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Voice Centre FAQ

Extracted from the book: Ultimate Vocal Voyage, by Daniel Zangger Borch

 

- I am an 18 year old guy that sings a lot. I would like to improve my voice but most of all I would like a husky voice. Is it possible to develop a husky voice by singing a lot?

- A hoarse voice can be produced by congenital or acquired asymmetry in the vocal mechanism. Singing yourself hoarse is not a good idea as it can lead to you not being able to sing at all. Instead, you should learn how to sing with a breathy quality although this is nothing you should attempt on your own. Consult a singing teacher.

 

- Hi! I have been singing and performing for most of my life. Two years ago I was on tour for nearly a year and started to drink, smoke and party. I noticed that my voice became rougher and “drier”. Sometimes I have difficulty hitting high notes in the chest register.

- It is tempting to start partying and smoking when on tour and this more often than not results in your voice taking a beating. You should consult a vocal coach who is used to working with this problem and learn a new technique that works for you. It may be an idea to learn more about voice care and to have a medical examination to determine if your voice has sustained any physical injuries.

 

- Have always wondered how some singers can riff and slide effortlessly between notes.

- The reason some singers can do this is that they have trained a lot. Of course genetics plays an important roll as well. Softer voices ie. voices with shorter vocal folds and less vocal fold mass, have an easier time quickly changing pitch than more powerful voices.

 

- Why do some people have better singing voices than others despite having undergone the same amount of training?

- The question is really, what is meant by singing “well”? It may be said though that certain singers have superior technique and have mastered the various dimensions of the voice. This means that they can sing in tune, softly, powerfully, high and low and can express themselves as they like through their voice. The fact that some are better than others despite equal amounts of experience is quite simply a matter of talent. Vocal talent is not just a question of being able to produce the notes but also the ability to master musical nuances and present an appealing sound.

 

- I love singing and have devoted my life to it. I wonder how I can make industry contacts and maybe record a demo.

- I think you should start buy enrolling in a singing course where there will be like-minded people. If you already have a demo, send it to various music publishing houses and see if they would like to hire you as a demo singer.

 

- Hi there! If you have sung at a very high standard for many years and then had a break for a few years, will your voice quality have deteriorated? Does the voice continue to get worse after thirty? How long is it in its prime? At what age are you “finished” as a singer?

- Hard to know exactly what you mean by “high standard”. Do you mean that you worked as a singer or that you had a voice as good as a professional singer? The voice works just like the rest of the body. If you don’t train, your fitness deteriorates. On the other hand, as is the case with all activity, if you have previously trained hard at something it will be relatively easy for you to pick it up again. In my opinion the best singers are between 25 and 50 years old. A voice isn’t “old” until close to 60.

 

- How many hours a day can you practice without damaging your voice?

- Generally speaking it is hard to say how long you can practice each day. As long as your technique is good and you feel fresh at the start of each day, you obviously aren’t doing anything wrong. The stamina of your muscles depends on oxygen supply and uptake and is highly individual. I will go out on a limb however and say two hours a day including warm up and cool down.

 

- I am a 15 year old girl who loves to sing, but sometimes I feel I strain my vocal folds because I get a really sore throat. Why is this so and what can I do about it?

- The reason you throat hurts may be because you are straining your vocal folds beyond their limits by singing too high or too loud. It could be that your voice is breaking (yes, this happens to girls too!) which is a tricky period for the voice but fortunately is only temporary. You’re probably also singing songs that are written for adult performers and that are too high for you. A rule of thumb: If you get a ticklish cough or a sore throat, rest your voice! You should also take lessons to improve your technique and vocal awareness.

 

- I have always wanted to sing. My greatest dream is to be a singer, but my voice won’t cooperate. Seriously, I sound pretty bad! I don’t know what to do. Is there anything I can do to learn to sing or must I start from the beginning? It really is my ultimate dream.

- First of all, to be a good singer you must like singing. Don’t compare yourself to others and try to let go of preconceived notions of how you “should” sound. Taking lessons or buying an instructional book is a good place to start. Sing often and joyfully and you will eventually come to like your voice and even sound good to others. Unfortunately there are no shortcuts to becoming a great singer.

