Vocal Technique – Part 1

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 The Voice

Vocal Pedagogy

In this post, I will teach you about the science that is behind the voice. Hopefully, you’ll be able to come away from this article with knowledge on strain, resonance, pitch, support, etc.

In a nutshell, vocal pedagogy (vocal technique) is the study of the science in the field of singing. Since vocal technique is directly related to science, it is a good way to use it to judge a vocalist or a performance accurately and objectively. Vocal pedagogy consists of the following:

  • Physiology Of Singing
  • Breathing In Singing
  • Posture
  • Phonation
  • Intonation
  • Resonace
  • Tone Production
  • Vibrato
  • Vocal Articulations
  • Vocal Diction
  • Vocal Registrations
  • Vocal Health
  • Vocal Styles
  • Voice Classifications
  • Coloratura

Physiology Of Singing

Physiology of singing refers to the body parts involved in the sound production. There are three components:

Vibrator: Vocal cords/folds located inside the larynx fully come in contact and vibrate together in order to make vocal sounds.

Activator: The breath/air pressure from our lungs and various muscles of our body is responsible for the vibrations in order to make sounds.

Resonator: The pharynx amplifies the vibrations from the vocal cords creating a resonant/reverberating sound.

Breathing In Singing

Breathing is the fundamental core when it comes to singing. You have to breathe to sing, and not just any breathing, you need good breathing to be able to sing well.

So how should one breathe whilst singing?

Firstly, one should inhale from their diaphragm, which allows more air to enter the body. A good way to determine whether or not a vocalist is breathing their diaphragm is to observe the movement of their shoulders. If a vocalist’s shoulders are moving upwards during inhalation, whilst singing, then the singer is not breathing from their diaphragm. One’s shoulders should always remain still and relaxed whilst singing.

During inhalation, one’s diaphragm expands, contracts, and goes downwards, whereas during exhalation the diaphragm slowly relaxes into its original position by moving upwards.

Additionally, one should avoid breathing out too quickly. This is because if one pushes the air out whilst one sings, an airy and weak tone will be created. A vocalist must breathe out as slowly as they can so that they have enough air in the vocal cords to execute complex vocal lines and/or notes with ease. If a vocalist doesn’t have control over the amount of air they exhale while vocalizing, they will most likely strain (and in extreme cases will be unable to produce a line of connected notes — see Park Bom). This is why supporting one’s voice is extremely important, as it distinguishes a skilled singer from an unskilled singer.

The less air you use, the more powerful the singer’s voice will sound whilst singing. To achieve this, one should practice contracting the diaphragmatic, abdominal, and side muscles to have full control over the air that you breathe out so exhalation can happen as slowly as possible.

The whole point of this is to create an optimal and healthy sound, because good breathing equals a good sound output.

In summary, the two integral parts of breathing in singing are:

Breath Support: The interactions between various muscles in order to control the air used to vibrate the vocal folds.

Breath Control: The regulation and coordination of the airflow above the vocal cords.

To avoid confusion, remember that Breath Support happens underneath the vocal folds and relates to the movement of the muscles, namely the diaphragm; whereas Breath Control happens above the vocal cords and has to do with the steadiness, coordination, and regulation of the airflow in the body. Proper tone production, vocal power, the ability to execute very low and high notes properly, and belting properly all have to do with breath support. Sustaining notes (especially harder ones), handling complex vocal lines, executing vocal runs/melismas properly, being able to play with vocal dynamics (levels of volume), being able to produce a proper vibrato, and singing in either legato or staccato properly all relate to breath control.

Finally, breath support and breath control are related to each other because without proper breath support it would be hard to have proper breath control.

Posture

It is very important for the singer to not just pay attention to how they breathe, but to also pay attention to their posture. Great breath control is useless if your posture sucks because the air won’t be flowing in the proper areas.

This is an example of bad posture whilst singing:

A singer’s shoulders should always be relaxed and down; if they are moving up and down as the singer breathes it means that they don’t have enough air to support their notes correctly. This creates tension in the whole of the upper body that leads to strain.

