What is actually happening to your voice when you sing?
When training your voice it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of what is happening to create the sound! The first thing you have to do begin singing is to take a breath; after you have got air down in to your lungs, the air then comes back out. It passes through two small muscles in your throat called the vocal cords. As the air passes through the cords, it causes them to vibrate back and fourth. This vibration produces the sound that creates your voice; and the frequency of the vibration determines the pitch.
Here is an interesting video of what the vocal cords look like and what they do when you talk/sing:
With practice, you can consciously adjust the muscular action of the vocal cords to produce different pitches and vocal tone. When practising vocal exercises it is more important to pay attention to the sound, than it is trying to feel your vocal cords moving about. They are incredibly small and you cannot usually feel them moving.
The vocal cords are located just below your chin inside an organ in your throat called the larynx often called the voice box. The cords are aligned side by side with one end affixed towards the front of your neck and the other towards the back of the neck. The front ends of the cords meet together and do not separate. The rear end of the cords can be opened or closed for breathing/singing. The opening between the cords is called the glottis. By exercising the muscular ability of the vocal cords, you can squeeze the glottis shut, hold back the escaping air, and let it out in a controlled manner a little bit at a time.
Here are the basic facts of singing you should learn
1. Air passing the vocal cords makes them vibrate.
2. The vocal cords transfer the vibration to our chest, nasal cavity, head or a mix.
3. The sound comes out our mouth, nose or both.
4. We raise the pitch by stretching the cords, by adducting them so they zip up by making them vibrate faster.
5. We have 4 main registers. Vocal Fry, Chest voice, Head voice and Whistle register.
6. We train the registers separately, and then learn to blend them.
7. We can add effects to the voice like vibrato, tone, fry’s, falsetto, delineation, licks, trills, runs, slides, scoops etc
8. Tone. Our tone can be changed by raising or lowering the larynx or voice box. High larynx high tone, low larynx low tone.
9. Vibrato. This is the sound we hear when the sound wobbles. It’s an oscillation between two pitches or notes.
10. Fry. A vocal fry is the lowest note we can sing. It sounds like a growl.
11. Falsetto. Is when we add air to the notes to make them softer and more airy.
12. Delineation. This is when we sing a group in a separated manner. Like in trills and quick runs.
13. Licks, trills and runs. All ways to describe a group of notes joined together in a phrase.
14. Slides. Slides are when you move from note to note without delineation. A run would sound blurry not clear.
15. Scoop. Most singers scoop and don’t realise it. A scoop is when you sing a low note and slide up to the note you require.
16. Styles. R & B, Rock, Jazz, Classical, Country are all worth understanding so you can mix ideas as you need them.
17. Staccato. Singing in short stabby notes.
18. Legato. Singing in long sustained notes.
It is important when learning a new song to break it up into sections and analyse it appropriately. Most singers cannot be bothered to do this because they are so eager to simply sing it! I can guarantee that if you go through all of these steps your voice will benefit HUGELY from it. Here are the six steps you should take when learning a new song…
1. Learn lyrics and melody. (The easy part)
2. Work out where the breathing gaps are so you can take breaths at the correct stages of the song. Breathing is far more important than people realise. Taking in a good breath when possible will make your singing technique better and it will also give your voice a smoother sound.
3. Listen to dynamics. Where the song is loud and quiet. What type of voice etc
4. Listen to tone. Soft and airy, solid, Deep and soulful, Nasal with vocal fry etc
5. Is there any vibrato, slides, runs, scoops etc
6. Act each line and make the listener believe you mean it!
Understanding your range and registers
1) Vocal Fry
The vocal cords vibrate extremely slowly along their entire length. It creates a growling noise often used to create emotion. You can make this noise by imitating the grudge sound, Marge Simpson or any soft croaky sound. With practice you can increase the volume of this soft croaky sound and apply it when singing. Vocal fry is a very hard register to train.
This is the voice we use to speak; the voice resonates primarily in the chest. The vocal cords vibrate across their entire length and are stretched to raise pitch. This is the voice you will use to sing 90% of the time. It is also the voice you will spend most time training. The chest voice is the voice which most singers use to belt out high notes.
3) Head Voice
This voice resonates primarily in the head. It is the highest part of your natural range. The vocal cords adduct causing them to zip up 70% leaving 30% to vibrate. The shorter the vibrating cords the higher the note. Justin Timberlake uses his head voice a lot. You use your head voice in the day with realising it sometimes. If you imitate a young boy with a squeaky voice or do a Michael Jackson “Hee Hee” you are probably using your head voice.
4) Whistle Voice
This is quite an uncommon voice. Found primarily in the female voice. The vocal chords adduct causing them to zip up 95% leaving 5% to vibrate. The whistle voice is not something you will be able to just do like the other registers. You have to discover it; it is not a particularly loud sound and does not actually require much power. It’s just a very high squeaky sound which is generally produced by accident, but can be trained to sing with.
Here is a video to help you understand whistle voice.
5) Blending the registers.
We need to train all the registers individually to increase their ranges and our ability to use them. We need to learn to bridge one voice to the next as smoothly as possible. The bridge point can be used for effect to flip from one voice to another but should never be relied on.
6) Full Voice (The Mix)
This is a blend of chest and head registers used to create a big powerful sound with no strain.
This can also be used with vocal fry to create a rocky edge to the voice without straining.
7) Falsetto (soft and airy)
This voice is often confused with the head voice but they are very different. The word falsetto itself is giving us a clue. False Voice! You are not singing properly! Falsetto is created by singing with the chords open and letting air in the sound.
Using any of these registers for long periods of time at the straining points can damage your voice! Listen to yourself and pay attention to strain. If you are straining or you have a tight throat STOP!
Many people go to hit a high note and their larynx raises and their throat will feel very tight because there is no space for your vocal cords to move freely. You must sing with a stable larynx (keep it nearer the centre).
This is quite hard to explain by written content so PLEASE watch this video to gain a clearer understanding if you ever feel that as you get higher, your throat feels tight or sound gets really small and strained:
Here is a video of Brett Manning describing the layrnx
Singing nodules are caused by chronic straining of the voice, often called singers or screamers nodules. When you do not sing with the correct technique, for example you don’t use your diaphragm or take a deep breath. You will not close your vocal cords up as much and there will be some air coming through the vocal cords which can damage them quickly. This is why you have to be careful and pay attention to your voice. Little blue lumps appear on the vocal cords and prevent them from closing up properly. This is why when somebody loses their voice they can’t really speak.