 

- I have sung in bands for 10 years (I am 26). For most of this time I have had a clear falsetto, but about a year and a half ago it just disappeared and I can’t even remember under what circumstances. When I try to sing a little tentative falsetto it sounds hoarse and a hissing sound is produced as the air is pressed out. At higher pitches and with greater air pressure I can sing falsetto. My chest register is fine, it’s just the falsetto that’s affected. I have been to a doctor and he examined me with a camera and said that my vocal folds were healthy.

- Singing falsetto is technically difficult. The falsetto register is often associated with a breathier quality which is due the fact that the vocal folds are not fully closed. If the vocal folds are a bit swollen or irritated the falsetto register will be the first to be affected. This is because only the edges of the vocal folds vibrate when singing falsetto and if the mucosa is irritated it can be harder to get them vibrating properly. The instruments used for medical examinations aren’t fine tuned enough to see the differences we can feel. I suggest you start by working gently with your voice together with a vocal coach. Singing forcefully is not to be recommended before you have remedied the situation.

 

- Hi. I’m an 18 year old guy who’s into hard rock. Our style of music is based on an aggressive singing style we call “growling”. It may just sound like screaming, which it is actually, but if you just scream you can’t growl for more than one song before your voice is shot. I’ve heard that you should growl from your stomach but I’m not sure what to do.

- Generally speaking, when you growl you are constricting a large portion of the larynx and the vibration that ordinarily just involves the vocal folds is extended to include the supraglottal mucosa. Growling is extreme singing and requires a tough and resilient voice. Singing from your stomach, which is also known as support, is controlling your breathing using your abdominal and intercostal muscles. Support relieves the strain on your vocal folds and can really be needed when growling. Even so, growling is extremely strenuous and even the perfect breathing strategy can’t compensate for the wear and tear it causes. Another factor is that certain singer’s voices can take more punishment than others. Some singers also have more flexible supraglottal structures than others.

 

- Hi there! I am a happy-go-lucky girl who loves to sing. When I grow up I would like to sing. The problem is that I can’t sing in high keys. What should I do? I would also really like to be a singing teacher and would be grateful for any tips.

- You don’t say how old you are. The voice is continually developing and doesn’t peak until around 25 -40 years of age. Learning to sing in high keys is best done with the help of a vocal trainer. But singing high notes shouldn’t be an end in itself. It is important that you cultivate your own individual voice according to your ability and limitations. All well-known singers have a special quality to their voice and this is more important than being able to reach high notes. However, I understand your frustration and the chances of being able to expand your range are good. Sing often and try to keep your voice in good shape and you are sure to improve. If you want to be a singing teacher you will have to practice singing, study music theory, learn a little about other instruments and apply eventually apply to a college of music or conservatory.

 

- Some singing teachers claim that one’s range can only be extended a few tones, while others say that it possible to gradually draw the vocal folds together from one end to the other like a zipper and in this way reach very high notes. Could you explain this as I am very curious? Thanks.

- When talking about extending your range a tone or two, we usually mean vocal fold adduction (closing) along their entire length, with the possible exception of the vertical mass. As pitch increases the vertical mass becomes thinner, and when the register shift between chest and falsetto registers occurs, the vocal folds are stretched very thin and only their edges are vibrating. There is usually a gap in the adduction when singing falsetto so you could say that you are only singing with part of the vocal folds. In other words it is not possible to close the vocal folds like a zipper although once in motion the vibrations can take any form.

 

- Why do some singers’ voices tire quickly while others can sing forever?

- It may depend on technique, wise choice of keys and genetic factors – some people’s mucosa, tendons and muscles can simply take more punishment than others. The percentage of red and white muscle fibres also plays a part. White muscle fibres are able to eliminate lactic acid and are therefore long distance muscles whereas red muscle fibres are sprinters. If you train at singing for long periods you will probably be able to shift the balance a little and therefore improve your stamina but bear in mind that we all have different tolerances.

 

- I have been having problems with clogged sinuses for years. It feels like there is some sort of resistance in my forehead when I sing- it doesn’t feel clear. At rehearsals I am often encouraged to “send the note out to my head” to improve the resonance, but it feels like something is blocked in my forehead. When I do resonance exercises like [m] and [n] it feels like I can’t find any space to use.

