Episode 121 – Your Two Voices

We are born with two voices – one that flips into high falsetto and one that can speak and yell. These voices work great for communicating, cheering, or calling for help.

But for singing strong high notes? Not so much.

In this episode, John discusses these two natural voices and why we need to navigate the middle between them in order to expand our vocal range and color.

Episode Transcript

Episode 121 – Your Two Voices

Hey there, this is John Henny. Welcome back to another edition of The Intelligent Vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending your precious listening time with me. All right. I’m coming at you a little happily, vocally tired, but, I’m here in Denver. I’ve been attending and lecturing at the International Voice Teachers of Mix Conference and it’s been a lot of talking, a lot of presenting, a lot of teaching and just a lot of learning and just attending some great lectures and it’s just wonderful learning more about vocology. And Ingo Titze’s really intensive voice science program, one of the lecturers here, Terri Stock, is a recent graduate. She’s just a wonderful voice teacher and her husband, Kurt Stock who’s just a fantastic ENT in Salt Lake City and just learning so much from them. And then, one of my voice science heroes Ken Bozeman has been lecturing here.

So it’s just wonderful. So I’m really happy, but my voice is not. So I may be getting my Barry White on this episode, but what I wanted to talk about today – and this is so much of what we do as voice teachers and this is so much of what you are going to struggle with as a singer and these are your two voices and you’ve all felt it – As Ken was pointing out in his lectures, these are the voices that we are born with. And basically we have our yelling voice, and that’s an extension of our speaking voice, and then we have that whoop, that flippy falsetto voice. And when you are learning to sing particularly higher notes, that is the struggle that you are going to have.

As a matter of fact, that’s the struggle that you are going to have to deal with your entire singing life. And that’s what you train to eliminate is the pull of either of those two voices on the higher notes. And what do I mean by that pull. Well, as you begin to get out of your speaking area of your voice and extend your range, you enter that area that is very popularly known as the break and we’ve all felt it. And what happens is you either get pulled to that yell condition and you feel the throat start to close off and your chin starts to rise and your lips really spread and your vocal cords will clamp together and you’re just pushing and pushing and yeah, it’s loud, but it’s not comfortable to do. And it usually doesn’t sound great and there’s a ceiling on how high you can go with that.

And then you have that other voice where you can sing high, but it’s very weak. It’s falsetto, it’s fluty. Now, female classical singers will take that tuning and learn to make that a very robust sound, but they’re able to make it a robust sound on higher notes than are commonly found in contemporary music, where contemporary music tends to lie. And the other issue is that sound, that beautiful hollow flute-like sound, is not what audiences are looking for in contemporary pop broadway, most jazz. So what do we do? Well, being that I’m here, surrounded by international voices teachers of mix, mix is the word that is commonly used for the solution. But even that word is problematic. And the problem that we have, and I talked about it on the last podcast, Your Brain on Singing, is the brain likes to tend to categorize it.

We like things to be binary, black and white, and mix is not necessarily a black and white term. But what mix is, is it’s being able to swim upstream in your voice between these two shores of what Ken Bozeman calls the whoop or the yell. I certainly don’t want to yell too much. I’m in my hotel room so I don’t want to be scaring people this early in the morning. And also my voice is tired. Definitely don’t want to be yelling. But those two conditions, they’re like little magnets. You’re in this river of extending your range and you’re swimming upstream. On either shore, you have those conditions. So as we’re heading up, let’s imagine we’re in the river – on our left is the whoop shore and there are currents that are pulling us to that shore.

And then as we get a little closer to the other shore on our right, well that’s the yell shore. And as we get closer to that, it wants to pull us to shore and wants to ground our boats, but we want to keep our boat in the river. And depending on where you steer your boat, if you go a little more to the left, to the whoop shore, you’re going to get a warmer, softer, slightly more heady or classical sound. But it can still be in that mixed condition and there are great singers who sing there. If you listen to Barbara Streisand, she’s able to maneuver her boat a little more to that gently warmer side and then she’s able to maneuver her boat past the middle towards that yell side, or that more intense belt.

And the more that you pulled to the right, you’re going to move from Barbara Streisand to maybe more Adele. And then as you get really close to the shore, you start to get to Idina Menzel, Whitney Houston. Now you can go into that yell condition. Cause here’s the difference between these two conditions. On the whoop side, on that heady side, it’s pretty hard to hurt yourself. There’s not a lot of tension and pressure on the vocal folds. But when you go to that yell condition, your nervous system’s automatic response is going to be to clamp up and press and yell. And it’s extremely difficult, not impossible, but it’s difficult to override that condition when you are fully on the yell shore. There are singers that can do it. It’s a specific vocal color. It tends to be rather steely, in your face, wide open.

Some people will call it splatter. In most singers, when they’re playing around on that shore, there are rattle snakes and scorpions on that shore, and thorny bushes, because a lot of vocal damage happens when people are slamming their boats into that shore too much. And it takes a lot of training to avoid the thorns, the rattlesnakes and the scorpions or the vocal damage to be able to override that. So for most singers, and certainly when you’re training the voice, you want to stay off of that shore. Now what causes those two opposing voices? Why do we have that? What we have in our vocal tract is we have resonances. Your vocal tract’s job is to take the sound waves, the signal that comes your vocal folds, and to filter and enhance it. And I really look at it as an EQ system and I often make the comparison to a DJ and the DJ’s rig.

Now the track that is coming through the DJ’s rig is always the same. The information that enters the rig never changes, of a particular song. However, the DJ can take various filters, and a very popular effect is to dial out all of the high frequencies. Think of that as the extreme version of the left shore, of the whoopy shore, all the highs have been dialed out. And then the DJ can for effect build and the DJ starts to bring in more and more filter in more of the high frequencies. And that is moving over to the right to the yell belt shore. And then the DJ takes it to the extreme. So the track never changes. The information from the vocal folds remains the same.

Now in the voice, that’s a little different because the way the voice interacts, the filter will affect what’s coming from the vocal folds. And that’s getting a little deeper than what I want to go into. But the voice is a very complicated system. And I will at times be accused of oversimplifying. And I readily admit to that. I believe it was Einstein, although online we love to attribute everything to Einstein, who said, make things as simple as possible, but no simpler. And I do admit to violating that and making it simpler. So I’m going to make this simpler. It’s going to take the signal from the vocal folds and it’s going to filter it. And when we change the filter of our vocal track to dial out the highs, at a certain point, the resonance is going to align with the part of the sound wave that gives us that.

And if we start to shift these resonances and raise them at a certain point, it’s going to grab onto a part of the sound wave. That’s the yell. Both of those conditions are our resonance moving to the whoop part or resonance moving to the yell part are very strong conditions. And those are things we can naturally do without training. We can just about all whoop and yell. We can all yell. These are mechanisms of survival and our ancestors that weren’t able to vocalize in a way to call out and to warn, or call for help, didn’t readily enter the gene pool. So nature has selected us to be able to do this. But this idea of mix, for us to be able to ride these resonances down the middle so that we can seamlessly connect our lower and upper registers without falling into either condition, that’s something that needs to be trained in.

That’s something that takes a level of skill. And that is why teachers from all over the world have flown to Denver to just discuss and talk about to get better at teaching this. And the singers that you love, that just sounds seamless and you think that they’re taking their chest voice and their lower register and they’re just able to extend it. No, that’s not what they’re doing. They’re actually maneuvering their boats through this river and then they’re able to steer closer to either shore without being pulled ashore, without being grounded and pulled away from what it is they are trying to do. So this ability to mix is a very profound skill. Now how do you manage this?

How do you control these resonances? Well, it’s actually very simple and I’ve been doing it the entire time. Now controlling it skillfully to get the vocal colors we want, that’s a high level skill. But the mechanism that controls it is something I’ve been doing this whole time and it’s called vowels. As I’ve been speaking to you, I’ve been moving these resonances up and down to filter in and out different parts of the sound wave. And as I adjust these filters, you hear this boosting of different parts of the sound wave as vowels. And this is a whole nother mind blowing part of the way we humans use sound and experience sound. We selectively hear the sound wave in a certain way and we hear parts of the sound wave. These vibrations that you can consider as pitch has different pitches. We process these different pitches as vowel. We hear pitch as vowel. But as I create these different vowels, what actually just happened there is I was boosting different pitches or different frequencies. If I do it more on a whisper which if the mic picked up. If you can hear, you can just hear the higher frequencies come in on the E.

If I do it on a fry, as I rounded, it sounds like it gets deeper. As it go to the E, it sounds like it gets higher, but it’s really it’s just filtering the same pulse that’s coming from my vocal cords. As you control vowels and shades of vowels, you will control where these resonances are sitting. The resonances are your boat. That’s the boat that you are steering up the river. You have the landscape of the sound wave and then your boat are the resonances. And if you move the resonances through the shape or your vowel to the left, to the whoo shore, and you move it too far, then that resonance is going to lock onto that part of the sound wave.

It’s going to grab that part in. You are going to flip, you are going to crack. You’re going to go into head voice too soon when you don’t want to unless of course, you want to for effect. And yodelers do that all the time. If you steer this boat of resonance through the vowel and you start changing the vowel and you open it, you make the vowel brighter. So you’re going from an OU to maybe more of an O sound. You’re kicking those resonances up and you’re getting closer to the yelling shore. And if you go too open and too wide, you will run ashore and then you will be on in yell land. And whereas over there on the left shore, it’s pretty benign. There’s some pretty flowers, not much to look at. It can be kind of dull when you’re singing pop music.

Man on that other shore, there’s all kinds of bad things that possibly await you unless you really know what you are doing. And that is why when people are straining that face that they make, that grimace and their chin is up as high as it can be and the mouth is just pulled wide open and it’s just this crazy straining, the larynx is up as high as it can be, it’s because they are just ramming that boat right way up onto that shore and into the thorn bushes and where the scorpions and rattlesnakes await. And so is that vowel that, what they’re doing in order to get that yell is they are changing the resonances to grab onto that part of the sound wave. So as you learn to really negotiate this, it really is a game of once you get your vocal folds buzzing and you work out that muscular coordination, it really becomes a game of controlling that resonance and controlling the vowels.

And the extra bonus is when you get that resonance working really well, the energy of that resonance will feedback, come back to your vocal cords and help their coordination as well. It’s just an amazing, wonderful thing and I’m sure you felt it where you will be struggling on notes and then every once in a while you will hit a particular higher note and it suddenly feels really easy and you think, where did that come from? That is the magic of tuned resonance. That’s the magic of getting your boat in the right part of that river and it feeds that energy back to the vocal folds and makes it really, really easy. So here’s to mix, here’s to learning to steer your boat and dialing in that resonance. And again, thank you for joining me.

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