10 Facts About Singing
Singing can and should be an easy pursuit and a fun passion. But unfortunately, vocal coaching and singing courses are also big business, with millions of views and the top ratings going towards YouTube singing gurus who impress you with incredible singing videos, but don’t actually show you how to sing. Buzz words like Open Throat Singing, Speech Level Singing, Edge, Curbing and Blending are all thrown around like we’re all supposed to magically know what they mean, and the only explanation is – “buy my course to find out!”. With these 10 facts singing gurus WON’T tell you, you will start to think differently about learning how to sing and hopefully have some light shed on which terms are really proper singing techniques, and which ones are simply marketing terms.
I really wish I was told these 10 facts about singing from day ONE when I first started learning how to sing, so I could have stopped chasing my tail and simply built my voice the way I wanted to.
Don’t miss these 10 facts about singing.
#1 – Open Throat is just a marketing term (…sometimes)
I first heard the term Open Throat Singing when I started taking singing lessons with my first or second local classical singing teacher who told me to “yawn before you sing to Open the throat”. I struggled with this appoach for quite a few months and failed to feel any improvement, in fact, I was singing worse with this approach, before I came across a better, and more practical explanation of where this term came from, Bel Canto, meaning beautiful singing. Now, I’m not going to go all Opera or Classical on you, I’m totally a ROCK guy when it comes down to it, but there IS a wealth of information and powerful singing techniques held within classical singing technique that would do you well to learn, and perhaps can shed some light on these crazy singing terms.
The term open throat is literally translated from the throwaway Italian expression, La Gola Aperta or “The Open Throat“. Now, this term doesn’t actually mean you have to OPEN your throat, it actually means that you should be “Free” of your throat when you sing – two polar opposite applications of the same phrase. The problem lies in the literal application of a methaphor, which I’m sure you know is simply a figure of speech.
When I realised that Open Throat was simply a figure of speech to sing free of any strain or muscularity in your throat, my singing magically opened up just like the metaphor had intended. There was no lowering of my tongue, opening of the soft palate, yawning of the voice, opening of the throat – in fact, it’s important that your tongue stays fluid and has the ability to raise on vowels like EE, and the tongue root to narrow as you ascend, along with your soft palate actually needing to be ‘closed’ when you sing a vowel sound, and we actually CLOSE our vocal chords when we sing.
If you learn from a professional voice coach who truly understands the meaning of open throat, and how the closing of your vocal mechanism actually leads to “open” singing, then this indeed is a powerful and proper singing technique that will aid your voice. However, if you’re learning from a YouTube guru who is telling you to ‘yawn’ before you sing and to STRETCH your throat as open and wide as possible – they’re harming their voice, they’re harming your voice, and worst of all they’re harming the true meaning of this simple metaphor intended to make. singing. easier.
#2 – The mix register is REAL
Coupled with the hogwash that was sold to me as Open Throat Singing Technique many moons ago, I recall a different coach swearing that mix voice was a total load of BS, and that all contemporary approaches to the voice are wrong. Coincidentally, this was the coach that once told me as a low Baritone I would NEVER sing like my singing Idols Chris Cornell or Layne Staley. You see, it wasn’t my voice that was holding my back from learning how to sing like Chris Cornell or how to sing like Layne Staley, it was in fact the inept approach I was being shown that was unable to help my natural baritone range. I’d like to dedicate this singing tutorial to that very coach:
You see, singing is all about your approach and how well you coordinate the different moving elements of your vocal mechanism. Had I been shown the proper method of coordinating my chest register with my head register – known as the MIX register or MIDDLE voice, I would have become a much better singer sooner and easier. Middle voice is an incredibly important aspect of any great singing voice, whether you’re aware of it or not – this direct coordination of the musculature responsible for chest voice, and the muscles responsible for the head register simply isn’t natural for a baritone, so I had to learn how to sing in mix voice.
The mix register is incredibly real, my vocal studio is proof of this. You simply need to find a voice coach who understands the physical mechanics of the voice and has developed a practical method of teaching you how to sing in the MIX coordination.
#3 – Singing and Speaking are unrelated
Disclaimer: While I do also train speech and coach speaking voices, I definitely don’t teach Speech Level Singing, I personally don’t like or agree with it as a legitimate voice approach, and my opinion is simply that of a professional voice coach who has years of experience re-training the voices of well meaning students who have inadvertently been taught SLS singing techniques and simply can’t sing, or are now experiencing serious issues with their voices. If the SLS approach works for you, I would LOVE to hear from you in the comments below – you’re a marvel of science and honestly, should be studied for the betterment of the human race.
