Your larynx is your voice box. It houses your vocal cords. It’s situated in behind the Adam’s apple which is that bump you feel in your throat…you know, the bump in your neck that is usually larger on a guy than a girl.
Good singing technique requires that the larynx remains low and stable. So go ahead and try this. Put your finger on your Adam’s Apple while singing and see if it is rising when you try to sing high notes. In many singers it does go up….way up! The problem is that when your larynx rises too high, it closes off your wind pipe which is, in fact, blocking your vocal cords! This is the last thing you want when singing.
This is what is meant by singing with an open throat. Good technique is having the ability to sing while keeping your larynx in a low and stable position.
I remember my friends saying “Wow, you have the easiest job in the world, singing!” I would think to myself, you’ve got to be kidding. They had no idea the physical effort I was enduring to keep my voice balanced and controlled, and sounding the way it did ever minute of my performance.
Sure, singing isn’t rocket science, but singing well for long periods of time is a balancing act of coordination between body, air flow and the vocal cords. If one of these is out of sync, then something has to give. Usually it’s the throat!
When speaking, vocal fry is simply the vocal cords coming together with very little air passing through, usually at a lower-than-your-normal speech pitch. It sounds like a gritty, broken up, growl….usually at the end of your sentence, and happens frequently in the morning when you first wake up. I hear it frequently, mostly in women. Now that it has made top-headline news recently, I’m sure everyone will start noticing the people around them who speak with some vocal fry.
But now I want to talk about vocal fry from a singing point of view. This is much, much different!
The ability to create vocal fry as you ascend in pitch is one of Brett Mannings’ top three vocal exercises. Why? Because the ability to keep the vocal cords connected with vocal fry as you ascend, is a challenging balance between thinning out the cords and controlling the amount of air passing through. With the correct balance, the cords will touch and vibrate on the edges creating a vocal fry sound. Too much air will either blow the cords apart, or not allow the fry sound to happen. This is the challenge to be able to decrease your air flow just enough to maintain the fry connection in the higher register.
I challenge my students with vocal fry exercises regularly. It really enforces the “less is more” mentality. You should try it. It’s not as easy as you might think. But, let’s be clear we are talking about vocal fry in your “higher” register….not lower.
I woke up yesterday with a cold and hoarseness in my voice. I had three hours of performance to do later in the day, so I knew it was going to be a tough one with a lot of careful attention and energy to complete the job!
First, I had a hot shower and my usual … pot of coffee. I didn’t utter a word until 2:00 pm. I did a few exercises of lip trills and light sirens. I took a moment to gauge where I thought I was with my voice, compared to my “healthy voice”. I was somewhere around a 6 or 7. My goal was to be 8 or 9 before leaving for my gig. I had two hours.
I continued to warm up my head voice lightly. I paid acute attention to my body and energy to make sure I wasn’t putting any undue stress on my vocal cords. I did some sit ups and took a walk around the block. I continued to sip water all day.
This has happened many times before and I have learned over the years how to pace the day and night. It’s a delicate balance. I don’t talk. I only sing ….. when it’s absolutely necessary. In this case, it was necessary or else I would be letting down many many people who simply wanted to enjoy their Christmas party!
I made sure I could hear my voice well in the monitor. I would be singing at about half volume, so this was doubly important for this gig. I chose my repertoire very carefully…no “big” songs during this show. Instead, I focused on my “presentation” with by body and with my facial expressions.
When the night was finally over I was totally spent. I had maxed out my vocal cords for this gig, and I was mentally and physically exhausted from the energy it took to maintain a careful journey to get me through to the end of the night…..but it worked! As I headed out the door with my car jammed pack with my gear, my employer waved goodbye and said “see you next year!”
Well, no, not really. Don’t squeezzzeee. That’s taboo for a singing teacher to say. You never squeeze….or do you?
In a previous blog I talked about finding your head voice. Have you found it yet? If not, try again with a light sigh…in your high voice…If you still are not sure if that’s your high voice then try talking like a little small …. ? something …. with a slight nasty or nasally rise to your voice. Keep it light. You should feel it in your nose and under your eyes. Keep it higher than your speaking voice. Even you guys with the big deep heavy voices should be able to find this light, higher, slightly airy voice.
