Dr. Nicholas Miguel’s Teaching Philosophy

 

Vocal pedagogy covers technical, musical, emotional, dramatic, and professional areas of learning (among others). All of these elements should be taught deliberately, and thoughtfully, while considering best practices and evidence-based pedagogical methods. The teacher should affect a positive change in every student, helping them meet their potential, find and develop a voice that fits their goals and talents, and mentor each student through the process of growth and discovery. Teaching is an act of service, and the teacher’s ego must be second to the needs and desires of the student.

 

I believe that the voice can be taught to behave differently and that different styles of singing are an acquired skill and not simply innate to a voice. I believe in fact-based pedagogy that acknowledges the realities of vocal anatomy, bio-mechanics, acoustics, phonetics, and the effectiveness of traditional methods, while also recognizing the principles of motor learning, the limits of verbal explicit instruction and the necessity to consciously translate technical or metaphorical ideas into the implicit learning of the body. 

 

The goal of vocal instruction is to inspire students to make and share music, and to help the student develop a technique that is sustainable and resilient, freely controlled, and effective. The singer should be able to sing everyday for several hours a day without injury, and they should feel that they can progress toward their desired sound ideal. They should develop technique in the areas of alignment, breathing, phonation, resonance, articulation, and artistic communication. They should also come away with strong musicianship skills, a familiarity with the repertoire, confidence, and experience performing on stage.

 

I view vocal pedagogy not as a means to a singular correct technique of production, but as a system through which an understanding of the vocal options available to a singer can be discovered and learned. I believe in the validity and value of diverse musical genres and the vocal techniques that are a part of them, including but not limited to Musical Theater, Contemporary Commercial Voice, Gospel, Jazz, Early Music, Art Song, Opera and traditional music genres. I believe that evaluating healthy vocal production is not an aesthetic judgement but a consideration of whether a sound can be produced sustainably. Similarly, I believe that the whole voice of every voice is valid and valuable: A man’s falsetto is not fake and a woman’s chest voice is not dangerous. They each represent an entire mode of production that can be cultivated or not based on the singer’s goals and preferred style. Differences between voice classifications are differences in proportion, not type.

 

I believe in instruction that teaches the body - implicit learning. This is best achieved through guided experimentation, guided awareness, measured feedback, structured exercises, and thoughtful repertoire selection that grow and solidify physical skills, not just verbal knowledge. Those things that can be taught directly, ought to be, and students should be informed about the voice and what they are practicing to a level appropriate with their age and experience.  Explicit instruction can aid in learning in two primary ways: it can guide the student’s attention to perceptual information they may have not been aware of, and it can help them monitor their own results better. However, it can also distract from and inhibit physical learning; and therefore, these tools are best used wisely and in tandem with implicit learning strategies. 

 

It is the teacher’s job to guide the vocal experimentation of their students so that discovery is made quickly and appropriately and to structure the repetition of skills so that they are acquired and retained. The body learns to sing through a process of experimentation, discovery, and repetition within the context of communication and music making. Students must experience something, not just be told about it. Transfer of skills and finding ways to make the student their own model can be the most effective methods. This is primarily accomplished through vocalises, exercises and repertoire that eliminate complexity, set the student up for success, and help them focus on a problem. If possible, everything should be presented in an atmosphere of music making and communication: the vocalises should be as musically rewarding as possible and the repertoire inspiring. 

 

When generating instruction, I first consider the sound ideal for that student. This is a combination of the student’s goals and imagining the best sound that that particular student will likely be able to make working in that direction. Next, I consider the physical technique that will be needed to make that sound a reality. This is relative to what the student is currently doing, which requires diagnosis based on the sound the student is making, their appearance doing so, and feedback from the student. I then consider how the body might learn to produce the physical change desired, remembering the limits of explicit verbal instruction. I then decide which exercises, vocalises or lessons will most effectively apply that strategy, and finally I consider the presentation that will be most appropriate for that particular student. I consider the verbiage used, the social atmosphere, the amount and kind of modelling used, etc. 