All humor aside, I very often get new students who prior to being coached on proper singing technique by me, have been slaving away with Speech Level Singing exercises for months, or years and adhering to the concept that your speaking voice and your singing voice are the same – only to point out that they don’t know how to breathe properly, they have no concept of vowels or resonance tuning, consonants are being created improperly, their onsets are inconsistent, their registers are weak and most likely they’re harming their voices
If this haphazard approach works for you, then by all means, head to fact #4 – but if you truly want to learn how to sing better, and want to learn things like mix voice, balanced onsets, diaphragmatic breathing, register release, vocal placement, an approach to singing consonants, resonance tuning, vowel shaping, strain release, vibrato and SO many other aspects of a great singing voice, then you’ll learn soon enough that singing and speaking are simply unrelated. In my opinion as a professional voice coach, Speech Level Singing will only work for you if you don’t want to learn any actual singing techniques, because you simply won’t be shown any.
If you give a lip trill exercise or a basic scale to any beginner sing, there will be some level of basic improvement – this learning curve is then used to sell lessons and courses, and further scales and exercises are then used to sustain this learning curve without actually leaving you with the ability to sing effectively and without ongoing training from one of these speech singing coaches. There’s a reason why we all have different speaking accents, and why a good singing voice is accent-free – speech and singing are two different applications of the same mechanism, and don’t involve the same process or development.
#4 – Your brain is wrong
That’s right, your brain is often standing in the way of a GREAT singing voice because of expectations and misdirection between what you want to happen, and what is truly happening. This is never more evident than in a singer with a thick accent, such as myself with an Aussie accent. Quite often, I have to resort to a mechanical shaping of the tongue, a deliberate tuning of the vocal tract width and a non-word visual cue to sing a simple word like “Light” – for me, light is pronounced like “l-eye-t”, with a nasal emphasis on the “eye” in a typical Aussie twang. Now, if I was to SING this exact word, the “eye” would in fact need to be formed by an “AH” vowel for my voice to resonate properly and free of strain. If I read the word “light” on a page and sang it without thinking, my brain immediately reverts to my natural Aussie pronunciation and I completely lose the pitch and diction due to the improper vowel choice – so I’ve had to train my vowels in a specific way (again, totally unrelated to speech).
Now, if an American was to sing the word “Light”, it would likely come out naturally as an “AH” vowel due to their pronunciation, but not necessarily the correct “AH” vowel that involves a low and concave tongue and wide vowel tract – this is because your brain is giving you the wrong information, and your brain is giving your voice the wrong cues. It’s important to understand the mechanism behind all aspects of singing so that you can control your voice, rather than using guesswork and a ‘hit and miss’ approach that often results in poor vowel choice.
The same goes for the classical “EH” vowel, like the word “Pet” – in most cases, Australians, West Europeans and even some Southern US singers actually have to think of this vowel as “AY” due to the way our brains translate the intention of singing this vowel sound.
How do we fix it? It’s simple, really. You need to learn how to control each mechanism of your voice and understand “What” everything is you’re trying to do. You can’t just “Sing” an AH vowel, you actually need to develop this vowel with the correct tongue shape, right tract width and of course proper placement. If you build your voice in this simple and steps-based way, you will ALWAYS be in control of your voice, and your pesky brain won’t be throwing landmines at you while you’re singing in front of a crowd.
Quite often, the sound we THINK is coming out of our mouth isn’t truly what is occuring – this is why most people don’t enjoy their speaking voices. So don’t listen to that voice in your head, or the sound in your ears – learn the proper mechanism and control your voice once and for all the proper way.
#5 – You don’t need air to sing
Bear with me here – let me rephrase that, you don’t actually need air FLOW to sing. Sure, there IS air flow as a direct result of creating air pressure via extension of the diaphragm, but it’s actually this air pressure that causes your vocal chords to vibrate and create resonance, NOT airflow. This one is simple, if you learn to sing from the diaphragm by using appoggio singing technique, and you use a release of pressure to create correctly placed resonance, you’ll realise that airflow is simply a by product of good singing, not the reason for it.
#6 – Vowels aren’t vowels
That’s right, what we think are ‘vowels’ aren’t actually vowels in singing. This is directly tied with Fact #4, in that what we hear is not necessarily the truth, and what we’re going for isn’t necessarily what comes out. Take me speech vowels, pronounced something like AYE-EE-EYE-OWE-YOU, if I were to sing these vowels in such a manner, my larynx would likely jump out of my throat and run away from me. Your vowels are actually a combination of three elements, the shape of your tongue, the width of your vocal tract, and the height of your soft palate. As an example, lets sing a bright EE sound: can you feel how your tongue is actually UP at the back of your mouth and your throat is narrow? Now, lets change this into an AH vowel: Can you feel how your tongue is low and concave, and your vocal tract is now wide? Congratulations, you’ve just broken down the concept of vowel shaping and tuned your first vowels. Learning how to shape your vowels in this fashion will allow you to sing with resonance that will extend into your high register without a vocal break, just like I’ll show you in fact #7
#7 – For a big sound, you need a SMALL vowel
Along with shaping your vowels, you actually need to alter the width of your vocal tract for EACH vowel sound as you ascend in range. Each time you ascend through/towards a change in resonator throughout your vocal range, you’re going to need a slight change in width to allow for a better mix of frequencies. You can try this yourself by singing an EE vowel up towards your vocal break, and as you get close to your break, open up your sound to a wide EH (or Aye!) vowel – can you feel how your break has now disappeared? Now, if we try this in a more subtle way and keep our vowel sound as close to an EE as we possibly can, you will have discovered the concept of Vowel Modification. Vowel Modification is a super basic way of tuning your vowels to the right width, but for a beginner it really does work, and lets you sing past your first vocal break with ease.
