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

The illusion of power

Too many times I hear over-compressed cords from students who think  they are singing with power. Unfortunately this sound is dull and to be quite blunt … ugly. Over-compressing the cords will only cause students trouble as they try to sing higher, because  they can’t release this sensation without flipping into falcetto. The answer is; mixing with head voice and allowing the cords to thin and stretch as you sing higher.

Men, you can find your head voice by singing a G above middle C in a connected, stable and controlled sound. This isn’t falcetto. This is head voice. If you feel your throat “choking” you then your larynx is probably too high. This coordination is not going to help you sing in optimum head voice mix, so work on getting that larynx down first.

Women, you can find your true head voice by singing a high C. Again, make sure this isn’t breathy or you are probably in falcetto (which means the cords have come apart).

Working this area of your voice is very important for mixing. Learn to love your head voice. It may seem weak and foreign to you, and that is all-the-more reason to figure out this area of your voice from this approach. Keep the volume at a medium to low level.

There are other elements that will help build a powerful and strong mixed voice too. Once your head voice is easy to control and identify, then you can work on pharyngeal sounds and exercises to bring out the illusion of power. Yes, the illusion of power. The illusion of a super-human sound that is actually just your head voice in a mix!

It’s an illusion

Don’t be deceived about the “size” of commercial voices you hear on recordings. They are sometimes produced in the studio to sound big and thick and bright. If you heard these singers in your average-size living room, you may be shocked to realize they sound nothing like they do on recordings.

This is, in fact, part of the perception problem that happens when we try to copy some of our favourite singers.  We try to mimic what we think is the singer’s vocal power, when it is actually an illusion of power created in the studio with amplification and effects. Even on our favourite shows like American Idol and The Voice, there is tons of reverb, delay and EQ effect added to a singer’s voice to make it sound “larger” than it really is.

What makes a great “big” voice is a singer’s ability to control their voice during register shifts, changes in volume, and use of correct resonators. These things can only be done well when a singer’s larynx and vocal cords are in good shape. These abilities have nothing to do with whether a voice is actually “big” or not.  (A big voice is when a person is loud when they are talking … not just singing … and this usually means they have thick vocal cord).

Amplify a voice that has great control of the above qualities, and you get one heck of an awesome voice. And yes, this voice can be “big”.



The chest voice ceiling…….

If you are stuck against the chest voice ceiling there are a few things that might help.

1. Decrease your volume.

2. Narrow your vowels.

3. Anchor your head, neck and abdomen.

Remember, the best thing for your voice is to get balance. Once you can sing through your bridges, then you can work on the power.

Ladies, I’ve been there!

While growing up in my small town, I always sang in the church choir. And, there was the school choir as well. I was considered an alto because I couldn’t reach notes as high as some of the other girls.

When I was 12, I think, my favourite artist was Olivia Newton-John. If any of you remember her when she had hits on the radio in the 70’s then you can likely guess how old I am!  Other favourites at the time were Helen Reddy and Anne Murray. I also loved The Captain and Tenille and Linda Ronstadt. Oh, and how can I forget The Carpenters! Oh yes, they were my absolute favourite!

So, during the day I was a choir singer and at night I was a pop singer! It didn’t take me long to start noticing that I was singing two different ways with two different voices! I went on doing this for years!

I joined a band when I was 16 and we toured around the towns in my local province. At times I would have trouble hitting the high notes the way I wanted to, and sometimes it would be so difficult that I would go hoarse, or actually lose my voice, by the end of the night.

This never happened when I was using my “other” voice. You know, the voice I saved for Sunday and the school choir.

In my 20’s and 30’s I took loads of singing lessons from a variety of teachers. I went on to achieve my Western Conservatory grades. You know, the songs where you sing in every language but your own. I was still rocking out on the weekends with my band. It was a bizzare thing to be singing with two different voices in the same day. I still hadn’t found my true voice.

It wasn’t until I was almost 40 when I ordered an online singing product written by Seth Riggs. OMG, is all I can say! I did these exercises every day and my voice blossomed. No longer did I have two voices but one voice that extended from the bottom of my range to the top of my range. And guess what? My bottom note extended down to E below middle C, and my top note extended to C above high C! I had never before even made a noise on these notes!

The rest is history. I have continued to study and train my voice, as well as helped 100’s of students here in my studio.

I’m in the process of putting singing exercises online at Keep an eye there for useful exercises that will help your voice gain strength, endurance and power. Please let me know if you have any questions! Susan