Want A Better Voice
Baxter - source
this. You walk into your first guitar lesson and the teacher
hands you a piece of wood and some strings.
shows you a picture of a guitar and says, "Before we can
begin, you'll need to make yourself one of these." Anxiety
would surely be one of your emotions. What if you made a lousy
guitar? Obviously, that would have a negative effect on your
ability to learn. Unless you were already a skilled woodworker,
your hopes of becoming the next Les Paul would be dashed.
This scenario can be applied to your think about your voice.
Before you can learn to sing, you have to build an instrument.
It is a
luxury to wrap yourself around a well-made guitar. All you need
is the desire to learn and you're well on your way to becoming
a player. Unlike voices, instruments are ready to play. All
of the pianos, drums, woodwind, brass and stringed instruments
we use today are the result of centuries of refinement. But
when it comes to singing, you are both the player and the instrument.
Address these factors separately, and you'll develop much faster.
Some people are born with beautiful sounding instruments; most
of us are not. Some people want to sing; some do not. It's a
spin of a wheel which combination of mind and body you fall
into. Just to make life interesting, it seems we always long
for the abilities we do not have. Therefore, the most common
situation is that you desire to sing but have a less than desirable
voice. Take heart; you can improve. The problem is that we tend
to skip over the fundamentals in favor of performance tips.
Before long, we ask for things the instrument can't deliver
. . . yet.
What makes for a great sounding voice are the same principles
which make for a great sounding guitar. Every instrument can
be reduced to just two components. There must be something that
makes a sound, called a vibrator, and an area around the vibrator
which colors the sound, known as the resonator. The size, shape
and texture of these components are what determine the characteristics
of an instrument. There are universal properties governing sound,
so consistent we call them laws, which every instrument-builder
strives to embrace. Singers should have the same agenda. It's
actually very simple, you'll sound better if you obey the laws
The strings on a guitar, the reed on a saxophone, the head on
a drum are all examples of vibrators. Your vocal folds are the
vibrators of the voice. They are thin membranes, right in the
middle of your throat, which extend over the top of your windpipe.
The best way to understand how the vocal folds work is to inflate
a balloon and then stretch the neck to create a tiny slit at
the opening. As air escapes, a high-pitched sound is produced.
You can't see it with the naked eye, but the walls inside the
opening of the balloon are moving very rapidly.
The speed of a vibration is called the frequency. Vary the tension
as you stretch the neck of the balloon, and you'll change the
frequency. We refer to different frequencies as pitches or notes.
Notice how a small difference in tension produces a big change
in pitch. Since the opening of a nine inch balloon is the same
size as an adult's vocal folds, the tiny movement required to
change pitch is the same. Remember this the next time you're
beating yourself up to reach a high note.
A vibrator alone is worthless without a resonator, which is
why bands and orchestras don't include balloon players. Resonators
give instruments their tone. You don't have to be a scientist
to imagine a piano, guitar, drum or horn stuffed with towels.
A resonator adds color by providing an empty air space around
the vibrator. It's that simple, and what's true for an acoustic
instrument is true for the voice. Cavities, like the windpipe,
throat, mouth and nose, are all potential resonators. The bigger
the space, the richer the tone. That's why good stereos have
big speaker cabinets and why grand pianos are at least six feet
long. The more you create inside you the bigger your voice will
The relationship between vibrator and resonator is also crucial.
The less contact the two have the better. Guitar strings are
suspended across the instrument, only touching at two very small
points. The harp inside a piano floats on rubber bushings so
it never touches the wood. There is a strip of cork which separates
the mouth piece of a saxophone from the brass of the horn. Your
larynx, too, should float inside your throat. Independence is
what allows freedom of the vocal vibrator, increasing range,
pitch accuracy and consistent tone (so your voice sounds big
from top to bottom). The problem is that people have emotions
which trigger muscles to shut down the resonators -- guitars,
pianos and saxophones do not. Here's where training pays off.
We are creatures of habit. Culture, family, emotions and personality
shape our behaviors until they become second nature. If singing
is a part of your surroundings when you are young, chances are
you will sing well. If not, your habits are most likely the
problem. At first they seem necessary, but tendencies like tensing
the jaw, tongue and throat, over-compensating air pressure or
squeezing the eyes all compromise your instrument. Pitch change,
for instance, should not show up anywhere on your face, neck,
jaw or tongue. Your throat should remain relaxed, just as the
wood on a guitar doesn't care what note is being played. I'm
not suggesting that releasing negative behaviors is easy, just
necessary. If you're willing to work, though, you can develop
into an instrument that's easy to play. Hey, if a balloon can
change pitch without effort, so can you.
exercise to gain independence begins by placing your finger
on your tongue. Then, just as you would at the doctor's office,
say "AH." Sustain the "AH" as long as you
can. Keep it plain; don't try to make it sound like singing.
Now, with your finger still on the tongue, change the pitch
of your "AH." Try something lower first, then vocalize
higher. Does the tongue wriggle around beneath your finger?
Does your jaw want to move to help you change pitch? Did the
quality of your "AH" change? Keep working until the
answer to these questions is no.
So, what does all this science have to do with entertaining
an audience? It's simple. Musicians trust their instruments,
most singers don't. Any doubts you may have about your voice
will show up in your singing. It's too easy to become preoccupied
on stage with the mechanics of pitch, breathing and projection;
yet all an audience wants to hear is a song. Trusting the instrument
allows a singer to be present, to dig into the emotion of the
Just as every musician knows that a great instrument will allow
them to soar, every singer should work toward becoming one.
Be patient. Some vocal exercises seem silly or a waste of time.
Remember that the process to make a guitar does not resemble
playing one. The laws of sound apply to everyone, regardless
of how old you are or how long you've been singing. This should
be good news for all frustrated singers. Chances are you've
been playing an inferior instrument. It means you can finally
have the voice of your dreams. But first, you'll have to build
yourself a better instrument.
Baxter is a vocal therapist
who offers private and video lessons. To contact him, call:
Visit his website at: www.voicelesson.com
(reprinted with the kind permission of Singer