Updated: Jul 26, 2019
Take this vocal technique quiz. Answer the questions and keep track of your answers. Your answers will be either yes or no.
Do I ever have to “break” or have to change the tone or sound of any notes because they go too high or too low? Does my voice ever “crack” when I sing? Your vocal tone should remain relaxed and consistent throughout your entire vocal range. Breaking or cracking in your voice happens when the imbalance in your voice can no longer be maintained, and suddenly, snap! It falls into a different sound production, and not necessarily a much better one than where it was.
If the vocal chords (working with the air) aren’t doing their job, then the muscles outside the larynx (the voice box) will try to help. That’s what causes reaching for notes (high or low), squeezing, or baring down in an attempt to produce the right air/muscle balance at the vocal fold (vocal chord) level. That’s like trying to stand up by flexing your biceps. One has little to do with the other! The same balance you feel in your speaking voice will give you control in your singing voice. Do I have to change the way my voice sounds or is produced so I can sing either in the high range or the low range? If you have a well-balanced voice from top to bottom, there should essentially be no change in the way you produce high or low notes. It will feel as easy as speech.
Does my voice ever feel sore or fatigued after singing (including the day after)? Your vocal folds (vocal chords) are only about your thumbnail across in length. They’re actually quite tiny. In fact, some of the muscles that help control the vocal folds are as small as 1/5 the width of your thumbnail! If those tiny muscles aren’t all working “in concert”, so to speak, the outer larynx muscles have to do quadruple duty to try to have some small influence on the pitch production. It’s those outer muscles that get fatigued. They have almost no leverage on the voice, so they stay in a constant state of tension if they think they are helping you sing. That’s just plain tiring!
Does it take my voice 1-3 days or more to recover from a performance? If we have to push those tiny vocal folds (only the length of your thumbnail across) beyond their capacity by yelling, gripping, etc., then those muscles get stiff, just like when we use any muscle we haven’t used in a while (raking leaves, etc.). We feel stiff or sore for the next couple or few days.
Also, the vocal folds have an outer tissue layer (sort of like skin on the outside of the chords). This tissue can get irritated, or even inflamed when they are squeezed and “over-muscled” together. It takes a while for the inflammation to go down. With a good vocal balance, a healthy and conditioned voice can be used to sing for hours without irritation.
Do I run out of breath too soon when trying to sing longer phrases? Think in terms of efficiency here. If I have trouble cooling my house in the summer, I might think I have to upgrade my air conditioner. I might also add more insulation, or energy efficient double-pane windows. But after I spent all of this money, time and energy, my house still isn’t cool! Why? I may have overlooked the obvious. I’m constantly leaving all of the doors and windows wide open, all day!
My point? If my vocal chords aren’t coming together lightly, but with a good seal, then they are going to leak out a bunch of air. Even if your tone is only slightly airy, you can use up to 2 or 3 times more air than you need to. So if your vocal chords aren’t doing their job, then just taking a little bit bigger breath or doing all of the diaphragm exercises in the world won’t help your breath “support”. You’ll still run out of breath before the end of the phrase.
A side note here: think about this, breath isn’t “supported”. I don’t like that terminology because it isn’t a physical reality… a subject and discussion for a different day!)
Does my voice feel/sound weak, breathy or airy? Usually, too much air is escaping across the chords. Just like a whisper is soft, so is a sung tone that lets out too much air. The “airy” sound waves that come off of the chords are fuzzy so they dissipate easily. You want to produce clearly delineated sound waves, these can produce far more resonance. An efficient use of the air at the chord level produces more sound.
Is it hard to sing the upper notes? Are they weak or tense or “pushed”? Again, the outer larynx (voice box) muscles might think that they themselves are doing all of the work. They should do very little at all other than stabilize the larynx. (The same stabilization, by the way, that you use when speaking.) Virtually all that is needed to produce high or low pitches is negotiated between the vocal folds and the air.
Do I ever feel extremely nervous about singing because I’m not sure what my voice is going to do in a performance? Listen, if I weren’t fairly confident that my vocal technique was balanced and running somewhat on auto-pilot, then I wouldn’t perform. Otherwise, I’m trying to juggle remembering the lyrics, emotional communication, stage presence, tone, pitch, and about 20 other things going on in my head.
We have to develop great vocal technique habits that take pretty much take over, even when everything else seems to be going wrong. There are certainly other factors that need addressing with regard to “stage fright”, but in my experience, vocal technique inefficiencies are the primary cause of our performance fear factor!
Does my voice lack strength or stamina? I’m sure you know by now that my answer to this question is going to have something to do with a poor vocal balance. True. But let’s assume for a moment that you have a perfectly balanced voice, then your problem is just conditioning. The conditioning and strengthening of the voice have much to do with isomeric and flexibility exercising – not powerlifting! Projection doesn’t mean pushing! It’s an effect, not a cause. A good vocal balance causes projection.
What were your answers? If you answered YES to just about any of these questions, there is a more than 95% chance that improving your vocal technique (the way you use your voice) will eliminate the problem. That really is about finding the right teacher.
Just like any great athlete works with coaches and teachers throughout their careers, we too need that extra “pair of ears” to guide us. That being said, unfortunately, very few teachers know how to help students find a good balance in their voices. See my article on finding a good voice teacher.
Hope this helps!