warming up that I use when I am sick.
- Step One: Gentle warm up to get the vocal cords vibrating. I do this in the shower first thing in the morning so that the steam helps wake the cords up. I do gentle hums and vocal fry to start, then some lip roll slides. All at low volume.
- Step Two: Maintain vocal silence until midday and repeat the gentle warm up with slightly increased volume. I will do this for 10 minutes.
- Step Three: 15 minute vocal warm up including lip rolls, vocal fry, and resonance exercises. I do this about 1 hour before I have to sing on stage, usually in a hot shower!
With the Full Day Vocal Warm Up I know that my voice will improve by 10% by performance time. It is important that you maintain vocal rest throughout the day. This will give your vocal cords time to rest and recover.
Watch What You Eat
Certain foods can have a positive and negative affect on your voice. You need to avoid foods which are going to cause a reaction in your throat. These include:
- Spicy Foods
- Dairy Products
- Salty Products
Spicy foods can cause acid reflux, which causes stomach acid to make its way up into your throat and effectively burning your vocal cords. Dairy products will create mucus in your throat. The coughing action required to get rid of it will irritate your cords. Salty products will dry out your throat.
- Fresh Fruit and Vegetables
- Unsalted Almonds
- Lean Meat
- Plenty of Water
Fruit and vegetables are very high in water content. This will help your body stay hydrated. Almonds are a great source of energy as they are high in protein. Lean meat and pasta is also high in protein and carbohydrates. Singing can take a lot of energy so these foods will help you physically get through a performance. Water will contribute to the hydration of your throat and body.
By eating the right foods and drinking plenty of water you can gain an extra 10% to help you perform close to your best. If you drown your sorrows in the bad foods it will have you back at square one in no time!
So Let’s Do The Math.
In isolation all of these suggestions can make a small improvement to your voice. If you do everything you can to get your voice to a reasonable singing state, most of the time you will get through a performance with no one even realising you are sick or fatigued.
- Singer Safe Medication 10%
- Steaming Your Voice 10%
- Vocal Warm Up Routine 10%
- Eating and Drinking Right 10%
By combining the above strategies you can improve your incapacitated voice by up to 40%. So even if you are only feeling 40 or 50% vocally fit it is possible to get to 80 – 90% which is certainly “performable”.
The Worst Case Scenario
There will be times when you have to face the fact that your voice isn’t up to singing. This could be either prolonged vocal fatigued or a complete lack of voice caused by laryngitis. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions and you need to make them based on the long term ramifications rather than the short term.
Singing when you physically are not up to it can lead to long term problems. You can be scarred physically (vocal cord nodules) and mentally. What would you rather do:
Perform anyway and risk vocal damage and have your reputation as a quality singer tarnished.
Cancel the performance and inconvenience few people.
I hope this article has given you some ideas on how to sing when you are sing or fatigued. These strategies have helped me through many inconvenient periods of illness when I have had to perform.
Singer’s Survival Products:
I don’t leave home without mine!
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So, you have a solid technique, you have developed style to your singing. You have done everything ”vocally” to master your voice. There is however another aspect of singing that is overlooked. An aspect of singing that sets apart the amateur singer to the professional singer.
An energized body will lead to an energized voice!
Exercise: Walk into a room with your shoulders slumped, head down, yawning and feeling very lethargic. Notice your energy levels. Now sing. What do you notice? What is often lacking is certain “spark”. A singer may be technically great, but a technically great singer may sometimes appear robotic and lack intensity.
So how can we create energy?
- Light exercise before you sing
- Move while doing vocal exercises.
Motion leads to Emotion
This leads me to my next point, physiology. As a singer, your instrument is your body. By now you should realize that nearly every muscle in your body contributes to the way you sing. The way you present your instrument (body) can alter your energy levels and also the way people perceive you. Let’s take the first example again. Remember, lethargic, slumped….. Now walk into a room with energy and vitality. Chest high, head up, smiling. Now sing. Is there a difference to your voice? How differently will people perceive you? I can tell within seconds in my private coaching sessions how well a student will perform that day just by the way they walk into the room. Your physiology, the way you move, the way you hold yourself directly affects your state of mind, your Psychology.
Psychology and Singing
A singer can have the most talent in the world but unless they have the mindset to take full advantage of their talent, it will go to waste.
The mind has the ability to create or destroy.
3 examples of successful singers:
- Natural talent and positive mindset. This singer is very rare. They become the superstars we know today.
- Learned talent and positive mindset. This singer is very common in the classical world. A singer may spend 10 years studying and a couple of years trying to get a break. They never give up and eventually “make it”.
- No outstanding talent but a positive mindset. This singer probably won’t win any singing competitions yet somehow is able to make a living out of singing. I’m sure you can think of examples in today’s pop music.
