As requested BY MANY FELLOW LISTERS, here is the compilation on glottal
clicks. Thank you all very much. The tried and true suggestion of
starting the air flow and then adding the voice seems to be the ticket,
especially "breathing on the vowel". We also tried the yawn approach
and it worked well, too.
The original question:
One question this time: In your own experience, what technique(s) have
you found to be the most effect in assisting a singer to overcome
A former member of our chorus has a condition that sounds a bit like
what you describe. I'm trying to remember the exact name she gave to it;
I can look that up. It was something like speech dysphasia. The symptom
is that her voice sounds like she's trembling; there is a "hitch" in her
words, and I don't remember the clinical description of what is
happening at the vocal cord level. The treatment is injections of botox
directly to the vocal cords; unfortunately that rends her unable to sing
for several weeks afterwards, then there is a period of a few months
when she can sing again before the next injection (these occur every
four to six months). She has to use her voice very very carefully, and
voice lessons at this stage of therapy are not appropriate, nor is full
participation in the chorus. I don't remember whether or not this is a
condition that will heal with the right treatment, or is chronic, and
whether it has organic or psychological origins.
For what it is worth, we choral musicians like to think of the larynx as
the ultimate musical instrument. But before it was used to sing Wagner,
it has been used since the advent of man and womankind to keep food out
of the trachea. Hey, if food gets into the trachea and then into your
lungs, your dead, so singing has to be a secondary goal ;)
The glottal click is part of the mechanism for closure of the larynx;
it's opposite action is the yawn. I know about yawns because I have
taught music history at the college level :) You know, you're sitting in
class while the instructor drones on, and your warm and comfortable and
your body requires less and less air to keep you alive. But just before
you slip into classroom hibernation, your brain tells your body to yawn.
Your larynz drops and the pharynx expands, allowing maximum amounts of
air to rush into your lungs. Some of us actually phonate during this
time, at least that's what my wife tells me in the morning!
Singers must embrace the entire kinesthetic mechanism of the yawn while
they sing, and they must avoid at all costs that "choked up" feeling
when their larynx is in a position more akin to swallowing than yawning.
(Please forgive the continued reference to the dichotomy of swallowing
versus yawning; nothing in physiology is ever quite that simple, but the
dichotomy is a useful tool.)
My knowledge of physiology is limited, but I suspect the soft palette
plays a role in this "dichotomy" by lifting during yawning so as to
increase the available volume of space in the pharynx. That's why so
many of us use warmup exercises that include initial "n" and "m", as
well as final "ings".
As I am sure you know, the glottal click also is a problem for brass
players, especially those who constrict their pharynx in order to
increase breath pressure, rather than to develop good diaphragmatic
Not certain what you mean by glottal clicks?
If it what I believe you mean, the breath must be activated from the
lower abdomen somewhat more before the vocalization. The sound needs to
follow the initiation of the breath stream.
One technique that I have found particularly helpful to avoid glottal
attacks when the phrase begins on a vowel (ie. Thompson Alleluia) is to
ask them to BREATHE IN ON THE VOWEL. This avoids the glottal attacks.
Conducting gesture can also play a major role in avoiding glottal
attacks. Be especially sensitive to the gesture at these times...a
circular gesture encourages "breathing in on the vowel."
Glottal clicks are caused by singers singing in a throaty manner,
attacking the notes straight on, and as you know, are unhealthy for the
voice. I teach my singers to think of singing as a sustained sigh. I
constantly remind them to approach notes from above and ease into the
vowel rather than "hitting" it. Sometimes I have them use a very soft
"h" to initiate the sound. That helps protect the larynx and cannot be
Issues of support and placement are integrally involved in this issue,
however. Attacks should be initiated from the abdomen and diaphragm, not
the throat. Placement should be under the eyes (in the mask), and above
the level of the mouth/soft palate.
