The human voice is a most unique instrument. So much of what we physically need to control is just below our full physical awareness, causing us to often use resulting sensations as a guide.
This would be the equivalent of knowing if you are playing an acoustic guitar correctly by how the vibrations feel against your body. Seeing the instrument and feeling such obvious markers as your fingers on the fretboard are diminished or removed completely.
This is one of the main reasons for much of the disagreements in the world of voice. It can also lead us to use sensations to explain what is actually happening, This does not always yield correct results.
I have been recently asked by singers about the concept of split resonance. Some even worry they are doing something wrong if they don’t specifically feel this occurring.
Split Resonance – Common Explanations
Split resonance is the idea that as you ascend in your range, portions of the sound waves, that were previously being sent to your mouth and hard palate, change direction and are now sent back behind the soft palate.
It has even been suggested that these sound waves are redirected by the cords “zipping up” from back to front, creating a smaller vibrating area for higher pitches. This smaller area changes the direction of the sound waves and shoots a portion of them behind the soft palate.
Although the cord zipping concept has been long disproven by vocal science, many still claim the actual physical splitting of resonance and a change in sound wave direction.
Feelings…Nothing More Than Feelings
This is a case of “if it feels like X, then X must be true.”
My daily experience of the world is that it is flat. As I sit here typing there is absolutely nothing that would cause me to perceive I am on a circular object that is spinning through space.
It is obvious if I allow my physical perceptions to drive my knowledge I quickly run into trouble.
What Is Really Happening?
The sound waves produced by your vocal cords travel through two resonators before exiting the lips – they are the throat and the mouth. This is where resonance occurs.
Some can argue the nasal passages are involved but recent research indicates little or no nasal resonances in a properly sung tone.
These two resonators boost the sound waves and provide amplification. On lower notes more of this boost is occurring in the throat area. On higher notes the boost is stronger in the mouth area.
This change in intensity of resonance can cause the singer to feel that the resonance is changing direction and is now suddenly in a new place.
However the sound waves are always traveling through and being boosted by both resonators. At no point do the sound waves suddenly split and change direction with half of them going behind the soft palate, which would create an overly nasal sound.
Splitting All Over Myself
Imagine a room with two lamps on opposite sides of the room, both on dimmer switches. These dimmer switches are set so that neither lamp can be fully turned off, they can only be made brighter or dimmer.
Using the dimmer switches to make one lamp brighter than the other is the equivalent of changing dominant resonators. There is a greater energy boost in one area of the room, however the waves of light from both lamps are always traveling through the room, their directions unchanged. Both lamps are always on and illuminating the room.
If one wants to argue for split resonance then ALL resonance is technically split. Both resonators are involved on every note. Split resonance is not confined to one specific area of the voice.
Some may retort that it feels like the resonance is splitting at a certain point.
But what about the singers that sing well but do not feel this phantom change? Is there something wrong with their technique? Absolutely not.
The appearance of split resonance in one part of the voice is simply a physical sensation caused by a change in resonator energy. This concept of split resonance should be taught as “it feels as if” as opposed to an actual truth.
It is no more or less valid than telling a student to bring the tone forward or backward, through the back of their head or out the soles of their feet. These are all sensations a singer may or may not feel.
Humans don’t feel things the same way – even if they are doing them alike. Your experience of good singing should not be dictated by anyone, especially when they are asking you to feel and hear something that isn’t really occurring.