3 examples of unsuccessful singers:
- Natural talent and no mindset. This singer has all the talent in the world. Unfortunately they are full of excuses as to why they haven’t “made it” as a singer. Confidence and self esteem issues are usually the problem.
- Learned talent and no mindset. This type of singer will give up easily. They often fear rejection.
- No talent and no mindset. Occasionally I come across a student who doesn’t possess any talent and who is hesitant to learn anything new. This singer is often under the illusion they are a good singer yet when they are told otherwise they become defensive and angry. I’m sure you will have seen this on a popular prime time singing competition.
Talent can only take you so far.
Technique can only take you so far
The singer’s mindset will determine how successful they will be.
Which category do you fit into?
The Learning Process
As a singing student you must realize that learning to sing is a lifetime of study. You cannot master singing in a month, a year, or even five years. Remember that your body is your instrument and it will change throughout your life. With that in mind, patience is the key. Build skills slowly and add to your technique on block at a time. The more time you spend laying the foundations, the more skills you will be able to add over time.
Don’t rush it!
Beliefs. Beliefs form a big part of the learning process. There are two types of beliefs:
- 1. Empowering Beliefs
- 2. Disempowering Beliefs
I CAN do it
I CAN’T do it
I AM a good singer
I am NOT a good singer
I LOVE singing high notes
I CAN’T sing high notes
Disempowering beliefs are dangerous when learning how to sing. If a student believes they can’t do something even before they have even attempted it, they will be in a constant battle with themselves. This will result in frustration. As a student you need to be open minded and free of any preconceived ideas and beliefs when learning how to sing.
As a society we have been conditioned to believe that mistakes are bad. In the schooling system a student is punished for making a mistake. Mistakes = Failure. It is no wonder that when a student of mine makes a mistake, their first reaction is one of anger and frustration.
Mistakes are a singer’s best friend.
Mistakes are the quickest way to learn. Mistakes do not equal failure.
Mistakes = opportunity to learn and grow.
When you hit a “wrong” note or have a moment of “cracking”, have a laugh about it and don’t take it to heart or get embarrassed. The more mistakes you make, the more you will learn.
As a student it is often hard to gauge how much you have improved. There are certain things you can do to keep track of your progress.
- Keep a journal and take it to your lessons. Write down anything you are struggling with, and any small breakthroughs you have.
- If possible arrange to have your lessons video recorded. You will be able to view your progress over weeks, months and years.
- Set yourself goals and evaluate yourself monthly. I have included a handy chart which will aid you in this area.
A well rounded Voice. Equally developed in all areas.
A Poorly Trained Voice
Strong in some areas, but weak in others.
Imagine that this is a wheel on your car. How smooth would your car feel when driving? How efficient would it be? How long would it last? Your voice will behave in the same way. Singing will seem hard, frustrating, and unpredictable. Your voice will tire easily. The truth is most singers start out like this. By evaluating what your strengths and weaknesses are you will know which areas of your voice to focus on.
Aim to be equally strong in all of the areas.
I hope this article has been useful to you.
Ian CastleShare on Facebook
Having the most unique instrument in the world requires certain discipline to ensure it is kept in pristine condition. Unlike other instruments you can’t go out and buy a new one if something happens to your voice.
Some key areas that we as singers can control are:
- Smoking and Alcohol
Our bodies react to extreme changes in temperature and humidity. It is important to try and keep your body at a regulated temperature when possible. Avoid breathing in cold air.
Avoid speaking at high levels over a prolonged period of time. The most common occurrences are sport carnivals and trying to speak over loud music at parties and clubs.
Smoking and Alcohol
Everyone is aware of the dangers that smoking poses to your health. It is not my intention to push these points as everyone has the right to make their own choices in life. However if you are serious about singing it is wise to know how smoke affects the voice.
Smoking causes trauma to the delicate membrane of the throat and vocal chords. The heat causes irritation and the membrane secretes to counter the effects of dryness. This is why smokers constantly have to “clear” their voice. To the trained singer, the effect of passive smoke can cause temporary irritation which will be serious enough to cause discomfort.
Would a brass player leave their instrument out it the rain?
Would a singer knowingly inhale smoke?
It’s your decision
Alcohol dehydrates the body. Your voice needs hydration to function properly. I’m not saying that you should never drink alcohol, but certainly not on the day that you have to sing and preferably not the night before. If you do get into a situation where you feel obliged to have a drink make sure you have a glass of water for every glass of alcohol. This will keep you hydrated.
The Triple Whammy
The effects of these “voice killers” in isolation have a negative effect on your instrument. When combined they cause “Vocal Suicide”.
- The Party. Passive smoke, alcohol, speaking over loud music, cold night.
