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No head voice

We’ll call him Walt.  Teenage male.  Fifteen years old, and a sophomore in high school.  Voice changed more than two years ago.

Well-developed falsetto, with easy access.

And when we tried to sing lightly in upper register, his muscles switched him to an octave high in falsetto.

So Walt and I tried to sing together a slow glide up from a3 to d4 on /u/, and at c4 his voice just jumped up a fifth to a4, and in falsetto.

Clearly the upper passiggio is a problem!

So what to do?  The slow glide up should work, no?

We tried to shorten the length of glide, from a3 to c4.  And that worked.  We sang this on /u/, /e/, /a/, /ɔ/, and /ɛ/.

Then we moved up to a#3 to c#4, and then to b3 to d4, running the same series of vowels.

And bingo!  He was able to sing through the passaggio.  Now he repeats daily for several weeks to gain muscle response, strength, and flexibility.


Eden’s Rs

I have a student, Eden, who somewhere along the way picked up a great deal of tongue activity and tension on the retroflex R sound at the end of words (and sometimes at the end of interior syllables).  She doesn’t speak with the a tight R, so this is clearly a habitual event that is now part of the overwhelming muscle memory.

Aside from customary exercises attaining space and freedom and ease on the inhalation, I gave Eden a series of words to sing, slowly and with care.

On a descending 3-2-1 pattern, sing ‘rot.’ Repeat.  Sense the tongue activity that quickly disappears into the vowel.  Then on the same pattern sing ‘tore,’ saving the final R for the instant of release.  This is challenging when the tongue wants to starting seizing up into a lugubrious R sound two pitches early!


Other combinations:

  • rid/dire
  • crack/car
  • rent/tear
  • road/door

Words with initial R sound that are safe for vocalizing:

  • rum
  • rank

Words with multiple R sounds, where the student can be mindful of producing the final R the same way as the initial:

  • rear
  • dreary
  • roar
  • radar
  • rover
  • rare

Another exercise I gave Eden was to mindfully sing word combinations with R at the end, but with alternating fricatives and nasal consonants at the beginning:

  • fire/mire
  • fore/more
  • fear/meer
  • far/mar


And another exercise: on the same pitch, sing a long tone on the word ‘foe,’ then sing the same long tone, now doubled, on the word ‘forest’ or ‘foreign,’ keeping the R out until it’s the initial consonant of the second syllable.


IPA samples

Over 1000 art song lyrics were researched to find phrases that contain a frequent occurrence of the vowel and consonant sounds as introduced in the Lyric Diction Workbook Series. Each video includes IPA and highlights prominent Italian, German, and French artists.

Thank you for visiting the website!

Kind regards,


Cheri Montgomery
Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University
Author of the Lyric Diction Workbook Series and Co-author of Exploring Art Song Lyrics (Oxford)

Check it out!


Sample resources on the ‘Web

My colleague Carole Gaspar prepared this list of sample resources for singers and studio teachers, to which I have added numerous other sites..

Art Song

Art Song Central – limited amount of free downloads in public domain

Art Song Update – news, reviews, and updates for art song enthusiasts

American Art Song – website of the Society for American Art Song

Latin American Art Song – premier site for Latin American art song

Recmusic – Lied, art song, and choral texts archive, but not always the most reputable quality


Free Translation – a basic on-line translator

Google – Google’s on-line translation page

IPA Source – a one-stop shop, but not free after the first few downloads – but well worth the cost!


Barihunks – blog about baritones with numerous video clips

Ian Bostridge

Christine Brewer

Joyce DiDonato

Renee Fleming

Rod Gilfry

Nathan Gunn

Thomas Hampson


Free Scores – search for ‘vocalises’ or ‘Concone’ or ‘Vaccai’ on this website for free downloads of vocal exercises and etudes in the public domain

Hal Leonard – publisher or owner of much of the vocal canon

Hyperion Records – endless riches of information

Indiana University – free scores of songs in public domain

Naxos – more endless riches just by using the search bar

Pedagogues & Organizations

James Daugherty – University of Kansas professor who leads a graduate program in choral/vocal pedagogy

Shirlee Emmons – many articles on singing and teaching

Hyperion – links to various composer societies & trusts, and composer appreciation pages

Lotte Lehmann Foundation – supports emerging singers and composers

Poets – The Academy of American Poets

W. Stephen Smith – author of The Naked Voice and faculty member at Northwestern University

Voice Care Network – a primary US educational organization