Resonance: A Beginner’s Guide
Because the act of singing is so sensation based a number of confusing terms and instructions have arisen to describe what singers feel.
Head voice, chest voice, middle voice, bridges, mixing, splitting, forward placement and even figure 8s are some of the many ways people will talk about and teach singing.
Where do all these varied and strange-sounding concepts come from and how do they relate to singing? The answer is: resonance.
What Is Resonance?
Resonance is basically the intensification of a sound wave, or a boost in its energy.
Think of a cheerleader’s megaphone – this device makes the voice louder by boosting the energy of the sound waves. This is accomplished by the sound waves bouncing off the inner surface of the megaphone.
Each time the sound wave hits an inner surface it picks up energy as it bounces off. The wave is now sent in the opposite direction where it bounces off the other side, again picking up more energy. This process continues as the wave makes its journey out of the megaphone, picking up energy the whole time.
The boosting of this energy is called “resonance.” The megaphone is increasing the resonance of the sound waves.
A Little Sympathy
If you placed your hand on the outside of the megaphone as someone cheered into it, you would feel it vibrate. This is called a “sympathetic” vibration, caused by the bouncing sound waves.
If the megaphone had a nervous system it would certainly feel a number of different sensations caused by these sympathetic vibrations.
We humans have our own built-in megaphones – these are the throat, mouth and lips. Sound waves leave our vocal cords and bounce around these areas just like the megaphone.
These bouncing sound waves also create sympathetic vibrations, that we feel in different parts of the body.
Singers usually feel these vibrations in the chest and head regions, hence the names chest voice and head voice. Low notes are generally felt in chest and high notes are in head.
Why do low and high notes create different sensations?
This is because we have more resonance in one part of our built-in megaphones on low notes as opposed to high.
Our main internal resonators are the throat and the mouth. Both of these areas increase the intensity of the sound waves as they bounce around on their way towards the lips.
In chest voice there is more energizing of the sound waves occurring in the throat. This causes sympathetic vibrations to be felt in the chest area. These sympathetic vibrations are strong enough to create the illusion that the voice is actually coming from your chest.
In head voice more of the energy boost is occurring in the mouth area. This causes sympathetic vibrations to be possibly felt in the nasal cavities, behind the eyes and even the top of the head. The vibrations are strong enough to create a sensation of the voice coming out the back of the head on very high notes. This, of course, is only a sensation and not what is really happening.
Words Fail Me
The odd sensations created by sympathetic vibrations of the resonators gives birth to a whole host of strange singing explanations.
The singing ideas of bringing the tone forward, putting the tone back, mixing your head and chest voices or splitting the resonance are all byproducts of sensations caused by your resonators.
Don’t let these concepts confuse you, they are merely attempts to describe sensations.
As you study singing, resonance will be a very important part. You will learn how to control which resonator is giving the bigger energy boost so that you can smoothly go from chest to head voice. You will also use resonance to create vocal power and intensity with very little physical effort.
All of the sensations singers talk about will be byproducts of your resonators working properly.
The more you understand and control your resonators the better singer you will be.