Singing Lessons Vancouver

What is singing technique? More importantly, how do you use it to become a more authentic and expressive performer?

Hi, I’m Mark Shields and I’m a performance coach and singing teacher based in Vancouver.

For many years I studied and went on to become a certified teacher in a singing method called Speech Level Singing™ (SLS). It is renowned as the training method chosen by some of the music industries most celebrated singers. It is a method used by 120 Grammy Award Winners, four winners of the New York Metropolitan Opera Awards, numerous Star Search winners, countless Broadway stars, television personalities, and recording artists.

This technique taught me to diagnose voice problems and many ways to work with the voice to get the results my students are looking for by using various, carefully selected vocal exercises. These exercises have been developed over many decades and are derived from techniques 100’s of years old. Being born from intuitive teachers, and being tested and modified through the years, makes these tools very effective. However, as vocal science has developed, it was becoming obvious that the descriptions that were being used to explain what we knew was already working were becoming outdated. This can cause much confusion when a teacher passes on a theorized explanation yet the student can google the subject and see an actual video of something completely contradictory taking place.

At this point it cemented my belief that no one technique holds the keys to the art of singing and decided it is better to not affiliate my studio with any one particular methodology but instead be open to learning from all the different approaches that are available that all have their advantages and disadvantages. This gives me the freedom to study, discuss and research any topic to ensure my continual development as a singer and teacher. Plus I have the freedom to pass on any of this information to my students if it is beneficial to their success.

An additional benefit to not being tied to one specific vocal methodology is the flexibility to include other important topics in my student’s training. Particularly in song application. For example, many teachers draw a line between a singing teacher, who specializes in vocal technique, and a vocal coach, who helps a student work on performance factors in specific pieces of music in their repertoire.(these terms often get mixed up in the singing community by both teachers and students and that’s why I refer to myself as a Performance Coach and Singing Teacher).

Through my own voice training and teaching I have found that separating these areas in most contemporary music styles is counter productive. The vocal technique, or lack of, that you use to portray your feelings, as you apply it in songs, affects your ability to express.  Just as your emotions, in turn, affect your technique. Therefore they cannot be dealt with in isolation without consideration for the other.  They are intrinsically entwined and influence each other constantly. Managing those interactions, not ignoring them, is the key to allowing all the parts to come together. Even this is an oversimplification of the many skills that must be developed to create jaw-dropping performances but in my experience if you work with a teacher who is too deeply focused on just one facet of the voice it leads to frustration because they often miss the big picture of the singer and artist you are trying to become because their objective overtakes your goals, which should never be the case.

Now that’s not to say there will not be uncomfortable moments in your singing training. Quite the contrary actually, if you are to grow you must be pushed outside of your comfort zone. But if you are patient, take direction well and practice frequently (and also correctly) yet months later you feel you are not at least moving towards who you want to be as a singer, then the chances are your teacher is overlooking your artistic vision.


So why is good technique essential for your sustained success as a singer?

Well to start with, there are many singing methods out there. Some of these techniques focus on one part of the voice, while others focus on a different part.

For example, classical styles often develop the high part of the voice (head voice), which can leave the bottom part of the voice (chest voice) neglected, weak and even seem non-existent.

On the other hand, in musical theatre the chest voice is the focus and in turn the head voice is the neglected part. This can lead to tuning difficulties and even damage to the voice as the singer tries to take all the weight of the chest voice in to their higher registers because they have limited or no access to their head voice.

With no previous voice training, most singers will develop one part of their voice in this manner as this is much easier than learning to transition between the different parts of the voice (most untrained singers may not even be aware another part of their voice exists).

As a result of this, most singers have problems as they move from the bottom of their voice to the top or vice versa. There will be distinct tonal changes as they move into different parts of their voice with undesirable results that can include any of the following:

  • The voice sounds like two different voices in different ranges
  • Abrupt changes, flips at certain points of the voice
  • A complete loss of sound in parts of the voice
  • A breathy, light tone in certain parts of your range
  • A consistent or intermittent nasality in the voice
  • A tight/choked sensation in some areas of the voice
  • Tuning issues
  • Vocal hoarseness/tiredness
  • Significant or permanent damage to the vocal cords

So what can I help you do better?

