Tag Archives: Earl Harville Vox

21st Century Commercial Singer’s Skills Toolkit



This is not your father’s music industry anymore. The landscape has changed tremendously and is morphing continually. Singers are having to adapt a lot to survive in the world of contemporary commercial music (CCM). It is no longer enough to have vocal chops. Vocalists have to think more holistically as musicians and creators to navigate the waters of the biz.


Where I have had periods with few of my students thinking of serious careers as singers, the past couple of years have seen the turning of the tide again. I am now having lots of discussions with those who are looking to attend college programs with CCM emphasis or who are looking to get their music out to the public and hit the stage soon. They possess a lot of talent, great discipline, and passion for the craft. Here are some of the things that have come up in our conversations about what the modern vocalist needs in terms of skills, knowledge, and temperament.


  1. Treasure your vocal technique.

Singing is, of course, about communication and connection. That should be our aim. BUT in order to be freed from hindrances and to keep the vocal instrument healthy, it is imperative that singers honor their voices by developing really good technique and keeping it sharp. I remind them that they should look at this as a career-long endeavor. Some voice lessons every so often over the years even when active as a performer will be really helpful. I always say “the work never ends…..”.


  1. Remember that you are a vocal musician.

I used to talk with my middle school choir students about not being ‘the dumb musician’ as a singer. I admonished them to learn as much about the language of music as their friends in band and orchestra. I have that talk all the time now with my current private students who are pursuing singing careers seriously. I stress the need to learn theory and harmony. Learn to sightread. Learn the language of music in terms of dynamics, tempo, and expression. They will garner much more respect from their instrumentalist peers.


  1. Learn to play piano or guitar.

I think this a huge deal. For one, it makes understanding music theory and harmony so much easier. It also practically allows the singer to be more independent, not having to rely on other musicians so much. It facilitates  the development of songwriting skills. And it’s just plain cool to be able to accompany one’s own singing.


  1. Write your own music!!!

I think it’s very important for artists to have as much stake in their own music in this modern music industry model. For artistic and financial reasons, I challenge my singers to explore the art of songwriting.


  1. Embrace music technology.

Again, it is vital for a modern singer to not only sing well but to also have at least working knowledge of the tools that are such huge part of the creative process. They should become knowledgeable about the digital audio workstations (DAWs) that are commonly used in recording music today. It is good to have functional familiarity with at least a couple of the most popular ones such as ProTools, Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Studio One, and Performer.


  1. DON’T BE A JERK!!

Good people skills can never be over-emphasized. Great chops and musicianship may get them the first gig or two, but they won’t get called for the next big tour by a huge artist if people can’t stand to be around them for 4 weeks of rehearsal and 3 months on the road. They need to know that they can be replaced quickly and easily.


  1. Know who you are.

I admonish my singers to be comfortable in their skin. Learn to love their quirks and uniqueness. I want them to accept what are their natural vocal/musical strengths and know how to feature them while continuing to challenge themselves by working on their weaknesses.


  1. Be flexible.

I challenge my students to try a lot of different styles of music and learn from them. It will be important for them professionally, especially if they are sidemen and sidewomen.


  1. Background singers are the ultimate vocal athletes.

My students know that I adore backing vocalists for their versatilty and range. I remind them that it is not just a way to get one’s foot in the door, but can be a very lucrative career path in and of itself.


  1. Remember to thank me on your liner notes and when you win your Grammy.


I kid, I kid………..



BAM!! POW!! HI!! : The Singing/Speech Connection- Part 2

Hello….and Happy Spring!!!

Here is the video with demonstrations and further explanations of the exercises I introduced in my last post. Remember to warm up before trying them out. ENJOY!!!

Be on the lookout for my “UNLEASH YOUR VOICE” vocal exercise series coming very soon.

