popular singing techniques

Singing Technique: How to Choose between Speech Level Singing vs Estill Voice Training vs Complete Vocal Technique

Singing Technique: How to Choose between Speech Level Singing vs Estill Voice Training vs Complete Vocal Technique

I’m fond of saying that for every voice teacher, there is a different singing technique.

At conferences, in hallways and in the studio, voice teachers are always thinking of new approaches to working with the voice.

But while there are many ways to teach singing, there are a few incredibly popular singing techniques that tend to produce results.

The best part?

Many of these singing techniques have been around for a while. Which means that by doing a bit of research, you’ll see which of these vocal techniques might help you achieve your goals quickest.

The truth is that different voice techniques are good for different things.

While I’d love to discuss all the amazing singing techniques and voice teachers out there, I decided to focus on the 3 most popular voice techniques for singing contemporary commercial music.

The 3 Most Popular Vocal Techniques Explained

Let’s discuss the 3 most popular vocal techniques: Speech Level Singing, Estill Voice Training and Complete Vocal Technique. Then we can talk about what each technique is good for.

Just a head’s up:

I’m not a representative of these vocal techniques. I’m just a voice teacher that is always looking to produce results in his students.

Additionally, there is so much jargon in voice training, I’ve tried to explain each of these techniques in plain English whenever possible.

First, we’ll give a bit of background of each technique. Then we’ll discuss some of the hallmarks of each singing technique. Finally, we’ll talk about the end goal of training and how it may align with your goals as a singer.

Let’s get into it!

1. Speech Level Singing Technique

The Scoop on Speech Level Singing

Speech Level Singing (SLS) is a singing technique pioneered by Seth Riggs, a classically educated vocal coach living in Los Angeles.

singing technique

Riggs’ inspiration for creating Speech Level Singing came from his studies of the Schola Cantorum and Bel Canto era of singing while getting a master’s degree in opera theatre.

Both the Schola Cantorum and Bel Canto (meaning “beautiful singing”) were Italian schools of singing in an era when the church set the bar for all singing in Europe.

Bel Canto refers to this era when beautiful singing was the standard and reinforced in every church across Europe.

After graduating, Riggs began to wonder why contemporary music did not align with the aesthetic standards of the Bel Canto era. Three years later, Seth began teaching singing in Los Angeles.

singing technique

Dissatisfied with how singing was being taught at the university level, Riggs focused primarily on instructing private singing lessons. He then created a system of teacher training to develop other teachers inspired by the vocal ideals of Bel Canto. This organization was called Speech Level Singing.

What is Speech Level Singing Technique?

Speech Level Singing is a vocal technique that aims to achieve a balanced registration or mix while keeping a resting larynx.

What does all that mean?

Here’s the bottom line:

Speech Level Singing believes that when you speak, there is no tension or manipulation in your voice because your motive is to communicate with others. The same should be true when you are singing.

singing technique

When a singer is singing from the bottom to the top of his/her voice, there is often an audible “break” or “disconnect” into falsetto. SLS holds that this break happens due to the strain of joining different vocal registers.

A register is a sequence of notes that share a consistent sound along with a similar, accompanying muscular coordination such as chest voice or head voice.

guy babusek

So here’s where SLS comes in:

Speech Level Singing is designed to help singers overcome this break or disconnect. SLS uses exercises designed to allow the voice to keep a consistent “speech-level” sound across the whole range.

The idea is to join the different registers, rather than yell or disconnect to falsetto.

The end result is one unified voice where the registers are so well blended, there’s no break or strain.

Speech Level Singing calls this blending of registers a mix.

While mixing registers, Mr. Riggs believes it is crucial to maintain a resting larynx (voice box).

The larynx is the muscular organ that houses the vocal folds. When an untrained vocalist sings a from low to high, the larynx usually rises with the pitch.

singing technique

But Seth Riggs believes that this rising of the larynx is responsible for the strain and diminished singing quality that ruins voices. So a large part of Speech Level Singing is dedicated to keeping the larynx stable even as the pitch changes.

The Goal of Speech Level Singing

The end goal of Speech Level Singing technique is to allow a singer to balance their registers so well that they have the freedom to sing whatever notes and style of music they want, with no breaks or changes in quality.

In other words, a singer should “mix” from the bottom to the top of their voice.

Seth Riggs once described Speech Level Singing as the refusal to “reach” for a note. Reaching for a note usually means that a singer will hit the note below pitch, or flat.

Here’s Riggs explaining Speech Level Singing technique in 1996:

The point is:

Speech Level Singing is designed to help singers hit high notes without straining or disconnecting to falsetto.

This mix is an ideal in SLS, and teachers believe this is desirable in any style of singing.

2. Estill Voice Training

The Story of Estill

Estill Voice Training is a vocal technique which was created by Josephine Estill in 1988.

Estill was an American singer, singing voice specialist and voice researcher.

singing technique

Jo Estill had a long career as a singer. She sang for the radio and as a soloist for 13 years before going on a European tour.

In 1972, Estill became the voice teacher in residence at the Department of Otolaryngology, at the Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, New York.

Otolaryngology is the brand of medicine that deals with the ears, nose, and throat. If you’ve been to an ENT, you’ve seen an otolaryngologist.

The bottom line is:

Having been a career singer, Jo Estill became fascinated with the science of the voice and began studying singers.

On top of that, Estill was colleagues with some of the best voice researchers in the U.S. at the time. Along with their equipment.

Here’s Estill talking about her love for the science of singing:

Jo Estill was also an early adopter of such procedures as EMG, electroglottography and videostroboscopy. Basically, all of these incredible instruments designed to study output from the voice.

The important thing to remember is:

Many of these instruments allow a scientist to see the vocal folds (or cords) as a person sings.

In fact, here’s a video of me undergoing a videostroboscopy for a look at my vocal folds.

So with the use of these instruments, Estill began to catalog singing into different vocal qualities according to what she saw and heard.

Then she began to systematically create recipes for these different vocal qualities using the parts of the human anatomy which you could directly control.

What is Estill Voice Training?

Estill Voice Training is a system for singing based on deconstructing the process of vocal production into control of specific structures in the vocal mechanism. By being able to consciously move each structure, the singer is better able to control their voice for a desired result.

What the heck does that mean?

Here’s the point:

Estill Voice Training believes that by learning to control the individual structures in our body that control singing, a singer will be able to have full control over their voice.

singing technique

Estill Voice Training believes the reason so many singers have trouble is because the mechanisms that create singing are not under the control of the singer.

In addition to learning to control the different parts of the voice, Estill categorized different kinds of singing into six ideal vocal qualities.

Those vocal qualities are:

  • Speech
  • Falsetto
  • Sob
  • Twang
  • Opera
  • Belting

Jo Estill researched these vocal qualities exhaustively, noting what each of the structures was doing to create them.

Estill studied many singers, including herself, and listed the 13 vocal figures (or vocal structures) that she believed were essential for creating these vocal qualities.

The vocal figures are:

  • True Vocal Folds (Onset/Offset)
  • False Vocal Folds
  • True Vocal Fold (Body-Cover)
  • Thyroid Cartilage
  • Cricoid Cartilage
  • Aryepiglottic Sphincter
  • Larynx
  • Tongue
  • Velum
  • Jaw
  • Lips
  • Head and Neck
  • Torso

Certified instructors of Estill Voice Training will give their students exercises designed to isolate the vocal figures and learn to use them effectively.

singing technique

The Goal of Estill Voice Training

While you don’t need to panic and memorize all these vocal qualities and vocal figures, the bottom line is this:

The point of Estill Voice Training is to learn to consciously control each of these structures so that you can create whichever voice quality you want.

singing coach

This means that a singer is aware of and totally in control of their voice at all times.