 

I strive to incorporate the best practices of interpersonal interaction that help students feel comfortable, heard, and valued. Central tenets of my communication philosophy include expressing value and validity in their voice; showing empathy; clear, honest and compassionate presentation of challenges; and collaborating with them in the development of their voice.  Voice teachers should also be aware of the legacy of racism and gender bias in our field and consciously weed out those viewpoints and implicit biases inadvertently learned along the way. Particularly, teachers should avoid using traditional vocal pedagogy ideas to affirm a Euro-centric cultural hierarchy, and using gender-based voice type categorization to override personal gender identity and expression. 

 

I feel that it is important to have a grasp on what I am able to teach my students and to have a written arsenal of lessons and exercises. This comes with the humble recognition that I have a finite number of lessons, and the acknowledgment that it is easy to overlook an area of instruction, and difficult to keep track of a student’s comprehensive learning over the long term. For this reason, I have created a toolbox of lessons with a short title for each lesson that I teach my students. I am constantly adding to it and discovering new approaches.

Dr. Nicholas Miguel’s Vocal Lessons Toolbox

 

This toolbox is not designed to be learned from top to bottom, but rather as-needed for each student. As a lesson is taught and learned it can be marked, notes can be made and it can be revisited as many times as desired. Likewise, strategies and lessons that are not effective for a particular student can be indicated, so both teacher and student can keep track of what has been tried already and what strategies might still be effective. New methods, strategies, and ideas can be added as they are discovered, but through the writing of this document, the teacher is better able to organize their instruction and the student is better able to see all that they might learn from their teacher and has evidence of the teacher’s thoughtful approach to their instruction. Students can also use this to help them remember what they have been taught and keep track of learning over the long-term.  

Lessons are organized based on the general area of technique with which they might be most associated, but as all things in voice are holistic and interconnected, one area will most certainly affect another, and it is up to the teacher (and perhaps student) to identify which approach might make the most impact on each student’s development in that moment. In addition to this toolbox of lessons, the student should be given an arsenal of notated exercises in order to remember how to put these lessons into action. Musical passages were not included here because any vocalise can be made to focus on a variety of vocal lessons depending on the intention of the instructor in the vocalise’s presentation. 

 

  • Cognition

    • Audiation: Hearing the melody in your head

      • Hearing without sounding

        • Melody

        • Chords

        • Melody and Chords

      • Mouth whistle trick

      • Instrumental imagination

      • Anticipatory Audiation

      • Listening to other instruments

        • Singing along with other instruments out loud

        • Following along with other instruments in head

    • Kinesthetic image of movement

      • Mental practice run

      • Movement of body in the voice

    • Holistic action of body & In the moment awareness

      • Eye focus up and out

      • Listening to music around you

      • Mindset of “and” 

        • Noticing the space around you 

        • Wordless - no running dialogue

      • Wordless physical singing “gesture” 

        • Movement thought

        • Sound thought

        • Space thought

        • Sensation thoughts (placement etc.)

    • Trust

      • Joy of trusting the body

      • Instinct to make noise

    • Affect

      • The Feels

      • The Bubbles

    • Inflection

      • The natural inflection of dramatic speech

 

  • Alignment & Relaxation

    • Alexander Technique

    • A-O joint looseness

      • Head bobble

      • Forward and up idea

      • Head is not your eyes

      • Head is not your face

    • Body map of Jaw

      • “5th limb,” difference from head/skull

      • Softness of jaw drop and slide

      • Buck teeth with the finger on inhalation

      • Molars together to set resting position of jaw

        • Shaping and speaking vowels in this position

          • Piratey or old-timey focus to sound in this position

          • Use to feel creation of space up and around stable jaw 

          • Massage muscles with natural pout lips

    • Body map of neck and spine

      • Length of neck from A-O joint down

      • Spine/ back is not straight

      • Location of center of gravity

    • Body map of arms

      • Shoulders, chest, arms = arms

      • Releasing downward pull

    • Body map of hips

      • Hip rock forward and backward

    • Body map of legs

      • Joint with hip, bending at the socket joint

      • Knees forward

      • Ankle joint

      • Monkey exercise

    • Body map of foot

      • Center of gravity and arch of foot

      • Weight even across the feet

    • Rag doll

 

