When singing, the sequence of events should be as free, easy and sustainable as possible -says Tom Burke.
What is a “resonant voice” anyway?
Well, some researchers like Katherine Verdolini, Ph.D, Ingo Titze, Ph.D and others have sought to understand what makes for easy, resonant voicing; the kind of voice that is easily projected and lasts; the kind of voice one hears from professional actors. The voice you might hear from Alan Rickman as Snape in Harry Potter:
The research suggests that a resonant speaking voice is produced with barely adducted or barely abducted laryngeal configuration; meaning the vocal folds are not completely closing but rather 1 mm apart. This “light touch” of the vocal folds can be analogous to what I call “golf clapping”. Notice that this is a different configuration than what might be desired in operatic singing where full glottal closure may be required.
The goal for this technique (for speaking voices and for sung qualities that emulate speech) is to find the minimal contact needed to create voice while maintaining a sense of ease. One can then use various pharyngeal (throat) and mouth positions to help amplify the sound as well.
One can amplify their sound with increasing subglottal pressure, adding more brightness or a combination of both. Regardless of style, and especially post injury, I err on the side of brightness first to help people avail themselves of as much acoustic power first and then add more breath pressure when necessary for the style (i.e. Opera or Belt).
Vocal tract configurations that can help increase the brightness of the sound include raising the tongue, spreading the lips, narrowing the aryepiglottic sphincter or “epilarynx” and, controversially, raising the larynx.
1. Make It Bright And Brassy
I want to know whether you can talk on stage or in a bar all night long and not get injured. In order to achieve this try sounding more annoying than being more powerful. A bright twangy voice feels a lot less effortful but is very loud. I always say – ugly and easy first. Make it fun, make it silly. Make it bright and brassy.
For those wanting to belt – I have them first learn how to mix with thinner vocal folds, more twang and great diction. This can fool you and your audience and allows you to sing more often, with great power and less effort. Admittedly, though this is less cathartic than a full belt but I’ve found it’s very useful to help people know to access their mix as their home base.
Once, we’ve established a great mix, I encourage clients to explore more vocal fold contact. (This can be in opposition to classical training which seeks vocal fold closure and volume from the beginning. They avoid injury by not exploring range until the voice is more developed.)
So bottom line is either train your range and mix first or go for full power without the range extremes. Eventually aim to access both a bigger range and the full range of dynamic options along each of your pitches.
2. Try Clear Consonants
Did you know that diction can increase the perception of a sound by 20 decibels!
Pronouncing consonants can also make the lyrics really stand out, which creates a stronger relationship with your audience.
Also, you are avoiding injury by pressurizing sounds in the mouth instead of pressurizing them in the larynx at the level of the vocal folds.
There are a host of tricks to improving your diction which range from lengthening the nasal consonants (i.e. /m/ /n/ /ng/) to partially voicing a voiceless consonant and more. If you are new to diction work, the first place to start is to research the International Phonetic Alphabet. Learn how the place, manner and voicing of a sound affects its projectability. Then you can deepen your study from there.
3. Make Alien Overtones
A hot topic in voice research and among some teachers is the idea of “formant tuning”. This is a technique where the singer manipulates the relationships between the formants and harmonics to achieve either more power in their sound at certain pitches or to achieve different vocal effects for different styles.
Formant tuning is usually discussed in context of operatic singing but I feel it’s also an important way of training vocal versatility across all genres. For example, Bluegrass is much brighter, lighter and twangier than top 40 Country music. Willie Nelson and Garth Brooks sound different because of their different harmonics. Listen to the subtle differences:
This can be a rather abstract topic for most singers who are unfamiliar with acoustics, voice science, etc. so I help people experience how to control the upper harmonics of their voice through what I call “Finding your Aliens.” These are essentially simplified techniques for Overtone singing.
Here is a mind blowing example of overtone singing:
There are different types of aliens: the ‘ee’ alien, the ‘ooh’ alien and the ‘aah’ alien. Each can be created with different movements of the tongue, lips and jaw. Try experimenting with these different “Aliens” and then sing the melody of your song while maintaining one of the “Aliens.” Notice the changes in brightness, darkness, and register changes that emerge. If you need more visual support in finding aliens, you can try using a spectrogram software to see all of the different changes you are making.
Tom Burke is a speech-pathologist and voice coach for Broadway, Film, TV and Google. He developed the world’s first online vocal conservatory, Broadway VoiceBox with members in over 19 countries and growing fast. Find out more about his work here: