MVMusik logo

Notes On Notes

Episode 8: Q & A #1

0:00 / 0:00
Episode 8: Q & A #1

Today I’m answering your questions!

What if lip trills really don’t work for me?

What if I don’t get nervous when I’m performing?

How do I sing a song that’s making me cry?

If you have a question you’d like answered in a future episode, please email me at


[01:19] Question 1 – What if lip trills really don’t work for me? (in response to Episode 5)

My lip trill tutorial video:

Helpful YouTube videos on straw phonation: 
“The Science Behind Straw Phonation” from The Voice Straw

“Vocal Straw Exercise” from NCVS, the National Center for Voice and Speech

[08:12] Question 2: What if I don’t get nervous when I’m performing? (in response to Episode 4)

[13:40] Question 3: How do I sing a song that’s making me cry?

You can subscribe to Can’t Wait to Hear You wherever you get podcasts.  If you have a question about your voice or how you’re using it, please email

Our music is thanks to Katya and Ada.
The show is edited by K.O. Myers at Particulate Media.


Your voice is unique to you. It grows as you grow. It changes as you change. If you’re curious about the relationship between your voice and your body, your heart and your mind, welcome. My name is Michèle Voillequé and I can’t wait to hear you. 

So today I’m going to be answering three questions that I’ve been asked over the last couple of weeks that have to do with stuff that I’ve talked about on the podcast. So hooray, people are listening and you’re thinking, and you’re asking questions. I love it. 

So we’ll put the timestamps in the show notes so you can skip ahead if a question isn’t interesting to you or if you want to go back and re-listen to an answer. And let this be an invitation to send me a question – I would love to know how this, the things I’m saying are landing with you and, what more can I do to help?

So the first question is from a student I’m working with right now. When I recorded the episode, “Why YouTube Warmups Might Not Work For You,” I sent out an announcement to my email list and I included a link to the lip trill video that is in the show notes to that episode. 

It’s a tutorial on how to do a lip trill, how to make this sound [lip trill] because that’s a sound that shows up in a lot of YouTube warm up videos and people think if they can’t make it, then they can’t sing and they’re not worth, they’re just, self-esteem goes through the floor. So, I wanted them to have, um, a tutorial, if they wanted to brush up on their lip trill or just finally learn how to do one.

And my student came in for a lesson and said, “I got your video, I watched the video. I still can’t do a lip trill.” And so we sat down together and tried something else which is called straw phonation, which is where you take an ordinary drinking straw and you put your lips around it, and you make sound. You blow through it in kind of a humming way. And I’ll demonstrate that [straw phonation].

So that’s what I sound like humming through a straw. The nice thing about straw phonation is it accomplishes the same thing that a lip trill does. It provides resistance to the flow of air, and that resistance helps balance your vocal folds. 

In the show notes, I’m going to link to a couple of YouTube videos that go into this in more detail. One of them is actually an ad to buy a special vocal straw so that you can do straw phonation. 

You can buy a special straw if you want, and a regular drinking straw will work, or a straw for a boba tea that’s a little bit bigger, or maybe you already have a stainless steel straw wandering around your life. 

Any straw will do. Obviously, the smaller the straw, the more breath you’re gonna need, the more breath energy you’re gonna need to get the air through it. If you’re finding that you’re running out of breath, or this is making you really dizzy, or you don’t feel very good, um, you can try a slightly bigger straw.

Often, the feeling of dizziness that happens when we try something new with our voice, whether it’s singing a longer phrase or learning to do a lip trill or practicing straw phonation, often that dizziness is a sign from our brain that it thinks we’re doing something stupid and it wants us to stop. 

The brain wants all the oxygen for itself, for thinking. And when we do something that seems kind of wasteful, like singing or, [lip trill] or, [straw phonation], your brain freaks out. It’s just trying to keep you safe. So you can be safe – practice sitting down so you don’t, you’re not in danger of falling. But you may notice that as you practice, um, that feeling doesn’t happen so much anymore. 

Your brain gets used to it. It realizes, “Oh, okay, she’s going to keep doing that. It’s all right. We can still think. We’ve still got enough oxygen here. It’s all good. We can stop stop setting off warning bells.”

So you can use straw phonation in the same way that you could use a lip trill on a melody, like I did, Happy Birthday. What I want you to notice is I didn’t [straw phonation with tooting]. I didn’t toot it out. So if you’re gonna be using a melody, if there’s a repeated note, just uh, don’t put in any artificial Hs, don’t articulate with your tongue, just run all of that together. 

[tooting lip trill] I’m accomplishing that with an H as opposed to [connected lip trill] where I’m just sending air through and I’m not interrupting it.

