How To Sing With Vocal Placement
Placement can be a confusing concept to many singers who are just getting started in the world of singing technique and vocal terms. Your vocal chords are in your throat, so how can you ‘move’ or ‘place’ your voice? The truth is of course, that you can’t – but what you can and should do, is sing with frequencies that resonate efficiently and effectively in the vocal tract and your body’s natural resonators.
Instead of dragging up the booming and strained tone from your lower range and trying to ‘force’ your voice to work in an uncomfortable and unpleasant way, the key to effective singing is achieving effective placement – singing with frequencies that resonate properly within the vocal tract.
The higher your voice type, the easier and more natural placement will likely come to you – in fact, a high Tenor will naturally place their voice in the vocal tract, but a baritone like myself will likely need regular practice to encourage these naturally resonant frequencies. Having a naturally low voice myself, I spent many years struggling with strain and tension until I achieved a healthy and powerful vocal placement that was comfortable, consistent, and most importantly resulted in a pleasant vocal tone and extensive range. Instead of resigning myself to the relatively stunted range I started out with, achieving placement allowed me to develop my vowels in a more effective way and ‘break the baritone curse’ and escape the chains of my deep voice and the vocal strain and tension that had been holding me back from achieving my goal of singing rock and pop without pushing or straining.
How do you achieve Vocal Placement?
A great way to achieve placement in your singing, especially if you have a lower natural voice like me, is to practice bright and ‘buzzy’ resonant sounds like an N to get a feeling for a ‘higher’ placement that sits in the vocal tract, and most importantly, isn’t stuck in your throat.
Instead of taking your speaking voice and trying to ‘carry’ it up into your singing range, it’s important that you develop your vowels properly and make a separation between your speech accent, and your ‘true’ singing resonance, which occurs when you learn how to sing with an Open Throat.
What is Open Throat singing?
Open Throat is another confusing vocal term that is often thrown around by voice coaches without care or further explanation. The truth is, Open Throat singing actually requires ‘closure’ and ‘resistance’ in every individual aspect of your vocal foundation;
- Vocal fold closure
- Partial closure of the supraglottis
- Narrowing of the vowel in your vocal tract
- Resisting recoil of the diaphragm
- Partial closure of the epiglottis
- Closing the soft palate up against the nasal passage
By raising the soft palate up against the nasal passage, not only will you block any airflow from occurring out of your nose, you will create an ‘open’ resonant space which encourages a healthy and resonant vocal placement.
Placement is an important element of every great singer’s foundation. In the same way that every singer needs to develop efficient breath support, a healthy and ‘open’ approach to vowels, connection between chest and head voice and other important vocal techniques like balancing your onset, placement is one of the base elements of a healthy voice – a strong foundation equals a strong singing voice.
How to sing in Middle Voice
Just as important as the concept of vocal placement, is developing your MIX register. When you first start singing, you’ll probably find that you have a fairly comfortable low register, aka chest voice, and a disconnected and breathy high register, known as head voice. Now, as you learn proper control over your registers and you start to build a connection between your main registers, you’ll eventually be able to coordinate the musculature responsible for chest and head voice to balance together and create what is called a MIX voice, or, your MIDDLE register.
Your middle register only happens when you can balance your musculature between the head and chest registers without flipping – and over time, you’ll be able to extend this coordination and build a monster range that sounds full and rich like your chest voice through your full range, but with the ease, release and access to high notes that head voice affords. Learning how to sing in the middle register is absolutely imperative to developing vocal placement, and they really do go hand in hand.
A great way I’ve developed for coaching my students how to sing in middle voice is the concept of projection. Now, I don’t mean projecting your voice loud and to a far away place, I’m talking about the reverse projection, where you figuratively project your voice back towards yourself from the corner of the room or a far away space. This allows you to release your vocal chord coordination from the fully extended chest register ever so slightly into your mix, will stopping you from adding any weight or volume to your resonance – in essence, forcing you to sing in middle voice. Over time this connection and ‘release’ will become more natural and stronger, meaning that you can develop a natural bridge between your registers, or release at a different point through your voice, meaning you can sing higher chest voice notes or even sing in a lighter coordination for pop or R’nB.
Learning how to coordinate your vocal placement while bridging into your middle register is the key to powerful singing, and will allow you to sing higher than ever before without straining.
Sing high notes without strain
Singing high notes without strain is an important skill that only the best voice coach can help you develop. Learning how to sing high notes without strain involves coordination of a number of techniques, from middle voice and vocal placement right through to vowel shaping and resonance tuning. The first step you need to take to sing high notes without strain is setting up a strong foundation, which starts with your posture.
Healthy posture for singing looks something like this:
- Shoulders back
- Head up
- Chin Parallel with the floor
- Ribs wide
When you’ve learned how to set up your posture in this manner and keep it this way, you can then build control over your breathing so that you a breathing from the diaphragm and ensuring that your breath control comes from engagement of the diaphragm rather than contraction of the ribs.
As you can see, singing techniques like Mix Voice, Placement and even Appoggio are all part of a healthy vocal foundation, and setting up this foundation is the true key to building a strong and healthy singing voice.
How to sing with a strong Foundation
Foundation in singing is just like the foundation of a house being built; the rock solid base that your walls and roof are built upon, or in terms of singing, your range and tone. Vocal foundation includes breathing, placement, mix voice, balanced onsets and the many other rock solid aspects of a great singing voice.
A great place to start is this free Foundation singing lesson which will show you how a rock solid foundation will help you unlock your vocal range, achieve healthy vocal placement and most importantly, how to sing without strain and tension.
If you have any questions about learning to sing with Vocal Placement, 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.