Good Voice Techniques

 

  • Basics
  • Exercises
  • Problems

 

Basics

Talking/singing with minimum effort is the key to a good voice, because human voice is an energy that can easily run out, requiring time to recharge anew, however gifted one is. The best voice in the world has its own needs and limits it shouldn't cross. It's unnatural to keep speaking or listening to others continuously; after all, silence is more valued for human civilization.

Pleasure and stress don't go together. Singing while voice or ear is stressed/unready leads to bad performance, and to bad voice eventually. Even emotional stress can easily show in one's voice and harm performance, transpiring in spite of oneself. (No wonder voice-stress analysis is used as a lie detector.) Singing or talking comfortably with minimum energy hones one's "sense of sounds," leading to a sensitive voice, which is what a beautiful voice is all about.

Focus during singing is vital. Singing is an input and output, receiving and producing sounds, by the eardrums and vocal organs, respectively. One can initially focus only on hearing and making sounds, by singing to oneself, enjoying their very vibrations received by their ears and the physical relief felt in the throat, lungs and head. Having "attentive ears & sensitive vocal organs" automatically guides one to good singing, by:

  • hearing yourself: listening carefully to your own voice, preferably, with eyes closed, body still, away from noise, and even ignoring others' reaction to your voice;
  • articulating sounds should be enjoyed just as enjoying hearing them or any other physical pleasure, e.g. eating (chewing/swallowing/spitting/ruminating SOUNDS), exercising (loosening/tensing up vocal cords), stretching, yawning, crying, laughing, etc.

Conversely, excessive crooning/humming to entertain oneself inattentively, for long times, dulls and "chokes" voice, because of lack of focus.

Following others' footsteps is a simple guide to singing. Many people learn to imitate others' voices to improve their own, which is partly & initially useful, by keeping somebody else's voice "in mind" while performing. Imitation is a good guide for beginners, just as painters and poets made replicas and parodies of others' works. (Even countries import others' technologies and cultural values until they develop their own.) For example, Frank Sinatra used to sing like Bing Crosby early in his life (when Crosby's style was common), until he developed his own style.

Imitating others' voices/intonation/singing style usually happens unconsciously, and it is a must sometimes to cope with one's environment and the people one lives with. It's why certain places, eras and languages have their particular conversation and singing habits one is influenced by. No wonder it's difficult sometimes to enjoy songs by people from other countries, languages and eras.

Singing with power completes singing with pleasure and focus. A powerful voice is not necessarily a beautiful one, but a beautiful voice must be powerful enough to sing. Power, in singing or otherwise, is just a medium for beauty & happiness. A strong voice needs mastery of breathing, vocal cords, and the entire body.

  • Sport improves breathing control, be it power/cardio/relaxation exercises.
  • Certain drinks & foods help control one's voice.
  • A suitable environment is needed for vocal exercises (private, quiet, etc.). Otherwise, one should focus on
    • "virtual" powerful singing, i.e. voiceless exercises of vocal organs, where you feel you can but you won't;
    • low-volume singing with more use of head voice to better hear oneself.

Technology has made strong voices less needed than before. It is gradually replacing not only volume (by use of microphones), but also pitch, length, and voice ornaments. Eventually, one will be able to live with a totally synthetic voice, or even many voices.

Performing with pleasure turns singing into a good experience to both audience and singer. One needn't complicate such simple rule, esp. those studying or analyzing voice, because, after all, signing is an instinct we share with other animals (like chirping/croaking/mooing), whose brains are not complex like ours. (An animal rarely abuses its voice, whether good or bad.) Our voice is part of nature, and the best singing is that close to nature. However evolved our brain is, it still cannot make sounds; it only "processes" them.

Thus a singer's voice should reflect and evoke nature: the resonance of water drops in a cave, the weeping of wind, the echo of mountains and depth of thunder, the cry of a young animal, the joy of a bird chirping ... Above all, it should reflect those basic simple emotions we share with animals: joy, sadness, pride, fear .. or just resting and silence.

Whatever one learns about singing rules, one should always keep the larger picture and main purpose in mind, that is, enjoying & letting others enjoy what they do.