The singer must not slouch. The shoulders have to be kept back and in a straight line. Slouching prevents the airflow from circulating around the body properly, leading to tension in the vocal cords, which causes strain. This is due to the slouch causing the muscles used to support the voice being folded over. No matter if the singer is standing or sitting, they must keep their shoulders back and in a straight line.

The jaw must be kept relaxed as well. When the jaw is relaxed, the tongue stays out of the throat, keeping the larynx neutral. Pushing the jaw forward — a fail attempt at trying to create more volume — causes the tongue to be pushed back, which causes the larynx to be pushed down, thus creating a froggy-ish and throaty sound.

The larynx should always be relaxed and in a neutral position. If your larynx is too high or too low, it means that you’re breathing incorrectly. If a singer’s larynx is not neutral, they will strain.

Last, but not least, the neck and head position. The head should be held up.

The head should be held up, but not too high. The head’s ideal position is when the jaw is a little over the horizontal, as this allows the throat to open whilst singing. Kyuhyun is a great example of someone who knows how to hold their head whilst singing. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Junsu.

Lifting your head higher to sing high notes, or putting it down to sing low notes, does not help whatsoever. In fact, it creates tension in the neck that will prevent the throat from opening, thus causing strain.

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178 thoughts on “Vocal Technique – Part 1

  1. Are you supposed to sing with an even mix all the way up to your highest belt? Or lighten as you get higher?

    Also do you think singers like Ailee and Jojo sing with such chesty mixes bc they were taught to sing like that,or because they choose to?

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    1. I personally believe that your mix should be flexible, you should be able to choose when to be chesty, heady or balanced but as you get higher there must be a natural need to lighten up ever so slightly to allow the sound to move up.
      I think that they do it as a habit for the most part without being aware.

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      1. Hello ahmin! I am a mezzo soprano but i have a hard time phrasing in the fifth octave, usually past Eb5. How do pro singers phrase while belting? Also, what are some ways i can increase my head voice range?

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      2. I can’t answer these questions without hearing how you currently sing. Usually to phrase high, not only do you need to keep your diaphragm and rib cage expanded to be able to hold out air instead of pushing it, so that you can have better lung capacity to keep singing higher and longer phrases, but you also need proper development of your vocal cords to sing with support and ease. Head voice range increasing is the same as any part of your voice, again without hearing you I can’t tell you why your head voice range isn’t extensive, but it’d be with exercises that target the points of tension that are getting in the way of your singing while stretching and developing your vocal cords with a good management of air pressure.

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  2. So I’ve heard it used in some songs & was wondering if you guys have an opinon on the ‘growl technique/style’? Is there a specific &/or healthy way to produce it? Cause it sounds cool but also like it would hurt your throat if not done properly.

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    1. There is a healthy way to do it and an unhealthy way, but I’m not sure how it works. If you do it harshly with your vocal cords it’s damaging but if you use the false vocal folds instead it’s fine I think but I could be wrong.

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      1. Interesting! Thanks! (Heard some people say it’s kind of like clearing your throat while singing but wasn’t sure if that was all that there was to it.) Hope you guys can keep up the awesome work you’ve got on this website too! 😊

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Carren. Make sure sure please that if you ask me about your own singing and ask me if you’ve improved after last sending an audio 6 months ago, you provide a link to the older audio that I listened of you so that I can better tell you if there’s improvement in your technique. You sound less shy from what I can hear, I am listening by comparing to what I said before and the last audios. I still think it’s better to focus on a song in a language you speak and this song is a bit demanding on the higher parts for you, so you start losing stamina cause you’re not preserving your air enough. How have you practiced is my question? If you’re asking about improvement, the method that you used to practice is vital to understand how to improve.

