Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Vocal Tone: How To Change It

This will be the first in a two-part series
 This is the second of a two part series

This will be the first in a two-part series
This will be the first in a two-part series
As promised, this is my second blog post on 'Vocal Tone'. It's one thing
to know how you want your voice to sound... but another to actually create that sound! Today we'll talk about how to paint different tone colors, change the overtones and harmonics of your speaking and singing voice to most authentically communicate your messages - or sound like a singer you want to match.

It takes...

  • Mental intention: You know what tone you need and fully commit to sounding it.
  • Vocal technique: Your automatic nervous system knows how to direct the many parts of your body/instrument to create the sound you intend. 

It starts with the vocal cords...

  • The vocal cords (aka "vocal folds") create the onset of vocal sound when air blows through the edges of these folds and sets up the initial sound vibrations. How those folds stretch/relax, thicken/thin not only determines vocal pitch but also can affect vocal tone color. 

Vocal cord conditions that affect tone:

  • Age/size - If you are a child, your vocal cords are smaller, with a resulting higher, thinner,  lighter sound. This is one reason most serious classical training is best done when the singer approaches 30. If you are an elderly adult, your vocal folds can become less elastic but also denser and more sonorous, according to how you've used them your whole life and how healthy you are in general. [Just in case you need a faith lift, check out this performance by 90 year old Mark Reizen 
  • Strength and coordination - weak vocal cords/folds haven't had enough correct vocal exercise/singing to create good vocal fold closure (adduction), flexibility and stamina. and will sound weak or if overblown, sound strained and tight. Strong cords can bear more breath support/control and create more brilliance, ping and richly resonant tone.
  • Irritation or damage - in this condition the folds are not as elastic, the edges of the cords are not smooth and again, vocal cord vibration and adduction is compromised, limiting vocal tone possibilities (chronic breathiness is a red flag which should be investigated by an ENT doctor specializing in voice).
  • Condition of the mucosa layer of the vocal cords. If this layer is too thick or too thin or is even slightly dehydrated, the movement of the 'mucosal wave' will be limited, and tone will be rougher.

The buzz from vocal fold vibration is not going to be very colorful. It's the path that buzz takes traveling on through the resonators that creates the final vocal tones you produce.  

Vocal resonators that affect tone:
  • The Larynx (cartilage)
  • The Pharynx (throat channel from just below larynx through back of mouth and nose)
  • The Trachea and Bronchial tubes
  • The Mouth (bony and soft tissues, palates, teeth)
  • The Nose (it's bigger than you think)
  • The Head (bones of skull)
  • The Face (especially bones of the mask - forehead, cheekbones, faceplate)

Factors that determine how your vocal resonators are accessed and vibrated include:

  • Soft palate 
    • Lift it and you create an open, bell-like sound.
    • Flatten it and you sound thin, edgy, nasal.
  • Larynx
    • Over-lift it and you will sound thin & tight, anxious, brittle, uncontrolled.
    • Over-lower it and sound hooty & dark.
    • Float it, allow it to lift and lower slightly and tilt in your neck, and it will give you unimpeded access to rich resonance, open sound and a full tone color palate that is unstrained. 
  • Jaw 
    • Lower it a bit and you can get a boomy, covered sound. Lower it uncomfortably and you'll also lower larynx and tend to flatten soft palate. You'll have a dark, throaty, foghorn type of sound. 
    • Freeze it and you will also freeze your soft palate, resulting in the clenched jaw, back of your mouth tight, colorless, muffled or angry tone.
    • Let it float flexibly in a slight chewing circle and you release your soft palate and larynx, allowing colorful, playful, open and easily variable tone - anything from smokey and sultry to cooly mellow, classically sonorous, or pop crisp and bright. 
  • Tongue
    • Use the back of it to articulate and your tone will be strangled and tight. This usually accompanies a frozen jaw and raised larynx with those resulting tones.
    • Use the front of it to articulate and you release the tension in the base of the tongue... with resulting vocal tone that is very lively, open and bell-bright. It goes right along with the floating jaw and actively lifting soft palate.
  • Neck and shoulder muscles
    • If you tighten these, you will encourage the tight, limited tone colors that comes from tight jaw, larynx, soft palate configurations and uncontrolled or shallow breath. This is great if you need to sound scared, tense, angry or in pain.
  • Eyes, eye pads and eyebrows
    • Freeze these in guarded or thought mode and you will find a numb, monotone and/or more nasal sound (because your nose won't be as open).
    • Activate these appropriately to an unguarded message, and you will find a larger tone palate becomes available for your voice - to which frozen eyes have no access. Frown, open eyes wide, open in slits, squint (see below), close lids but open orbs, lift one brow, smile openly or discretely, etc... you'll create different tones!
  • Cheekbones
    • Tighten at the upper corners of your cheekbones (squint) and you'll sound tight and thin. This is due to the concurrent tight soft palate, jaw and nasal pharynx
    • Purpose to lift and sound your voice from there and you'll naturally activate some areas (including your eyes) that can give you a very rich, resonant, masky sound. Add a scrunch to your nose and you will have a bratty, bright sound.
  • Throat
    • Allow your pharynx to tighten and you'll get a tight, painful or tired sound. Open it and you can create an open, bright, rich, easily variable sound.
  • Ribcage
    • Power your voice from where the diaphragm sits (the lower ribcage) and you'll push your voice into a yelled, tight, risky, frightened or angry sound.
    • Open your lower ribcage wide instead and your controlled breath will easily let you choose a richer or more varied resonation path to send your voice through. 
Try some of these things, maybe combine some things in a creative way and leave us a comment here... what did you discover about your ability to affect your vocal tone?  

