One of the significant challenges of singing is that it is sensation based, especially vocal resonance. The sensations of vocal resonance can be tricky as they are not easy for everyone to feel and often don’t present themselves until you are singing correctly. In this article, I will give you simple exercises to increase your awareness of vocal resonance.
Vocal resonance becomes the singing equivalent of “the chicken or the egg,” where you need to coordinate singing muscles and vowel shapes properly to feel vocal resonance, but you also need to feel vocal resonance to help coordinate the vowels and muscles.
Why Vocal Resonance is Important
The vocal tract is a tube comprised of the throat and mouth area and, to a lesser extent, the nasal cavities. The vocal tract is essential to the voice as it takes the small, buzzy sounds created by the vocal cords and amplifies (or resonates) them into what we recognize as the human voice.
If the vocal tract is adjusted correctly, we will get vocal resonance that makes us sound better and gives us more power, better balance, and even more range.
Why We Feel
There are descriptions of sensation that tend to be common for singers. If you do not feel these sensations of vocal resonance in the same way, that’s fine.
These descriptions are what these different parts of the voice FEEL like and are not descriptions of what is exactly happening.
Even the popular singing terms “chest voice” and “head voice” are terms of sensation rather than what is truly occurring.
Vocal resonance is simply where more significant amounts of vibration are occurring. In chest voice, there is more vibration or amplification of the voice happening in the throat. In head voice, this amplification switches to the mouth area.
Singing Resonance Pathway
As we switch from the throat resonator to the mouth resonator, many singers describe sensations of vocal resonance traveling behind the soft-palette and up behind the eyes. There is often a more nasal sensation as you ascend as well.
These sympathetic vibrations can feel very real to the singer; it is very much like a pathway going from low to high notes.
We want to strengthen our awareness of this pathway, so we can track and enhance vocal resonance to help ensure vocal balance and improve our power and tone.
Singing Resonance Exercises
Here are some simple exercises that will help you experience the proper shifts in resonance. Listen to the audio examples to assist in finding the right sounds.
Here are some simple exercises, taken from my book Beginning Singing, that will help you experience the proper shifts in resonance.
1. Close your mouth and bring your teeth gently together.
Give an enthusiastic “mmmm hmmm” like you agree with someone.
Where do you feel the vibrations of your voice? While you will likely feel vibrations in your throat from the buzzing vocal folds, you may feel even more sensations in your mouth and other areas of your head. This is because the energy of resonance is more powerful than the initial buzzing of the vocal folds (at least in good singing, it is). Your resonators increase the intensity of the sound waves, resulting in more feedback to the nervous system.
2. Now stretch it out a bit longer and focus on the sensations: “mmmm hmmm.”
Hold the “mmmm” and slowly glide up to a higher pitch, then glide back down.
What did the sensations do? Do the glide again and pay attention to the direction of the resonance. You will likely feel it go up higher in your head and then back down as the pitch goes higher and lower.
The upper register is commonly called “head voice” because of where singers feel these sensations of resonance.
Many singers experience the higher pitches as feeling behind their nose or even behind their eyes. The very highest pitches can feel as if they are coming out the top of your head. Of course, the sound is doing no such thing, but these sensations are very real to us singers. This is because of changes in the vibration of higher pitches and the way our body senses the absorption of energy.
3. Now glide your hum down to your lowest pitch, paying attention to where you feel the vibrations.
Did you feel the vibrations drop into your chest? The lower register is often called “chest voice” because of these sensations.
Now let’s map the sensations as we move from one vowel to another.
1. Hold a long OO vowel (as in BLUE).
Now go from OO to EE (as in WE). Do this slowly: OOOOOOO EEEEEEEE
Do the sensations change? How about the color of the vowels? Is one brighter and the other a bit darker?
Do this again and pay particular attention to your tongue: OOOOOOO EEEEEEEE
Do you feel your tongue move forward? Notice how the tongue movement creates changes in tone, color, and sensation.
2. Now go from OO to AH (as in CAT): OOOOOOO AAAAAAAAAH
You will notice the lips moving instead of the tongue. What changes do you notice in sensation and color (bright vs. dark)?
By paying attention to and cataloging these sensations of vocal resonance, you can begin to improve your tone and vocal balance.