Surveying the thousands of singers I have coached, I’d say that wanting to sing with volume and power is perhaps the second most common wish right behind the number one request which is expanded vocal range. Before we discuss what may prevent you from acquiring these illusive gems, let’s take a look at singing with power.
“Belting” was originally musical theater lingo for singing in a full voice with enough power and projection, even without using a microphone, that a singer could be heard by audience seated in the back of the venue. Over the years it has come to mean singing loudly in “chest voice,” a term I prefer not to use because it can limit how you perceive your voice.
As you may know from experience, powerful singing is a style often accompanied by its own punishment – strain, frequent throat clearing, hoarseness, laryngitis, throat discomfort or loss of upper range. In severe cases the result can be nodes (calluses on the inner rims of the vocal folds) or polyps (blisters on the top or underside of the vocal folds). Nodes and polyps are painfully restrictive of singing and may alter your voice permanently.
Metal and Rock singers often have the attitude that voice training will make them sound too “pretty” or force them to lose their unique identity. This is sometimes true if you study the wrong vocal technique. So not knowing what else to do, these singers bash and trash their voices resulting in canceled gigs and sometimes more severe consequences.
Does singing powerfully, inevitably mean you’ll wreck your voice? Often the answer is “Yes,” unless you know how to do it right! The good news is that it’s not what you sing, but rather, how you sing that will either slaughter or save your voice. Through nearly 50 years of my own vocal performance and over 35 years of vocal research and coaching others, I’ve discovered techniques that allow you to sing any style, even the aggressive and powerful ones with a seamless wide range and power and without damaging your voice.
Force Instead of Resonance
If you’re using muscle force in your throat or mouth to sing powerfully, you will have problems. Muscle tension and force in the throat will simply limit the vibrations of your voice and restrict the resonant power you could otherwise achieve naturally. This tension, especially in the back of your tongue, your soft palate and your lips can strain your voice. Muscle tension can cause your voice to go off pitch and shorten your range considerably. It will eventually fatigue your voice and cause increasingly severe vocal blow out.
The body parts that vibrate and create the sound of your voice, your vocal folds, are not what give you volume and power. True, if you practice the correct vocal exercises, the muscles within the vocal folds become stronger and more limber. This improves their agility and responsiveness resulting in better tonal quality and a fuller voice. Your voice sounds better and your range may increase, but vocal power and volume come from resonance.
What is Vocal Resonance?
When you pluck an acoustic guitar string, its vibration resonates and amplifies in the hollow body so you can hear the note. When you sing, the vibrations of your vocal folds need to resonate within the porous bones, muscle and tissue lining, palate (roof of mouth) and especially the open body cavities (inner space) of the throat, mouth, sinus cavity, head, chest and back to achieve volume. Resonance and thus volume with power is further enhanced if these vibrations are not dampened by tension in these areas.
A first step would be to get your vocal muscles limbered and flexible. One way to do that is with Vocal Warm-ups.
The next step would be to remove muscle tension or strain in the throat that will hinder the vibrations of your voice and dampen the resonant power you could otherwise naturally achieve. If your throat and tongue tighten, you shut down your acoustic chamber and there goes the resonance.
In Part 2 of Belting or Singing with Power, we’ll address the 4th primary cause of throat muscle tension -using force rather than resonance to achieve volume and power. I’ll also show you an exercise to relieve that tension. Until then, please post your comments or questions about belting or powerful singing.