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Foundation 101 | Part 5

Foundation 101 | Part 5

The final part of this singing course is advanced chest and head connection and your second vocal break. The second vocal break occurs for a similar reason to the first, but actually requires narrowing of each of your vowel sounds instead of a wide resonant space. Lets talk about chest and head first.

How to connect chest and head voice

Your registers are a direct result of vocal fold weight and vocal fold tension – full chest voice is a result of TA engagement (thryroarytenoid), which contracts and thickens the vocal folds. Full head voice is a result of CT engagement (cricothyroid), which stretches the vocal folds. Now, if you sing a low note in chest voice, and then you sing a high note in head voice, you’ll be able to identify two separate areas of resonance, likely around your teeth or mouth for chest (don’t forget resonance placement!), and high up in the back of your head for head voice. Now, these two muscles are actually designed to work in tandem and allow you to use vocal fold weight and vocal fold tension in a sliding manner like a gradient, meaning that you can (and should) connect chest and head voice in a full and powerful tone without any breaks.

For the purpose of this foundation tutorial, we’re going to refer to chest and head voice as the two types of resonance and simply focus on making a connection between the two types of resonance

By starting out with the two smallest vowel sounds EE and OO, and singing with a dark timbre, or a ‘hooty’ tone up into the soft palate, the connection between chest and head will be very easy to develop – this is your first goal. This isn’t the vocal tone that you want to sing with, no doubt, but it’s an important stepping stone you must take first to set up your vocal mechanism for a healthy bright and powerful tone as your voice progresses. A bright vocal tone is created as an extension of a dark tone, not in spite of a dark tone.

The second break

The second break occurs at the top of your middle voice in the central area above your first vocal break. While this is also due to a lack of appropriate resonant space, the second break requires narrowing of each of your vowels to ascend with connection and power. The best sound for developing a narrow vowel sound is the French OU sound, which occurs when you almost close your lips at the front in a small circle like a pin head, and you shape your tongue like an EE in the back of your mouth. If you sing this sound high in your range, you will notice that you achieve a full and resonant sound in full voice – pretty cool, right? Obviously, this sound isn’t useful in a practical sense, but it illustrates the mechanism of narrowing your vowel in the back of the throat.

The middle voice

the middle voice is the central portion of your voice where both types of resonance, chest AND head, resonate in tandem. This area is one of the most difficult, but most important part of any singer’s range, and is often the range and portion of the voice that professional singers are known for singing with prowess. The middle voice has a specific tonal quality – pleasant and assertive. If you intentionally sing with a pleasant, but assertive tone through the middle portion of your voice, you can make a powerful connection between chest and head voice while also navigating your first and second vocal break.

Over time, this exercise will help you smooth out your two vocal breaks and make a fluid and powerful connection between chest and head voice just like your favourite singers.

Aperture

Understanding how the aperture of your mouth affects your resonant space is key to narrowing your vowels properly and singing without strain. Many singers feel the temptation to widen their mouths into a bright smile as they ascend in range, but the opposite is actually true – as you ascend on each of your open vowels, your mouth should become an oval aperture from top to bottom. Of course, this does differ to the closed EE and OO vowels that have minimal opening at the front of the mouth. Remember, the key to these closed vowel sounds is to sing with appropriate resonant space and developing a strong connection between chest and head resonance.

At the end of this lesson you should now be able to connect chest and head voice more efficiently while also navigating your second break by narrowing each of your vowel sounds in the vocal tract. Remember, singing is a process of balance that takes time, patience and consistent practice.

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.

9 thoughts on “Foundation 101 | Part 5

  1. I have so much tension when I breathe that I couldnt feel the stomach area correctly. Was just tense and my solar plexus area would go in and not expand. As soon as you did this breathing exercise I felt the solar plexus area expand, shoulders and didnt move, and felt my rib cage expand. Really great exercise! Thanks!

  2. All genius is simple.
    Thank a lot for this killer tools!

    My communication with bridges never was so simple within 15 years of singing

  3. Great course here. Really enjoying these foundation exercises. Some short context and a question:

    I’m a baritone pop/rock singer and when I get to my passaggio (Bb3 – F4) and I’m trying to sing in a mixed voice, it completely falls apart. It’s croaky, lacks power, and I can’t produce anything worthwhile without pulling chest or singing in more of a lighter head resonance. My current vocal coach tells me that it’s because I don’t have the right coordination worked out between my TA & CT muscles. Once I’m past the F4, I can sing with a fairly powerful tone with good resonance and control.

    My question is, do you have any tips to help me develop those Bb3 – F4 notes so I can sing them with more power and resonance? Or, to put it this way, add more of that TA sound to those notes? I’ve heard them referred to as the “money notes”, because so many popular songs utilize those notes ALL THE TIME. It’s quite frustrating, as I simply can’t seem to get my voice to respond in this range. I’ve done the nay-nays and the muh-muhs but when hit those notes, it’s still falling apart vocally. Thanks so much in advance!

    1. Hey Dave! Thanks for the kind words.

      That’s partially correct, yes, you will need to extend your engagement of the TA – however, it’s not a matter of doing so in a muscular sense. It happens naturally due to the the way you sing your vowel, how you support, compression and of course the way you blend resonance which is WAY more important than focusing on it in a muscular sense. The key is ‘partial’ engagement of the Vocalis, as opposed to full contraction like you no doubt use in your speaking voice around the F/G2 area.

      The thing you’re likely lacking is efficient resonance, so this is actually your first point of call, and strengthening the balance between TA and CT is secondary. Also, the word “balance” is key – adding more Vocalis/TA doesn’t mean you’ll get a thicker sound – in that mid section, there is a ‘golden’ ratio where you might simply delay extension of the CT rather than trying to physically drag up weight. You can identify the two different sensations and lean to slide between them.

      Focus on resonant space first and letting your natural resonance come through – it’s possible you’re trying to retain a ‘pure’ sounding vowel when instead it won’t necessarily sound like EE/AY/AH/AA/OO etc at this point, it may very well sound tonally different in your head, however subtle it will be to your listener.

      Hope that helps!

      If I can be honest, “Nay Nay” and “Muh Muh” absolutely 100% suck as a way to develop your mix. Nay encourages incorrect use of the soft palate and develops a habit of unintended/uncontrolled twang, and Muh has a similar effect while also causing issues with your onset. OO-WAH is a much better exercise – but again, the “way” you use the exercise is more important than the exercise itself…

      K

      1. Kegan,

        THAT response was worth the price of admission. Seriously. I was focusing a great deal of effort on muscular coordination and that certainly wasn’t helping. Your response of “lacking efficient resonance” was so incredibly insightful. I keep hearing, “sing more forward”, but it wasn’t landing with me. Resonance is a more clear expectation – at least, that phrasing is more helpful.

        By the way, thanks for pointing out the truly sucky nature of the nays and muhs. You’re spot on in stating that OO-WAH is far better. It’s a bit unreal how there are so many exercises that are prolific online without someone actually saying, “Umm… these aren’t going to be nearly as helpful as you think.” All that to say, I appreciate the honesty. I’m having more success with “feeling” what I believe is better resonance using OO-WAH. I still have miles to go, but your response really did unlock a few things. Again, so appreciative.

        All the best,
        Dave

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