Resonance as a critical component of the singing voice was never mentioned to me directly when I was a young singer. I still don’t quite understand the reason behind this vacuum. Teacher would talk vaguely from time to time about having an open throat and the beginning of a yawn, but all this ended up doing for me was creating more tension through an overextended, held throat above the larynx and nothing akin to a yawn at all. So, let me clarify. It is of paramount importance to a beautiful voice that singers optimize and maximize the natural resonance spaces inside their own bodies.
Why is resonance so important? It is resonance that adds beauty, warmth and color to your tone, as well as the sounds that are characteristic of your individual voice. The vibration of the vocal cords alone is not that beautiful of a sound. It is all of the space within resonators that amplify and alter the sound, turning the vibrations into beauty. Your resonators are unique and are a part of your vocal instrument. The resonators are all of the spaces in the vocal tract above the vocal cords themselves – throat, mouth and nasal cavities. Think those are pretty set and there isn’t much possibility of changing them? Well, there is a great deal of possibility. These modifications below are the ones that you as a singer should work towards to take full advantage of your own unique instrument.
First off, the larynx has the ability to release downward in a relaxed fashion and perform a laryngeal tilt, at which point the top of the larynx rocks slightly forward and the bottom of the larynx rock slightly back. Lowering the larynx in this healthy way makes a big difference in the sound, darkening and deepening it. The goal is to gradually teach the larynx to remain in a lower, base position when singing, creating more resonance space above it. The larynx will move up, of course, with consonants and higher pitches, but you want to teach it to release automatically back down again to the base position, which should be lower than normal for speaking, and achieve the laryngeal tilt. Beware of over-lowering and holding the larynx! It is not healthy to hold the larynx down or for it to remain as far down as it can possibly go! Work in gradations, making sure that everything feels good during the process. A released, partially-lowered larynx is exactly what happens when you drop your jaw and yawn and a healthy laryngeal position for singing should feel like that.
Next, the throat has the ability to open and expand, but it needs to be done in the correct way. By accessing the pre-vomit reflex that you have, the throat opens with significantly less interference and excess tension, thereby increasing the resonance space in an ideal manner. The open throat tends to add color and volume to the sound. To access this reflex, the sets of muscles at the base of the throat on either side of the wind pipe need to widen out and remain in this active, expanded position while singing. The pre-vomit reflex is not necessarily brought into play during yawning, but when done well, the sensation is very similar to that of yawning and very relaxing.
The mouth or oro-pharynx is cave-like in shape and has many places that can be expanded to maximize resonance. The front of the mouth with teeth, hard palate, etc. is fairly rigid, but the back of the mouth has loads of resonance opportunities. First, the soft palate should be raised when singing, but not to its full extent, which creates unhelpful tension and traps the sound in the back of the mouth. It needs to be lifted and widened in a way that is reminiscent of the beginning of the yawn and taught to remain in that expanded, relaxed position while singing. This prevents nasality and adds natural volume, warmth, color and a sense of spaciousness to the voice. The back and sides of the back of the mouth (also part of the throat and including the pillar of fauces) have the ability to expand outwards to create more space and resonance. When done without excess tension, this expansion adds even more volume and color. Again, the beginning of the yawn can show you the way to this expansion, though it needs to be more open for singing than for yawning. These walls should be trained to expand outwards in this way when singing to take full advantage of your natural resonance.
Resonance within the nasal cavities is another opportunity for singers and a very critical one. A tiny stream of air from the mouth needs to travel up behind the soft palate into the nasal cavities and make them vibrate. This gives the voice the all-important ring or squillo. When the soft palate is released up and out, the tone will not be nasal at all, but with more brilliance to it and balanced out with all of the open resonators, creating a wonderful chiaroscuro or combination of brightness and darkness in the voice. It is possible to have too much air going up into the nasal cavities, so it is better to start gradually with nasal resonance and increase it bit by bit. A little ring goes a long way!
There is one more extremely important element to resonance and that is the tongue. The tongue can’t expand and drastically improve resonance, but it can tense, pull back and do a very successful job of getting in the way of the natural resonators in the mouth, thereby greatly reducing the effectiveness of all of your expansion of the resonators themselves. While singing, the tongue needs to release forward away from the back of the mouth with the tip of the tongue at the bottom front teeth. This will keep the tongue out of the way of the resonators.
These are the important ways singers can expand their resonance and drastically improve both vocal sound quality and volume. The resonators can be difficult to address on one’s own, so supervision by a qualified teacher who understands the specifics of the various resonators and can hear the difference in sound quality is important.
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