  • Breathing

    • Body map of breathing

      • Location of the lungs

      • Location of diaphragm and function

        • Muscle of inhalation

        • No sensors, and largely involuntary

      • Movement of breath vs. location of breath

    • Inhalation

      • Simple breath vs. technical contortions

      • Sufficient breath vs. tanking up

        • Suspend positive breath phase to find sufficient

        • Waiting breath

      • reflexive breath - using elastic recoil to breath in

      • Coordinated offset  

      • Rib movement lower, and upper

      • Arm displacement vs. raising shoulders

      • Abdominal relaxation and viscera displacement

      • Pelvic floor relaxation

      • Passive, floating arms

      • Relative breath (to phase of breathing)

      • Singing volume vs vital capacity

    • Noticing phase of breathing

      • Positive Breath Phase

      • Neutral Breath Phase

      • Negative Breath Phase

    • Impoverished Breath

      • No prep singing

      • Negative breath singing

    • Exhalation

      • Efficient breath that uses elastic recoil 

      • Avoiding immediate collapse

      • Appoggio, leaning

      • Support vs. pushing: more is not always better

      • Importance of phonation and using the air in breath management

      • Using Vocal Fry to find more efficient breath use

    • Holistic use of breath

      • Inspiring the phrase

      • Maintaining the intention of the music from breath to breath

      • Dancing the breath

      • Trusting the breath

      • Spinning the breath’

 

  • Phonation

    • Establishing Mode 2 (head voice/falsetto)

      • Woop

      • Bird calls

      • Full range of Mode 2 (bringing it low)

    • Establishing Mode 1 (chest voice)

      • Holler/ call of the voice

      • Finding “real life” moments of energized chest voice

    • Finding and Experiencing Mode 1 mix (male head voice/ chest mix)

      • Using SOVT to find  balance in M1

      • Full chest vs. mix

      • Mixing low

      • Narrowing up higher

      • Slender and thinner doesn’t mean breathy

      • Stretchy feeling like Mode 2

      • Imitating the sound of Mode 2 

      • Sirens and slides with a high shift

      • Levels of mix

        • near -Mode 2  (p)

        • Focused mix (mp)

        • Full mix (mf)

        • Robust mix (f)

    • Full range exercises for putting it all together

      • Arpeggios

      • Scales

    • Finding and Experiencing Mode 2 mix (reinforced falsetto/ female middle)

      • Using SOVT to find focus of sound

      • Yodels to find solidity

      • Imitating the chest mix

      • Sirens and slides with a low shift

      • Coming from full head voice/upper middle for solidity

      • Transfer from closed vowels for sound focus

      • Reverse switch exercises (mode 2 low, mode 1 high)

    • Exploring Adduction

      • Breathy voice

      • Pinchy voice

        • Pinchy belt/ held-back sound

        • Pinchy head-voice

        • Rocker yell

        • Cartoon voice exploration

    • Ingressive Phonation

      • Using ingressive phonation to find more CT in sound balance

      • Duck-lip pucker and pinch with ingressive phonation

      • Feel of supraglottic pressure to balance excessive subglottic pressure

      • Use with molars together, and in through nose inhalation

      • Lips-buzz muzzle on ingressive

      • Ingressive fry

      • Ingressive noisy whisper

    • Balanced flow phonation

      • Sigh

      • Singing on neutral breath/impoverished air to find efficiency

      • Feeling of air movement through vowel / resonance

      • Using Vocal Fry to find flow phonation

      • Using unvoiced aspirate consonants like ‘th’ and ‘sh’ to initiate flow before phonation

      • Hum chop-chew with pirate focus

      • Finger-carrot chomp (bite with lift)

    • Semi-Occluded Vocal Tract Exercises

      • Lip flutter

      • Raspberries (lip-tongue)

        • Functional tension squish for resistance

        • Dirt-bike vs moped sound

      • Straw Phonation

        • Pinch end or valve it for resistance

      • Straw Phonation into water (bubbles)