Another example, “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” [tooting straw phonation] – not so useful, better to go like this: [connected lip trill]. And on your way down, you want to try to make those stair steps down as smooth as you can. 

So, one of the ways I describe it is, feel like you’re sliding down the banister, rather than clomping your way down the stairs in your mother’s high heeled shoes. 

Clomping your way down the stairs sounds like this: [straw phonation] It’s not bad, it’s just not as useful. Because clomping is what your voice does all the time when you’re speaking. The vocal folds are starting and stopping all the time because we like to hear spaces between words when people talk, and you can feel in your throat that your larynx moves up and down a lot when you talk. That’s totally normal and really good. 

And when we’re singing, we want the larynx to be more stable and we want the air pressure to be more stable. And we want everything that doesn’t have to be working to not work. And so that means smoothing things out.

So, I hope that’s helpful. Well, it was for my student. We had a really good lesson, and, uh, among the things he noticed, when he was using the straw, he was much more aware of the resonance inside his head, like the space inside of his head felt really buzzy and really big, and that’s what we want. 

That was the big takeaway. also just the encouragement that uh, there’s a version of the exercise that would work for him. And that’s great. So if you’re not so good at a lip trill, try straw phonation and, um, let me know how it goes.

The next question I got was a phone call with a friend in response to the episode, “Me and Performance Anxiety.” He said, “I listened to the episode, I thought it was great, and what if I don’t get nervous?”

I’m paraphrasing, but he said, “I feel like you’re, you’re trying to say that everybody’s going to have performance anxiety when they get up to do something. And I’m just not really sure that that’s true. And do you really want to tell everybody that they’re going to be anxious? Because like, what if they haven’t even tried it yet and now they don’t want to do it because they’re afraid of being anxious?” 

And I thought that was a really good point.

My friend is, was in radio for 30 years, was a morning guy, uh, doesn’t have any problem being in front of a microphone, right? So of course, topic of performance anxiety doesn’t exactly automatically speak to him. 

So, I said, yeah, well, yeah, I can see where you’re coming from, and one of the most helpful things that I have been told about feeling nervous is that the feeling of nervousness means that you care about what’s about to happen. 

You either care about what it is that you’re saying, and/or you care about the audience’s response. You’re invested in what’s about to happen. Your nerves are a sign that you care. 

And when you can, or, when I can understand that my nervousness is a sign that this is important to me rather than something’s gone horribly wrong, um, that really helps me move through the situation, and kind of reframe what’s happening here. 

Oh, this is, this is important to me. Why is this important to me? What am I hoping to get out of this? What’s going on? And when I can be compassionately curious with myself about why this is important, why this matters, then I have a better grounding to go through it or not, you know, do it or not.

So what I want to say is that if you are, going to do anything, I hope that you are a little bit nervous. I hope that you care about what you’re doing. And so it, it doesn’t have to be like, great, big nerves, but they need to be, you need to be invested enough to be willing to get out of bed to go do it.

If you’re approaching something with the energy of, “Well, I could nap or I could do this,” I’m not really sure you’re going to connect with the audience that well. 

At the same time, if you’re approaching the task, the opportunity, the song, the speaking engagement with the energy of somebody who’s being chased by a saber toothed tiger, I’m not sure you’re going to connect with the audience very well there either. 

Because when we are in that energy, in that fight or flight energy, most of the time other people just feel nervous for us. They feel scared for us. They worry about us. We are not under control. Like we’re in fight or flight. We need help.

So you want to be within, um, what’s often called the window of tolerance. You want to be more excited than napping and less excited than being chased by a saber toothed tiger.

And in that zone, uh, we’re able to perform well. By perform, I mean execute the task, whatever the task may be, effectively and authentically connect with our audience.

So if you’re going into something and you don’t feel nervous at all, I guess my first question is, what do you care about? What about this is important to you? And, can you generate some caring or sense of investment if you don’t have any right now? 

Like if you’ve got none, like if you’re in the napping state through some. compassionate curiosity, can you find something in this event, this situation to care about so that you can connect with the people, you’re trying to communicate with?

And if you can’t find anything that you care about, just, don’t do it. Just say no. Why bother, really? Why bother? We don’t have to do everything just because we’re asked to do it. And if you find yourself with something on your list that is just not lighting you up, it’s okay to say no. 

It will probably be better for everybody if you, take a pass and let another person who is more invested, more connected, more excited about it, let them take it on. They’ll do a better job than you in your napping energy. So, there’s my answer to that one.

And the third question I have an answer for today, uh, is “how do I sing a song that makes me cry?” It’s a really good question. I have battled this one myself. 

