Contemporary vocal techniques: Heavy modal, Twang, Belting

Heavy modal, Twang, Belting

What is a contemporary vocal technique? 

📚TERM. Contemporary

Contemporary is something that is occurring in the present, so in this case: Vocal Techniques that are used in Pop/Soul/Gospel/Rock music.

Contemporary vocal sounds are the main sounds of today’s pop, rock, and soul music. While jazz singing is softer than the above mentioned and classical singing has a different use of resonance, the contemporary singing styles often have a powerful midrange. When Whitney Houston released her first CD in 1985, everyone was impressed by her extraordinary and powerful pop/gospel sound! Singing loudly in a high chest voice wasn’t really a thing until then! 

Today many more singers like Christina Aguilera, Demi Lovato, Mariah Carey, and Beyonce have a powerful sound over their whole range, singing very high without necessarily using falsetto voice. The powerful sound sort of became a trademark of the contemporary styles, and I am not saying that every pop and soul tune is powerful and loud, this of course differs! Audiences experience the strong mid-and-high chest voice as very exciting and emotional. But don’t forget that not every singer has the voice to do it! This is, as always, a matter of practice, technique, breath support, and anatomy! If you don’t know if your voice is capable of singing in the heavy modal voice, I would recommend you to analyze your voice. There are two very common vocal types: 

  • Light voice 
  • Heavy voice 

That can be developed but not really changed. It is a matter of timbre which results from the construction of your vocal tract. Light-voiced singers often have more difficulties to really get to a powerful and loud sound in the mid-range. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible! At the end of the day, it is always practice that will make it happen and I would advise you to do it with a coach who knows how it works! Wrong use happens fast and can be harmful and difficult to get rid of – so don’t even bother to go there! 

Three contemporary vocal techniques

There are several techniques that can be used to get a powerful and strong voice in the middle range and I will be talking about 3 of them today:

  1. Heavy modal 
  2. Twang
  3. Belting

1. Heavy modal

Heavy modal is a powerful, open sound in the mid-range.

How does it sound?

If done right, you will get a loud, open, round, and warm-sounding timbre. 

What’s happening in your Vocal tract?

It is basically a combination of:

Singing in a heavy modal voice means that you are singing with a lot of volume, high in your modal register. The higher you sing, the more air pressure is needed, especially if you want to keep the low larynx, which you need for a powerful sound! The coordination of your air pressure and resonance will prevent your voice from heavily breaking between modal voice (chest voice) and falsetto voice (head voice).  

The heavy modal sound can only be taken up to a certain pitch, so it will flip to falsetto voice eventually! The pitch where the flip happens depends on your personal physical structure, and you will need to explore that yourself, but there are billions of YouTube videos on that topic!

In order to have a smooth transition between the two different voice registers, you will have to modify your sound in time, which means a couple of notes before it flips! To modify the sounds you need to use the correct coordination between air pressure and resonance. This is something you really need to practice, it is hard work and will be tiring for your voice so take it easy!! 

Keeping your neck long

The position of your head and neck are crucial when it comes to an open sound. You want to have enough room in your throat and oral cavity! 

Tricks. How to get a straight neck

– Putting your hand onto your neck, will automatically make your neck straight

– Pretending to have a thread attached to the back of your head pulling it up, is another way to make your neck straight

Flexible diaphragm

I already shortly mentioned it above, when you sing high, the air pressure increases and in order to have your air pressure under control, you need to be fond of your breath support and how to use it! If breath support is new to you I would recommend checking out this article. 

Nasality

If you have trouble getting a warm, deep sound in the mid-range, nasality could be helpful. Next to the fact that nasality doesn’t always sound nice, it has 3 quite beneficial ways of use. In combination with a loose jaw and a relaxed tongue, nasality can relax the muscles holding the larynx so, therefore, create a warm sound. 

Furthermore, the transitions between the registers will be smoother, because the notes both above and below the break will sound nasal. In addition, the use of nasality is a good method for working on the connection between breath and voice and thus improves resonance. 

2. Twang

How does it sound?

Twang produces a quite penetrating, metallic sound, that carries well but in some circumstances might sound too harsh and hard. It can be used in a loud and in a soft volume and therefore can be applied in speaking and in singing, which is why it can make a smoother transition between the registers.

What’s happening in your vocal tract? 

  • You are singing with a high larynx
  • The pharyngeal cavity is narrowed = short space between the epiglottis (which closes off the windpipe when you swallow) and larynx

📚TERM. Pharyngeal cavity

The cavity reaching from the back part of your mouth until your throat

As soon as you move up your larynx, for example, when you sing an „ee“ or „eh“ sound, your sound gets brighter and almost metallic. The metallic sound is created by specific overtones that are generated through the narrowness of the space in the pharyngeal cavity. Metallic can be seen as the main characteristic of twang. It is a sound that can be used while singing and while speaking so isn’t necessarily loud. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of twang? 

  1. You get more volume with relatively little effort
  2. Twang makes belting (next topic) easier 
  3. Twang can also make the transition between voice registers smoother ( particular sound for notes above and underneath the break )

3. Belting 

How does it sound?

Belting sounds harsh, loud and high and has a brassy aesthetic. It gives a very emotional and powerful sound that is often used in pop, soul, musical and rock music.

Examples of belting men:

Examples of belting woman:

What is happening in your vocal tract? 

  • You are singing with a high larynx 
  • Pharynx is narrowed
  • The horizontal opening of the mouth is increased – almost like smiling
  • Air pressure is high – so good breath support is needed

Belting refers to singing notes in your head voice range with the power of your chest voice. It is basically yelling. We yell when we are mad, excited, or afraid. It is a natural instinct that underlines emotions. When people started singing they would yell, in order to express stronger emotions. The thing is when you belt the way you yell, it’s very easy to damage the voice, it leads to hoarseness and nodules.

📌FACT.

When you sing in your chest voice, the vocal cords are thick and short. 

When you sing in your head voice, the vocal cords are thin and long. 

If you now sing a falsetto pitch, with a chest voice color, which is what you do when belting, the vocal cords are thick but long. This is very stressful for the voice because a lot of tension lies in the vocal cords. With the vocal cords being too thick for the note that is being sung, the extra pressure and tension can really hurt. 

Belting needs a lot of practice. It’s very important to do it correctly because wrong use happens fast and can lead to pain. Breath support and posture are major influences that have to work solidly, in order to belt correctly. When you are at the beginning and want to get started, I would recommend working with a teacher or coach, because wrong use can hurt and be harmful!

Literature References: 

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