Rebecca Sherburn - voice expert

What is Vocal Resonance?

An important lesson for singers

In this video, Dr. Sherburn explains what vocal resonance is and how to make it work correctly.

Released on October 3, 2018

    
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Video Transcription

Hi, I am Dr. Rebecca Sherburn, the director of Vocal Studies at Chapman University in Southern California. This video is part of a series presented by Virtual Sheet Music. In previous videos we have spent time on alignment, breathing, and phonation. Phonation is the term we use to describe the vibrating of the vocal folds inside the larynx. This vibrating gives us a specific pitch, but without a chamber to amplify these vibrations, we just have a buzz, no real vocal sound. So, if you took the head off right here, and put air over the vocal folds, it would sound sort of like this, brrrrr.
That sound, as fun as it is, lacks resonance. So today we are going to talk about vocal resonance, the amplification process in singing. Then I will show you some vowel tuning exercises designed to increase resonance/amplification.

Technically for a sound to be resonant there has to be a relationship between two bodies. They need to vibrate at the same frequency or a multiple thereof. In this case the two bodies we are referring to are the vocal folds which are vibrating at a given rate, say 440 vibrations per second like this "A" [a] and the open space in the mouth and throat which must be shaped or tuned to respond to 440 vibrations per second, the frequency of the note "A". So, this - the space in the mouth and throat has to be in the correct configuration to reflect the vibrations coming off of the vocal folds.

This doesn't sound all that complicated until we consider how we move the mouth and throat (our resonators) to communicate. A piano has a set resonator, the body. It's shape never changes and therefore it always sounds like a piano, but it can't speak. Same thing with a flute, the resonator of a flute, the tube doesn't change shape. We can change the pitch of the flute by altering the length of the tube, but we can't make a flute speak. We can speak into the tube of a flute, its resonator, but that's not a talking flute. Is this making any sense?
No other instrument can articulate words, only the human voice. Here is where the voice gets really complex. In order to sing words, our resonator, the body of the piano, the tube of the flute, has to alter its shape. It has to move around. The human resonator gyrates, it gesticulates like crazy. Go on "you tube" and look at an MRI of someone singing or speaking. What is going on in there as we speak and sing is absolutely amazing.

Good thing we don't learn to speak and sing by observing an MRI. We learn to speak and sing by listening, imitating, and memorizing the feeling of forming vowels. We rely on muscle memory to speak and sing with resonance.

We sing on the vowels which are interrupted by consonants. Different vowels are formed by changing the position of the tongue and lips. The tongue can be high in front, that gives us an [i] vowel or high in back that gives us an [u] vowel. There are 5 primary vowels and the tongue moves like this as we say them. This hand represents the front lower teeth from the side. This hand represents the tongue from the side and the throat. Here is a demonstration of the tongue position moves for the 5 primary vowels. - i/e/a/o/u. Also, the lips play a part in forming vowels. They are somewhat lateral on [i] and [e], somewhat neutral on [a] and they round on [o] and [u].
To have a resonant sound the space in the throat and mouth, the vowel, has to be exactly right given the pitch or frequency we are sustaining. We learn to have an even resonant sound by muscle memory. So, here are a few tips to assist us as we learn this.

In general, when we breath to sing:

* The Jaw - rotates freely down and slightly back
* The Tongue - rests behind the bottom front teeth unless using it for a consonant
* Throat - expands slightly as in the beginning of a yawn

All of this happens as we breath.

Today I have some vowel tuning exercises to share which are designed to aid in resonance. We will start with [a] a neutral vowel and work on relaxing the jaw. I call this exercise "huh"? "Ah ha"!
Exhale on a dumb expression saying "huh?" As if you don't understand something. That should rotate the jaw down and back...huh? Just let it hang there.
Now run your tongue along the back of the bottom teeth and let it rest there.
In that position, suddenly you understand. Take a breath like you are going to say -Ah - ha "I got it!".
Now let's put that together. Exhale on "huh"? and inhale on the feeling of "ah ha"! then sing.

Huh? 12321
[a]
Huh? 12321
[a]
Huh? 12321
[a]
Huh? 12321
[a]
Huh? 12321
[a]

You can keep going, up the scale, and experience that relaxed jaw, tongue position, and a little lift in the back that come from the idea -Ah - ha "I got it!".