 

Exercises

Curbing, Deepening, Smoothing, and Ringing

1. CURBING

Mouth-Closing

  • It's the easiest protection and energy-saving technique for the voice, as curbing the mouth forces one to use minimal energy, which is vital to avoid exhaustion, the number one vocal problem.
  • It forces one to use lower speech organs and ventriloquism. Alternating between mouth-tightening and abs-tightening is vital for air control, as too much or too little air can change voice dramatically.
  • It gives diversity of ornaments and better pronunciation, unlike open-mouth operatic singing that disregards both ornaments and pronunciation (focusing on powerful accurate singing instead).
  • It is relaxing to the mouth and facial muscles, which increases mouth sensitivity, where actual sounds eventually vibrate and come out.
  • It even increases sensitivity and control over the use of words, forcing you to be verbally frugal, using minimal words.
  • It can be done with minimal mouth opening (a slightly open mouth), or minimal mouth moving (a still mouth) even while mouth is wide open (like a sculpture with mouth agape) which is good for high-volume wordless notes.
  • Some do it out of confidence, apathy, or privacy: hiding feelings or mouth (teeth, food, lip-reading, etc.).

Singing aloud with a closed mouth is difficult for beginners. Instead, most voice students are initially asked to fully open their mouth during singing, to make the best of the air in their lungs (the "air-box" that weakens/strengthens sound like a bagpipe/accordion/organ). Mouth opening helps master pitch, volume and duration, at the expense of beauty, as long as strength is favored over beauty (e.g. for high volume or accurate operatic on-key singing). Unfortunately, mouth opening is facially exhausting and contorting. However, students can gradually learn to use maximum air on demand, even with a closed mouth. 

 

2. DEEPENING

Low Notes

  • Mastering low notes gives control over breathing, which in turn controls volume, pitch and length. Accordingly, they express the voice of reason, self-control, and the masculine yang side of life.
  • They are less noticed than high notes, making a good "background" for group singing.
  • They are less exciting, unable to express intense emotions. Rather, low notes can be relaxing, neutral or even apathetic to the ear.
  • They have less coloration and ornaments. It's why there are less famous bass singers. It's also why broadening is more common in operatic singing than popular singing (that is more concerned with singing emotionally and beautifully).

To "broaden" one needs:

  • More sleep, rest, physical slowness, and upright positions, as it mainly vibrates in the chest more than the head or throat.
  • More air in the lungs to be exhaled slowly during singing. Having a full stomach helps achieve this, but singing "on a full stomach," like some opera singers do, has many shortcomings, to body as well as voice. An empty, relaxed, tightened stomach is better.
  • Doing silent yawning/laughing, or any open-mouth voice position, as mostly done by Billy Eckstine (and less by Dick Haymes) who also used to "trill" like opera singers.
  • It can take the form of scooping (like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Dick Haymes), modulating between low and high notes with more respiration (air), as done by Bing Crosby and many in news reading and commercials. The "airy" notes' relaxing effect counterbalances the serious bass notes.
  • It can take the form of operatic broadening as done by Elvis Presley and Italian-influenced Americans (Jim Nabors, Vic Damone, etc.).

 

3. SMOOTHING

High Notes

  • High notes are better for expressing emotions.
  • They are more heard and distinctive. Using them is useful for voice control during conversation/singing in a quiet environment, for privacy or otherwise. It's also useful for distant, invisible and cacophonous communication. The high-pitch call used by some tribes for communication is the loudest traveling sound ever recorded. Too much exposure to loud high-pitch or low-pitch sounds is naturally painful and harmful. A group of screaming women/children/birds/bats/bugs can be extremely annoying to the ear.
  • High notes clean up the voice of hoarseness and other flaws. Many singers take a "feminine break" during singing, e.g. John Lennon's Imagine (the high-pitch "yo, hoo, hoo" at couplet ends).
  • They are more used in voice ornaments.
  • They are more distinct, and physically and emotionally needed, in pain, fatigue and grief. (It's hard to weep with low notes.)

