Of course, there are no secrets, just concepts not everyone is aware of – but the title got you here, didn’t it?
Here’s my not really secret revelation: Vowels are different for everyone. I shall explain, and I promise not to use any Italian phrases (though it does make us voice teachers sound smarter).
When a singer hits an A above middle C (also called A4), this pitch is vibrating at 440 times per second (or hertz). However, also in this sound wave are things called “harmonics.” These harmonics vibrate at rates faster than the pitch we hear and provide tone color to the pitch.
If we hear more of the higher harmonics, the pitch sounds brighter and brassier, if we hear more lower harmonics the pitch will sound warmer or darker. Every musical instrument produces these harmonics, but how the instrument filters which ones we hear gives it its unique sound.
Even the same instrument family sounds different based on how these harmonics are affected. You can take two different brands of acoustic guitars, with the same make of guitar string, and they will sound different based on what harmonics they bring out to your ear.
Your Unique Filter
The sound waves we create in our voice are filtered by the throat and mouth. These resonators are vitally important and how they interact with the pitch can mean the difference between nailing your high note or experiencing disaster.
The best way to control these resonators is through vowels. Changing vowels, or even changing the shade of a vowel, will change the physical positioning of these resonators. This will, in turn, change the way the sound wave is filtered.
This is why vowels undergo a certain amount of modification as we sing higher. Our filters need to adjust in order to maintain an efficient relationship with the sound wave.
If we lose this proper sound wave to filter relationship we will experience dreaded vocal issues such as straining, cracking, flipping, etc.
The Secret Is
Here’s the big secret part: The degree in which the vowel needs to change is unique to you and you alone.
The reason is – the sound wave and its harmonics are the same for everyone, they are mathematically fixed values. The A440 you sing has its first harmonic vibrating at 440 cycles per second (hertz), the second harmonic is at 880 hertz, the third is at 1320 hertz, and so on.
These harmonics are the same for every A440, regardless of who is singing it.
However, the filter the A440 travels through is unique to you and you alone, unless you have an identical twin or a scary doppelganger running around.
This means you have to do the work to find the unique vowel shades necessary to hit every pitch on every level of intensity and tone color.
Yes – you have to do the work. A good voice teacher can guide you and get you there (or at least very close) but you the singer need to really feel and adjust those minute vowel shades.
The reason is, the voice teacher will need to adjust their voice differently than yours. Ultimately only you can fine tune your vowels.
You need to become a vowel tuning machine, capable of finding your unique adjustments on every pitch.
There it is, one secret of vowels, a “segreto delle vocali.” Sorry, I know I promised, but that does sound oh so smart in a voice teacher kind of way.