BWW Blog: NYC Vocal Coach Bob Marks - Common Misconceptions about Singing

By: Apr. 13, 2016
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When you consider how many hundreds of small muscular contractions are involved, the fact that most people can instinctively use their breathing muscles, vocal folds, and filters for speaking is pretty remarkable. This is in large part thanks to our brain, which takes care of a lot of bodily functions so we don't need to be consciously aware of them. Unfortunately, our voices' ability to run on autopilot may leave us thinking that our voice is operated by some sort of magical element, leaving us unaware of harmful habits. Because most people never get a chance to see how their voice operates in an MRI or through a stroboscopy, it is very easy for us to accept misinformation about how the voice works. This is understandable - if you'd never seen under the hood of a car, you'd probably have difficulty picturing how that works, too!

Here are a few common misconceptions that I run into frequently:

"Sing from your diaphragm." The diaphragm is a flat, pancake-shaped muscle of inhalation that sits underneath the floor of your lungs. It is actually passive on exhalation, meaning we can't "use it" to make sound. It is frequently confused with the abdominal or intercostal muscles, which are used to help manage the release of air.

"To fix _____ about your singing, you need more air." You need the right amount of air, which may be more or less than you are using. For example, when singers have an overly breathy quality, they might be told to use more air to increase the amount of power in their sound. However, more air in this case will just cause the vocal folds to blow apart, worsening the problem.

"You need to open your mouth more." You need to have the right sized space for the sound you want, which may be larger or smaller than another singer based on the unique qualities of your voice. It is a very individualized process. More important is to relax your jaw.

"You should start with the study of classical music, which will prepare you for all types of singing." The truth is, singers get injured in both classical and non-classical styles if they go too high, too long, or too loud for their current level of development. However, it is absolutely possible to sing beautifully and sustainably in all styles of music without having sung a note of classical repertoire.

It's important to study with someone who understands all aspects of the voice, regardless of whether he or she is a performing singer. Knowledge of anatomy, physiology, phonetics, as well as music, will help you explore the direct link between how you breathe, phonate, and shape your singing voice.


Noted vocal coach Bob Marks specializes in helping singers showcase their talents to their best possible advantage. He is in the process of writing a new book (with Elizabeth Gerbi) about auditioning for musical theatre. Until the book is published, is pleased to offer weekly bits of audition advice. Please feel free to submit any specific questions you'd like to have answered in these blogs.

Bob Marks maintains a busy vocal studio in New York City, working with performers of all ages and levels of experience. He also teaches performance workshops throughout the US and Europe. He was a pianist with the original Broadway production of Annie, and spent two seasons as the Associate Conductor of the St. Louis Muny Opera. For several years, he was the host and musical director of the acclaimed Youngstars performances of professional children in New York City. His well-known clients have included cast members of almost every current musical on Broadway, and stars such as Ariana Grande, Lea Michele, Natalie Portman, Laura Bell Bundy, Constantine Maroules, Britney Spears, Ashley Tisdale, Debbie Gibson, and Sarah Jessica Parker. He holds a degree in speech pathology, and has taught at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, the Professional Development Program for the New York Singing Teachers' Association, and at Nashville's Belmont University as a special guest artist. As a vocal coach, his clientele ranges from beginners to Broadway cast members, as well as singers of cabaret and pop music. He is an expert in helping performers present themselves to their best advantage in auditions and onstage.

Elizabeth Gerbi, Assistant Professor of Music Theater at the State University of New York at New Paltz, is well known across the Northeast as a singing teacher, voice coach, choral conductor, and music director/pianist (150+ productions). As a singer-actor, she has appeared in regional productions ranging from Annie Get Your Gun to I Pagliacci to The Kenny Rogers Christmas Tour. Recent projects include musical directing The Chris Betz Show at Rose's Turn and The Sage Theatre in NYC, Side Show and Tommy at Westchester Broadway Theatre, The Sound of Music at the Wagon Wheel Theatre of Warsaw, Indiana, conducting Dreamgirls and Seussical at Debaun Auditorium in Hoboken, NJ, adapting Starmites 2000 with Broadway composer Barry Keating, and accompanying master classes for Broadway veterans Ken Jennings, Lindsay Mendez, and Lisa Howard. She is also a former consultant for the Rodgers and Hammerstein Music Library, and currently serves as a both New York State School Music Association Solo Adjudicator and a respondent for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. She attended Ithaca College (Bachelor's of Music in Voice Performance and Music Education) is a Level-III graduate in Somatic Voicework: The LoVetri Methodô, and completed a Master's in Music Education from Boston University.

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