How To Sing With Vocal Placement
As a low baritone myself, I often struggled with throat tension and a lack of high range when I first started singing. I practised the exercises religiously, I tried a number of different methods and even bought a singing course that did very little to alleviate the tension and strain that magically appeared the moment I tried to sing. Learning how to sing with a lower voice type is known to be a difficult task, but only because there is (was!) a lack of resources and information out there geared towards guys and girls with lower voices who didn’t really check the boxes of a ‘naturally’ gifted voice or common range. Along with diaphragmatic support and the importance of vowel shaping and forming resonant space appropriately, there was one other technique that absolutely changed my life as a singer – Vocal Placement.
Higher voices naturally sit in a pleasant and bright place in the vocal tract, making the process of learning how to sing relatively easy and straightforward. With my low voice, I often struggled to make a resonant sound and continued to struggle with fatigue and vocal strain. This all disappeared when I was first shown the concept of placement, and formed my own approach to placing my frequencies designed for my naturally low range. If you’ve been struggling with vocal strain, you’re having trouble learning to sing, or you just have a low voice like I do – prepare for your mind to be blown!
What is vocal placement?
It’s not physically possible to ‘move’ or ‘place’ your voice in a literal sense, after all, your voice is a result of air pressure, vocal fold vibration and resonance. It IS however, possible to encourage the creation and growth of a specific band of healthy frequencies which resonate naturally within the vocal tract, enabling a strain free and powerfully resonant sound – this is known as placement.
Many singers with higher voices are told to “sing in masque” or “sing in the mask” without much further explanation as to what is physically happen when they do so, and also how this can be applied to a lower voiced singer like myself. Instead of singing through your nose and making a squeezed ‘forward’ sound, my approach to placement is actually to limit any excess frequencies which aren’t resonating in an efficient manner. It’s super easy to do and it will change your voice forever, here’s how to do it:
How to sing with vocal placement
One of the best ways to achieve vocal placement in the early stages of your vocal development is to use a small, bright, resonant sound like an “N” or “NG” to form your resonance. Now, the intent isn’t to raise your frequencies and push sound into your nose or between your eyes. Instead, you should focus on LIMITING any excess vibration and sound from below your top teeth. Now, I’m not talking about registers or head voice or chest voice, I’m simply talking about resonance. The more you practice this sound, and the higher you go in your range without vocal strain using this well placed sound, the more familiar you will become with how important and useful vocal placement is.
Like any new skill or tool, it’s easy to overdo it too early. Remember, singing is a process of balance that builds and grows over time, not a sprint to the finish line. Singing with placement should make your voice sound much more pleasant and resonant, not nasal and whiny. The secret to fixing a nasal tone is learning how to use the soft palate effectively like so.
The secret to vocal placement is learning how to retain this high, bright placement on your vowel sounds and not just the open resonant sounds of N and NG. The first step is to shape your vowels correctly and allow appropriate resonant space like this. Now, it’s important that you remember placement requires you to ‘limit’ frequencies, not sing nasal or push extra sound into your nose. Placement is a process of allowing efficitent resonance, not singing with a forced and unnatural tone.
Over time, this placement will just grow and grow until you achieve a room shaking, earth shattering resonance at the drop of a hat with very little effort, and definitely no vocal strain! Of the span of the last 15 years, I’ve gone from a low rumble and consistent vocal strain to coaching singing technique worldwide and helping students all around the globe discover their own natural placement – try it, your voice will change forever!
A great place to start is the free foundations short courses available here at the Bohemian Vocal Studio course HQ which will show you how to set up a rock solid foundation for your placement, tone and high range to be built upon. When you’re ready to take your voice to the next level with professional voice coaching, you can book a Skype Lesson and we’ll start working towards extending your range, developing placement in your vowel sounds as well as building control and consistency into your voice every time you sing!
If you have any questions about learning how to sing or developing 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.