Introducing the Concept of Acoustics and Resonance to your Students

Weekly Teaching Tip – Mar. 7, 2016
by Earl Harville

I talk to my students quite often nowadays about the human voice as an acoustic instrument like a grand piano, cello, or horn. The initial sound is created by the vocal folds being set into vibration by the air coming from the lungs. This sound is quite small and would be hard to hear by listeners. Just as the piano’s primary tone is amplified as the sound waves are magnified and enriched inside its wooden body and soundboard, the voice’s sound is enhanced inside the cavities of the mouth, throat, and head. This natural amplification is of huge importance in efficient, healthy tone production. It gives the voice carrying power and richness. It also gives us our unique vocal ‘fingerprint’, making each person’s voice distinct and identifiable.

Unfortunately, developing a free, resonant voice is a bit tricky in today’s vocal climate. Sometimes an overemphasis on extending range- which is another extremely important goal- can cause teachers and clients to gloss over fine tuning vowels to make them more effectively sung. Also the concept of ‘placing the sound’ often causes confusion and can bring about unwanted tension and constriction. Far too many vocalists run their voices into the ground by attempting to create big sounds by brute force, singing with way too much breath pressure. This habit can lead to serious damage to the tissues of the vocal folds, as we all here in IVTOM are well aware. Singers need to be more conscious of that proper resonance that will give them the needed projection and power with far less wear and tear on the instrument.

Here is a common way that I will address the mysteries of resonance with my students: “When singing (or speaking) in chest voice, the tones resonate largely in the mouth while feeling secondary or sympathetic resonance in the upper chest. Take your hand and place it on your chest then say a robust ‘ha’. You will feel vibration against your hand in that area. Head voice finds its resonance primarily behind the soft palate and moves up and back as one sings higher. Place your hand on the top of your head and make a hooty ‘oo’ sound to sense the vibration. As we ascend from chest voice into the mix or middle voice, the resonance will move from the front of the mouth along the hard palate until head voice is reached. Having a physical awareness of the path of resonance is crucial to singing with a securely connected voice.” Believe me, it doesn’t come off so clinical once I turn on my fun vocal coach shtick.

Here are some handy ways to help our clients to concretely access the ‘buzz’ or ‘ping’, :

1) Humming- This is something we all do but don’t realize how beneficial it is as an exercise. We easily feel a lot of vibration as the sound waves bounce around and get amplified. WOOT!!! Make sure that the lips are comfortably closed, not pressed together, and have the feeling of an ‘oh’ vowel in the mouth. Gently slide up and down your range. Try to get through your register shifts or bridges without a flip. Then move to humming on scale patterns. You can use a 5 tone scale, octave arpeggio, or the octave and a half pattern.

2) Humming with tongue stretch- Same as above but stick your tongue gently outward as you execute the hum. You get to warm up your resonance while also relieving tongue tension.

3) The ‘ng’ sound- One of my favorites!!! Make the ‘ng’ sound as in the word ‘sung’. The back of the tongue raises toward the roof of the mouth while the tip stays behind the lower front teeth. It will be very buzzy like a hum. Again, do some gentle slides then proceed to scale patterns. An added benefit is the this sound is great for establishing good vocal cord closure.

4) The ‘oo’ vowel- This is a very warm, resonant vowel sound which also helps with stabilizing the larynx. As with the previous items, do gentle glissandi, sliding back and forth between chest, middle, and head voice. Then move to scales and arpeggios. ‘Oo’ is also great as cooldown after a lot of taxing singing.

5)Hum or ‘ng’ to a vowel- After getting an easy ringing feeling on the hum or ‘ng’, open to various vowel sounds. Start with ‘oo’ and ‘ee’ and then to more open vowels like ‘oh’ and ‘ah’.

Here’s to helping our students get the kind of buzz that lets their voices soar….and won’t result in jail time. (cue laugh track)
Go team, GO!!!!!!!

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