That's what I call "huh"...."Ah ha" an exercise to relax the jaw and tongue and find a little bit of space in the back for optimal resonance.

Moving on, we are going to do a one note exercise where we alternate vowels. [i] is inserted between every one of the five vowel. This vowel tuning exercise orients us toward the fine vibrations in the mask which are usually easy to find on an [i] vowel because the tongue is high in front. It goes like this
Exhale on Huh? inhale on the idea of "Ah ha!" then sing [i,e,i,a,i,o,i,u] Like this,
Huh? [i,e,i,a,i,o,i,u]

We change the position of the tongue and lips while staying fairly still with the jaw. If the jaw stays still, and the tongue lays gently near or on the bottom front teeth, we can feel fine consistent vibrations up here in the mask. Most of the time when we feel mask vibrations the result will be a forward, resonant sound. So, finger on your chin to help it stay still. Same exercise...

Huh? [i,e,i,a,i,o,i,u]
Huh? [i,e,i,a,i,o,i,u]
Huh? [i,e,i,a,i,o,i,u]
Huh? [i,e,i,a,i,o,i,u]
Huh? [i,e,i,a,i,o,i,u]

It might help to put an [m] on as we start this vowel tuning exercise. Nasal consonants like [m] are helpful when we work on resonance because they allow us to feel the vibrating in the sinus and it helps us regulate air pressure. We don't want too much air pressure down here, we want some of it in the mouth, and we do that by taking a deep relaxed inhale and using the muscles of the abdominal wall for the exhale. So, the same exercise with an [m].

Huh? [mi,e,i,a,i,o,i,u]
Huh? [mi,e,i,a,i,o,i,u]
Huh? [mi,e,i,a,i,o,i,u]
Huh? [mi,e,i,a,i,o,i,u]
Huh? [mi,e,i,a,i,o,i,u]

The last exercise helps us tune the resonator as we ascend and descent the scale, modifying vowels. Going up as we drop the jaw further and further the vowel will change. Going back down as we close the jaw the vowel will change again. This gradual opening and closing of the jaw will modify the vowels and keep resonance continuous.
So watch this glide and you will hear the [i] vowel modify. The tongue stays in the [i] position as the jaw opens and closes.

Let's do some glides on [i] together. The [i] will modify toward [e] then [?] then really high it goes all the way towards [a]. And the pattern will reverse as you come back down the scale closing the jaw. Be sure to feel your tongue on the bottom front teeth.

Huh? 1-8-1
[i]
Huh? 1-8-1
[i]
Huh? 1-8-1
[i]
Huh? 1-8-1
[i]
Huh? 1-8-1
[i]

[...]


Here is another exercise. Here is a famous 9 note exercise which teachers use because the vowels selected naturally help us learn to modify vowels in ascent.

It goes like this:

Huh? 1234 5678 987654321
[e] [a] [o]
Huh? 1234 5678 987654321
[e] [a] [o]
Huh? 1234 5678 987654321
[e] [a] [o]
Huh? 1234 5678 987654321
[e] [a] [o]
Huh? 1234 5678 987654321
[e] [a] [o]

So, here is a recap of this topic - Resonance.
Resonance occurs mostly in the mouth and throat a little bit in the nose. This space has to be in the correct shape to amplify the vibrations coming off of the vocal folds. In order to sing words, our resonators, the mouth and throat, have to alter their shape, they have to move around a lot. Further complicating this skill set, we alter the shape of the resonators as we approach and leave consonants. Yikes!

It takes time to sing with consistent resonance. A good resonant sound is learned working on vowels, by feel. Record yourself, listen back, and you will hear when the sound is resonant and the vowels match.

So, next time we will take a look at articulation, spending a lot of time on the tongue, [blblblblb] because it is really difficult to manage, but for now, stay on the vowel...bye
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REBECCA'S REFERENCES


Latest Videos by Rebecca
Introduction to Breathing
January 3rd, 2018
Seated Alignment
December 6th, 2017
Standing Alignment
November 1st, 2017
How the Voice Works
October 4th, 2017


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