Labels: , , , , ,


  • At February 25, 2014 at 3:44 PM , Anonymous Pete Mickelson said...

    . . . and if you want to listen to how it's going while you do it, don't overlook HearFones. Ever so much better than listening to a recording ("Do I sound like THAT?) or having an "Almost right; next time try this . . . " froma coach. Good sounding voice is built upon practice with HearFones.

  • At March 8, 2014 at 12:56 AM , Anonymous Colleen Mallette said...

    OOh HearFones....cant wait to look into those.

  • At March 8, 2014 at 2:52 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Colleen... you can see a video on how I use them with students at my site here. Just look for the 'Hearfones' tab.

  • At April 1, 2014 at 9:56 AM , Anonymous Sam Walker said...

    These are very good points to study. I don't know if it has anything to do with my health but I can't sing 3 songs straight without feeling short of breath. It feels as though I was doing a sprint. When I push through my limit, the change is pretty obvious, my vocals would sound tense and short. Would cardio or breathing exercises correct this?

  • At April 1, 2014 at 4:13 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Sam, it sounds to me more like you could use some correction in the way you use breathing for your breath. It really doesn't take a lot of breath to sing, but most people use it very inefficiently. Hit me up if you would like a lesson... even 1/2 hr could help you.

    As to cardio exercise, I'd check with a doc before upping your routine very much, in case it is a health issue. Breathing exercises would help... but the right ones would make a big difference. Try blowing children's bubbles. It's spring and they are readily available everywhere. Try to blow big bubbles... don't blow small, fast ones or blow the bubble out.

  • At January 26, 2015 at 10:54 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Can raising the larynx make the tone more "nasally"? I realized I started to raise my larynx to hit higher notes and it makes it much easier but my tone totally went down the drain. I've been extremely upset with myself because I was doing pretty well then I got sick and didn't sing for a while and now it's just plain bad. I just feel like there's no hope and I'm still young! I haven't tried the Adam's apple exercise yet but will soon and see how that goes. I'm pretty lost for words right now, but any recommendations will be very appreciated!!!

  • At January 26, 2015 at 11:07 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I am pretty lost for words right now so I think I'll just go for it. When you raise your larynx can it cause and nasally tone when going for higher notes? I have been singing for quite some time now and have noticed that lately I started to raise my larynx. Since I started doing this, my tone has gotten much more nasally, there is a weird buzzing, and my voice just sounds much worse overall. I haven't tried the Adam's apple exercise yet, but have tried to correct it and it hasn't gotten any better. I feel pretty hopeless and would appreciate ANY feedback!

  • At January 27, 2015 at 7:07 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Sam; raising your larynx too much will result in a tight, strangled tone. The resulting tightened jaw can freeze the soft palate and add nasality to the mix. If you try the purposed touch exercise, remember the 'apple' should move... tilting inside your neck when you go higher in pitch. But not over-raise. Two fingers up under the base of your tongue can also be a purposed touch point. Actually, you've given me a good idea for my next blogpost. Stay tuned. Also... you might enjoy this post I wrote on the subject: http://blog.judyrodman.com/2008/06/raising-and-lowering-larynx-should-you.html

  • At January 27, 2015 at 8:21 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Would you also happen to have any tips or recommendations on how to release tension from those swallowing muscles? I can't seem to find much information on that. Thanks!!

  • At January 28, 2015 at 7:45 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Sam, those muscles are commonly tense because jaw and tongue, and even neck and shoulders, are tight. You have to learn to use effort in the right places (tip instead of base of tongue, pelvic floor instead of shoulders, eyes instead of upper cheekbones) so the 'wrong' places can relax. This is a core concept of good vocal training or re-training.

  • At January 28, 2015 at 7:56 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    I guess that's what I get for trying to do it all by myself. But, thank you so much for all your help!! I really do appreciate it a lot. Thanks again!!


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]