The issue lies later in your vocal range, and vowel modification really does lake the fine tuning finesse to tune your resonance in the subtle way your voice truly needs as you hit your high range – again, the best way to do this is to develop individual and deliberate control over the separate mechanisms which actually make Vowel Modification a possibility. By learning to control your tongue root, your vocal tract, your tongue shape and your soft palate, you can actually make very slight and intentional adjustments to the tuning of your resonance throughout your whole vocal range, and you’ll find that the higher you go past the initial widening of your first break, the more NARROW and small your vowel needs to be.
#8 – Onsets and Consonants aren’t linked
This was another huge one for my Aussie accent, learning that my consonant sounds, which are often Glottal and forced in speech, are unrelated to my vocal onsets. It’s very important that you understand how to sing with a balanced onset, and how this relates to the other aspects of your singing voice, from your vowels, to your air moderation to your consonants. An onset is simply how you sound starts to resonate, and involves coordination of your air pressure and your vocal chord closure.
- Breathy onset – air passes your chords before they meet
- Glottal onset – your chords are slammed shut and pushed open by air pressure
- Balanced – your chords come together the very moment they are met with air pressure
Singing with a balanced onset is the ONLY healthy way to start your resonance, and learning that this is completely unrelated to your consonant sound is seemingly a basic tip, but it is a HUGE part of building a great singing voice.
Your consonant sounds each require a different approach based on how they are grouped, how they are formed in your accent, and how your voice type affects your placement, which brings me to Fact #9
#9 – Consonants aren’t created equal
That’s right, I like to group my consonant sounds into types and then form an individual approach for each of my students based on their voice type and accent. For example, a “W” sound like the word “Well” is quite often replaced by a classical OO vowel, like “OO-ELL”. Can you feel how this releases strain from your consonant, while allowing you to “sing” the word clearly? Now, if we were to sing it exactly the same way that you SPEAK this word and consonant, I bet you feel a whole load of strain and it doesn’t actually sound the way you would expect it to. That’s because, you guessed it, your brain is wrong, and you need an individual approach to your consonant sounds.
Generally, I split the consonant sounds up into the following groups: Glottal, Plosive, Sibilant, Open resonant, Closed Resonant, and then work out how they are related in a student’s singing voice, and develop an approach to each one as tune their resonance and identify which consonants are troublesome in reference songs and exercises I’ve developed.
Make sure you’re not spitting out your consonant sounds, or brushing over them, or slurring – there is a BETTER way to sing, you just don’t know it yet.
#10 – Each voice deserves it’s OWN approach
This is why I’m not a huge fan of self-service singing courses that spruik the “best” approach or the “only” approach to singing. That may very well be true for the person who put together the course, but as no two singing voices are created equal, and no two vocal ranges are created the, nor should any two singers vocal approach be the same. Think about it, if I was to sing a Bon Jovi song, Jon Bon Jovi being a natural Tenor and myself a Baritone, I would be a full octave through my singing range before his low range even started, meaning that even at the SAME pitch, we would actually be singing in different registers, with different levels of support, and creating different frequencies – Sure, I can sing Bon Jovi songs super easily, but not with his approach. Think about that for a moment – I would almost BET that you’ve tried to sing just like your favourite singer at some point, and most likely failed pretty bad, right? That’s not because your voice isn’t capable of singing like this person, you’re simply using the wrong instruction manual for your proverbial singing engine. You can learn to sing ANYTHING, but you simply need to understand that each voice deserves, and needs it’s own approach.
With this 10 Facts about singing, you can now learn how to sing easier and with more faith in the approach that you are using to learn how to sing. If you have any questions, or you’d like the TRUTH about a singing term or vocal rumour that you’ve seen or read, leave me a comment below.
Since launching in 2010, Bohemian Vocal Studio has steadily grown into the premier voice studio for professional singing lessons and vocal coaching, and has become synonymous with POWERFUL voices and the most practical approach to singing technique. If you’re ready to take your voice to the next level and learn how to sing the RIGHT way with an experienced and respected voice coach that understands how your unique vocal instrument works, you can book a Skype session today.
Feel free to leave any feedback or questions below!
Kegan DeBoheme is Bohemian Vocal Studio’s resident vocal coach and voice expert. He teaches professional singing and voice technique to students all around the world and enjoys providing tutorials like this one on how to improve your voice.