      • Hand over the mouth

        • Hum and then into hand

      • Tight-lip SOVT

      • Loose-cheeks SOVT

      • Buzzy u

      • /v/, and /z/

      • Nasal consonants

      • Pinpoint focus - forward and up / out 

        • Avoid deep in throat placement

        • “Blatant” placement

      • Flow before phonation in SOVT

    • Stretching the voice

      • Sirens

      • Revving

    • Strengthening the voice

      • Chest voice- stable Long tones

      • Messa di voce long tones

    • Onsets (beginning sound)

      • Coordinated/balanced or clean onset

        • Anywhere but out feeling

        • Maintaining suspended feeling

      • Glottal or hard onset

        • Harse onset

        • Lightswitch onset

        • Creaky onset

      • Aspirate/Breath or soft onset

        • Delay onset

    • Offsets (stopping sound)

      • Coordinated offset

        • Breath stop

        • Breath in

      • Glottal offset

        • Kiss off

        • Clamp down

      • Aspiriate offset

      • Return to suspended feeling

 

  • Resonance

    • Placement sensations

      • Forward

      • Back

      • Up

      • Chest

      • Pharynx

      • Mask

      • Nasal

      • Hard palate

      • Soft palate

      • Personal Sensations:

      • Gathered at lips

 

  • Vowel Formation: tongue and mouth shape (spoken)

    • /ɑ/ “hod”

    • /ə/ “uh”

    • /ʊ/ “hood”

    • /u/ “who’d”

    • /o/ “oh”

    • /ɔ/ “hawd”

    • /i/ “heed”

    • /I/ “hid”

    • /ɛ/ “head”

    • /æ/ “had”

    • /y/

    • /Y/

    • /ø/

    • /œ/

  • Vowel patterning for acoustic balance across vowels and range

    • Ya, yo, i-a, i-o  etc. preface 

      • Yo - a for baritones

      • i - a for tenors

    • ae -a, ae- o, ae- i, etc. preface

    • 0-a, preface

    • Wa, u-a preface

  • Vowel changes in singing

    • Mid- /i/

    • Mid -/a/

      • Lateral /a/ “aww, shucks”

      • “Fun” uch 

    • /u/ changes, tongue and lips

    • Mouth opening flexibility

    • Maintaining wideness of un-rounded vowels

    • Passive vowel modification through Acoustic Register shifts

    • Instrumental quality of voice first and vowel second mentalitiy

  • Soft palate, Velo-Pharyngeal-Port, and Nasalance

    • /ɑ̃/

    • /õ/

    • /ɛ̃/

    • /œ̃/

    • Raising and lowering the soft palate

    • Difference between naslance and nasality

  • Acoustic Registers/Vowel Tracks (VT) and the Passaggio

    • Lower tracks VT 3+ (open timbre)

    • Vowel track 2 (holler, call, yell, belt, open timbre)

    • Mixed track 1.5 (turned, covered, mixed, lower middle)

    • Vowel Track 1 (hoot, woop, full head, upper middle, vowel track)

    • Mixed tract .67 (head mix, flute, upper)

    • Mixed Track .5 (whistle)

    • Male 1st passaggio

    • Male 2nd passaggio

    • Female 1st passaggio

    • Female mid passaggio

    • Female 2nd passaggio

    • Back room of the vowel

    • Under-vowel concept

    • Head tilt in upper register

  • Exploring Mouth opening for registration

    • Starting very closed and opening until resonant

    • Starting very open and closing until resonant

    • Opening through a number of acoustic registers

    • Closing through a number of acoustic registers

  • First Formant Tuning

    • Glottal whisper

    • Under-vowel concept (complementary vowel)

    • Predicting overtone locations

    • Back room of the vowel

    • Dark pharyngeal resonance

  • Second Formant Tuning

    • Whisper whistle (mouth whisper)

    • Predicting overtone locations

    • Bright hard palate resonance

    • Front room of the vowel

    • Over vowel concept

    • Absolute spectral tonal color pitch series for vowels

      • B-A-G-D-B-A-G

  • Spectrogram

    • How to read the spectrogram

    • Using vocal fry to see formant locations

    • Using spectrogram to predict quality of resonance (acoustic register)

