How to strengthen vocal chords
Learning how to strengthen your vocal chords is an important part of any professional singing approach. Practicing the right vocal exercises for singers will allow you to strengthen your vocal chords, strengthen your voice in general and of course allow you to sing high notes with ease. Bohemian Vocal Studio has become synonymous with STRONG voices and POWERFUL singing – since 2010, BVS has been coaching students all around the world how to strengthen vocal chords and sing higher than ever before. Well versed in every singing style and with specialised experience coaching students with ‘difficult’ voice types and voice ranges, along with troubleshooting all manner of accents and languages.
These 5 vocal exercises strengthen vocal chords and will allow you to sing higher, longer and with more power:
#1 – The Lip Trill
One of the most common vocal exercises for singers, almost every singer who has taken professional singing lessons at some point has been told to sing a lip trill or lip bubbles. But do you know the reason WHY you should practice lip trills, how they strengthen vocal chords and most of all, HOW to sing a lip trill efficiently? As I often say, a singing exercise is only as strong as the INTENTION behind it, and a singing voice is only as strong as the foundation it is built upon.
What are lip trills for? – Lip trills are the most common exercise that singers are show to release the vocal registers, and also moderate airflow. So when you practice a lip trill, these two points are your INTENTION, and should be the only thing that you focus on – release and controlling your airflow.
Why should I practice lip trills? – Lip trills are quite simply the most efficient way to release your registers and moderate your airflow, but, you CAN use other exercises for this same reason if you’re having some trouble mastering the lip bubble.
How do lip trills work? – Lip trills occur when there is a consistent pulsing of pressurised air being released from your breathing mechanism, making your lips ‘bubble’ when enough pressure builds up, in a repeated fashion. The ‘buzz’ that you hear in a lip trill is engagement and closure of your vocal chords, and should be treated as a SEPARATE element to the bubbling you sense in your lips.
Tips for lip trills – Close your soft palate. With an OPEN soft palate, all your air pressure will get released from your nose, and you will have to PUSH air out to create your lip trill, in essence missing the whole point of the singing exercise.
#2 – The “N” and “NG”
An “N” is just as effective for airflow moderation and release as a lip trill is, but it really depends on how well you’ve built up your foundation, and how well you’ve set up your voice. Lip trills help set up your foundation, while an “N” exercise does not necessarily, so for this exercise to be effective, you really need to set up your foundation correctly FIRST, and then produce resonance in the correct manner. Lets set up that posture:
Proper singing posture – Head up, shoulders back, chin level with the floor, ribs out. This last point, ‘ribs out’, is often called appoggio singing technique and allows you to control your breathing via extension of the diaphragm rather than contraction of the ribcage.
Breathe from the diaphragm – Learning how to breathe via engagement of the diaphragm is a special skill that requires practice and perseverance. Once you’ve set up your posture correctly like I’ve shown you above, you can engage your diaphragm by trying each of these cool tricks:
- Breathe low and sharp as though you are breathing through a drinking straw
- Toggle breathing between your nose and mouth (this ALSO trains soft palate control!)
- Lie on your back with a mug/book on your navel and try to make the book move with your breathing
- Hold your arms out as though you are shooting an archery arrow sideways (head forward) and take a deep breath
If you are breathing from the diaphragm in the right manner, then it will appear as though you are breathing from your belly rather than your ribs. This mechanism will get stronger and more fine tuned over time, so make sure to practice your diaphragmatic breathing EVERY time you sing.
Resonance placement – Vocal placement is an important skill that every singer needs to learn before they can resonate efficiently. The “N” and “NG” exercises are perfect for building vocal placement and minimising those excess frequencies that occur in the throat and jaw.
#3 – Practice your vowel shapes
Vowel shaping is one of the most important vocal exercises for singers, as this is the only way to properly create your words and sing your vowel sounds with resonance. Shaping your vowels properly instead of ‘pronouncing’ with your speaking voice will allow you to sing higher, sing with more power, cure strained vocal chords and strengthen your voice like never before! Here’s a great tutorial I’ve put together for you to illustrate how important your vowel shapes are to a strong singing voice:
Learning the right vowel shapes is easy! Simply use the vowel chart below to train each of your vowel sounds in the right way. Remember, your speaking voice/accent doesn’t factor in when you learn to sing properly, so treat these sounds separately to how you would speak them.