To better explain lets look at the analogy below:

Imagine an athlete training for the 100m sprint and another training for Javelin. Should the sprinter only exercise their legs? Should the javelin thrower only exercise their arms?

Of course not! Can you imagine if a sprinter didn’t move their arms and only their legs when they ran (lets’s say this is the equivalent of developing only your chest voice) or if a javelin thrower just stood stationary and only used their arms to throw (let’s say this is the equivalent to only developing your head voice)! Can you imagine how restrictive that would be? Not to mention the competitive disadvantage these athletes would be up against when competing against well rounded athletes who have trained to use their entire body.

Instead, they develop and strengthen their body as a whole. This is what good singing technique helps you accomplish.

The upper body strength a sprinter develops helps add power in his/her performance, much like your head voice extends the range in which you can comfortably and consistently sing. The power from a javelin throwers’ legs allows them to build momentum in their run-up which they inject into their throw, much like the way your chest voice adds strength to your head voice and allows a much larger selection and range of material to be performed.

By training their whole body, their performance is not only improved but they can also change disciplines because they’ve not neglected the other parts of their body. This is much the same as singing technique. If you only focus on what you need for your genre, it’s very difficult, if not impossible to diversify and sing in another genre. By developing the entire voice, your voice is not limited  any one given style. Instead it’s a method to develop correct vocal fold function that can be applied to any style or genre the singer desires.  Preserving my student’s individual style is a huge priority for me. To read more on this check out my page The Role of Singing Technique.

Now this sounds like common sense so far but when it comes to singing, because these functions are internal, we lose a grasp of how apparent this choice should be. The benefits of developing your chest and head voice, your voice as a whole, are countless and should be just as obvious.

How do we join the different areas of the voice to create one smooth voice?

Technique is developed to encourage the natural function of the voice throughout your entire range from your chest to your head voice. After assessing your voice in your first lesson, it’s my job to find what part of your voice needs to be developed. Maybe your chest voice, maybe your head voice, maybe both. Then the most important aspect of successful singing is to develop a function called “mixing”.

A “Mix” is where the singer blends part of the chest and head voice as they move through transitions called the “Bridges” of the voice(passaggi in Itlaian). At the bridges, as the singer ascends or descends in pitch, it feels like the singer is using a blend of both parts of their voice to create the desired note. Hence why this area is often called middle voice, blended voice, mixed voice or simply “the mix”.

The blending of these different parts of the voice is what creates one continuous tone from the singers’ bottom to top note with no abrupt changes. By singing with elements of both parts of the voice you create a stronger head voice and by blending chest in to your head voice it’s not necessary to use a dangerous belt (using all the chest weight) to hit high notes that will then fall flat for pitch or even worse damage the voice.

For some of you, this may sound complex, I barely had any notion of what head voice was when I started my training but you don’t need to understand this jargon. In a voice lesson I’m not going to direct you to get in to your mix by moving in to your head voice earlier to ensure you have split resonance! If you don’t understand this, or have never experienced these things, that would be impossible and pointless.

So how do we build this new co-ordination and develop your voice? You’ve never experienced it before so how will I get you there?

Well I’ll use tools to help you experience the sensations required to “mix”, to discover your “chest voice” etc. These tools will include different scales, consonants, vowels, funny sounds, anything that will allow you to create the desired result. What I will ensure is that anything I ask you to do will be things that are under your control and more importantly are achievable. If something doesn’t work, we’ll simply use another tool. This ensures your progress and prevents the frustration that can affect your motivation  when one tool is continuously used that doesn’t produce a positive result.

These tools will help you achieve two primary objectives:

a)   to freely transition between the different vocal registers

b)   maintain vocal cord adduction (your vocal cords stay together)

Singing is essentially a balance between air and muscle. By providing you with tailored vocal exercises for your specific vocal issues we can focus on these two objectives. This will create the correct air to muscle balance and develop your voice to have one consistent tone from the bottom to the top of your range and vice versa. No flips, cracks, fatigue and abrupt changes in tone.

Now you have the basics down all you need to do is schedule a lesson to STUDY WITH MARK today and get the results you have envisioned for so long!


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