My thoughts...Wisdom from over the years

Tone Quality, Resonance and Style-Part 2

Posted in: Featured, tip of the week ♦ Monday, March 11th, 2013, 4:26 am ♦ No Comments on Tone Quality, Resonance and Style-Part 2

Tone Quality, Resonance and Style-Part 2

Last time I discussed various points of resonance and how to pinpoint a few.  (If you missed part one, or any other back article, please feel free to e-mail me –my e-mail address is at the end of this column–and I’ll be happy to send you any archived articles that might be of interest to you.) In this article we’ll continue the discussion of resonance and tone quality as it relates to style.

Head Voice/Chest Voice—EXPOSED!

I would like to help shed some light on what I believe is a pretty serious misunderstanding with regard to singing. What I’m about to say will likely fly in the face of most current, contemporary singing advice you’ve hear  heretofore.  I believe the current use of the phrases “Head Voice and Chest Voice” exists primarily because of a misunderstanding of many things.

In years past when singers were primarily trained classically, they were taught about resonance and tone placement.  Through classical teaching methods, students were taught where and how to place their resonance.  As they moved through various parts of their range, they might become aware of the resonance reverberating more or less in specific areas. For example, as they moved into lower areas of the range, they might feel vibrations and resonance all the way into the chest. Therefore the term CHEST REGISTER developed.  This was a notation that a large portion of the vibrations of sounds were being directed to the chest cavity as a place to resound. Similarly, as notes got higher in pitch, a student might direct those vibrations higher into the head area, thus the term HEAD REGISTER developed.

As people moved further away from studying voice in any kind of classical way and moved toward the NON trained voice of a contemporary or folk singer, a whole different connotation began to arise.  Without proper training, control of the voice is lacking.  Because the vocal cords are primarily made up of muscle, if the cords are not prepared, strengthened and trained properly there will be weakness in certain areas. As the weaknesses in the vocal cord structure remain but yet are stretched to capacity many different configurations of the vocal cords may ensue—not all of which are desirable.

One of the common things that happen is that many singers lose control as they get higher in their range and therefore the vocal cords come apart and the singer ends up vibrating the cords together only partially. This naturally causes a thinner tone because there are less of the vocal cords being used. Additionally, the space created now between the cords allows for more air to escape causing the tone to be lighter and airier.  Some singers actually perfect this transition from the full cord adduction to a partial cord adduction and create almost a ‘pop’ causing the break to sound very distinct. In olden times (and other cultures) this technique is referred to as “yodeling”. Now some pop singers strive for this anomaly!

This break in the voice is a nuisance to most singers and can be rectified with proper training.  However, this process has become associated with the idea and subsequent misunderstanding of a head VOICE. Once a singer allows the cords to pop open, extra air flows and the tone can only register up in the head because the larynx is so high in the throat.  Therefore people have dubbed this now a head VOICE, and anything below the breaking area a “Chest VOICE”.  There are not, nor should there ever there ever be two distinct voices in a singer.  Many places to resonate perhaps, but not differently produced voices that are so very different in sound, strength and construction.

Having said this, I recognize that many contemporary singers have indeed capitalized on this untrained sound and incorporated it into their style.  If this is something that you LIKE and want to do then that is fine.   Many people however default to this style due to lack of training and it is an unwanted part of their repertoire.  With incorrect information, many have been led to believe that they are stuck with these two voices and just have to work with them. This is sad and such a shame.  Developing a style a one thing, feeling trapped is another.

I am frequently asked if the “break” is harmful for the vocal cords. The answer is no, not in the sense that it hurts the vocal cords by causing undo stress. However, the loss is in the training of the muscles to break. Muscle memory is a powerful thing and once they are trained to consistently break at a certain point, it is difficult to UN-train them.  This makes the job of learning to sing properly with a full voice and resonance wherever you choose—a near impossibility. So I don’t recommend developing that aspect of style, but I understand that it is popular and many, especially young girls and women, will be drawn to the style and sound that goes with it. Men generally do not experience the full popping and breaking of the cords mid range because they are aware of their falsetto and recognize that at THAT point the opening of the cords is necessary to hit the extra tones.


So much of what we hear today is really not much more than a lot of vocal gymnastics. The singer seems to be trying to see how many notes they can hit in one word! A lot of attention is given to a belt voice trying to yell higher and higher on stretched, fully adducted cords. But what I don’t see a lot of attention given to is: a pretty tone quality. Many of the tone qualities that we hear in contemporary music are very nasal. This nasality allows for a better maneuvering around the keyboard. A pretty tone allow fro greater enjoyment by your listening audience, So although its always great to pursue a certain amount of vocal gymnastics—I’d like to consider myself a proper vocal athlete, trilling about with the best of them—I’d also like to think that I can create a tone that reach into your heart and soul as well. I think we would do well as singers to venture into the area of resonance and tone quality more.  The result could be very…BEAUTIFUL!


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