This is your head voice, and yes for some it’s not actually going to be your head voice, it’s going to be your falsetto voice. It’s a start, but a true head voice is achieved with the vocal cords staying together…and with inexperienced singers this can be difficult because they may have never experienced this sensation before. They have only ever achieved falcetto which means the vocal cords are blowing apart too far when singing high notes. This is not an ideal way to sing high but it is a great effect and many professional singers use it. Falcetto uses a lot more air than your head voice, and your range is limited. A true head voice will just keep going higher and higher and higher as the vocal cords zip up.
So how do you get that falcetto voice to be your head voice. Well, it takes practise and persistence. Try this…..visualize that you are squeezing or sandwiching your high voice. This should help with the breath pressure that is required to keep the vocal cords from blowing apart. Try this at a low to moderate volume. Having any luck yet? Are you noticing any difference? Now here is the problem…when I said “squeeze” I didn’t mean squeeze anything else. You cannot use any throat muscles to help achieve your head voice. You must stay totally relaxed throughout the neck and shoulder area. Remember to start light and do it every day. Go around making high light humming sounds and try to increase the pressure a little at a time. If you are uncomfortable in any way at your throat then you are doing it wrong. It’s a process. The vocal cords are not use to making these sounds. It takes time…….and of course, now the trick is to connect your head voice up with your chest voice to create the “beautiful mix!”
Please leave a comment or question. I’d love to hear from you! Susan
Usually once a year it hits me. Laryngitis. A combination, I suppose, of the cold dry air, a viral infection, and stress from the Christmas season which is my busiest time of year for singing jobs. I’ve been singing daily for almost two weeks and the last three days have been troublesome. Today was certainly the worst.
I know what I need to do … rest the vocal cords. But it’s difficult. People are counting on me.
It’s not always easy to have a career in “singing”. While it’s certainly fullfilling to do what you love to do every day of your life, it’s not always easy. When you depend on a part of your body to be in tip-top shape all the time, certain hurdles are bound to get in the way.
I’ll re-evaluate things in the morning after some lip bubbles and easy exercises. More than likely, I’ll be cancelling my gig. I can’t risk any permanent damage…it’s just not worth it.
Less is more….so what am I talking about? Well, a few things really. Did you know that you need LESS air to sing high notes…not more. Most people use way too much air when they sing high notes. This engages the outer muscles around the vocal cords which causes fatigue and strain. Singing high notes should feel easy. When a singer is grimacing with the look of strain (not to be confused with emotion), you can bet he/she is using muscles outside of the voice box, and their larynx is probably rising as well. Ideally when singing, the larynx should remain relatively stable, and the singer should be able to reach any note without throat muscle interference.
In the words of Seth Riggs, founder of the SLS technique, you need to allow the vocal cords to do the work. That is, as you singer higher, the vocal cords should simply “zip up” and use less air.
The SLS technique will teach you how to do this. But first, you may need to back up. You may need to do less. You will need to know your habits. You need to know what is working and what isn’t. A good SLS teacher will tell you this in the first lesson. Then you will be able to sing well in any style of your choice! Check out www.speechlevelsinging.com for a certified teacher near you!
Well, I’m sure not everyone is going to agree with me on this one. Let’s start by defining what I mean by “great.” By great, I mean “perfect.” I mean close to perfection, as in singing “properly.”
In my humble opinion, a pretty voice is sometimes boring.
A pretty voice sometimes lacks the surprise and edge that comes with doing to our vocal cords, what we are not suppose to do! Does that make sense?
I love it when I hear a great singer bend the rules and stretch the boundaries. But here is the trick. A great singer knows when he/she is going beyond “perfect”. In fact, they are risking their voice for that very reason…..to be interesting. A great singer who is interesting………..now there’s the ticket.
Being a great singer comes first.
Being a great singer who is interesting will outshine everyone.