How To Make Poor Vocal Tone Rich

Strident, yelly, thin, numb, hooty, nasal voice – if you are acting in a scene that calls for a weak, angry or weird character or cartoon, or you are singing backgrounds for an artist that sounds like that, you might want to make those sounds. But if you’re an artist or a public speaker, these kinds of vocal tone habits can limit your career. They can even damage your voice!

These vocal sounds are not nearly as “listenable” as rich, clear, bell-like, multi-textured musical tone that results from good technique. Many people believe that they were just born sounding the way they do. But with vocal training to open the throat, amazing changes can take place. If a student comes in particularly plagued with bad vocal tone, I tell them to celebrate when a family or friend calls them and doesn’t recognize the voice at the other end of the phone. It happens all the time!

Limited, poor vocal tone of all kinds share a common cause- the resonance cave of the voice is not completely open.

The resonance cave of the voice involves a forked channel along which vibration from the larynx can travel and be amplified by alternative resonation zones. The channel goes from the larynx in the throat upwards and forks into the mouth and the nasal passages. The interior of the nose is quite big. The top of the nasal membrane goes all the way up to the eyes. Resonance is created and modified by the state of this channel – how wide it is, how accessible it keeps the resonation zones as the voice travels throughout the range.

How vocal resonance is created:

• The vocal cords vibrate the larynx.
• Sound waves generated by the larynx go through the channel and bounce against other tissue surfaces and cavities in the throat, mouth, trachea.
• These alternative resonation zones add their own characteristics to the sound waves.
• If the throat channel is open, more vibration can reach more surfaces. The composite, amplified vocal sound is much richer than when the channel is constricted anywhere.

Another reason for keeping the throat channel open: different pitches need to vibrate through different resonation zones. If your throat is tight anywhere, vibration can’t travel as freely. This will limit your vocal range and cause vocal strain as you try to hit inaccessible pitches.

Things you can do for richer vocal tone:

1. First, record yourself speaking or singing to have a baseline from which to assess your progress.

2. Understand that the throat channel opens in three directions: up (soft palate and upper nasal membrane), down (jaw and tongue) and back (neck vertebrae). Miss a direction and you will limit your vocal tone.

3. For excessive nasality: If you have a “nasal” sound, the nose is actually congested or closed – like when you have a cold. Paradoxically, to get improve nasality, you need to open your nose! Try singing or speaking with a flared nose to experience the effects.

4. For nasality, thinness, lifeless sound: Use your eyes! Try counting to five LOUD with your eyes narrow and frozen. Count again with your eyes wide and active like you’re talking to a puppy or a baby.

NOTE: singing through the nose (excessive nasality) and singing through the mask are different. You DO want to vibrate your mask, which is an important resonator. The mask consists of the bony orbs of the eyes, forehead, nose bone. The sinuses lie in back and add their characteristics, too. Again… you must open your nose to get the facial mask vibrating.

5. For tight, thin, weak, edgy, strained sound: Open the throat channel at the back of the mouth: Articulate your words in the front of your mouth… don’t speak from your jaw! Try putting your knuckle between your molars as you sing. Then take your knuckle out and try to sing or speak like it’s still there. Also: Try speaking or singing with an imaginary ping pong ball on the back of your tongue.

NOTE: A tight jaw will also prevent the soft palate from lifting. The ‘floor’ affects the ‘ceiling’ of the open throat.

6. For hooty, too-dark sound: Do not over-lower your larynx! Relax at the center of your neck… don’t over-lift or over-lower your voice box. It should float there with no tension around it. Also… only use the feeling of the beginning of the yawn – not the end of the yawn – to open the throat.

7. For all kinds of tonal issues: To keep from tightening the channel at the post nasal drip zone (where nose flows into back of mouth) – balance your head over your tailbone or heel… do not hold your head forward! Try doing wall work: Stand against a wall (head and heel against the wall, flexible spine, chin level and floating) and speak or sing. If you have big shoulders, put a small towel or cushion behind your head. Feel and hear the difference?

8. When using a mike, pull your mouth back from the mic like you’re playing tug of war. Don’t go too far, just a little stretch. Keep your chin flexibly level.

And finally… breath can also be an issue in bad vocal tone. The throat will tighten to try to defend the vocal cords from pushy, excessive breath pressure. Power, Path & Performance vocal training combines breath techniques along with open throat and communication techniques. It’s a three-stranded-cord, professional training approach to voice that creates great vocal tone with which to deliver memorable stage and studio vocals.

Judy Rodman

  • Skyler Whitaker

    Great post!