The [Simplified] Anatomy Of A Great Singing Voice
Have you often wondered whether there was MORE to a great singing voice than just singing from the diaphragm? This singing guide will share with you The Anatomy of A Great Singing Voice and show you each element of the vocal mechanism that you need to train and develop. Beyond the simple act of breathing, there are many other ‘secret’ elements of great singing that are often shrouded in mystery and only revealed once you’ve paid for an expensive course – this is the ultimate guide to the anatomy of a great singing voice and will share with you everything you need to know to build a great singing voice!
A great singing voice is one that achieves balance and has been built upon a strong foundation, so make sure you check out the free foundations short courses available here at Bohemian Vocal Studio to make sure you’ve got a powerful base on which to build a balanced voice. Let’s get started with the anatomy of a great singing voice!
The diaphragm is a large dome-shaped muscle which sits between the lung cavity and the abdomen. By engaging the diaphragm, you, in turn, create a negative space which fills with air like a vacuum, allowing you to moderate airflow and air pressure for supported and consistent singing. The diaphragm itself is an involuntary muscle, meaning that you can’t just ‘flex’ it and sing well, you need to engage the surrounding and adjoining musculature and follow a specific psychological process to effectively engage your diaphragm for effective breathing when you sing.
The Soft Palate
The soft palate is an under-represented but highly important aspect of your vocal anatomy. The soft palate is the soft fleshy flap that sits at the back of the roof of your mouth, and allows airflow to either travel through your nose, or solely through your mouth. On top of the soft palate’s ability to manage your airflow, it also plays an important part in how you access and alter your resonant space when you sing. General instructions like “yawn before you sing” are often ineffective in training you to use the soft palate effectively – this is because it’s possible to yawn with the soft palate either open or closed, so will only work for those who ‘mistakenly’ close the soft palate when they yawn. A better way to train control over the soft palate is to toggle your breathing first through your nose only, and then out through your mouth only (without using your fingers to block your nose) – can you see how easy it is to control the soft palate?
The tongue is often referred to as the master of your singing voice, and in many ways this is true. Each of your vowel sounds are created by a specific change in the shape of your tongue, for example, low and concave for an AH vowel, and raised at the back for an EE vowel. The tongue itself has many different functions in singing, and has multiple moving parts that can be used to improve your singing voice, or if untrained, can stand in the way of your voice reaching its full potential.
The epiglottis itself is a flap of cartilage that directs food into the stomach instead of the lungs and is located at the top of the entrance to the larynx. Narrowing of the aryepiglottic sphincter serves to create twang in singing, in essence creating a specific frequency of resonance that is both powerful, sharp and loud with little effort. Twang is sometimes mistaken as nasality in singing – nasality actually occurs from nasal airflow, not from narrowing of the epiglottis.
The pharynx is the main resonating chamber of the voice, and is the cavity that lies behind the nose and mouth. The soft palate not only allows/controls airflow between the nose and mouth but has the added ability to raise and create further space in the pharynx for your voice to resonate or to accommodate changes in your vowel sounds. An open pharynx (not to be confused with an open soft palate that allows airflow through the nose) is the essence of the term Open Throat technique.
The intercostals, along with many other adjoining muscles are key to developing breath support beyond simply engaging the diaphragm. They are a specific group of muscles that lie in and around your ribs and facilitate most of the mechanical aspects of breathing. To effectively manage your airflow using the diaphragm, the intercostal muscles must not be allowed to contract, or allow the ribs to control when you ascend in range or hold a phrase.
The Tongue Root
The tongue is an incredibly strong and surprisingly large muscle, what we see in our mouths is only part of our tongue, while the root of the tongue is located further down in your throat and can be the cause of many issues, or can be the saviour of your singing voice. The tongue root should be allowed to move freely when you sing and is best illustrated by subtly changing the character of your vowels. If you start with an AH vowel and move gently forward to an OH instead, you will no doubt feel the forward movement of the root of the tongue to facilitate appropriate space for the wider vowel sound. Now, if you move from AH to EE instead, no doubt you will feel the tongue root move in reverse to narrow your throat somewhat – if your tongue root is tense when you sing, you will experience all manner of strain and tension, and likely suffer from tonal issues like a muffled or strained sound.
Known as the Vocal Chords or Vocal Cords, the vocal folds are folds of membrane which stretch across the larynx from back to front, vibrate under air pressure/with air flow to create the voice.
CT & TA
Keeping this guide as simple and practical as possible, the Cricothyroid (CT) muscles control vocal fold tension/stretch, and the Thyroarytenoid (TA) muscles control vocal fold weight – by balancing your voice between vocal fold weight and vocal fold tension while making efficient use of these important muscle groups, you can in essence balance between and connect your chest and head voice, while singing in a middle tonality that is neither forced, nor too light.
Remember, your singing voice is only as strong as the foundation you build it upon – have you set up a strong base for your voice to develop and grow? When you’re ready to take your voice to the next level and develop control and balance in each of the above aspects of your voice, you can book a Skype Session and we’ll work towards extending your range and building control and consistency in your voice every time you sing.
If you have any questions about the anatomy of a great singing voice, or there is any other aspects of a great singing voice you’d like me to explain, feel free to leave any feedback or questions below!