If you want to learn to sing then the first question you will have is, where do I start? There is a lot of information out there on learning how to sing, no wonder so many singers are confused. You may be one of those singers, you’ve made the effort to get out there and surf Youtube and Google to find the bits of information that you are looking for, even bought a download course or two, but still feel confused about singing!
Here I will give you a brief overview of the main parts of singing. You can then rest assured that you will know what you need to learn how to sing.
The five main parts of singing:
1) Breath support
2) Phonation – vocal folds
Learn to Sing – Breath Support
Breath support is probably the most talked about part of singing, although I believe it should be emotion! Be cool Dyl J
So why is breath support such a hot topic? If there is no air flow then there is no sound, if those muscles are weak then we get a supply of air that is inconsistent, the vocal folds (vocal cords as they are also called) struggle to keep pitch, and the tone will suffer, as other muscles start to get involved in trying to make up for the lack of air and the throat start to close off.
That flow of air is created from the diaphragm – this is called diaphragmatic breathing – it is the only correct form of breathing. The confusion comes from the fact that there are two main schools of thought on how breath support should be worked, some work on focusing and pushing out the epigastrium – this is the upper belly just below your sternum – while others focus on the feeling of pushing down and out around the waist at the sides and lower back. Both systems advocate that the lower belly – below the belly button – should be moving in. So which system is correct? They both are, as they are both just smaller parts of the bigger picture, which is diaphragmatic breath support, so both should be taught and on a sound so that the relationship between breathing and sound can be established as quickly as possible.
Phonation – Vocal Folds Vibrating
Air is supplied from the breath support at a very specific pressure, it is just enough to gently push the vocal folds open. This pressure then drops and the vocal folds close again. This opening and closing of the vocal folds is called phonation and it creates the start of the sound.
The vocal folds are housed in your larynx – your voice box.
The vocal folds and breath support working together in harmony is one of the most important skills for a singer to learn, fortunately there are loads of sounds that you can use to help you to get this balance. Humming, lip trills, tongue trills, and many more…they are called semi-occluded vocal tract sounds! Sorry I said I was going to keep it jargon free here, no more I promise.
At this point the sound is not beautiful but reedy sounding we need the resonators to create a good tone.
Resonance imparts the beauty onto the voice. The sound that has now been created at the vocal folds now moves through the throat. This is where the sound gets its first tonal quality, if the throat is nice and open it will be a warm, full sound. The sound then travels to the mouth where it can be shaped to make many different tonal colours, whilst always feeling projected.
Nasal sympathetic resonance should also be a part of a good tone as this gives the overtones, which gives the brightness to the sound. This is not to be confused with singing in your nose! This would be nasal resonance – nasality. If you are unsure if you are singing in your nose, sing a vowel and pinch your nose, if it’s nasally resonant you will hear and feel that you have blocked off the sound as air was coming out of the nose.
Pressure should be felt under, around or on top of the nose but never in it, although this is not so important in popular music as there are lots of singers who do sing through their noses, the sound is more velvety, which would be cool if you were after an old school soul sound, a great example of this sound would be Ella Fitzgerald.
How the lips, tongue, jaw, facial muscles and soft palate work together to shape a vowel or consonant, in other words how we sing lyrics.
Vowels can by sung, and spoken for that matter, in many different ways to create the same sound, so it is important to feel an open throat and use resonance as a guide for our vowel shapes, and not so much on copying a picture exactly as this tends to create tension rather than a free flowing vowel.
Vowels when sung correctly can be used to do two different things; one change the tone of the voice and two not affect the tone. The latter has an exercise that is used to teach a student this and it’s called vowel balancing. The student learns to sing all vowels on any pitch with the same tonal quality, and throughout there range.
This area is easily overlooked and is in fact in every singing download course that I have ever studied! This is not a good thing, it shows that we have all got hooked up on how high or loud someone can sing and have forgotten all about the most important part. The physical instrument is there to serve the emotion, which is the will to communicate an emotion through song.
The problems come when that instrument is out of condition, due to the stresses and strains of life, physical weakness and the mental restrictions that we put on ourselves, so that it does not respond to the emotion. We then think that there is something wrong with our instinctive singing, and try to control it, when all that was needed was a vocal coach that could get the instrument strong and balanced so that it would once again respond to the will – the emotion.
Any great singer has the power to draw you in from the very first word they sing, this is emotion. They will take you on an emotional journey with their singing taking you away from reality for the length of that song. This is real singing, and every great artist does it.
Bringing All the Parts Together
Breath support gives us the air at the correct pressure and at a dependable, consistent stream. This stream creates the pressure needed for the vocal folds to start to phonate. Sound then travels to the resonators where it is amplified and tonal beauty is then added. Finally the sound reaches the articulators that then sing the words in such a way as not to affect that beautiful tone. When this all works together instinctively then we have the sensation of open throated singing and can sing for hours with no vocal strain.
This is a very simplified version, as articulators can be used to change the resonance placement and vocal folds can start to vibrate without an air flow, but that’s for another day.
So there you have it, this is singing explained with as little jargon as possible. So now you know all the main parts of singing, how to bring them all together, so that the muscles and more importantly you are ready and confident to sing. This is the job of a good vocal coach.
I hope that you found this really helpful? Why not check out some of my videos on youtube where you could ask a question or if you would like to book a lesson then please get in touch. It would be great to hear from you.