Have You Fallen Into The Baritone Trap?
The Baritone Curse is a known phenomenon in singing, but did you also know that there is The Baritone Trap – and it’s one you can easily avoid by building 5 simple good habits when you practice? The Baritone Trap is when a baritone singer builds an unintentional (and permanent) belt into their voice past their first vocal break – with the intention of singing ‘fuller’ in the weak part of their voice by deliberately avoiding connection with their head register, ultimately cutting off their high range and only giving them two gears to sing in through this delicate passage of their voice, Yelling or Falsetto.
No matter where in our range we sing, our voices are always a balance between vocal fold weight and vocal fold tension, dictated by engagement of the TA and CT muscles respectively – Thyroarytenoid and Cricothyroid. If you build a voice that weighs heavily on TA engagement by constantly belting and bellowing through this difficult passage of the voice and you let the balance of strength between these two muscle groups lean unnaturally towards vocal fold weight, you will be stuck in overdrive and never be able to switch gears and sing comfortably in your middle voice or sing a ballad without yelling and screaming. Ultimately, TA dominance in singing is poor form, but surprisingly common. You can tell a singer who has fallen into the baritone trap by the neck veins popping as they ascend in range and the tomato shade of red their face becomes when they start to pull up vocal fold weight instead of releasing naturally into the balance often referred to as middle or mix voice.
These 5 healthy habits will save you from falling into the Baritone trap, and if you’re already there, are your last lifeline and ladder out of that bellowing hole you’ve dug for your voice (tisk tisk!).
#1 – Release your registers
Register release is underrated, seriously. No doubt you’ve practised a lip trill before, right? And you’ve noticed how your voice simply ‘connects’ up into your high range with ease and without a break, right? This is how your voice is designed to function, before you damn well dove into the baritone trap. Remember, your singing voice is a balance between weight and tension, not just “how high you can sing in chest voice before your voice breaks”.
Often, singers that progress somewhat leave behind important exercises like lip trills because they feel as though they are a ‘beginner’ exercise and they no longer need this release. Unfortunately, this road leads directly into The Pit of Baritone Despair (perhaps a subject for another day) and The Baritone Trap – an overly heavy mid range that is disconnected and ultimately leads to a weak and underdeveloped head range and complete lack of middle voice.
#2 – Place your frequencies
Baritones are known for having exceptionally low, and often incorrect, placement when they sing. This can be overcome by developing a healthy approach to placement. Placement is the concept of minimising any frequencies that don’t resonate in an efficient manner – if you’re a true Baritone, you likely know exactly what I’m talking about, but those of you out there that are of a higher voice type, pay heed as your voice ages and you eventually lose that natural placement you’re gifted with.
Placement is easy to develop, but is often overlooked by vocal coaches with a higher natural range like high baritones or Tenors and most females too – but it is something that even the world’s greatest singers eventually struggle with, just look at Tenor singers like Jon Bon Jovi and Steve Perry that now lack the expressive range they once held naturally due to a lack of control over their placement. If they had been taught from day one to develop placement every time they warm up, no doubt their vocal issues would be less severe, if not completely relieved.
#3 – Each day is a new voice
I can’t stress this one enough! When I was first learning to sing, I was especially guilty of this one – I’d do a full warmup and practice session with my coach and easily soar into my high range beyond a high C with ease, and then the following day would wake up and try to sing exactly the same way without putting in the same work and practice, obviously failing miserably and straining my voice in the process. Each day you need to treat your voice as a new instrument with it’s own unique set of issues that need to be ironed out properly before you do any serious singing, even if you were nailing those high C’s with ease the day before!
#4 – Shape your vowels before you sing ANYTHING
Vowel shaping and proper vowel production is paramount to a healthy voice, but the amount of times I see singers pronouncing their words instead of articulating them with proper vowel shapes, I really do wonder if anyone’s been listening to me all these years. Speech requires pronunciation of your vowels, while singing requires articulation of your vowels through changes in your tongue shape and resonant space. My favourite tool for building healthy vowel habits and making better choices for new songs I’m learning is The Vowel Translator available here at Bohemian Vocal Studio.
I find that often the Baritone voice range is highly susceptible to even the most short term bad habits like pronouncing a word wrong – make sure you practice shaping your vowels properly first before singing any songs, you will not only sing better, but you’ll ingrain these shapes and proper vowel production as a healthy habit!
#5 – Treat your singing voice as it’s own instrument
Your singing voice and speaking voice, while making use of the same mechanism, are largely unrelated in process and application, so trying to drag that low baritone speaking voice up into your high range is obviously going to cause problems. Your singing voice is different in so many ways that I wouldn’t even know where to start explaining all of them, but the most basic differences between your speaking voice and your singing voice are:
- You articulate vowels with the tongue and vocal tract when you sing (speech requires pronunciation)
- You breathe using the diaphragm when you sing (this is not necessary in speech)
- You sustain resonance when you sing (speaking voices are largely un-resonant consonants and short vowels)
- You group your consonants differently for singing (consonants are an afterthought in speech)
- Singing requires a wide range of frequencies (speech does not)
And so on and so on. If you set your speaking voice aside when you practice singing and remove any form or pronunciation or accent in place of purely resonant sounds, you will no doubt avoid the Baritone Trap, but also build a much healthier and more powerful range as a result.
A great place to start if you want to avoid the Baritone Trap is the free foundations short courses available here at Bohemian Vocal Studio, and then when you’re ready to take your voice to the next level with professional voice training you can book a Skype Session and we’ll get started building your voice!