Correct singing involves many different muscles and training those muscles can take time. Many teachers and students complicate the learning process, however good singing starts with three main ingredients: breathing, an open throat and resonance. If you master the three ingredients of singing, a powerful voice quickly follows. Acquiring this voice begins with breathing.
Most of us breathe high in the chest, expanding the chest cavity and raising the shoulders to breathe. This is called shallow breathing or clavicular breathing. It is caused by stress and anxiety. The mind feels this anxiety when we’re nervous, such as the case with stage fright, and shallow breathing ensues. This engagement cuts our breath in half.
To fix this problem we must breathe from the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a thin, flat muscle underneath the lungs. It is solely responsible for inhaling. When we breathe from the diaphragm, the stomach moves first, not the chest and shoulders. Try laying on the ground or on a bed. Place a book on your stomach, below the rib cage. As you breathe in, make sure the book rises. When you exhale, allow the stomach to relax and the book to descend. Try this several times. Once you feel confident, stand up and try to move the stomach the same way. It will be awkward at first but you will soon get used to it. When you can breathe in this way consistently, then it’s time to start making sound.
The second step to the three ingredients of singing is an open throat. Keeping the throat open while singing can be a difficult task. The reason is found in the larynx. When we swallow, the larynx comes up and the throat squeezes. The reason for this is to squeeze food into the esophagus and down into the stomach. When we yawn, the larynx pulls low and opens the throat so the body can take in a maximum amount of oxygen. When we communicate, whether talking or singing, the larynx remains buoyant in the center of our throat. The problem comes when the larynx rises to the swallow position as we sing higher in our range, closing the throat. If you’ve ever experienced the feeling of the throat strangling as you sing higher, this is the reason. The goal is to keep the larynx in a middle or slightly lowered position.
To balance the larynx and keep the throat open, the space in the mouth must increase as you rise higher in pitch. Lowering the jaw, flattening the tongue and raising the soft palate are easy ways to increase space however this sometimes changes the vowel and deepens the sound. It is very difficult for beginning singers to accept this new sound as they train as it can sound very dark. The key in this step, however, is to keep the larynx from rising. Once the muscles learn how to do this innately, you can find the brightness in voice by adding the next step—resonance.
Resonance is the vibration of sound your vocal mechanism produces. This is a vital step of the three ingredients of singing. As you form shapes with the throat, tongue, lips, jaw and soft palate, resonance is either enhanced or diminished. The key to producing good resonance is producing small shape changes in the oral cavity through muscle memory. Essentially, developing good resonance is a game a trial and error. At this critical stage, beginning singers can get very frustrated because the changes in spatial shape and muscle position are very subtle. However, mastering this crucial step is a must for the singer because resonance not only adds brightness to the sound, but also magnifies the sound.
Many singers, both beginner and professional fail to realize the importance of vocal resonance. The default engagement for the untrained singer is to create a desired brightness and volume by tensing muscles in the mouth and throat. Once a trained singer masters resonance, the sound is magnified. This means that the singer can create a bigger sound with less effort. It also produces a brightness in the tone, creating a pop sound or classical sound, depending on the position of the muscles.
Resonance can be created by adding resonant consonants to your vocal exercises or pure resonant vowels. For example, if you are practicing a pure “Ah” vowel on a 1358531 scale, try changing to “Nah”. ‘N’ is a resonant consonant, being produced in the nasal cavity. This is a great way to establish resonance with a pure vowel sound. Also try ‘Y’ in front of any pure vowel you are practicing. This consonant has resonance because of the space between tongue and soft palate as it is produced. The key in any of these resonance exercises is muscle memory. A successful singer will always be able to repeat the shape.
As with any skill, there is no easy path to mastering it. If you can be patient and learn to explore, you can master singing. Try not to make the process complicated. Focus on the three ingredients of singing and your voice will definitely improve.