Being a Singer

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Principles of Technique

The singing voice is a double-reed, twin resonator acoustic musical instrument. The resonance system comprises one fixed, switchable resonator and one variable resonator, along with an additional optional post-resonator. 

The two main resonators are the pharynx, (the lower or first resonator) and the nasal cavity (The upper, or 'number two' resonator). The two cavities are connected by means of a narrow port located to the rear of the palate. This port may be closed by the action of the soft palate, thereby disabling the upper resonator.

The third resonator is created as needed by the action of the tongue, and may be placed either towards the teeth, creating a cavity bounded by teeth, hard palate and tongue, or under the arch of the hard palate, creating a cavity bounded by the hard palate and the tongue. 

One of the chief objectives in singing voice training is to train the singer to allow both resonators to operate at all times in an unrestricted and un-distorted manner. Full-time dual resonance is the primary hallmark of the 'singing voice'. In speech, the use of upper and lower resonators is varied by many factors such as the language spoken, accent or dialect, loudness and emotional state of the speaker. The training singer must therefore learn to allow the vocal tract to operate in a different way. This is made difficult because speech habits are very firmly ingrained, and because allowing the vocal tract to enter a different way of working feels very strange to the singer. 

The singer's task is made less difficult by the fact that the process of singing is one that is natural to the body. There is an entire hard-wired system in the body that deals with pitch, timbre, air-pressure and loudness. However this singing system, or 'singing reflex', is turned off during speech. Our chief concern therefore as learning singers is to remove the blockages which prevent the singing reflex from operating. These blockages are throat tension, ear/voice disconnection and attempted direct control. The underlying causes of these blockages are speech habits, inappropriate emotional affect, incorrect mental imaging, poor body use and  listening faults.  

The Singing Reflex is a group of responses in the body that cause a particular type of sound to be made. Among these automatic responses are: 

  1. The pharynx alters its size to create a cavity the size of which will resonate the desired pitch.
  2. The cords will close lightly but firmly, and conform their size and tension to the pitch.
  3. The diaphragm will engage to provide the correct air pressure.
  4. The ear will register both pitch and timbre, and perform any final adjustments required.

(Note the absence of the mouth from the above list... the mouth is the 'voluntary' part of the singing voice, where we can do artistic things.) 

To get this all to happen, we need to do the following:

  • Ensure that the throat is always relaxed, by making every sound on every pitch, both vowels and consonants, in the singing way. This takes some training, and is what your teacher should be showing you. 
  • Listen, not to the sound in our heads, but externally, to the sound in the room. We must hear both the musical context as well as the sound of our voice. We must also ensure that the right ear dominates the real-time listening process. 
  • Breathe as if we are at rest - i.e. to the bottom of the chest, leading with the lower ribs. Also, maintain a posture that does not collapse about the midriff: rather, the chest must be open and bell-shaped. 
  • Allow the body to take control of the singing process, and allow the sound to happen rather than try to 'make' the sound. This requires some mental discipline, and is often the hardest part to achieve. 
  • Plan ahead: It is absolutely essential that the voice is prepared correctly before the start of every phrase. 

In conclusion of this summary, here are some basic principles of voice, re-stated. You may not understand them all right away, but they are the core and centre of your development work as a singer, and learning exactly what they mean and feel and sound like) is the path to enormous understanding and vocal ability.

  1. The body can do singing. 
  2. Resonance leads pitch.
  3. All sounds are made in a similar way.
  4. Preparation is essential for every phrase.
  5. The head voice is non-negotiable.
  6. The chest voice is adjustable.
  7. Power does not equal force.
  8. The singing voice is louder than you think by default. 
  9. Singing is not pitched speaking.







Inappropriate emotional affect: e.g. actress internalising anger, rock and roller wanting to act agressive