The Key: Balance and Consistency of Air, Muscle and Vowel

Weekly Teaching Tip – Aug. 15, 2018
by Dean Kaelin

With all things there is a complicated and an easy explanation. Sometimes we get so caught up in the subtleties and intricacies of the voice (and there are many) that we forget that it doesn’t need to be so complicated.

There are only 3 things that a singer really controls; the airflow, the resistance on the vocal folds and the vowel (shape of the mouth and throat). Whenever we are adjusting or “fixing” a voice we are always dealing with one (or more) of these three things.

Always remember how the voice works: Air comes from the lungs and sets the vocal folds into vibration. If there is a little resistance on the vocal folds the air is turned into a sound wave. The sound wave then travels up the throat and out of the mouth. As the sound wave travels through the throat and mouth (vocal tract) it is affected by the shape of the throat and mouth creating different tones. We refer to the different shapes of the throat and mouth as vowels.

Here is the key! If a singer will keep an even and consistent flow of air, a consistent minimal amount of resistance on the vocal folds and a consistent “centered vowel” (all vowels feeling more similar and consistent) he/she will be able to move smoothly throughout their entire range with an even sound, good tone and control. There will be no breaks or unintentional sudden changes in intensity or timbre. There must absolutely be no “helping” of the pitch by reaching up or down.

I know you may have heard this all before, but even if you have, think about it again. It is the key to good singing. Although they may not know it, it is the skill that ALL singers desire to develop and if you are good at helping people develop this skill your studio will always be busy.

As singing teachers, probably the most essential skill we can develop is the ability to hear consistency of the air flow, resistance and the vowel. All we need to do is to help our students gain the confidence that if they will keep these 3 things consistent the sound will feel like it is traveling up and down their body (even though it really isn’t), but they will keep an even and smooth sound throughout their entire range. (No breaks!) If they will do this they will sound good on any song they sing. Then with some minor adjustments to these three elements they can begin to color the sound and add dynamics and style (hopefully without knocking out the balance they have created) and sound great!

So, as a teacher, develop your ear to hear subtle changes in vowel placement and changes in air flow and resistance. Hear tension in the vocal tract (throat, jaw, tongue and mouth) and get rid of it wherever it occurs. Convince your students to “trust their body” and not to try and “help the sound” by reaching up or down or change things as pitches change. Get them to focus on the feeling of an even flow of air past the vocal folds and right out of their mouth, traveling through a round and open vocal tract right out of the lips. (Singing “straight out”.) Convince them not to chase the illusion of sound going up and down the body and trying to “help” it by “reaching up” or “letting go”. (“Pulling chest” or “flipping into head voice”.)

If you can accomplish this you are most of the way there. Then there will be plenty of time for the subtleties, the fine tuning and adding style.

Keep Singing,
Dean Kaelin

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