What is Twang?

The simplest way to explain twang, is to say that the cords do a remarkable thing when they are aligned correctly. They will stretch and thin because the larynx is tilting. There is a “funnel” created which is like having an extra resonating chamber in your throat. Your voice will “pop”! You can achieve volume without pushing or straining.

The easiest way to achieve this coordination is by imitating sounds. However, too much imitation causes all kinds of problems….so always pay attention to the smallest details.

If you listen to a baby cry, you can hear freedom and release. They are not “pushing” (or they would go hoarse!) They have twang in their voice. Go ahead…no singing, just cry like a baby and take note of what it feels like in the back of your throat!

Now, of course, we don’t want to have to “cry” every time we sing, or do we? Believe it or not, there is an element of “cry” sensation in every great singer’s voice. Try this: I have my students say “mmm, mmm” like something is really yummy. It is just a noise. No singing. There is no sound coming out your mouth. It feels like a buzzy hum. We do this sound in our low voice and carry it up and down our range. Note what it feels like in your throat and on the roof of your mouth at the back where the tongue is touching the soft palate. Be sure to keep it light, at least at first. You need to exercise this sound on the edges of the cords. It may become breathy as you go up in your range. Some singers don’t have the coordination yet to stretch those cords enough so the edges can meet. This is the exercise! Find the spot where you know you are making this sound with good cord closure, and then move one note higher. Do this every day paying attention to this small detail. The cords are small little muscles. If no sound comes out, that’s OK. Take it down one note, and do it again. You are on the right track. DO NOT PUSH. That is only counter-productive.
There are other sounds you can try such as quacking like a duck. Again, please take note that too much quacking will result in constriction! Instead, consider what that feels like in the back of your throat as you do this sound in your low, middle and high range. Keep it light. Constriction is most likely to happen in your high range, so take it easy and pay attention to the “thinner” edges of the sound. Again, it may be breathy…but this means you are on the right track!
I hope this information is helpful! Remember, learning to sing better doesn’t happen overnight so enjoy the journey!

One of the best country singer belters is Carrie Underwood

No doubt, one of  the best female country belters is Carrie Underwood.


Take note of Carrie’s first line here at the chorus of How Great Thou Art…starting at 2:26. Notice the head tilt back in conjunction with the ascending notes…..“Then sings my soul”, and then the head comes back down when descending on the notes “my Savior”; back up for “God”, and back down “to Thee”.  Carrie is well-known for this head technique. When she is “in belt mode” she raises her chin which activates the cricoid cartilage in the larynx.

So what is going on? Is Carrie actually just shouting? Well, yes, she is actually shout-singing in a controlled manner (in this case a C above middle C).  She appears loud (and sounds like she is solely in her chest register). This is an illusion. Carrie sounds like she is pulling chest, but she is definitely mixing. You can bet that she could sing like this in your living room without a microphone and control the volume well enough to not bother your ears. It appears loud, but it really isn’t “too” loud.

According to Estill Voice Technique, cricoid tilt increases loudness with less breath.

Let’s talk about Carrie’s breathing.

Carrie is a great breather. This is a hidden technique that you can’t see, you can only feel, and/or experience.

If you watch and listen to Carrie breathe throughout the entire song you will notice there are NO big gasps of breath intake. Notice they are very quick sips of air through the mouth. Almost like she is simply just “topping up” at the beginning of each phrase. Yes, it’s a little noisy (which can be considered poor technique).  Also, notice you never see Carrie’s shoulders or upper chest rise.  Carrie has great breath control and everything down yonder is working with maximum efficiency. Check out her ending to this song starting at 4:36. This is superb breath control.

At 4:36 and 4:49 the word “great” is on a high E flat. This is approximately the 2nd passagio of the female voice and a very challenging area for pop, rock and country singers. The voice ideally should be allowed to transition to pure head register here, but that would definitely not be in keeping with the style of the rest of this song.

Carrie is a little tight on this E flat, but this is a live performance!  I think she handled it remarkably well. The long “a” vowel in the word “great” is a challenging vowel (diphthong) at the best of times. Carrie could have tried to narrow the long “a” vowel a little bit to make this easier for her (such as a short “e” as in “bed”).  The audience wouldn’t notice that she is deliberately changing the long “a” vowel. Their ears would still hear the word as they already know it.  This narrowing would have allowed the word to resonate easier in the head voice and likely have caused less strain in the sound.

The other great quality Carrie has to her natural voice is “oral twang”. This bright, brassy, piercing sound allows her to sing loud and resonant without using a lot of breath, and without a great deal of effort.  You can hear the “twang” in her speaking voice. She doesn’t need to work at it. It is part of her inherent sound quality. Note that twang can be a missing element to achieving volume (resonance) in your head voice. Singers who don’t have a lot of oral twang can sometimes try to alter or “push” the sound to try and make their voice louder. This usually activates muscles that “squeeze” the sound instead of allowing the tone to freely make it’s way from the back of the throat and beyond.

Note that when Carrie is belting, she is not “thinning” her vocal cords as she ascends past her first passagio.  She does thin her cords sometimes above her bridge, and you hear this anytime she is singing high pitches that are not shouty. Some of you might refer to this as a falcetto sound. And, that’s OK. It definitely is breathier. (This is part the challenge of belt singers……to be able to use thick or thin folds while singing in the head register without being breathy).

In conclusion, the ability to maintain speech-level thickness to the cords, and allow the larynx to tilt and stretch are essential elements to safe belting. This allows the sound to get out of the back of the throat and resonant throughout the entire register…..hence mixing!!

Questions? Comments? I look forward to hearing from you.

Tongue out exercises

Love ’em, love ’em, love ’em! And you should do ’em, do ’em, do ’em!

This is no easy task but it’s a sure fire way to find out if the back of your tongue is getting in the way of mixing from chest to head voice.

So, let your tongue hang out…not forced out like you would stick out your tongue at someone, but loose and lazy with a big mouth. You will notice that your jaw will drop and your larynx will automatically stay reasonably low and stable. Ideally you want your face to resemble the start of a nasty scream or a happy yell. Your cheeks and nasal area should raise, and your upper lip will spread  wide.

Now it’s time for making noises. Don’t try to sing. Making sounds with “g” like “gug” and “goo” in your middle to high register will challenge you to work your tongue high in the back of the throat. The tongue needs to touch your soft palate to make the ‘g’ sound, and yet in order to make these sounds in a mixed voice, your soft palate has to be high enough to allow the sound to resonate into the nasal area.

You should notice yourself making interesting facial expressions as you try to figure out how to get cord closure (so your sound isn’t breathy) into you high voice.

This is twanging in a mixed voice. Twanging is a term used in Estill Voice Technique, and Robert Lunte’s Four Pillars TVS program. For those of you working on Brett Manning’s Singing Success and Mastering Mix programs these are pharyngeal sounds. And by the way, all four of these are great invaluable programs with loads of insight into great singing.

Try it and let me know what you think. Can you do it? How high can you get without your cords allowing too much air to get through?

Oh, and the best place to do these exercises is in your car on your way to and from work:) The other drivers will love it!