    • How untuned formants amplify white noise

  • Vocal tract adjustments

    • Moving the larynx (larynx pushups)

    • Swallowing reflex

    • Yawning reflex

    • Ingressive draw-down

    • Singing shallow and then singing deep

    • Singing deep and then singing shallow

  • Ciaro-oscuro: the bright and the dark

    • Back-room is actually middle

    • Front is in the back and back is in the front

    • Finding dark resonance with aid of hands

    • Finding dark resonance with mouth shape

    • Finding bright resonance with mouth shape

    • Finding bright resonance with nasal consonants

      • /m/

      • /n/

      • /ŋ/

    • Finding ciaro-oscuro resonance with Vocal Fry

  • Exploring Resonance with hands

    • Hands at cheeks 

    • Wrists-out

    • Extra tube

      • Using extra tube to explore effect of ‘fish lips’

    • Hand muffle

    • Duck-lip squeeze for loose lip pout

    • Grandma squish with sound gathering cup of palm

 

  • Articulation

    • Legato

      • Riding the momentum of the voice

      • Avoiding glottal grabs

      • Avoiding glottal aspirations

      • Maintaining vibrato through pitch changes

      • Singing on vowels alone

      • Using SOVT to manage consistent connection to the voice

    • Finding resonance and pitch on voiced consonants

      • /l/

      • /v/

      • /z/

      • /ð/

      • /ʒ/

    • Timing of consonants

      • The vowel on the beat technique

      • The consonant on the beat technique

 

  • Communication

    • Finding the subtext

    • Identifying the persona

    • Intention of persona

    • Backstory and setting

    • Audience, object

    • Baggage of the words

    • Composer’s decisions illuminated in the music

 

  • Musicianship

    • Music Theory for Singers

      • Major scale as series of W and H steps (3-4 and 7-8 Half-Steps)

      • Skills needed to read music

        • Read notation  (Bb, C, D, etc)

        • Recognize sound relationships in notation (Do Re Mi)

        • Recall sound relationships (what Do Re Mi sounds like)

        • Produce sound with voice (actually singing it)

      • Reading Notation

        • Reading Treble Clef (G clef)

        • Reading Bass Clef (F clef)

        • Reading Moveable Clef (C clef)

        • Accidentalls: Sharps, Flats and Naturals

      • Recognizing Sound Relationships

        • Flat keys

        • Sharp keys

        • Relative minor

        • Interval reading

        • Recognizing patterns

          • Triads (chords)

      • Recalling sound relationships: practice labelling the sounds you know

        • Solfege, Numbers, Intervals, Transcription, improv, (below)

      • Producing the sound

        • Muscle memory

        • Relative physical high-ness and low-ness

    • Solfege

      • Diatonic scales

        • Do based major (Ionian major) (mode 1)

        • Dorian minor (mode 2)

        • Phrygian minor (mode 3)

        • Lydian major (mode 4

        • Mixolydian major (mode 5)

        • Locrian (mode 7)

        • La based minor (Aeolian Minor) or Natural minor (mode 6)

        • Melodic Minor

        • Harmonic minor

        • Melodic Minor modes

      • Pentatonic scale

        • Major pentatonic

        • Minor pentatonic

        • Blues scale

      • Symmetrical scales

        • Diminished or Octotonic scale (W,H,W,H….)

        • Whole tone scale (W,W,W…)

        • Chromatic Scale  (H,H,H,H,H….)

