5 Steps To Singing with a Perfect Onset
A vocal onset is the manner in which your resonance begins from silence. Release of air before you achieve resonance is called an aspirator or breathy onset and often results in flat singing, as well as drying out your vocal folds leading to potential strain. Now, on the flipside, if you sing with total vocal fold closure before you release any air, you will be performing a Glottal Onset or an Attack, which can be very damaging to your voice and often results in slightly sharp intonation. The perfect onset is known as a balanced on coordinated onset where you directly centre your airflow and vocal chord closure at the perfectly timed moment.
This is often easier said than done, and many singers struggle to achieve perfect balance in their onsets, leading to inconsistency in their singing from time to time when their onset is not coordinated correctly. This tutorial will show you 5 simple steps you need to take to sing with a perfect vocal onset every time.
#1 – Diaphragmatic Breathing
I know, breathing is boring, but it’s an incredibly important boring subject. Without the right approach to breathing not only will your onsets suffer, but you will also struggle with almost every other aspect of singing. Breathing is paramount to great singing, and by proxy is paramount to a great onset.
In singing, you actually need diaphragmatic engagement to breathe effectively. The diaphragm is a dome-like muscle that sits at the base of your lungs, and when engaged through use of adjoining musculature and the right thought process, lowers to create a negative space that instantly fills with air. This air then allows your vocal folds to vibrate with air pressure, ultimately creating the resonant sound we know as a singing.
#2 – Vocal fold closure
Closing your vocal chords is an important step in singing, and coupled with the right onset can either make or break your vocal technique. A great way to illustrate vocal fold closure is for you to sing a crescendo from light to heavy (without breathiness at the start!) – this change in resonance is due to increased chord closure and an increase of air pressure.
#3 – Support
We talked about diaphragmatic breathing and vocal fold closure, but what about ongoing support when you sing? Managing your airflow and air pressure in a continuous manner to facilitate consistent and efficient resonance throughout a full vocal phrase is known as support, and is linked to both your breathing and your posture.
In short, support, often known as Appoggio, occurs when you moderate your airflow SOLELY through engagement and use of the diaphragm instead of a contraction of your ribs like often happens in speech. Continually managing your air pressure and maintaining consistent air flow is the key to support, and also key to singing with a perfect vocal onset every time.
#4 – Balance
Every single aspect of singing requires balance, from your resonance to your registers, to breathing to onsets and everything in between. A great way to practice balance between vocal chord closure and airflow, ultimately providing your with a balanced onset, is to practice the same crescendo we just spoke about, but incrementally start the crescendo from a heavier place without closing your vocal folds first. Eventually, you will simply be able to ‘resonate’ without any other sound or aspiration of air occurring before the moment of sound.
#5 – Articulation
If your vowels suck, your onsets will suck – there’s no other way to be cleared with this about you. If you aren’t forming your vowels properly, or you’re only practicing your onset on ONE specific sound (such as mmmm-AY, or mmmmm-AH), then your voice will probably be fine in scales and a warmup, but will struggle during actual songs where you are required to sing an onset on any number of other sounds. Vowel articulation carries over into many different elements of a great singing voice – are you shaping your vowels properly?
Remember, while your voice is able to sing with a breathy or glottal onset, the only truly healthy way to permit an onset is by balancing your airflow and chord closure. Sure, you can lean to one side or the other for a heavier or lighter sound with less or more chord closure, but you must still balance between the two and never start either closure or aspiration before you intend to start your resonant sound.
A great place to start is the free courses here at BVS which will show you how to set up a strong foundation and allow you to develop a balanced onset in a more efficient manner. When you’re ready to take your voice to the next level with professional voice coaching, you can book a Skype Session and we’ll work towards extending your range and building consistency in your voice every time you sing.
If you have any questions about singing with a balanced vocal onset, 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.