What is Yodeling?

What is Yodeling?
Yodeling goes against traditional classical voice training but you can learn to break free! -says Kristie Knickerbocker.

Treating folks in my clinic in the south, I get a small group of yodelers. You are not just born knowing how to yodel, it takes practice!  Yodeling is an art and it is difficult to do properly. Just try it! Better yet, try to do what this 12 year old yodeler can do.

So how does one yodel? Yodeling oozes with heritage because it was actually used to communicate in the Swiss Alps and extremely tall mountains, where it was difficult to hear because of wind and other climate factors. Yodeling transitioned from this communication option, to being popular in country music. Up until the 1950’s, it was prevalent in this scene. Just ask Wylie Gustafson and the Little Old Lady Who…

Yodeling is actually the exact opposite of a smooth transition between notes.

Yodeling is actually the exact opposite of a smooth transition between notes. In classical singing training, we are taught that we should dance and float from note to note, never scoop up to them, and definitely never land on them with a hard glottal attack. We are instructed to make clean transitions and be thoughtful with where we place the different pitches. Register breaks are seen as improper technique and are discouraged. Yodeling opposes all of that teaching; it is changing your vocal fold tension from high to low registers and actually allowing the break to occur. EMBRACE THE BREAK. That’s how you yodel! It doesn’t always have to be in octaves. This goes against all I was taught in my classical voice lessons, but it is relatively easy to mimic if you try it. You deliberately have to break vibratory smoothness, by relaxing. Ha.

So what does yodeling look like? It might help you to see what vocal folds do when yodeling occurs. Here is an examination of the vocal folds, via videostroboscopy. We can see the true vocal folds switch from chest to falsetto registers during the pitch changes. They shorten and lengthen quickly as they do this. The result is an explosive note change.

Yodeling, just like any other type of singing, can develop unnecessary laryngeal tension. Make sure when you are yodeling, you keep a relaxed larynx at all times, just like when you are singing in any other style. No pushing. Make sure you are using enough breath support so you have enough gas in your tank and you don’t begin to squeeze those laryngeal muscles in order to make sound.  Hey, if that 12 year old can learn from a tape, maybe you and I can too? And maybe we can give this guy a run for his money.

This blog was taken and adapted from a previous publication on A Tempo Voice Center


Kristie Knickerbocker

Kristie Knickerbocker, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and singing voice specialist in Fort Worth, Texas. She provides voice, swallowing and speech therapy in her own private practice, a tempo Voice Center, LLC. She also lectures on the singing voice to area choirs and students. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 3, Voice and Voice Disorders, NATS and is an active member of PAVA. She keeps a blog on her website at www.atempovoicecenter.com

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