Additionally, because Estill Voice Training has a foundation in research and science, it’s been used by many speech and language therapists. These professionals have found Estill Voice Training to be valuable for voice therapy as well as singing.

3. Complete Vocal Technique

CVT: The Complete Story

Complete Vocal Technique is a singing technique which was pioneered by Cathrine Sadolin in 1992.

Cathrine Sadolin is a Danish singer and voice researcher from Copenhagen.

singing technique

Sadolin was diagnosed with severe asthma as a child and her doctors recommended that she take singing lessons to manage her breathing.

Cathrine Sadolin found the voice lessons to be frustrating due to the conflicting information she got from different instructors.

Eventually, Sadolin decided to “lock herself in her room”, not letting herself out until she understood the voice.

She began researching the anatomy and physiology of the voice, learning to emulate the sounds of her favorite singers. But Sadolin wanted to avoid the confusion she experienced in her own voice training so she set out to create an easy-to-understand vocal technique based on fact.

In 2000, Cathrine Sadolin published the book Complete Vocal Technique.

Complete Vocal Technique established a system for learning vocal technique and in 2005, Sadolin opened the Complete Vocal Institute in Copenhagen. Both professions and non-professionals now attend the Institute for classes.

A teacher training program is also active and many teachers in Europe instruct Complete Vocal Technique.

What is Complete Vocal Technique?

Complete Vocal Technique (CVT) is an international method for teaching voice. CVT is divided four main principles, and by combining parts of these principles singers can produce the sounds they want. This also makes it possible to pinpoint and correct specific problems and errors without having to change the parts the singer are happy with.

What does all that mean? And what are these four main principles?

Here’s the deal:

Complete Vocal Technique believes all sounds are created equal and can be made in a healthy way.

As long as a singer follows a few principles, any sound the singer desires can be made without damage.

The Four Main Principles are the following:

  1. 3 Overall Principles
  2. Vocal Mode
  3. Sound Color
  4. Effect

Wait, there are four main principles and three overall principles? What are those?

Here’s a nifty diagram of CVT’s principles:

singing technique

The three overall principles are basically Complete Vocal Technique’s best practices for singing.

The 3 Overall Principles include:

  • Support
  • Necessary twang
  • Avoid protruding the jaw and tightening the lips

Support refers to resisting the natural urge to release the air from the lungs while singing. In effect, engaging muscles in the abdomen will allow the singer to resist the air pressure from your lungs. Complete Vocal Technique believes support is essential for hitting high notes.

Necessary twang is basically drawing the vocal folds (or cords) together in order to avoid an overly breathy sound. This is what Speech Level Singing or Estill Voice Training might call a “speech” sound. Rather than a breathy whisper.

Finally, by avoiding pushing out the jaw and tightening the lips, CVT believes the sound will be more free.

Modes, Colors and Effects in CVT

With these principles in mind, Complete Vocal Technique asks the singer to choose between four modes or “gears” in the voice. These modes are bit like vocal effects arranged from the least amount of “metallic” sound in them to the most.

The Four Modes are:

  1. Neutral – no metal
  2. Curbing – some metal, may be used in RnB for example
  3. Overdrive – a full metallic mode, can be used in Rock
  4. Edge – another full metallic mode, but with a more sharp and screaming character

With the vocal mode chosen, Complete Vocal Technique believes the singer can change the color of their voice from light to dark according to the sound they want to achieve. A singer can change the color of their voice using one of the many different structures in the voice, such as the position of the larynx (voice box) or the shape of the tongue.

Finally, if desired, the singer may choose other effects they wish to use with their voice. A singer may use distortion or a vocal break for example.

CVT instructors will work with their students in order to achieve the most desirable sound according to the student’s taste. Generally, Complete Vocal Technique teachers will help their students find whatever sound they like. The student is the ultimate judge of how they want to sound.

