Insights from A Top Voice Scientist

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

What amazes us the most about the human (and animal) voice is how wide our pitch range is. This is created using 2 simple short strings, which are really only 1 string as they move in symmetry with each other. We stand alongside man made musical instruments that have 4 strings, 6 strings or even hundreds of strings like the piano (if you consider some notes are double or triple stringed!).

With a single string we can create up to a 4 or 5 octave range. There is no string – steel, gut or otherwise – that can create this range with such a short string. Nature has created a sophisticated layered string: the skin, the superficial later, the ligament, then the muscle. We have figured out how to use this along with the surrounding musculature to create an incredible array of tones and frequencies.

Singing Over A Loud Band

We often attend singing workshops where teenagers are being prepped as the next big thing. When in training, they don’t use microphones, they sing acoustically. We hear them making all kinds of interesting colors and sounds with their voices. But when it comes to the performance, they are put between a microphone and a huge backing band and We can no longer hear those beautiful vocal variations; you lose the light and shade of their tone and fail to pick out any subtle onsets or offsets or vocal effects.

Is the pop music industry confused?

One the hand, record labels and managers are looking for unique voices – some with husky voices, others pure and so on. But on the other hand, when it comes to live performances, there is only 1 sound with no variations. The music is so loud your only option is to turn your voice into an electronic sound with lots of twang and belt just to be heard.

If this is the way the industry is going, perhaps we should start training pop voices to cope with the volume levels alongside electronic equipment designed with singers in mind.

The New Study Of Noise
The big unknown area in voice science is the creation of noise in the voice: non pure voice tones that use growl, distortion, screaming and other kinds of rattling or scraping. If We were to learn how to do a heavy metal scream and perform it regularly and safely, what areas of our vocal tract are moving to create that sound? It could be the false vocal folds, the velum (soft palate) or the epiglottis just behind the tongue, or it could be all of them combined. There is more than 1 way to create this sound.

Maybe you need to create a darker ‘dog bark’ or ‘cave man grunt’ sound – what is happening there? What are the possible combinations and can it ever be truly done safely? Even though we don’t know all the answers yet, we do know that the vocal mechanism is an amazing design and capable of so much!

You can create all sorts of extreme sounds if you wish, but we encourage you to see the help of a vocal coach who is savvy about physiology and current research who can assist you in the safest way possible.


Posted under General, Singing advice

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