By now, most singers and voice teachers know that taking the lower register too high, or “pulling chest” is wrong. It limits range and can cause a host of vocal issues.
It was found that changing vowels from wide to more narrow stopped the chest pulling process and enabled a singer to get into their mix or blend area more easily.
To explain: AH is considered a wide vowel and OO is narrow. The mix area is a resonance strategy that allows the singer to smoothly go from their lower to upper registers (chest and head voice). This mix is sometimes called “middle voice.”
The AH of “cat” will more fully engage chest resonance, while the OO of “boot” will bring in more head resonance.
This led to the idea of vowel narrowing – the higher you sing the more you should close down the vowel.
Is The Cure Worse Than The Disease?
This vowel narrowing had the effect of stopping chest pulling, but created an unintended side-effect. While the mix area got better, the head voice was weakened.
Singers certainly got more upper range on these narrowed vowels, but the resulting sound was overly heady and weak. These singers were often told to keep working these sounds and they would build strength over time.
The problem is, these sounds will never get stronger. For reasons beyond the scope of this article, it is acoustically impossible to strengthen these overly narrowed sounds beyond a certain point. You are wasting time and money.
The fact is, once you have made your way through this transition, most vowels need to OPEN rather than close, especially if you want to sing with strength and intensity.
Think of your voice as having a bass resonator and a treble resonator. You control these resonators with your throat (larynx), jaw, lips and tongue. Moving these around changes the degree of treble and bass you are using.
Adjusting vowels is the easiest and most natural way to make changes in these resonators.
When you hit the initial transition area, you want to dial down the bass resonator and start slowly cranking up the treble. Narrowing the vowel does this. It dials down the bass and brings the treble in gently – not too much yet.
Here’s where it becomes a problem – as you continue to sing higher you need to keep the bass dialed back, but bring the treble up. Continuing to narrow the vowel does a great job of pulling back the bass, but it pulls back the treble as well.
The result is an over-light, heady sound, or, if the singer tries to belt into this coordination, a pinched, squeezed sound.
The Better Cure
The key is to keep a stable larynx (which controls the bass) and to bring up the treble by spreading the lips of the mouth more open and even moving the tongue forward.
Note: this requires precision and a level of skill to do correctly. Overdoing this can cause both the treble and bass to shoot up too quickly, causing cracking, straining, etc.
If you are a beginning singer, the over-narrowed vowel can be useful for a time as you need to break the body’s natural habit of yelling (pulling chest).
However, to realize the full measure of your voice you are going to need to learn to open vowels in the upper register. This is the only way to have full power at higher pitches.
This is best done with a qualified voice teacher – yes there are some good self-study programs out there, but ultimately a trained ear will be your best guide to truly realize your vocal potential.
Learn to open vowels correctly and you will soon be thrilling your listeners with intense, stunning high notes.