Vocal Improvisation – What’s The Story

October 2, 2014 — 55 Comments

I took part in a vocal improvisation master class yesterday ( Wednesday 1st October 2014 ) at the RCS in the Agos Opera Studio.  The class was given by Anne-Liis Poll and Anto Pett two fabulous teachers from Estonia.


Anne-Liis Poll

Anne-Liis Poll is one of the most leading improvisational singers of Estonia. She is also an eminent teacher of singing and improvisation. She has taught singing at the Estonian Institute of Humanities (theatre students), singing and improvisation since 1996 in Drama School of Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre (docent) and since 2001 at the University of Tartu Viljandi Cultural Academy. Anne-Liis Poll is also improvisation pedagogue at Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre.


Anne-Liis Poll

Anto Pett

Anto Pett is one of the most well-known free improvisators and improvisation teachers in Estonia. He  graduated with piano studies from the Tallinn Music High School in 1978 under the guidance of Ene Metsjärv. He continued studies at the Tallinn State Conservatoire in piano class of Virve Lippus, studying also composition with Eino Tamberg and improvisation with Hugo Lepnurm, and graduated in 1983. He has developed original teaching method and introduced it in several music academies in Europe (Helsinki, Stockholm, Leipzig, Odense, Paris, Riga, Marseille, Bordeaux, Vilnius, Glasgow, Gdańsk

Anto Pett

Anto Pett

The main concept that I took away from the lesson was to be aware of how you can portray emotion through your consonants.  Your consonants initiate your vowels so if you work on the emotion you project it will encourage a dramatic tone in your vowels too, which hopefully creates an exciting text for the audience 🙂

Here is one of the exercises that we were asked to try out.  We used a Syllabic language ( made up sounds ) using a consonant followed by a vowel.  You could use any consonant sound from any language that is the best thing about improvisation.

For example :


We began by changing every syllable on a crotchet at a slow 4/4 tempo. Then we were asked to speed it up, changing every quaver, every semi-quaver and so on … This helps to improve your articulation and your speed of imagination.

When you try this exercise it sounds a little like beat boxing. We began by passing around the room sounds in a call and response manner.

We then explored the difference between unvoiced and voiced consonants

Unvoiced consonants.  – unvoiced consonants are consonants which rely on the air being disturbed by the teeth, lips, tongue without using the vibration of your vocal chords

Voiced consonants –as the name suggests are consonants which require the vocal chords to play their part in the production of the sound.

Many consonant sounds come in pairs. For example, P and B are produced in the same place in the mouth with the tongue in the same position.

The only difference is that P is an unvoiced sound (no vibration of the vocal cords) while B is a voiced sound (vocal cords vibrate). Put your hand on your throat as you say the pairs below to feel the difference.

This leads us on to other partner consonants such as

F and V
T and rolled R
S and Z
K and NG (nasal)

You use similar placement of the tongue in the mouth which allows these partnered consonants swift movement between the changes. So you can produce the sounds very quickly and efficiently, which is so helpful for a singer.

For example the tip of the tongue creates the T on the top ridge of the mouth and the rolled R is rolled behind the top teeth.

It was great to see the development of these exercises as we all joined in.


Having fun with the improvisation exercises



As the lesson progressed we touched on tuned percussion, the speaking voice and then the singing voice.

The class helped me with my understanding of how vocal improvisation can be used in the development of my singing technique and help my warm ups and vocal exercises.

55 responses to Vocal Improvisation – What’s The Story


    Interesting how you can exercise your voice to stay in vocal shape. Thanks


    Thanks for this insight into your work at college, Charlotte.


    It may interest you to visit Tanya Tagaq’s website and listen to some of her throat singing. Although calling Tanya Tagaq an Inuit throat singer is like calling Yo-Yo Ma a cello player. (quote from the below website)

    She recently won the Polaris Prize. Here is an address for one of her songs:

    Stay Golden!


      I’ll make time to listen thank you for the link. I’d love to master throat singing as Uncle Spike from Uncle Spikes Adventures issued me with a challenge once 😊.
      Best wishes


    You really interesting courses ..how we can sculpt the sound, beautiful sharing.. and you’re doing fine Egyptian hieroglyph ;-))

    All the best my Dear.