Another way to ask that question is, “How do I sing a song that I’m deeply affected by?” So my answer is going to apply whether the song is moving you to tears and you can’t actually finish it, or the song is so exciting that you find yourself kind of spinning out of control.

Although I find it’s easier to notice when you’re moved to tears because then it becomes impossible to sing, whereas when you’re excited, at least when I’m excited, I can continue to sing, it’s just that things start to feel tighter and tighter. 

Or if it’s speaking that’s happening, um, my voice gets higher and more strained. You know, the pitch goes up, it just gets… I don’t know, it just doesn’t sound like I want it to. But it can be, both of those can be hard trains to stop. Once you get on that track of, I don’t know, just a lot of emotion, it can be hard to pull back.

So the, the first thing I want to say about it is – it’s counterintuitive, but it’s true – that we need to sing the song, present the poem, make the speech from the place of not being in the middle of it, but being at the end of it. 

We’ll just take the sad song example – the song just moves me to tears, right? Moves me to tears because let’s say it’s got grief in it. There’s a big loss in the song and it’s just, that’s what makes the song powerful and it’s really hard to sing through this part. Because the loss feels so real.

As the singer, I need to imagine myself… I need to be the person who has survived the song. Not the person who’s in the song right now, but has experienced the song, has processed the song, and is now just singing the song as a way of telling the story. 

This is true with difficult stories that you’re trying to just say, right? When you’re in the middle of a drama, it can be really hard to speak clearly and not get overwrought. 

But when you’re through something, when you’ve, when you’ve lived through something and you’ve processed it and you’ve talked about it enough that now you can tell the story of it and not get caught up in all of the mess of it, you’re able to talk about it without getting caught up in all of the mess of it.

I realize maybe this isn’t the simplest answer. Maybe this answer is just going to prompt more questions. But, in the case of something that’s sad, we need to sing or speak from a place that’s already on the other side of that river of misery, and we’re happy again. 

We know that happiness exists. We know that joy exists, and we’re in that place. We need to sing sad things with a core of joy, happiness, contentment. Otherwise, we’ll never make it through.

If you buy into all of the sadness of the song that you’re singing, you won’t have enough energy in your body to physically sing the song, and you won’t have enough emotional resources that also allow you to physically sing the song. 

So if you’re physically collapsed and emotionally a mess, the song isn’t going to happen. You have to sing the song as though you’ve already survived it. And the same is true with speaking.

And similarly, with songs that are really exciting and like the energy just keeps building and building and building, and it just gets more and more intense and it’s really fun. We can’t let our, our own emotions, our own body get over-excited. 

We need to maintain a sense of calm, cultivate a sense of calm and equanimity. Again, like we’re already on the other side of this river of joy, excitement, amazing. And we’re in a more stable, placid, even-keeled state. And from, with that even keel, from that equanimity, we can sing the most exciting music. 

We can give the most fiery speeches because we’re grounded and we’re not gonna let the energy of the speech run away with us.

This might sound like I’m suggesting that we be dishonest, that we’re living at a distance from the thing that we’re singing or speaking. I want to say we’re living at a distance, but I don’t think that’s dishonest. I think it works best, our speaking and singing are most effective, when we honestly have felt all of the things that the piece is asking us to feel, and we also feel all of the calm, all of the surety, all of the authentic, grounded loveliness that is us at our best. 

And then we’re telling a story from a grounded place at a safe distance so that we can not only hold the story, but we can also hold our audience’s reactions to the story, to the song. 

We’re big enough for all of it. We’re not a victim of the composer or the author of the poem or the play or even of us if we’re giving a speech that we wrote ourselves, right? We’re standing in mastery.

So that’s kind of like the meta answer to “how do I sing a song, that’s making me cry?” 

The more specific technique-y thing, is figure out exactly what it is that’s grabbing you. and you can do that by writing out the words, by saying the words as a poem, by saying the words as a text.

So, what do I mean by that? I mean, look at the song in its sentences, not necessarily in its phrases. 

So, for example, “Over the Rainbow,” by Harold Arlen from The Wizard of Oz. 

“Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.” 

That’s saying the song in its phrases.

If I say the song in its sentence: somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby. I take out the space, right? And I try to speak it as a complete sentence. 

“Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that we dare to dream, really do come true. Someday I’ll wish upon a star, and reach up where the clouds are far behind me. Where troubles melt like lemon drops, where way above the chimney tops, is where you’ll find me.”

I think I might have said that out of order. I don’t have it in front of me, but I hope you hear what I mean. 

And in doing that, by writing it out, by saying it in phrases, and then by saying it as sentences, you may find what it is that’s triggering you in particular, or you may find that just that simple repetition and that reimagining the meter of it will help make it less triggering.

