Your Voice - The Basics
I write this blog in order to help singers understand their own voice and what actually happens within their body when they sing. If you play the piano you can open the lid and see that when you press any of the keys... the mechanism causes a hammer to hit the strings. As singers we don't have the privilege of being able to look into our voice and see how our internal mechanisms are creating sound. So the articles you'll find here are my attempt at lifting the lid on the voice and helping you visualise how your voice actually works.
You could ask why is that important though Joe? If I can sing, I can sing. That's true. But if a piano breaks and you don't understand how it works, how can you possibly attempt to fix it?
Equally if you're just starting singing, you're effectively creating your instrument, you are actually building the piano. I would argue that's pretty difficult to do, and do well, if you don't know how a piano works.
Your instrument breaks down into a few different parts:
Breathing - what happens before we create the sound.
Phonation - what we do to create the sound.
Resonation - How we shape that sound.
You can follow those links for in-depth articles about each of these processes. Today we're going to lightly touch on all of them. If you're left with any questions about anything specific, take a look through the articles linked above or feel free to drop a comment at the bottom of this post and I'll get back to you.
Fundamental to both the vocal process and staying alive. Breathing is of course incredibly important. It's the beginning of creating any vocal sound. Why? because without movement of air there is no sound.
As we force air out we make air move, put your hand to your mouth & breath out you'll feel it. You can't really hear your breath though so that's not where the story ends.
That air needs to be turned into something that carries energy. Vibrations that are sent through the air to our ears. An action to cause that reaction. This process is called phonation.
The scientific name is unimportant. What is important is how it happens. Inside our voice we have two very important little characters called the vocal cords/vocal folds. They're each about the size of a grain of rice. The process of the vocal folds closing and opening at an incredible speed builds up pressure in the air and creates sound.
Do this for me. Breath out slowly whist pouting your lips. Raise your hand to your mouth to stop the air. You'll feel the pressure build in your mouth and your cheeks puff out. Take your hand away and the air is released.
Essentially your vocal folds repeat this process hundreds (sometimes thousands) of times per second building up and releasing pressure that creates waves of energy in the air that we hear as sound. Incredible stuff.
This is the process of turning that wave of energy into something that sounds nice. Or sometimes, whilst your learning to sing, doesn't sound so nice. That's the same with learning to play any instrument. So just because you're making some funky sounds with your voice now, don't be telling yourself that you can't sing. Too many people wish they could sing and don't treat their voice like an instrument. They don't treat singing like it's something they are capable of learning. This idea that you can either sing or you can't is completely false. Let's fix that mentality.
You shape the sound of your voice by primarily using two spaces within your body. Your throat and your mouth. We call these spaces resonators. We do this all the time. Literally every time you speak. The vowel sounds we use in every day speech change the size and shape of our resonators.
Try this for me. Put your hand on the front of your neck and feel the little bump that you might call an "Adam's Apple". Say the word AIR immediately followed by OOO. You might feel your Adam's Apple drop slightly for the second vowel sound.
We can use different vowel sounds and something called vowel sound modification to make our singing not only sound better but also make singing easier.
Singers change vowel sounds in words all the time. It's an element of vocal training that we spend an awful lot of time working on. It can help you build power and expand the range of your voice. All simply by slightly altering the way you say the words you're singing.
Hopefully you find the information in this article useful for your own practice. Have a play around with the elements of the voice we've discussed today. As always if you have any questions I'd love to hear from you, drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org
For more detail or guidance with how to apply any of the information in this article to your own vocal development please don't hesitate to get in touch! You can book sessions with me via Popcast School of Music and currently we're giving away your first half hour consultation session absolutely free!
Thanks for reading!