      • Do based minor

      • Fixed do solfege

      • Key changes (modulations)

    • Numbers

      • Scale Degrees

    • Intervals

      • Relation to Scale degrees (1 to ascending)

      • Inversion relation to scale degrees ( to descending)

      • Whole step/whole tone and Half step/semitone

      • Tritone (7 to 4) (diminished 4th or augmented 5th)

      • Random interval practice

      • Just intonation vs equal temperment

      • Quarter tones

    • Solfege improv

      • Call and Response (Tonal memory)

      • Improvisation

      • Major

        • 3 note

        • 5 note (Pentatonic Scale)

        • 7 note

        • Scale full range

        • With Dorian drone

        • With Phrygian drone

        • With Lydian drone

        • WIth Mixolydian drone

        • With Aeolian (Natural Minor) Drone

      • Mixed major and minor

        • Pentatonic mix

        • Scale full range with modal mixture

        • Full Chromatic

    • Transcription of known melodies

    • Playing melodies on the piano

      • Basic hand movement

      • Playing chords on the piano

    • Rhythmic Reading

      • The division of the whole note

      • Dotted modifications

      • Beaming

      • Rests

      • Text underlay notation (beaming and slurs)

      • Meter

        • Basic Principle: # of beats/division receiving the beat

        • Simple

        • Cut

        • Compound

        • Meter shifts: finding what stays the same

    • Rhythmic sense

      • Tapping foot

      • Discretely tapping toe

      • Tapping heel (left and right)

      • Marching

      • Keeping beat with one hand

      • Tapping rhythm with one hand

      • Keeping beat and tapping rhythm

      • Conducting

        • 4 pattern

        • 3 pattern

        • 2 pattern

        • 1 pattern

      • Finger method for beat tracking

 

  • Style

    • Coloratura/Melismas

      • Glottal articulation (extremely fast)

        • Trillo articulation

      • Aspirate articulation (fast and very clear)

      • Balanced articulation (connected and resonant)

        • Voiced h

        • Repeated coordinated onset

    • Slides and Portamento

      • Vibratoed portamento (classical)

      • Scoop 

      • Grind (up slide) (popular)

      • Grind (down slide) (popular)

      • Quick change with a connection

      • re-articulating

    • Ornaments

      • Classical

        • Turn

        • Schleifer

        • Trill

          • From above trill

          • From below trill

        • Trillo

        • Appogiatura

          • Vienese Appogiatura

        • Grace notes

        • Mordent

      • Popular

        • Hammer-down

        • Hammer-on

        • Hammer-on & release

        • Flip

        • Major Pentatonic riffs

        • Minor Pentatonic riffs

      • Vibrato

        • Straight to vibrato (croon)

        • Vibrato to straight (use for stress)

        • Constant vibrato

        • Constant straight tone

        • Stability of breath with vibrato

        • Vibrato rate and extent

        • Using spectrogram to view vibrato consistency

 

  • Tempo

    • Leading the beat

    • Laying back on the beat

  • Rhythmic Character

    • Accented syncopations (20th century onward)

    • Unaccented syncopations (before 20th century)

    • 2 groupings and 3 groupings (Renaissance and others)

    • Hemiola (Baroque through Romantic)

  • Language accent patterns

    • French--stress final  ………._.

    • Italian-- legato/staccato   _..._..: .._.: .._.

    • English and German-- Teutonic stress .^. .^. ^. ^...^..^.

    • Spanish-- Syllable timed ……….^.

  • Melodic modifications

    • Jazz/popular

      • Front Phrasing

      • Back Phrasing

      • Recomposition

      • Riffs

        • Pentatonic

        • Diatonic

        • Mixed

    • Classical

      • Cadenzas

    • Renaissance

      • Ornamenting a melody

    • Baroque

      • Ornamenting a melody

 

  • Practice Skills

    • Warming up

      • Recording of warm-up

      • Structuring Warm-up

      • Favorite Exercises:

  • Learning melody

    • Singing along to piano track

    • Singing along with metronome

    • Stream of consciousness practice

  • Text learning

    • Reciting text alone

    • Writing out text

    • Flash card method

    • Cover-line method

    • Learning methods

      • Read translation, recite poem

      • Read poem, recite translation

      • Read translation, recite next line of poetry

      • Read poetry, recite next line of translation

  • Instantaneous translation

  • Warm-ups and vocalises:

    • Onsets

      • Onsets lean vs touch

      • Step onsets lean vs. touch

      • Triad onsets lean vs. touch

      • Separated and Connected bounce

        • Short triad

        • Full octave

        • Extended arpeggios

      • No breath pause