- AH – Tongue low and concave, similar to how your tongue sits when you yawn (don’t actually yawn!)
- AA – Similar, but with the middle of your tongue forward
- EE – Tongue UP at the back
- EH/AY – Similar to EE, but with your mouth ajar
- OO – There’s two different OO vowels depending on what you want to achieve with your voice
Now, all you need to do is replace each of your words with one of these tongue shapes and you will be able to sing almost ANY word without strain, and with a powerful resonance:
#4 – Vowel octaves
Taking each of your vowels up an octave from your low to middle range is a great way to build consistency and strengthen your voice as you exercise your vocal cords. These vowel octaves will train your vocal chords to overlap properly as you ascend in range, along with accessing the new resonance chambers that we’ve discovered with the lip trill and vocal placement exercises.
It’s important that you don’t struggle or strain with your octaves, so if it feels too high – it’s likely you need to learn how to tune your resonance like I’m about to show you!
#5 – Tune your resonance
Learning to tune your vowels properly so that they resonate in the most efficient manner in each of our resonant chambers is an advanced skill that takes time, practice and of course professional voice coaching. The most simple form of resonance tuning is called Vowel Modification, and while it won’t fine tune your voice, it will teach you the mechanism you need to build to really pinpoint your resonance tuning as your voice progresses. The idea behind vowel modification is allowing a subtle change in the character of each of your vowel sounds to allow you to sing past your vocal break and teach you how to connect chest and head voice.
A great way to practice this is to change each of your vowels every time there is a ‘difficult’ section in your voice, for example, allowing your AH vowel (so, tongue and concave, remember?) to become more of an “OH” around your first vocal break will allow you to access your middle resonance chamber and continue to resonate in a full and connected way WITHOUT straining – and from this point you simply need to ‘undo’ this OH vowel and continue to narrow your vowel sound towards a small “OO” right up into your head voice range. Here’s a vowel modification chart to help you tune that resonance:
- AH > OH > ER > OO
- AA > AH > AA > OO
- EE > AY > EE > OO
- EH > AY > EE > OO
Using this simply vowel modification chart, you will soon be able to resonate fully through your full vocal range. From this point, we then need to strip down our vowel modification technique to it’s elements so we can fine tune our resonance in a much more efficient way.
How to tune your vowels – The reason I’m not the biggest fan of vowel modification is the fact it really doesn’t allow for a subtle change in your resonance, and it often leads singers to mangle their vowel sounds and strangle their words when they try to implement the technique in actual songs. Tuning your vowels the right way requires proper control over your soft palate, and also an understanding of how your vowels were being modified in the first place – ie: the tongue toot.
The tongue root is the muscle that connects the back of your tongue to your throat, and has the ability to ‘widen’ or ‘narrow’ your vocal tract while the soft palate raises or lowers to alter the resonant space in the back of your head. Developing proper control over the tongue root is something you’ll need professional vocal coaching to learn, but it’s pretty easy to learn when you truly understand why and how vowel modification works. Your “AH” vowel becomes a wide “OH” when the tongue root moves forward towards your larynx, and the soft palate starts to stretch up into the space above your pharynx. This “OH” then narrows towards “ER” and “OO” because the tongue root then moves in reverse towards the back of your throat, in essence physically NARROWING your vowel sound. So, you’ll see, your “Vowel” always stays as an AH with your tongue low and concave, but the shape and width of your throat widens and narrows to allow for a better mix of resonant frequencies as you slide between different resonators, in essence, tuning your frequencies and tuning your resonance to ‘ping’ in the right way all throughout your vocal range.
These 5 basic vocal exercises strengthen vocal chords and build a coordinated singing voice – so when you’re ready to POWER UP your resonance, train your vocal chords, strengthen your voice and take your singing to the NEXT LEVEL, you can book a Skype session with me today and I’ll show you how it’s done!
Feel free to leave any questions or feedback 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.