Resonance in singing

“Resonance is where the magic happens, it is what gives your voice intensity, personality, emotion, and what helps you make a mark as a singer. Resonance is all about better tone quality”

Victoria Rapanan 

Video for episode #016

What are the ingredients of a sung tone? 

The sound we create, when speaking or singing consists of a fundamental tone and its overtones. This means that several overtones resonate when we sing a note, so we never hear just one note. A sung note emerges through the air that pushes against our vocal folds. This air makes the vocal folds vibrate and the vibration per second determines the pitch. Instead of the number of vibrations per second, we usually speak of the frequency of a tone, which is expressed in HERTZ (abbreviation: Hz). The A above middle C (on the piano), also called A4 has a frequency of 440 Hz, which means that the vocal cords vibrate 440 times per second when this note is sung. 

📚TERM. Fundamental and Overtones

The fundamental is the frequency that defines the note. It’s the loudest frequency, that’s why our ears perceive the pitch based on it. As mentioned above we never hear only one note though! The overtones generated by singing are called `harmonics´. These harmonics don’t influence the pitch, but the color and timbre. Their frequency (the number of vibrations per second) is a multiple of the frequency of the fundamental. 

🦧EXAMPLE.  If we sing a tone with the frequency of 220 Hz, it creates overtones of 440 Hz, 660 Hz, 880 Hz. 

Sound color 

The overtones don’t always sound at equal volumes. When we talk about a voice’s sound, timbre, or voice color, we talk about the proportion of volume between the overtones. 

So when specific overtones are amplified, a distinct sound texture will be received. This is not at all about the pitch of a tone but whether it sounds dark, bright, reedy, nasal, etc. 

The color is also influenced by the vocal tract.

Vocal tract 

The vocal tract: throat and oral cavities, containing the hard palate, soft palate, tongue, and lips, amplify and filter the sound that is created by the vocal cords. 

You can compare the vocal tract to the soundbox of an instrument like a guitar or violin. The strings of the instrument would be the vocal cords, and the soundbox, the vocal tract. 

However, there is one major difference between an instrument’s soundbox and our vocal tract, because we as singers can modify the length and shape of the vocal tract, which is not possible with the wooden soundbox of an instrument. The modification of the vocal tract influences: 

  1. How much resonance takes place, or in other words, how much the sound is amplified 
  2. The sound color or proportion of the volume of the overtones. 

“We can not help what we are born with, but we can decide what we do with the sound“

Victoria Rapanan 

Resonance 

Resonance is basically what happens when we amplify the basic sounds we produce. The mouth and pharynx (vocal tract) act as resonance spaces and can actively be shaped. To shape the vocal tract in a way that the fundamentals and overtones are amplified, you will need to explore a lot! There will be an exercise video below, to get you started!

Vocal Onset 

How you start a note is called vocal onset. This has a particularly strong influence on your resonance because it is the first impulse. When you start on a vowel sound you need to be careful to not always do it with a hard onset, also called `glottal stop´. To prevent the `glottal stop´ from becoming a habit I would recommend, sometimes put a consonant in front of the vowel. 

Instead of always singing: “aaah”, try “zaaah, taaah, paaah, waaah” etc. 

While the hard onset, when used too much, can be harmful to the vocal cords, an onset that is too soft is also unfortunate. A soft onset happens when not all of the air going past the vocal cords, is converted to sound. Singers call the resulting sound `breathy´ and actually, it is a sound trending in Jazz/Pop singing. Nevertheless, it should be used wisely and consciously.  

Placement 

“Good singers are very aware of what their singing feels like”

Victoria Rapanan

A commonly used expression among singers is `singing in front of the mouth´, and refers to an optimal sound `placement´. When you sing with an optimal resonance, it can feel like the tone is placed in the front of your mouth and you may feel vibrations in your head. The tone comes easily, is loud, and doesn’t need effort. 

Now, this is a very vague concept! But the thing is, that you cant see good placement nor show it to someone… It is something the singer needs to find out for him/herself. I can tell you that most singers recognize when they sing with good sound placement. Because singing seems to happen by itself, and the tone sounds clear, rich, and easygoing. 

The sound placement is greatly influenced, by the vocal cords closing, the articulation, and vocal onset. Once you’ve started a tone, it’s hard to change something about it! 

So before you sing a tone, you need to properly prepare yourself! 

Some tips to explore your voice and its resonance a bit: 

  1. Breathe out every bit of air that is left in your lungs
  2. Breathe in abdominally – relaxed
  3. Sing a note, in a relaxed range 
  4. Move around your tongue and listen to how the sound changes 
  5. Sing a note and lift your soft palate (yawning movement) 
  6. Sing a note and pretend that the sound comes out of your neck

Literature References

  • Victorias Victorious vocal tips
  • Singing from the inside out – Ineke van Doorn 

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