Uh, the other thing. another thing you can do is to sing the song on a single vowel [Over the Rainbow on AH], and notice if you run into the same emotional difficulty when it’s a vowel, just a vowel. Sometimes it’s the melody, the harmony that’s getting to us and not really the words. That’s fun.

That’s kind of harder to… well I don’t know if it’s harder to deal with. I like it when it’s the words that bother me because I can always change that in my head.

For example, I have sung at lots of memorial services in my lifetime – way more memorial services than weddings – and invariably, there’s a song that the family wants sung that has the word love in it, because, of course, it’s their loved one. They want a song that has the word love in it.

And even if I don’t know the person who’s died, usually the song will come after the eulogy, after the family spoken, after we’ve gone through this amazing, remarkable life this person has lived, and I feel like I know them or I wish that I had known them. 

Like, I feel so connected to the family and the grief that they’re feeling, and all the love that they’re feeling, and now it’s my turn to stand up and sing something and not fall apart. It’s my job now to stand up and sing and give them some music so they can weep.

It’s a tall order. And of course the song has the word love in it, and that’s a word that’s gonna make me cry if I’m thinking that word, if I’m, when I come to that word, if I’m thinking the word love and all of the love in the room and this amazing person, I’m going to fall apart. 

So, for years now, I have not actually sung the word “love.” I have sung the consonant L followed by an AH vowel followed by a V.

And in that ah vowel, as I’m singing “love,” as I’m singing that ah vowel, I see a shiny, red delicious apple that is just so beautiful and so perfect and so sweet. And I sing “love.” 

It’s an apple. You’re hearing the word “love.” I’m singing you an apple and me singing an apple is keeping me together so that I can present a song that will give you the space to weep if that’s what you need or to laugh if that’s what you need.

But I’m not letting myself get run over by the song or my emotions. I’m being as true and honest as I can be. Emotionally present, only I’m emotionally present to an imaginary fruit, and it’s just as effective, more effective actually, than trying to be emotionally present to everything that is going on in that room at that moment.

So that’s my secret trick: I will find images for words that are giving me trouble, and when I come to those spots in the song, I will fill my mind with that image rather than whatever it is I think that the word means.

Sometimes in looking at a song and figuring out why it’s making me cry. I realize this isn’t my song to sing yet. Right? It’s pointing to some kind of grief. It’s pointing to some kind of loss. It’s bringing up some wonderful emotion that, um, emotional response to events that I haven’t processed yet. 

And there’s work for me to do offline, as it were, to work through some stuff so that then I can come back to the song that’s conjuring up these emotions, and relate to it with a cleaner slate. And there is nothing wrong with that.

And there is nothing wrong with never singing a song you adore because it makes you cry. And there’s nothing wrong with singing a song that makes you cry in the comfort of your own home. 

I don’t mean to say that if your songs are moving you to tears, you shouldn’t sing them. By all means, sing them. Enjoy them. Just like if it’s, um, if it’s a performance, if it’s something that’s going to happen in public for the benefit of other people, us falling apart in the middle of our repertoire, it doesn’t, it’s kind of self indulgent. 

Like that, that’s going, that’s going to prompt the audience to take us in their arms and comfort us and buy us a drink and, you know, try to help us out. We don’t want, I don’t want my performance to be like that. I want to be serving them, not needing emergency help from them.

But there’s so much, emotional processing that you can do in your own private space, singing songs that make you cry and singing them again and again, and just, Elton John’s song, “Sad Songs Say So Much,” right? They do. And there’s nothing better than being a sloppy mess at even just like the cheesiest songs. Like you’re embarrassed that it’s making you cry. It’s like, really? This one? Yeah.

So there’s probably a lot more to say on this topic too, but that’s my stab at an answer for how do I sing a song that’s making me cry. 

So this is today’s Q & A episode. I hope you liked it. I hope this served you. I hope you’ll have a question of your own and you’ll let me know what it is, uh, because this is, this is fun for me. So, thanks so much for listening.

If you enjoyed today’s episode, please rate and review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. Every positive review helps new people find the show. Subscribing ensures you’ll learn about new episodes as soon as they come out. If you have a question about singing or speaking or being, please send me an email at

That’s letters at M as in Mary, V as in Victor, M U S I 

Transcripts and show notes are available on my website. You can subscribe to my newsletter there, too. Can’t Wait to Hear You is produced in conjunction with Particulate Media. I’m your host, Michèle Voillequé. I can’t wait to hear you.

The best place to learn about my upcoming performances, workshops and other projects is to join my mailing list. Unsubscribe at any time.

Privacy Policy: We hate spam so we promise to keep your email safe.