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      1. I’m so sorry! Here is the link: https://www.dropbox.com/s/5jt45qc79pp35qe/Listen.mp3?dl=0
        https://www.dropbox.com/s/dgdh9meze6snx1r/Little%20Prince.mp3?dl=0
        I will sing in a language i’m comfortable in next time haha
        I practiced the bright smiley sound so my larynx doesn’t get lowered as much
        I also practiced the diaphragm by counting and holding the breath and such
        I tried to open my mouth more so I can project better
        I don’t understand how to connect my voice more so I just try to hold it longer..?
        Tbh I haven’t been able to practise much because I don’t have time …
        Sorry for the trouble Ahmin and thank you for the reply 🙂

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    2. Hey….can you pls tell me the song that you recorded…..I heard it somewhere…..But I just can’t remember where.

      And yeah….you did improve.

      Let’s practice…..I know you can do it…..HWAITING…..!

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  3. Hey Ahmin,
    If you are not constantly practicing vocal exercises will your throat hurt when you do exercises?
    Like seriously, I did some exercises for the first time two days ago lol, and I am pretty sure I did healthy stuff, however, I am afraid that exercised the low notes in the throat, why what cause harm either?

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    1. It shouldn’t hurt at all. It may be difficult or tiring, but if something hurts, stop. What do you mean exactly by hurt? You mean a sore throat? Cause that could have many reasons.

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  4. I don’t think it is a sore, it is more like tired muscle kinda of feel… Not hurt as a pain…
    If you got what I mean…

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  5. Hi admins! I have questions for you. So like I’ve heard that there’s healthy way to growl & adding rasp to your singing. However can you technically do those two while supporting the note? I guess you can’t?

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  6. Hi Ahmin! I know this is a bit of a random question but I’ve been wondering about this for a while and you’re the only person I can think of asking. I understand if you don’t want to answer because the ranking system is now obsolete and was for pop singing anyways, but I was wondering where most professional opera singers or classical singers would fall in the ranking? And the same for musical theater. Like I’d assume that one would have to be at least Proficient to Good to have a career, at least in opera…

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  7. Hi admins! I’ve had this question for a while but I didn’t know anyone legit I could ask about this until I found this site. Can swollen/enlarged tonsils affect your singing in terms of what you can support and how well you resonate? I would assume that it would affect your vocal color but I don’t know enough about the anatomy of the throat to know if the tonsils would like, I don’t know, get in the way of something when you are trying to sing or affect the way you sing. I have had enlarged/swollen tonsils ever since I was young but I never got them removed. When I sing for extended periods of time, I find that my throat begins to hurt (especially if I try to mix above around a Bb4) and I was wondering if the tonsils had to do with that or if I was just singing with bad technique lol or both. I know you guys are really busy so if you can’t answer I’m sorry for bothering!! thank you!

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  8. Hi, I have a question that might be weird? I’ve stalked this blog for a long time and I’ve noticed that people are usually discouraged from singing songs in their non-native language (at least when they’re posting covers and asking for an analysis for their technique) due to the fact that you may have difficulty producing sounds that you haven’t been trained to pronounce. I got into Kpop in late 2014 and I’ve listened to almost nothing but Korean music since then, so I’ve also been singing in nothing but Korean since then (and my pronunciation was awful at first but I have several Korean friends who have listened to my covers and complimented me on my pronunciation, so I’m assuming I’ve become quite good at pronunciation now). However, sometimes I try to sing an English song every now and then and I notice something strange, but I’m not sure if it’s all in my head or if it’s actually possible? It seems like I have a much harder time singing and pronouncing words in English even though English is my first language, so I was wondering if it’s possible that this could have actually happened because I only practiced singing in Korean for 4ish years now?

