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The Vox Blog
Info about voice from the Voxbox teachers

Understanding Vocal Resonators

Each resonator (Pharynx, nose and third) has a different sound. The lower resonator, Pharynx, creates a more edgy tone associated with the 'Chest Voice' timbre. The upper resonator (Nasal cavity) creates a softer and more flute-like sound. The third (front) resonator adds a strong sharp or 'bright' component to the voice.

Speech is usually resonated in quite random places within the vocal tract in accordance with the speaker's accent.

Singing voice is defined by the fact that it uses both lower and upper resonator. (Sometimes referred to as 'First and Second' resonators respectively.)

Falsetto occurs when the lower resonator collapses or otherwise ceases to function and we produce only the sound of the upper resonator.

When we shut off the upper resonator, through habit or intention, we produce sound only from the lower resonator. This creates a 'shouty' sound or 'speak-singing'.

The third resonator is a temporary one which we set up in the mouth (as opposed to the pharynx or nasal cavity) which alters the sound produced in the first / second resonator combo to produce the acute vowels.

These are all resonator issues and have nothing to do with cord closure.. except that when the resonators are working the cords will tend to close more readily.

Always concentrate on developing (allowing) the correct natural balance between resonators and the rest will follow.

The only way to go after increased range and/or improved access and stability through the bridges is via correct, split resonance production beginning in the lower range.

Any time we shut off a resonator,  we create a future moment at which it will need to activate again. At any such moment there is an artifact: a  'bump' or jerk or disconnection.

Breathing Basics

Pretty much everyone has heard that breathing for singing involves using 'the diaphragm'. It's best to think of this a Lower Chest breathing. When we breathe in the upper chest, this is a shallow and rapid breath. Lower Chest breathing gives us a slower, deeper breath and allows us fine control over the breath pressure on the exhale.

Here's the number 1 basic exercise for taking control of Lower Chest breathing.
  1. Lie flat on your back with arms by your sides
  2. Place one of your hands on your solar plexus area.
  3. Spend a few minutes just allowing yourself to relax, and your mind to calm.
  4. Become aware of the movement of breath in your body... the hand on your midriff will be slowly rising and falling as the air flow in and out.
  5. Feel how it is the gentle expansion of the lower (floating) ribs that initiates the inhale cycle.
  6. Now in your mind begin a count of 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 repeating, a nice easy tempo (90 bpm).
  7. For a while (maybe 10 cycles) breathe in to the count of 4, and out to the count of 4.
  8. Then start to hold the breath at the top and bottom of each cycle: Like "In - 2 - 3 - 4 , Hold - 2 - 3 - 4, Out 2 - 3 - 4, Hold - 2 - 3 - 4..."
  9. Repeat for a while, then go back to simple inhale- exhale without the hold.
  10. Now on the exhale, allow the cords to close 3 times like 'Ho Ho Ho', just gently dividing the exhale into 3 segments. Make sure the back of the jaw is dropped in the singing position.
  11. After a while, change the sound to a continuous mmm, just whatever pitch is confortable. Feel how the air from the bottom of the lungs connects to the mechanism in the throat. 
  12. When you  are done, relax a minute, roll over and gently sit up.

This is an example of 'indirect control,' a concept we use a lot in singing. We have taken an action (lay on the back etc) in order to trigger the body into a certain action (implement Lower Chest breathing).

Much of the control of the singing voice is done by similar indirect means. Cord closure, head-chest balance, intensity are all indirectly controlled.

Pre-singing skills Part 2

"Ah! "

What does that mean to you? How does it sound?

Hmm well of course it is just marks on your screen so doesn't sound like anything until you say it out loud. Depending on many factors including where you come from and how you are feeling right now you could choose to sound out that small two-letter symbol in any number of ways. I could try to be more specific and give you the example of a word, like for example "Father." Still, the same problems apply.

So who cares anyway>

Well if you are trying to sing well, you should care. Imagine for a moment you are not a singer but a saxophone player. You go out and spend two grand on the best sax you can afford, real world-class. Then you sling it in the back of the van with the PA speakers, and of course it picks up a few dents. But again, who cares, it'll play just fine bent out of shape... won't it? After all who knows why they make saxes that wierd shape, maybe just to look good..?

No it will not play right. The shape of a sax is largely what makes it sound the way it does. Even the smallest ding will have an adverse effect of the timbre, pitching, stability, and ability to hit the high notes. Sounds familar, right? Starting to figure where this is going?
Yes, it's all to do with the laws of acoustics, which we can't change. The body of the sax is the "resonator" which has a particular effect on the sound waves coming from the reed - something about "standing waves" "formants" "harmonic series" and so on. The end result of all this acoustics malarkey is the timbre we know and recognise as the saxophone.

So the spaces and shapes in the vocal tract do the same kind of thing to the sound waves coming from the vocal cords. And the exact way we say the vowel creates the shape of the resonator... which as we know should not be dented or twisted out of shape in any way. So a pure vowel = a pure sound, great timbre, accurate, stable pitch, and easy range.

Next time we will look at what we mean by pure vowels, how we find them, and how we use them in real-world singing to create any style or sound.

Pre-singing skills

In the course of my daily teaching, I wonder why some people "get it" and others don't. I don't mean being a great singer, (that's another issue). I'm talking about basic voice. Why do some people just go "Oh ok, if that's the right way to sing then I'll just do it that way"... and out comes this great voice. Meanwhile others struggle for a year or two to achieve the same thing.

Now the cynical among you may suspect that a working teacher may prefer students who come along every week for a year rather than those who need just a few lessons... but no, actually I for one would prefer to get fantastically quick results on core vocal issues, so that we can get on with the exciting part of building a great vocal performer.

And of course there are those who are in the grip of heavily ingrained bad vocal habits.. for these people there will always be a longer time-scale to undo and un-program the neuro-muscular responses they have built up. But even in this area, some work quicker than others.

So here's what I think:

There are several areas of skills/awareness on which good vocal performance depend. Among which are:
  • Lingual ability: simply, the ablity to do stuff with the mouth over & above habitual everyday speech.
  • Vowel flexibility: The ability to alter vowels, for example in "putting on" accents. More likely to be found in people who speak more than one language, as to do this you need to understand that vowels are not "fixed" but can vary according to circumstance.
  • Posture: The ability to stand and move in a relaxed way.
  • Breathing: The ability to voluntarily draw breath into the bottom part of the lungs
  • Intention: The intention to make a strong sound. Note this is different from simply wishing for a strong voice. Strong voice = a feeling of being loud. Many people are not prepared for this. A teacher can show you how to get what you wish for. You need to wish for the right thing!
  • Accurate hearing: You need to be able to distinguish timbres within music... for example pick out one instrument in a busy musical mix. Or tell an oboe from a cor-anglais. The ear is the primary organ of singing.
  • Basic music knowledge: Many singers are held back because they feel that they don't know enough about singing or music. If you just understand counting and some basic stuff about keys & chords you will feel more "worthy" of taking the lead
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