More on vocal folds, laryngeal tilt, twang and pop singing

I want to thank Jenny for getting me back to posting on my blog. I’ve been so “crazy” busy with teaching and performing…..I forgot how much I love answering your questions.

Jenny was asking for clarification about the thickness of vocal folds in the great pop singers….below is my response.

Hi Jenny

The true definition of “belting” does not include mixing. It is a chest register coordination with thick folds.

The definition of “mixing” is allowing the voice to ascend in pitch through the passaggio (for women around G above middle C). The vocal folds thin out as the voice ascends in pitch. To do this without being breathy, the larynx will tilt as the voice goes higher.

You mention the great pop belters, so I assume you are referring to the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Christina Aguilera. You say it is obvious that they are singing with thick fold. Please note, it may sound like they are always singing with thick folds, but, they are mixing with varying degrees of vocal fold thickness. Their larynx is tilted and their cords have stretched (thinned or stiffened) as they ascend in pitch. (Exception: Christina Aguilera sometimes sings in full chest voice with thick folds, and is able to sing in a beautiful mix as well. She is very aware of what she is doing…it’s a stylistic choice).

The reason these singers sound like they are only singing with thick folds is because they have good vocal cord closure and breath control and support…two EXTREMELY important components to singing in a good mix.

You mention the wide vowel and forward placement. This is absolutely correct and the #1 coordination defining a “pop or rock” sound. The tongue is free in the back of the mouth allowing for “twang” and a speech-level sound. This is why they simply sound like they are talking on pitch…..because they are!

I always remind my students of the illusion of “powerful” singing. If any one of these singers were to sing their #1 hit song in your living room without a microphone, you would say….is that it? Is that all there is? Yes, that’s all it is!

Thank you so much for your question and the opportunity to respond. Good luck! Susie

2 thoughts on “More on vocal folds, laryngeal tilt, twang and pop singing

  1. Hi Ms. Bee,

    could you clarify the definitions of “legit,” “mix,” and “belt” used in the musical-theatre communities and how their “mix” and “belt” differ from those used in the Speech-Level-Singing community? My impression is that the “belt” sound people in Broadway talk about is actually a “mix” sound for people in the SLS community. My primary question is this: If the “belt” in the musical-theatre parlance is actually a mixed voice, then what is the musical-theatre “mix”?

    Thank you.


    • Hi Tom,

      Thanks for your comment and question. First off, my description of co-ordinations are not definitions of the SLS community. I have studied many vocal techniques, and these are my views and my definitions to help singers make sense of their own voice.

      In my posts, I have referred to good musical theatre belting as mixing, and I’ll try to explain why.

      If any singer, regardless of style, experiences the sensation of a “ceiling”, or tightness, or excessive shouting, or the inability to sing higher without flipping into falcetto, then that singer is NOT mixing. In SLS, they call this “pulling chest”. This is NOT a nice sound.

      In musical theatre, the belt sound is a predominantly loud, shouty, full, chesty sound. The singer has to determine how to get the desired sound with freedom and adequate resonance, and it needs to sound GOOD.

      Well-trained singers have control over their vocal co-ordinations. Here is a list of just some of the most important co-ordinations good singers have:

      1. Control of their body to maximize adequate breath pressure above and below the vocal cords. This includes muscles surrounding the back, ribs, stomach, neck, etc).
      2. Control of the amount of breath on intake and exhale, ie volume, including crescendos and decrescendos.
      3. Control of vocal cord co-ordinations, ie thickening versus thinning. This is a by-product of laryngeal tilting.
      4. Control of vowel resonance in the pharynx, ie low larynx versus high larynx.
      5. Control of vowel sounds, ie narrowing, widening, altering.
      6. Control of sound placement for desired resonance, ie, chest/mouth resonance, or both chest/mouth and head resonance (mixing).
      7. Control of the tongue (high versus low, back versus forward) and space inside the mouth.

      As you will read in #6, a good belt needs to have adequate resonance or it’s not going to sound good. Depending on how high the pitches go, a singer may need to “allow” conditions to change for a nice sound. This includes all the variables listed above, as well as “mixing” registers. Without “allowing” the co-ordination changes, the singer runs the risk of getting stuck or hitting the ceiling. They may feel the need to “flip”. I’m sure most musical theatre singers know all too well this sensation of the dreaded “ceiling”, and that is why they train to MIX!

      Thanks again for your question. I hope my response helps to clarify some points. Susie

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