The Goal of Complete Vocal Technique

Complete Vocal Technique aims to help singers create whatever vocal sound the like in a way that preserves the health of the student. According to CVT, as long as the student abides by the four main principles the vocalist will be able to create whatever sound they want without damaging their voice.

The goal of CVT is to help students understand and consciously control all of the artistic tools and sounds at their disposal.

Singing Techniques Compared

When comparing different singing techniques, it can be easy to dismiss a certain idea or term because it sounds silly or foreign. Some singing terms that once sounded foreign no longer seem strange to me.

It’s very important to keep an open mind to all the different techniques and approaches to working with the voice. Each of the vocal techniques we discussed are totally valid and can be useful to anyone.

Voice Lessons in Austin


However, some of these techniques are better suited towards a specific student than others.

Singing Technique: How to Choose the Right One for You

Some of the techniques we’ve discussed are fantastic at creating a vocal effect, such as Estill and CVT.

Speech Level Singing, on the other hand strives to create a balanced and consistent sound for the student across the whole range.

SLS places a tremendous emphasis on connecting the registers. Neither Estill Voice Training nor Complete Vocal Technique recognize registers as important.

A vocal break is undesirable in one (SLS), a lack of twang in another (Estill) and a vocal effect in the third (CVT).

Which singing technique is right for you?

What are you looking to accomplish?

learn to sing

Speech Level Singing technique may be a perfect fit for a student who is looking to get the most functionality out of their range and voice. If hitting high notes without falsetto is hard for you, SLS may be a great fit.

Estill Voice Training could be a revelation for vocalists with harmful singing or speaking habits. With Estill’s scientific focus on understanding and isolating the different vocal figures, students may find that by gaining control of their instrument, they have a healthier voice.

Complete Vocal Technique may be a god send for a well functioning singer that is looking for tons of stylistic and performance tools.

The options are endless.

One More Thought About Singing Technique

In the end, the most important aspect of achieving results with singing technique is a positive relationship with your voice teacher. If the relationship between student and teacher is not based on trust and in the student’s best interest, the singer will suffer. It’s worth doing some research on the best voice teachers in your area.

After all:

Who wants to take a voice lesson from someone that isn’t grateful to have them?

As teachers, we also have a responsibility to remain educated about the different vocal techniques available and how they can help our students. This may mean helping our students find a teacher who can help them more than we can. If this benefits the student, then we should be grateful.

If you’d like to begin vocal training with Octave Higher East, consider booking a trial free voice lesson.


Expand Vocal Range

3 Exercises to Expand Vocal Range

3 Exercises to Expand Vocal Range

One of the biggest reasons singers take voice lessons is to expand vocal range. People have done lots of research on singers like Axl Rose and Mariah Carey and have found that they have a tremendous range. Understanding your vocal range is an incredibly important first step in understanding your voice.

The best part is that for most, the vocal range of singers is not set and can be expanded. First let’s understand how to increase vocal range, then I’ll give you 3 exercises to sing higher notes.

What is My Vocal Range?

The first step in understanding how to expand vocal range is to learn which voice type you are. I’ve written another article on the different voice types. Take a look at it so you know what to expect from your voice.

To sum of the contents of the article, I’ve learned from experience that most singers are some kind of tenor (for males) OR some kind of soprano (for females).

That’s not to say that basses and altos don’t exist. Just that those vocal ranges for males and females are rare. And we shouldn’t let these labels dictate how high we think we can sing.

The fact is that most singers between the ages of 20 and 60 can expand vocal range to some degree. While we may not increase everyone’s range by octaves, there’s usually a noticeable improvement.

singing lessons work

How Does Range Work?

You may have a lower or higher voice than others, but some of the principles of range are true for everyone.

The vocal mechanism expands vocal range by thinning and lengthening the vocal folds.


This is similar to the strings on your guitar. As the size of the string gets smaller, the speed of the vibrations increase. This increases the vibrations per second (also known as hertz) which results in a higher pitch.