BAM!! POW!! HI!! : The Singing/Speech Connection- Part 1

We all know that balance is the name of the game when it comes to good vocal production. We are aware that yelling is not optimal to the health of the instrument. Neither is an anemic, unenergized way of singing. Both can lead to undue tensions in the throat and be evidenced by a high larynx. I find that clients can achieve a good sense of vocal equilibrium by becoming more aware of how they use their voices when they speak or call out (not yelling) and how healthy chest voice is important for the voice as a whole. Let’s face it- when people think about singing, they often screw things up by trying too hard to make it sound one way or another. Approaching vocalizing from a place of just making sound can keep the student from overthinking and, perhaps, let their production become more reflexive.

Here are some exercises that I am using more often to help students make the mental and physical connections between speech and singing functions. I find them helpful for pullers and timid singers alike.

1) ‘POW’- It’s very natural for a student to make a very energized, physically engaged sound with this one. I have the singer to speak the word several times as if they were mimicking the sound of an explosion or a punch (think the old “Batman” TV series). I find it helpful to have the client place their fists in their sides or two fingers at the solar plexus to get an awareness of how the body supports itself naturally when making an energetic declamatory sound. After saying the word a few times, we move on to singing it in a comfortable pitch range. I tell them not to actually think singing at this point, however, because it tends to take them out of a strong but unforced sound. I want them to focus on ‘sounding’ and not ‘singing’ yet. Depending on the singer’s tendencies, I either take them up in range by half steps on single notes with a short sustain, or go with either a 1-3-5-3-1 pattern or a five note scale. They are not allowed to increase volume as they ascend. I remind them that the sound will thin a bit as they travel from chest into middle voice. For the hard core pullers, I have them to monitor the movement of the larynx and the base of the tongue with their thumbs.

2) ‘BAM’- The approach with this one is largely the same as the previous word. I will sometimes start the singer in middle or head voice, with a child-like pharyngeal production (think Bam Bam Rubble from “The Flintstones”). We then work downwards towards chest voice then ascend again. When I ask students to rate the difficulty of this sound ( On the ‘Dial of Difficulty, 1 is super easy and 5 is ‘call an ambulance- I think I tore something), they seem surprised that they don’t have to go past a ‘3’ for a very solid but free sound.

3) ‘HI’- I user single tones almost exclusively with this sound. I have the client to speak ‘HI!’ then immediately sing it on an assigned pitch. Again, I like for them to think that even the sung tone is really just elongated speech. I take them up by whole or half steps from near the top of their speaking range through their middle voice, at least. They are reminded to let the pitch of the spoken ‘HI!’ start to rise as if they are increasingly excited. For some, it helps to have them think child-like if they feel like effort is increasing. Some of my strongest chest pullers are noticing less strain getting through the first bridge.

I will be posting a video soon to share demonstrations of these exercises.


Agility and Style 4: Descending Minor Pattern with Fall-off and Added Fifth Jump

HAPPY 2017!!!

I now bring to you the more advanced version of an exercise I shared a couple months ago. It marries technical work (register balance, legato, resonance) with style elements, namely developing the flexibility and aural awareness needed to do runs, riffs, and licks successfully. I have added a jump of a perfect fifth to the beginning of the scale run which increases the difficulty level a bit. Make sure to spend some time with the previous version in the “Agility and Style 3” post before undertaking this exercise. Be careful of not locking the jaw muscles or the tongue as you execute the fifth jump. Start slowly then work up to a faster tempo.

This exercise is very effective and a lot of fun…so have a good ol’ time with it.

Happy singing!!!


Agility and Style 3: Descending Minor Pattern with Fall-off

Over the past four years, I have been intentional about finding or creating exercises that are technically and stylistically appropriate to my clientele, which is comprised of mostly non-classical singers. We want to develop register balance and connection, good legato, and good projection while also addressing some of the style elements as well.

The exercise featured in this clip is a fun and effective tool to train the ear and the voice. I use it with my students to prepare them for tackling riffs and runs as well as to work on smooth register transitions. This is the first level of the exercise – Level 2 follows in an upcoming video. Try it out- you’ll have a ball!!

Happy crooning!!

To schedule lessons or a FREE 15 minute consultation, call (562)387-8025 (leave voicemail) or email earlharvillevox@gmail.com.



