My thoughts...Wisdom from over the years

Tone Quality, Resonance and Style-Part 1

Posted in: Featured, tip of the week ♦ Wednesday, March 6th, 2013, 8:29 am ♦ No Comments on Tone Quality, Resonance and Style-Part 1

Tone Quality, Resonance and Style-Part 1

Many singers today are particularly interested in style.  Specifically developing their own personal style. Those of us who are worship leaders or serving on worship teams may often wonder what kind of ‘style’ is appropriate for us to develop—if any at all. There are certainly different styles of leading worship and even different styles of worship music. So what’s involved and what’s a good frame of reference for wanting to develop a unique—but attractive—personal vocal style?


God has made each of us in a unique and wonderful way (Psalm 139:14). This unique design gives you a specific template from which to start when developing your own style. The shape and structure of your face, neck, vocal cords, chest, etc, all contribute to your overall sound.  Recognizing the value in your particular gifts is an important place to start.  Although you may be able to imitate others and perhaps mimic many different styles, they will always contain an element that is undeniably YOU!


Contrary to what you might think, based on the above paragraph, you are not relegated to one specific tone quality.  There may be some elements that are particularly fixed, but many can be affected to create the type of tone quality that you want. In order to affect this, you need to do some experimenting.  Much can be learned but simply ‘playing around’ with your voice.

For example, when I was in college we were required each year to participate in the annual community presentation of the Christmas portion of Handel’s “The Messiah”.  Although I truly appreciated and enjoyed singing in “The Messiah” what I did not particularly enjoy were the warbling voices of the many senior citizens that also participated annually. My girlfriend and I would roll out eyes and laugh with each other at the “weird, operatic” style voices that often surrounded us. One day, in a display of great teenage maturity, we decided to sing the entire rehearsal in a fake opera style-imitating those around us-just to see if anyone would notice. We had great fun that day and thought we were quite clever, and no…no one even noticed-much to our glee.  But I learned something that day.

At the end of the rehearsal, I had actually discovered some things about tone quality and resonance. Believe it or not, having never explored those particular areas of resonance necessary to imitate an operatic style, I became aware of a whole new aspect of my voice as I spent the hour and a half singing in a new a different way (albeit tongue in cheek). Periodically in my teaching practice throughout the years, I have often suggested to women, who have struggle to get out of a particular type of tone quality, to try imitating a opera singer-just for fun.  Invariably when they try this, certain area of resonance open up for them and it’s an eye-opening experience for them just as it was for me.


We have lots of areas to resonate. Some of them are able to change shape and some are not.  When I teach vocal technique, I typically take a quick phrase (such as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star) and sing it with an emphasis in various difference resonant areas. For example, I will sing it with a very nasal sound, or a light, airy head type resonance, or with a throaty “belt” voice. Then I can demonstrate how to blend different areas of resonance or reshape them to get the different colors available to each person.  This is of course difficult to do in a magazine article!

What I CAN do is get you to feel some resonance in the nasal (sinus) cavity. Try placing your fingertips on either side of your nose and hum on an “N”. You should be able to feel (with your fingers) a buzzing in your nose.  This is an area of resonance that you can’t change the shape of but you can choose how much of your tone you’d like to resonate there.

Another thing I can try to get you to do is to try different shaping techniques with your mouth. Your mouth is a large resonator whose shape CAN be changed.  The main way to change the shape is by opening or closing the mouth by degree.  If you open by widening your mouth, our tone will tend to be forced more up into your head and/or nasal cavity. If you drop your jaw you will round and warm up the tone.  You actually change the SIZE, not just the SHAPE when you drop your jaw. You can transform your tone.  Think of the difference in tone quality from a Violin or a Cello. Even if they played the same note, they would sound different.  Opening up that area of resonance can give you some real flexibility with your tone quality.

You can even change the way a tone resonates by the way you shape your lips. Try to picture your lips like the bell of a trumpet. If you allow your lips to be loose and full, your ‘bell’ will help facilitate the best sound for you. If will help you to project as well (think megaphone!).  If there is tension in the lips it tightens the ‘bell’ and closes your ‘bell’ somewhat. So play around with the shape of your lips by relaxing them and shaping your vowels outward—a big ‘poofy’ lip feel is what you’re looking for.  Pushing your ‘poofy’ lips forward, I frequent joke and say “Think Angelina Jolie lips”. You may find that by doing a lip roll (blowing air through your lips while they vibrate—think like a horse) it will help to relax your lips and warm them up to stay relaxed.

By combining the resonating areas from the sinus cavity down through the mouth, you can find that area commonly called “the mask” area to resonate in. Different combinations of these resonant areas can provide many different colors for you as a singer. I suggest you spend some time “playing around” with this area. If you ALWAYS feel a buzz in your nose when you’re singing, you’re likely a bit a too nasal in your tone quality. If your singing sounds thin or airy, you’re most likely resonating in the upper part of your head-behind your sinus cavity.  This will tend you give you an immature sound. If you combine the nasal with the head, you tend to get a more “classical” type of resonant sound (not a real classical sound, but a type of one). This pseudo-classical sound doesn’t fit well at all with a contemporary style of music. If you resonate in the head and nasal cavity with a raised soft palate you will likely get a ‘hooty’ sound. This is unattractive in ANY style!


We’ll talk more next time about other areas of resonance and how to find the sound that best fits the style you’re hoping to develop or emulate. Style has a lot to do the type of music you’re singing, but also a great deal to do with your tone quality. Tone quality has a lot to do with where you’re resonating!!  So stayed tuned for more next time!!


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