The opposite is also true. The thicker the guitar string, the slower the vibrations and the lower pitch you hear.

expand vocal range

Your voice works in the same way. In the larynx (or voice box), the vocal folds stretch and thin. This makes them vibrate faster and the pitch increases. The vocal cords can also shorten and thicken which would create a lower pitch.

Hit High Notes (without Falsetto)

With vocal range extension, the trick is to allow the cords to stretch in a safe and gradual way so they don’t thin too quickly. If the vocal cords thin too fast, they lose the ability to resist airflow and you may flip or disconnect to falsetto. I’ve also written an article discussing falsetto with several listening examples.


This is the flutey, breathy sound we hear when someone has not built up their ability to hit high notes without too much airflow.

How to Improve Voice Range

The best way to increase voice range is by working with exercises that allow the vocal folds to stretch while still maintaining their ability to resist the air.

The vocal folds resist air like a door that opens and closes.

expand vocal range

If the door is made of paper, I can very easily run right through it. This is what happens when the vocal folds are too thin. They can’t resist the air from the lungs and the result is a breathy falsetto.

However, if the doors are made of a sturdy material like wood, I will encounter resistance when I hit the door.

So in order to achieve a strong sound at the top of my voice, I must have resistance at the vocal folds so that I’m not just singing air on the top.

It’s very important that we have both stretch and resistance at the vocal folds in order to increase our range. Just one won’t do it. You need both.

All 3 of these vocal range exercises will help you hit higher notes without the breathy falsetto sound.

3 Exercises to Expand Vocal Range

1. The Lip Trill

Ah, the lip trill. There has never been a more powerful, yet safe exercise to help you expand vocal range.

Let your lips flop together while you sing the vowel “uh”.

In this exercise the vocal folds are in a close, safe environment. This decreases the threshold force needed to get the vocal folds to vibrate.

The lip trill is the vocal equivalent of lifting weights in outer space. By reducing the force necessary to do work, the vocal folds can resist the air coming from the lungs easily.

expand vocal range

The lip trill also promotes resistance and stretching of the vocal folds. This way, you can sing to the very top of your range without disconnecting to falsetto.

2. The “Gee”

Let’s open things up a bit.

Open your mouth and sing the bright, forward “Gee” (as in “Geese”).

By opening your mouth to sing, we lose the advantage of the lower threshold we got from the lip trill.

But we’ve got two things going for us. The “ee” vowel promotes stretch in the vocal folds. And the “G” consonant brings the vocal folds together. Just try saying “Guh Guh Guh” and you’ll see what I mean. The feeling you get when singing that glottal “G” consonant is the sensation of the vocal folds closing.

This combo of the “G” consonant with the “ee” vowel will allow you to hit some very high notes in your voice without disconnecting to falsetto.

3. The Bratty “Nay”

This is possibly the most famous Speech Level Singing and Institute for Vocal Advancement exercise for expanding range. Probably because it’s one of the most silly.

Pretend you’re a little brat on the playground and sing a bratty, teasing “Nay”.

This is even wider than the “Gee” we just did, thus increasing the chances we might flip as we sing higher.

However, the bright, bratty sound we’re using will help thin the vocal folds while keeping them together.

With this exercise, the “ay” vowel is narrow enough to discourage flipping in the passage. And the “N” consonant is excellent at resisting the air from your lungs.

A Few Things to Note

It’s important to remember that all of these exercises are temporary steps to get you singing higher notes in your range. While it would be amazing if you could expand your range by an octave with just these exercises, the end goal is to sing well on songs.

Also, please don’t read this and think that all you have to do is make a bratty sound or blow your lips together and all your notes will sound beautiful. They won’t.

These exercises simply allow the vocal folds to stretch while resisting the air from your lungs.

If you train your body to achieve this difficult task, it will be much easier to sing that way in a song.

If you’d like to learn to sing high notes in a song without falsetto, consider booking a trial free voice lesson to get started.