Episode 19 – Ian Davidson on Vibrato | Mucous | Tone Deafness



Today’s rocking song is from Marcelo Vieira & Jraynium. It certainly has a hell of a drop!


On to the interview… with voice coach, Ian Davidson.

Ian Davidson

Ian Davidson is the founder and director of Balance Vocal Studio in Liverpool, along with Kaya Herstad Carney. A former Level 3 SLS singing teacher, Ian was one of the founding members of the Vocology in Practice network and taught voice for ten years at the world renowned Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. Ian now lectures at the Institute for the Arts Barcelona and flits back and forth between Liverpool and Spain.


He has also had a UK Christmas number 1 with the Justice Collective and worked with Guy Chambers! Whaaaat!

The Justice Collective - He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother (Official Video)


If that’s not enough, he’s a gospel choir expert, AND has an MA in Vocal Performance. This guy.


For the questions…


Darren Webster – “I’m a freelance singing teacher and musical director in Glasgow, Scotland. I’m enjoying brushing up and learning new ways of teaching. 

How do you teach vibrato?”

Let’s start with what is vibrato? Vibrato is an oscillation of the vocal cords. It helps to avoid a note going flat, or under pitch, as you sustain a pitch. It helps to relieve excessive pressure on the vocal cords and has a harmonic effect on the voice which warms a tone. BUT, quoting voice scientist Ingo Titze, vibrato remains a phenomenon. It’s not fully understood.


Two muscles in the voice are largely responsible for the oscillation in pitch. They are the Vocalis muscle, also known as the Thyroarytenoid (TA). That is the muscle that runs through the vocal cord itself. Another muscle located at the end of the Vocalis, and is attached to connecting cartilage, is the Cricothyroid (CT). This muscle essentially activates and creates a stretching effect on the Vocalis, raising the pitch. An oscillation between these two muscles creates vibrato, in simple terms. Between 5-7 oscillations is considered to be healthiest, but it can differ between singers.


Why use vibrato? Well, it helps to warm a sound. It also helps to balance tone and helps with more accurate pitching. It is also commonly used as a way of lowering a larynx and relaxing a singer across strained notes or long sustains.


As for training vibrato, it can be a quick fix to just concentrate on the right vowel production. Using the vowel ‘UH’ (as in mother) to guide other vowels. Saying EE (as in feet) with a shade of ‘UH’ blended in helps to achieve the right kind of vocal posture, if you will. It settles a voice enough to get vibrato.


For those who don’t have it right now, it’s difficult to develop but it can be done. We need to feel something similar to get things ‘swinging’, and creating a fluctuating airflow can be a good start. You can do this by panting on the sound you’re making, but a better alternative is to press in to the solar plexus at a suitable vibrato rate to create a feeling of vibrato.

You need to have a good belly of air for this. Over time the neuromuscular system can take over and reproduce this feeling, right at the vocal cord level.


The limbic system, which is the ‘emotional’ part of the brain, can also be responsible for vibrato production and development. It has been researched that choirs are able to synchronise their vibrato without consciously trying. There is also evidence to suggest that choir members heart rates also sync. Madness!

This system is also what influences natural vibrato. The kind that is evident in someone who is very upset, scared and trembling. Hence, singing teachers often use a cried sound to develop vibrato to mimc the emotional situation in the voice. Cry quality also compresses the vocal cords a little more, which solves breathiness and can instantly facilitate vibrato.


Either way, vibrato requires a singer to be relatively relaxed and balanced in their vocal use. Good medial cord closure will really help, and reduced tension will also be a huge factor.


Eileen Ede: “As the vocal cords are composed of mucous membrane, it’s safe to assume they produce mucous. Apart from infection and reflux, what would cause an increase in the production of mucous and what can be done to reduce it?”

Ian suffers from allergic rhinitis, and is thirty times more allergic to dust than your average person. He has to take an antihistamine and a steroid nasal spray everyday to control it. Both of these medicines have an adverse effect on the voice, but not taking them results in inflammation and post nasal drip. This is where mucous from the nose runs down on to the vocal cords all day, and all night. This creates gunk, can inflame the vocal cords, and transfer any infections from the nose to the throat. Constant post nasal drip can easily cause laryngitis after a while.


It is advisable to use a nasal rinse kit (not a Netty Pot) with saline solution to help with allergic mucous build up in the nose, especially if you are a singer.


As for diet, diet affects everything. Reflux is a big factor for many and there are many treatments for it. Not all of reflux is a result of high stomach acid, contrary to popular belief. Occasionally there is a problem with low stomach acid and the knock on effect of that, and also gas build pup from certain foods affecting the oesophageal sphincter. This means that acid isn’t held firmly in the stomach but can leak into the oesophagus and burn the vocal cords.


Dave: “I’m tone deaf. What can I do to help this, if anything?”

We made this question up, but only because we know that Ian has completed a masters in this subject and we wanted to hear more about it. Apologies (not actually sorry).


Anyway, during Ian’s study he found that tone deafness was firstly a clinic condition, called Amusia. The is as a result of certain neurones in the brain not firing correctly, or even missing. Studies in to this are being carried out by Brams in Montreal (www.brams.org), which concludes that roughly 4% of the population has a congenital tone deafness. There is a test on Brams website that may be able to give you an idea if you have Amusia, for anyone who feels they may be a sufferer.


A much higher percentage claim themselves to be tone deaf, however. For these reasons, Ian decided to conduct a study with a bunch of people, who are linked to performing arts in some way, but are self-proclaimed tone deaf. And surprisingly, he managed to get all of the them to sing in tune very quickly!


It turns out that, after some deeper research, the subjects passed the test for Amusia, and so weren’t clinically tone deaf. Looking into their pasts, there were many occasions where the opportunity to get together and sing as a child wasn’t there. An even more notable point, was that each and every subject can remember an occasion in their childhood where they were publicly humiliated for their singing. This led Ian to the conclusion that many tone deaf people actually have a phobia of singing, and many showed a oddly strong fear of singing ‘happy birthday’. There wasn’t a definition out there for a phobia of singing, so Ian coined the phrase ‘adophobia’.


That’s it folks!


If anyone would like to talk with Ian in regards to anything in this episode, or indeed anything else at all, you can find him in these places:

w: www.balanceyourvoice.com

e: ian@balanceyourvoice.com


Join us next time for an exciting interview with Ingo Titze. Only the worlds biggest voice scientist! The golden content continues.

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