- The sinuses contribute to overall resonance but they only play a minor roll. The vocal tract (throat, mouth and nasal cavity) is the most important factor. If you direct your sound towards your nasal cavity and sinuses and they are blocked it will feel like running into a wall. However, because the majority of your resonance comes form your vocal tract it is still possible to produce a resonant sound even if the resonant properties of your sinuses are impaired It is probably more appropriate for you to concentrate your efforts on your clear areas such as your mouth and perhaps your nose and not on the blocked areas such as your sinuses.

 

- Do you need as much support for sonft notes as loud ones?

- The purpose of support (muscle activity when exhaling) is to supply the optimal lung pressure to produce the desired pitch and volume. A high note in the chest register usually requires greater lung pressure ie. the louder and higher a note (volume usually follows pitch) the greater the lung pressure – support. So the answer is no! The strength of your support should naturally follow the volume of the note and therefore should not be as powerful when singing softly.

 

- Hi! Can you suggest an image or visualisation I can use when I stand on stage and have to “give it all I’ve got”

- I believe that it all comes down to will, desire and conviction. Singers with a strong faith such as Christian singers, often have an easier time “giving it all”. Imagining that you are singing for one special person in the audience or concentrating on giving them the best experience possible may help. It may also be a question of pure will power – for example having a clear mental picture of what you want to achieve at an audition. Generally speaking it usually helps to make a conscious decision prior to the gig to give it your all and to know why you’re giving it.

 

- My previous singing teacher insisted that removing your tonsils could have a positive effect on your voice as it frees up the working area of the larynx and muscles by removing obstructions.

- Removing your tonsils may make you less prone to throat infections and may affect your sound in that the anatomy of your vocal tract has been changed. However, it will have absolutely no effect on the way your larynx works as the tonsils are not in its way!

 

- Hi! I have recently developed a very disturbing problem. I feel that my voice has become “wobbly” and unstable. All of a sudden I can’t sing without producing an irritating vibrato. It depends a little on my daily form. I sing quite a lot and have done for the past 15 years, often in short, intensive periods followed by a break of a month or two. Suspect that this pattern is not ideal. Could I have an injury or is it my age (30)? Hope I’m just out of shape and that training will make it go away.

- It is definitely not because of your age, but rather because you sing sporadically. A “wobbly” vibrato is largely due to poor breathing control. This can be because you are vocally out of shape and don’t have the fitness required to manage your breathing and stabilise your larynx. Practice a little every day so you don’t “lose ground” during your breaks.

 

- Hi! Tom Jones is a singer that sings in rather high keys and, almost always, very powerfully. To me it sounds as though he sings with a low larynx position, at least compared to most others singers in this genre. His sound at high pitches is reminiscent of classical singing. It sounds like certain frequencies are amplified in a way that would not be possible with a higher larynx position. This must be because the resonance chambers are affected. My experience is that in certain cases tone is strengthened and has more punch when the larynx is low. Is this the case? Drawing the comparison with classical singers once again, they can be heard over the orchestra even though they don’t strain that hard, because they have sound quality that is more penetrating than a pop singer’s. My question is then, if two notes are produced with the same amount of force, would one produced with a low larynx be louder in dB than one produced with a high larynx?

- You are referring to an amplification of frequencies known as a singer’s formant! This is created when the frequencies of formants 3, 4 and 5 approach each other. When this happens they create one large overtone peak instead of three smaller peaks. To achieve this it is probably necessary to lower your larynx in the manner of a classical singer. The sound that is produced is one that we usually associate with opera. Singing with this type of sound in the rock, pop and soul genres would probably not go down too well. I would imagine that Tom Jones has a large vocal tract but his singing does not involve a singer’s formant. The volume (dB) and subglottal pressure a singer can produce is highly individual so it is difficult to generalise when comparing vocalists’ volume. However, we can say that when a formant is formed the perceived level increases although acoustically speaking the level remains unchanged. I would conclude therefore that the listener will perceive vocals as louder when the singer sings with a singer’s formant even though they are singing with the same subglottal pressure. Remember however, that there are many technical aspects that must be considered if you want to sing powerfully and maintain good vocal health.