For support and feeling the use of their proper support musculature, I
do a variety of things. One thing I do is to have them breathe low into
their bodies and feel their abdomen and lower back expand upon
respiration, and their shoulders stay down and "quiet." As they use
their breath, their abdomen moves in, but the rib cage stays out and up,
doesn't collapse. I have them slowly exhale on "ss" to various counts. I
began with 8, and now, most of my choir is up to 16. This helps them
breathe correctly and build stamina. Staccato exercises (combined with
thinking of approaching the note from above, and keeping the placement
above the level of the soft palate) help with this. I also have them
pant. This helps them feel how the support musculature works and helps
build stamina. When singers sing staccato after having experienced this
correct breathing process, the naturally correct musculature engages and
takes over, and their voice gets freer and the tone quality improves. It
also helps build stamina and increases energy in their singing, which
will improve both their piano and legato singing.
One way to help with the placement is to use paper plates. Hold them
horizontally between the lips when singing (but not wedged in tight,
with the lips clamped on the plate). Have them first sing with their
placement below the plate, then have them sing with their placement
above the plate. They should be able to hear a marked difference in
their tone. It should be brighter, more resonant and focused. The best
vocalises I have found to not only help placement, but get singing on
the breath, and to help keep the tongue, lips and jaw relaxed are
vocalises using a tongue burr and those using a lip trill. For the
tongue burr, think of the sound little boys make when imitating a truck
or car sound. The lip trill is like a horse neighing. For both vocalises
the approach HAS to be from above and the throat relaxed, or one will
not be able to produce and/or sustain a tone. The challenge is getting
your choir to be able to get over their feeling silly about making these
sounds and then actually making these sounds. Some have such tension and
their habits are so ingrained, it can be a challenge to get them to be
able to do it. Once they can however, this really frees up the voice
like nothing else. When vocalising up, their voice naturally flips over
into their head, and it really helps smooth out the passaggio.
Other ways to help them get the tone into their mask are vocalises on
"zz," "vv, and "ng," but one has to take care that one's singers keep
their jaws relaxed and have space inside their mouth as if they were
singing an "oh" or "aw" and their lips are loosely pressed together, not
tightly clamped. Again, one must really think of approaching from above
and using one's head voice.
i call that aspirating... and quite unfortunately, way too many choral
directors think it's vital to the singing of melismatic passages... IT'S
i live with an opera buff who loves "bigger, faster, higher"... we have
a ton of "favorites" we love to laugh at for their various ways of
"clicking".... especially this one queen of the night aria... the woman
uses a "g"... it's hysterical..... guh guh guh guh guh...
i have a really great group to work with... we are a Sunday morning only
group with no midweek (keeps out the faint of heart). i just yell,
"CONNECT"!!!! and they, the offenders, manage to cure themselves... but
never for good. it's an uphill battle...
a vocal coach i had once told me just to look at the passage and sing
the whole thing, and not to "think" of its parts. not that i was a
clicker, but that same suggestion has helped a few of my people. i
needed it to get me through horrible long-winded passages in a lot of
early music i was doing at the time.
I assume by glottal clicks that you refer to the glottal attack that
some pop singers begin vowels with. My voice teacher used to have us
think (but not sing) an "h" before the vowel. It worked for us.
Director of Choral Music (and anything brass!!)
Saint Patrick Catholic Church
Rolla, MO USA
I forgot to include this in the glottal clicks comp. My apologies!
1. Ask singer to sing a tone with a LOUD glottal click (stop) to become
aware of it: ?ah ?ah ?ah (? is international phonetic symbol for glottal
2. Sing the same pitch with loud "H" Hah Hah Hah
3. Sing the same pitch with an "imaginary" "H" allowing the vocal cords
come together as a result of moving air, BUT with no audible "H."
of "Bernoulli effect" where the moving air reduces the pressure in the
glottis, and the cords come together naturally).
4. Keep this imaginary H in mind whenever starting the voice without
5. Keep the (gentle) glottal stop for articulation of text when desired.
Director of Choral Music (and anything brass!!)
Saint Patrick Catholic Church
Rolla, MO USA