We’re back for the second installment in my series on increasing your range. In the first installment of How to increase your vocal range I told you that like every musician, a singer needs to learn as much as possible about their instrument and how it works.
So today we’re going to talk a bit about how your vocal cords work. Specifically, how they work to produce higher notes for you. Once you understand that you’ll really understand what all the fuss is from us vocal coaches about breathing properly and not pushing. I’m going to explain the process here as much as I can without getting all technical and boring.
Your vocal cords, as you know, produce all sound we make. As you’re sitting there breathing right now, reading in your head, your vocal cords are in an “open” position. If you were to start humming right now, they would come together and start to “adduct”, which is really just a fancy word for the vibrating that happens as they’re opening and closing really fast.
To put it simply, they take the flow of air moving up from your lungs through your trachia and they kinda cut it off until it builds up, then they open again and release that little build-up of air. That little “puff” of air becomes the sound waves that eventually reach our ears. Now, imagine that process happening at about 200 times a second .
So we have a general idea (and that’s very general, it’s much more complex than that) of how they create the sound we hear using the air we send up. How do they change that sound to different notes? In particular, how do they create higher and higher notes? The easiest way to illustrate this is to think about the strings on a guitar.
Looking at a guitar you notice that the strings at the top are thick. Then they gradually get thinner and longer as you go down to the string on the bottom. The thicker strings produce lower notes, while the thinner, longer strings produces the highest notes.
Your vocal cords make a similar adjustment as you move toward higher and higher notes in your range. At your most comfortable range, which is right around the level of your speaking voice, your cords are short and thick. As you start to graduate higher, your cords start to stretch and thin. As they do this they get tighter. Remember, their job is to close long enough to let that puff of air build up and release it so it becomes sound. Are you with me so far? :O) Take about 5 minutes to watch this amazing footage of this.
Ok, so we’re moving towards a high part in our song, and our vocal cords are stretching and thinning and creating tension. But then something happens they didn’t expect. “Wait, what’s going on here?!! There’s a LOT more air coming through here now! This is much more than what was happening on the lower end of our range,” they say. ” He’s pushing too hard! We’d better tighten up or we’re gonna get blown apart”. And so they do. And they get tighter and tigher, trying to continue doing their job of holding back air long enough to get that little build-up. “Oh, man, looks like he’s pushing even MORE now. I think we’re gonna have to give up, it’s too much for us!”
And eventually that’s what they do, and that’s when your voice fails. Now, as primitive as that little “dramatization” was, it’s a pretty good representation of what’s happening to your vocal cords when you use what I call “air velocity” to reach high notes. Basically you’re just sending up way more air than your vocal cords can handle. So they try to compensate by tightening and becoming even more tense, but eventually they’re just no match and they get blown apart.
So you can see how critical it is to learn how to control your breathing. Not just for holding notes longer, or even increasing range. It’s critical for the health of your voice over the long haul. And hopefully, you understand better why pushing won’t get you more range; at least not safely, and not for long. I told you in the first installment that even though most people have about an octave and a half naturally, those last 4 are usually very uncomfortable. Now you know why!
How how to we make these note comfortable? How do we learn to use less air so we put less strain on our vocal cords when their elongating and thinning to create high notes for us? That’s what we’ll be talking about in our next installment of the series.
See you soon!