Foundation 101 | Part 3

Foundation 101 | Part 3

Part three of this singing course will focus on resonance and vocal onsets. A vocal onset is literally the onset of your resonance and one of THE most important elements of a healthy singing voice. A good vocal onset will set you up with a powerful resonance that is versatile, healthy and beautiful, while a dodgy onset will leave you gasping for air and with vocal strain. A healthy onset in singing is known as a balanced onset, and occurs when you centrally coordinate your air flow with vocal fold closure. Lets get started with resonance first.

The key to resonance

Resonance occurs when air pressure created by diaphragmatic support vibrates the vocal folds, resulting in resonant sound in the vocal tract and resonant space. Creating resonance is easy, and it’s likely there are already a number of resonant sounds you can create – M and N through to NG, V and Z are all resonant sounds. Resonance is key to a great singing voice, and the key to great resonance is placement and resonant space.

Singing is a result of air pressure, not air flow. Remember that support occurs when you maintain diaphragmatic engagement and you create air pressure instead of pushing out your air when you sing. This leads me to the next important lesson, resonant onsets.


The three onsets

The voice is capable of creating three forms of vocal onset, breathy, glottal and balanced – balanced being the only onset you should form as a habit in your voice. That isn’t to say the other two aren’t useful in a stylistic sense, but they should only be used very sparingly, if at all. Now, a breathy (or aspirated) onset occurs when you release air flow before you achieve vocal fold closure, literally singing with a ‘breathy’ start to your resonance. This is known to cause flat intonation and also to dry out vocal folds over time, leaving your voice at risk of permanent damage like nodules where the point of contact is dry and airy. Now, a glottal (or hard) onset, sometimes known as an attack, occurs when there is full vocal fold closure before there is airflow, meaning that your vocal folds are forcefully held together as though you are holding your breath and they only start to vibrate and create resonance when you blow them apart with high air pressure. This has similar damaging effects to a breathy onset, and often results in a sharp intonation.

Now, a balanced onset occurs when you achieve vocal fold closure and release of airflow at the exact same moment, resulting in instant resonance that neither has a forceful start like a glottal onset, or a breathy start like a breathy onset. This balanced onset requires practice and patience to develop properly, but your voice will grow much more powerful and will be much healthier ongoing when you master the balanced onset.

A balanced conclusion is also an important part of healthy singing technique, and is sometimes known as a vocal offset. An offset occurs when your resonance concludes, and can either be breathy (air flow continues past the point of vocal fold closure) or glottal (vocal fold closure continues past the point of air release) and finally balanced, meaning that your air flow and vocal fold closure conclude concurrently, leading to an instant stop in resonance without any other sounds or airflow after the fact.

Balance is key

Every aspect of your singing voice can be related to balance, and every issue you experience can be traced back to imbalance. Your onsets are a prime example of this – singing is a simple process of balance which occurs over time, not a feat of muscular strength. By developing a healthy balanced onset first, you will develop control and understanding with the vocal mechanism where onsets are concerned, this in turn will allow you to do the same with your vocal conclusion.

At the end of this lesson, you should now be able to sing with a balanced onset and a balanced vocal conclusion.

If you have any questions about vocal onsets, let me know in the comments below!

8 thoughts on “Foundation 101 | Part 3

  1. To be completely honest, my main issue is an overproduction of phlegm and the (what seems like) the tightening of my vocal cords at times. What can I do reduce the phlegm build up? I have tried many things, lots of water, tea, steam, heat (hot water, blow dryers, and heating pads) cough drops, no dairy on days of and before singing…

    As far as my vocal cords go, there are days that I can hit a high soprano then there are days that I’m lucky to pull off a decent alto… Again I basically run hot water on my throat or use a heating pad, but that’s not always convenient depending where we are playing. At outdoor venues those practices are virtually impossible..

    Those are my two Achilles heels. If I can remedy those two issues I’d feel way more confident on stage.

    1. Hey Michael! This depends – is the phlegm related specifically to singing (ie: only when you sing or speak) or just generally a health related issue? In my understanding, phlegm is part of your immune system and body’s natural defence mechanism, ergo, if it happens when you are singing or speaking predominantly, then there’s something askew in your technique (my bet would be a imbalanced onset) that your mechanism is trying to ‘protect’ your voice from by generating phlegm either from irritation or to physically stop you from continuing to do what you are doing.

      Regarding the second issue of ‘tightening’ I’d actually say that’s likely excess engagement of the TA muscles from day to day in a sporadic manner (likely linked to when/how you are speaking and singing throughout the day – is it worse later in the day, or after you’ve been socialising perhaps?). Are you aware of the two different sensations of “weight” and “tension” in your voice by way of the TA and CT muscles? Try a very high head note, then try a reasonably low chest note – if you achieve proper closure and tuned vowel on these resonant sounds, you’ll notice there’s actually two different muscular feelings; one is weight, one is tension. On a ‘bad day’ you’re likely using TA to add extra weight which makes your voice feel tight and heavy – and on a good day, it’s released and you use it more appropriately. Warming up consistenly with a fully released lip trill and leading into semioccluded sounds like N, M, NG through to the closed vowels and finally your open vowels with full power and compression will untrain this habit with time and practice.


  2. Hi Kegan,

    Great course, you really have a way of explaining things that I find other singing tutors don’t. I just have a quick question – when I practice the ‘NG’ sound my throat feels a lot more strained than any other sound and I don’t seem to have as well a control pitch wise. Is this normal as I am relatively new to singing?



    1. Hi Catherine! Thanks for the kind words!

      You’re over-using twang. Twang occurs when the epiglottis (AES) closes over and redirects/compresses the resonance – can you feel the difference in the top of your throat between an NG and a plain N? The N doesn’t necessarily have twang, but the NG definitely does. Learning to moderate the amount of twang is the key. So, practice this sound a little lighter and focus on the top of your throat, not on your ‘nose’.

      Let me know how it goes!


  3. Hi Kegan. Just bought your course and very happy about it, I think I will learn a lot from it. I realy like the way you are explaining things. I have one question about NG exercise. When I’m practising it I feel a big pressure in my nose. Is it normal or I’m doing something wrong? Thank you so much.

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