It can take days for your voice to recover, after a triple whammy, to the point where you can sing at your best.
Does this mean parties are off limits?
No, but you must be in control of your environment as much as possible. Make the decision not to stand near smokers, find a quite place to speak, drink water to combat the dehydrating affects of alcohol.
Avoid the triple whammy at all costs! Disciple yourself, your voice will thank you for it!
There is no “set in stone” diet for a singer. There are some foods which a serious singer should avoid on performance day, and some that should only be taken in moderation.
High Fat Food
Non citrus fruit
The best diet for a singer is a balanced diet for general living. On performance day avoid all the foods in the bad column. Preferably have an early dinner to allow food to digest. If the stomach is full the diaphragm cannot descend to its flat position.
So does this mean that to be a singer you have to give up all of your favourite foods and alcohol?
I absolutely love sitting down to a beautiful thai dinner with a glass of red wine. I just make sure I don’t have to sing the next day!
Make sure you get enough sleep. The voice is one of the first muscles to tire. A solid 8 hours per night is recommended.
What to do when you have a sore throat.
Avoid lozenges as they tend to dry the throat, especially if they contain alcohol, methol or antiseptic. Chewing and swallowing a piece of apple will promote saliva. There are also some vocal sprays which create saliva and can be used as a “direct hit” of moisture. Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated.
Above all, the best way to promote vocal health is to condition yourself for performance. Follow a specific vocal regime daily. Get into the habit of being a healthy singer.
You are a vocal athlete. Every athlete follows a training regime.
How Is Sound Produced?
Sound is produced by the vocal folds which are two matched folds of tissue positioned on the right and left sides of your larynx. Your larynx is the “Bump” you can see and feel in the lower part of your neck. When the vocal chords are at rest they form a “V” shape.
When inhaling they expand to allow air in. They remain open when exhaling.
When making sound, the chords are drawn together. Pressurized air flows up from your lungs creating a ripple effect on the chords that travels through your vocal tract (throat) and out through your mouth.
In my article on breathing I discussed the use of the silent breath. The way you breathe has an impact on your vocal chords. If you take a loud audible breath, the sound that you are hearing is the air rushing past your vocal chords creating unnecessary tension. If your vocal chords are tense during the inhalation process, they will be in a tense position when you vocalize. The use of a silent breath eliminates this unnecessary tension. The vocal chords remain in a relaxed state during inhalation and therefore are in a relaxed state to vocalize.
Think of the relationship between your breathing technique and vocal chords as a garden hose! Let me explain:
- Pressurized water is pumped through a garden hose to an adjustable nozzle. The nozzle can determine how much water to let through. It controls the pressure.
- Pressurized air is pumped (by the diaphragm) through our windpipe to our vocal chords. The vocal chords determine how much air to let through. They control the pressure.
Now that you know the role of the vocal chords in producing sound, let’s discuss the onset of sound.
A good beginning to the tone is vital to the rest of the phrase that you sing.
There are 3 ways we can position our vocal chords to make sound:
- The Hard Onset
- The Soft Onset
- The Balanced Onset
The Hard Onset
During the hard onset, the vocal chords close fully after the inhalation of air. This creates a large build up of pressure. When the chords are open, the air rushes though causing an exploding sound. This sound is quite harsh and not very pleasant on the ears or the vocal chords!
AH AH AH AH AH
The Soft Onset
During the soft onset, the vocal chords remain partially open after the inhalation of air. There is a lack of pressure because the air is flowing before the chords come together. This will result in a “breathy” sound. Some artists use this sound for stylized purposes, but generally it is not an efficient way to produce a decent tone. During the exercise add a “H” before you vocalize the “AH”
HAH HAH HAH HAH HAH
The hard onset and soft onset should not be used for skilled singing. They are demonstrated here to give you an understanding of how sounds are created. There is a more efficient way to make sound.
The Balanced Onset
The problem with the hard onset is too much pressure, and the problem with the soft onset is not enough pressure. The balanced onset is somewhere between the two. The vocal chords remain relaxed in a partially closed position. There is still enough pressure to project the sound, but unlike the hard onset the sound will not explode. It is a more gradual release of the pressure.
AH AH AH AH AH
It is useful to practice this exercise with the use of vocal fry at the start of each “AH”. Vocal fry is the vibration of the vocal chords at their slowest vibrating rate. It is very easy on the voice. If you are having trouble with the sound try and imitate the “creepy sound” in the movie “The Grudge”, or the sound cartoon character “Elmer Fudd” makes when talking.
The balanced onset is vital to the development of your tone. It is important that you take the time to get comfortable with vocal fry. You can download an exercise to develop vocal fry in my article How To Develop Your Tone.
I hope you have learned something about your voice from this article.
Ian CastleShare on Facebook