The Puffy ‘Oh’ Exercise

Happy autumn to all!! It’s been a little while since my last post. I hope all is well.

I have discussed the use of semi-occluded vocal tract exercises in several posts on this blog because of their great efficiency as warmups and cooldowns. They reduce the amount of lung pressure used to produce sound and help us find good closure of the vocal folds. We can generally access a rather large pitch range without stress or strain. They are also helpful in re-balancing the voice if it tires during a period of a lot of speaking or singing. Lip trills, tongue trills, hums, the ‘ng’, and fricative ‘v’ and ‘z’ are commonly used by singers.

Right now, there is a huge focus on the use of the straw exercise in many vocal studios around the world. Science has shown it to be an extremely effective tool in balancing the voice. I use it a lot in my own teaching. Today, I want to emphasize the exercise that I consider to be its fraternal twin- the puffy ‘oh’. They both benefit from a positive back pressure that aids in the previously mentioned vocal cord closure. I have found the latter exercise to be as efficient or maybe even more so than the straw.

Check out the video below to gain more insight and try out the exercise for yourself.




Open Up and Say ‘AGH”!

In recent months, I have been drawing my students’ attention to the merits of the rogue vowel sound ‘agh’. Early on in their training, they often perform pharyngeal sounds in an effort to establish some level of mix. For some, it has even allowed them to find elusive head voice tones as well as taking off undue pressure off of chest voice. Plus it can be fun to make such a bratty noise- even the adult students like it!!


I now want my students to realize that ‘agh’ has great value beyond the exaggerated ‘witch’s voice’. I am emphasizing the importance of the wonderful ring we get from even a normalized production of this vowel that is so important for healthy voice production, regardless of the style they sing. We are using ‘agh’ as a centering vowel to establish openness and an awareness of resonance before connecting it with another vowels. I am finding it helpful in keeping singers’ ‘ah’ vowels from becoming overly dark and the ‘oh’ from being overly rounded, especially for my classical students.


Here are the exercises that I am currently using:


  1. ‘Agh’ vowel with tongue extension- Students are asked to let the tongue hang out of the mouth. This heightens the sense of openness and is a great way of sneaking a tongue stretch into the exercise routine. The octave and a half pattern or octave arpeggio are the patterns I employ most often here, but an octave down arpeggio may be good if the student still pulls chest a bit. I really like for students to watch themselves in the mirror for this one to be aware of mouth shape and tongue activity.
  2. ‘Agh’ with tongue extension to ‘ah’ or ‘oh’- After evenness is found with the previous exercise, we then move to another open vowel. I use ‘oh’ most often. The tongue is again extended on ‘agh’, but then is allowed back into the mouth for the following vowel. The ring established on the first vowel should remain on the second. Students are moving to ‘oh’ with less tendency to go a bit nasal or to round the lips too much, allowing them to keep a more consistent tone. They tend to stay with a more pop mix approach instead of a more covered choral sound. I again use the octave and a half pattern mostly.
  3. ‘Agh’ without tongue extension to ‘ah’, ‘oh, or, ‘uh’- I now move to a five tone scale, which tests the waters of the mix further, since it adds more resistance to the vocal folds. I urge students to change mouth shape very little as they move from vowel to vowel.
  4. ‘Agh’ to close vowels- Using either an octave arpeggio or the five tone scale, ‘agh’ will now go to ‘ee’ or ‘ooo’. I save this for last because there will be a bigger adjustment in mouth shape now. Again, the hope is that the ring of the first vowel will be maintained in the second.

I have been having students to employ what Lisa Popeil refers to as ‘belter’s bite’. It’s the posture of preparing to bite into an apple. It can be very helpful with students when singing with an edgier approach like in gospel, rock, and belty musical theater.


For my more classical choir kids as well as my powerhouse pop and gospel singers, this approach has been extremely beneficial. They are finding more consistency in their mix and more aware of the sensations when singing in their middle voice.
Happy Singing- MIX RULES!!!!!