      I like the phrase ‘sculpting the sound’ I want to sculpt my own sound ☺️. Merci Pascal.
      Best wishes


        Yes Charlotte, it’s like your draws, your cards, your bags, it’s the save with your voice ;-)) you create your vibrations with your colours and your light !
        I sculpting my pictures, you sculpting your voice !

        All the best for you


    This is marvellous Charlotte. I love analysing the way the voice can shade sounds to convey various meanings that will be understood by the atuned ear. My voice teacher has done a great deal of scientific and physiological analysis of how the body produces and support vocal excellence. That kind of approach is vital if we are going to advance the craft and raise it as an art and a science. You are getting fantastic training and I cannot wait to see you touring the world!


      Your teacher sounds inspiring Beth, we have vocal science lessons once each week, it’s very important to understand the mechanism you’re using to produce your sound.
      Best wishes


    Interesting. I like the picture at the top, though the not as much as the more formal photos you posted recently. Do you ever listen to Jazz vocal improv, like scat? Although she sang with a natural sound instead of a trained voice, Ella Fitzgerald could do amazing things with her voice.


    Walk like an Egyptian hmmm the Bangles move. Had an opera director in a community chorus do something similar. Warm up was Va vee vah vee vooo. Amazing how that consonant let you soar lyrically in the upper register. 🙂 Also he would do the consonants but talk about coloring words and notes. It gave emotional effects to the tone. He would say color the note blue or color the note yellow. We would respond. Dr.John Weinel He is a professor at Lee College and does Voice Studies. He performs in Houston Operas. A tenor. If you ever get the chance meet him. I think you two would have much to exchange.https://www.houstongrandopera.org/hgochorus/ https://www.facebook.com/johnweinel 🙂


      I like the concept of using colour, I like to expand on using warm colours and cold colours adding adjectives like rose blush pink for a shy sound, or hot gel pink for sultry. I have made a note of Dr Weinel to look him up thank you.
      Best wishes


    From reading, this class could be a hard class.


    Fascinating how many exercises you need to do to keep your voice in shape. It is working because you have a beautiful instrument. Xo


    Fascinating to read that exercising your voice is as strenuous and necessary as exercising the body 🙂


    I wish you best of luck & continue your goals


    I hope to learn many things during a day. Experience new music. Read new writers. Learning about vocal coaching was enjoyable. Many thanks.


      Thank you Adam, these episodes are all part of my life and I like to write about my training so it’s not just all about me or the final recording, hopefully it will show the bigger picture of what training is like, I’d have loved to read something like this as a teenager.
      Best wishes


    Sounds so interesting! Now I know what my wooden frog is for ! 😀


    My God, Charlotte, how did you find the time to compose this excellent.post?
    Very informative.

    I spent years trying to get people to hear the difference between voiced and unvoiced. I usually fell back on ‘of’ and ‘off’. In desperation I would hit them with the following: One ‘f off’ for ‘of’.


      Hi Rod, I wrote it down straight after the class in my reflective journal then I adapted it for my blog post, it helps me to keep a track of my progress.
      All the best


    What a great post. Thanks!


    Great post, Charlotte! Hard work and good fun rolled into one. Nice to learn to do something that makes such a positive difference so quickly.


    It looks as if you might be “improving” the Bangles.


    Very interesting piece!


    This is so interesting – and it really sounds like fun too! Love your poses 🙂


    I remember vocal improv classes at Lamont School of Music. So intense!


    I do not know how to roll the R. 🙂


    This is fascinating!


    Wow, I love hearing the nitty gritty of techniques. Thanks.


    Posts like this kind of make me wish I took voice lessons; I’ve picked up a lot of stuff on my own, but I’m sure I could improve more with an actual teacher. Sounds like you’ve got some great ones.


    Looking chipper Charlotte! 😉


    I bet that being an opera singer must require lots of discipline and efforts… But it is worthwhile if you have the innate talent!. Lucky of You… Best wishes, Aquileana 😀

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