    I also have another question (and I know you guys are really busy and stuff so maybe you won’t even reply to this haha). What aspect of vocal technique would you suggest that a beginning singer work on first? I’m kinda asking specifically for myself but I know I probably can’t get a specific answer unless I provide audio of myself singing, right? I’ve always loved singing and music very much, and I sang and wrote music all the time as a kid, but I never received vocal lessons and my parents didn’t support me doing music, so I never had any formal training or anything like that. But when I was young, people used to tell me a lot that I had a beautiful voice and that I sang well. I realize that doesn’t mean a lot because many things can sound beautiful to an untrained ear, but I could definitely sing, maybe not with good vocal technique or anything, but I can’t say since I didn’t even know that vocal technique existed until I was like 15, haha (basically I used to sing purely for fun). I used to sing every day for hours each day when I was in elementary school, but as I got older and I got busier with school, I stopped singing as much, and when I did try to start singing again, I quickly lost confidence because I noticed my voice wasn’t as strong as before, although I still don’t know if that’s because I was practicing less or if puberty had anything to do with it (maybe both)? Honestly, I got so depressed that I couldn’t sing as well as before that I just stopped singing altogether for a long time (and I know that was probably a huge mistake on my part, but I couldn’t bear to listen to myself because I always got frustrated knowing that I used to sound better). My last attempt to start singing again was when I joined choir at my high school, but I know choral singing is different than pop singing. It did teach me things about voice placement and breathing and opening my throat, but choir instructors usually don’t give one-on-one instruction so I wasn’t able to improve as much as I wanted to. Still, I remember going to karaoke and I did a cover of Taeyeon’s U R and I was able to hit all the high notes that she sings in that song (again, I know that really doesn’t mean much because my notes might’ve been unsupported, pushed, airy, etc.), and I was slowly building up my confidence in my singing again. But I had to drop out of choir due to a feud with my choir teacher (don’t ask LOL), and I basically went back to not singing again since then. So my voice is very weak now and it’s very difficult for me to sing, which is really just paradoxical because I basically love singing but I’m horrible at it… Now I don’t even know where to start to teach myself to sing again, so that’s why I was asking earlier about where a beginner should start. I don’t know if this makes sense, but I don’t even know what my “real voice” is supposed to sound like because I default to a breathy falsetto most of the time (sort of like Jungkook, I would say? But I don’t know if it’s an insult to him to compare myself to him, sorry Jungkook;;;). When I try to sing, I feel like I have so many issues that I’m not sure how I’m supposed to fix them. I think part of the problem might be the fact that I now have zero confidence in my singing skills, but I think I sound awful anyway, so maybe my lack of confidence is justified, haha… Anyway, I just started trying to do the support exercises in the YT video that Ahmin made on learning to support, so I know it’ll take a long time to see progress, but I guess I just wanted advice. I’m really sad that I can’t sing anymore when I used to be able to and I just want to be able to again because I love singing so much ;-; Sorry for posting such a long comment ahaha, I didn’t mean to spill out my entire sob story about my history with singing;;;

    Also, if Ahmin sees this, I just wanted to say that I really hope you’re doing well. I know Jonghyun’s passing was hard on you, and it was really hard on me too since SHINee is one of my bias bands (BTS is the other), but I’ve been doing better lately and I feel like I’ve just finally been able to make peace with what happened, so I really hope you’re feeling better too. Sending strength from one Shawol to another! (And sorry again for this majorly giant comment ahaha;;;)

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  9. Hello! I have a question that’s a little embarrassing to ask, that I hope you don’t mind answering. I’ve been trying to figure out if I produce resonance, but I can’t tell if I am or if it’s just the acoustics of the room because my voice seems very projected(?) but I’ve never taken vocal lessons.

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  10. I know it’s a long shot but this video has caused quit some disturbance on one of my fav video website.

    after 6:15 there are some D6s of both vocalists Sohyang and Gong Linna(a Chinese Vocalist). there’s a lot debate over who is better, I just want to know does Linna Support those high notes and which one is using head voice or mixed voice. it kind of confuses me especially when they’re very high.
    Thanks!

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  11. Hello! I am new to this even tho i woudnt say i have a bad voice or either good, can you tell me what exercise/warm up i should do before i sing? Tbh i have quite trouble on how to hit high notes properly, like idk why after a long time singing in high note my throat hurt, is it bad or normal? (Im sorry for any mispelling)

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