 

4. RINGING

Nasalizing

  • It gives resonance and beauty to voice, like metal/hollow objects: caves, bells and most instruments.
  • Mumbling low notes through the nose is a useful exercise for relaxation and control, where sounds vibrate on the top of the mouth (like the mooing sound of a cow). Examples in acting: Jack Nicholson & Dustin Hoffman. Examples in singing: Dean Martin.
  • Although nasalizing with a closed mouth makes sounds come out vague & inarticulate, they are resonantly attractive to others and quite clear to oneself.
  • Uttering high notes through the nose causes a very sharp arrogant unattractive twang, although it makes words perceived very clearly by listeners. Usually long-nosed people, midgets, snobs and nerds speak this way. Examples: Michael Douglas.
  • Nasalizing is best with a deep smooth voice. Otherwise, it turns into a mechanic twang with a smooth-only voice, or into mooing with a deep-only voice, or into a whimper if voice is neither smooth nor deep.

Some languages are more nasal than others, including more nasal sounds, like French and Asian languages. Because of its "vagueness," nasalizing is more common in religious singing.

 

Problems

Some voice problems are permanent and difficult to cure, where one cannot but cope with them. Such are caused by genes, accidents or years-long problems. Temporary voice problems can be fixed.

  • Loss of voice is the most serious problem. If caused by a medical condition or an accident, treatment is needed. If by voice abuse, silence should be kept until voice returns to normal.
  • Hoarseness is the most common voice problem, caused by exhaustion, dehydration, drug abuse, smoking, and fats. Mucus naturally develops around vocal cords for their safety and flexibility. However, too much mucus mars the voice. Getting rid of mucus by force is even worse, causing long damage. Because it's so common, and many voices are naturally hoarse, it is sometimes accepted esp. for expressing pain, anger, stress ... as in popular and gypsy singing.
  • Sharpness results from over-stressing words, which leads to developing constant mechanic robot-like overtones in one's voice difficult to remove or hide. It grows in many contexts: teaching, coaching, tour-guiding, etc. Nevertheless, stressing sounds is important when talking to a cacophonous company, or even in making an argument. It makes one's voice easily distinguished by others, and by oneself, which is initially useful till one commands their voice and discards such unnecessary overtones.
  • Croaking results from over-talking in a serious assertive manner, as in reading news, giving commands, quarreling, demonstrating power/machismo, etc.
  • Whining: childish, hyper-feminine voice results from overusing emotional and sensational talking without control.
  • Twanging, intentionally overusing the head voice out of apathy or laziness.
  • Mouth/throat infection, caused by cold, over-talking, certain foods, etc. Silence is most advised at such times. Yet, some people grow impatient to talk while still recovering from an illness. They may even like their voice while sick (their nasal head voice caused by nose congestion, or deep chest voice when phlegm grows around vocal cords).
  • Face/mouth exhaustion, caused by over-acting (overusing facial expressions while talking) and over embellishing voice.
  • Breathing problems, caused by respiratory, digestive, or abdominal conditions: congestion, overeating, cramps, wrong singing positions, etc.

Solutions: When not ready to talk, or your voice is not in shape, do the following:

  • Be silent or talk less.
  • Whisper, use level intonation, use short sentences, or even "mumble," talking to yourself more than others, if it doesn't offend them.
  • Use well-known expected language stereotypes, which require minimum effort by both listener and speaker.
  • Sleep and rest. It's not good to talk much after waking up; rather wait till throat smoothes up by time passing, drinks, foods, or everyday conversation and mere body movement that naturally rids the throat of over-night mucus. However, sleeplessness/pain/grief can be temporarily useful for voice sensitivity, making one make minimum effort while talking/singing and using mostly head voice, which is attractive but not strong.
  • Avoid hemming and clearing your throat loud. Rather do it voicelessly.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and other causes of dehydration.
  • Avoid over-talking, over-stressing pronunciation/notes, yelling, whining, and extreme/sudden voice changes as when imitating others' voices or studying phonetics.
  • Focus on the things you know you can do with your voice.
  • Protect and hone the few vocal skills you have.
  • Find alternative non-vocal mediums to make yourself understood by others correctly: body language, technology, positive silence ... and actions.


 

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Music

How to Listen to Classical Music

Speech vs. Silence

 

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