|Yes, this is Younha showing off her cleavage, and yes this picture is relevant to the article.|
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
- Tone production
- Vocal articulations
- Vocal diction
- Vocal registrations
- Vocal health
- Vocal styles
- Voice classifications
Physiology of SingingPhysiology 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
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 vocalists 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.
To "support" the air (hence supporting their voice) the singer must contract their abdominal, back and side muscles (along the rib cage) in order to have full control, during exhalation, of the amount amount of air that they are supposed to exhale whist the singer vocalizes.
During inhalation, one's diaphragm expands, contracts and goes downwards, whereas during exhalation the diaphragm slowly relaxes into its original position by moving upwards.
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 can exhalation can happen as slowly as possible.
The whole point of this is to create an optimal and healthy sound, because good breathing equal 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.
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.
This is an example of bad posture whilst singing:
|What Chuck likes to do in his spare time :-)|
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 relax.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 creating a froggy-ish and throaty sound. An example of this is Miss Ariana Grande:
|That jaw ain't getting her singing anywhere (also an example of bad posture tsk tsk)|
Last, but not least, the neck and head position. The head should be held up like so:
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.
Side note: a singer's facial expression/veins popping out of the neck does not determine whether or not they're singing properly. For example, Taeyeon has the same facial expression whilst she's resonating and straining.
Vocal ResonanceDuring vocal resonance the vibrations of the vocal cords are amplified with the help of the vocal resonating cavities. The air fills these cavities to produce a rich reverberating sound, before the air leaves the body. Vocal resonance is good voice projection and vocal power. However, it is not loudness. Resonance equals power, but loudness does not equal power! Just because a note is loud, it does not meant it is powerful or resonant. This evidence, since resonant sound drowns out loudness and can even be heard above full orchestra. To put it more basic terms, resonance is the production of the maximum amount of sound with the minimum amount of effort - whilst loudness is the opposite.
Resonance is achieved through the ideal shaping and manipulation of the vocal tract, along with using complete and proper breath support. The ideal shaping of the vocal tract is to keep an open-throat. Open-throat refers to the ideal increase of pharyngeal space in order to maximise the use of the resonating chambers. Open-throat involves a lifted soft-palate (no nasality), a neutral larynx, a well positioned-and shaped tongue, mouth lips, jaw and facial muscles. A person MUST open their throat in order to resonate or belt powerfully/with proper projection.
An open sound is also referred to as an "covered" sound because of the covering effect it has on the listener.
Here, Pavaroti talks about a "covered" sound and gives us an (operatic) example of it, whilst also differentiating it from loudness.
Resonance is actually a spectrum, but I won't go into that because it's confusing to some and you only really need to know that the maximum level of resonance has a ringing or pinging sound and is known as "optimal resonance".
In order to identify resonance, one must be able to identify strain from an open sound. Below are to videos showing resonance in K-Pop going from optimally resonant notes to strained ones.
Females (skip to 1m50s):
Males (skip to 1m19s):
Extra: an amazing optimally resonant A4, done in crescendo, by IU, at 1:05
Good Tone Production
Good tone production is not oppa having a pretty voice that gets the fangirls jizzing in their panties, it is the production of a note that is balanced between all resonating chambers (head, chest, mask). The note should be free from nasality, tension and strain and should be in the centre of pitch. When describing a note that has been produced with an ideal tone we often use words such as "full", "depth", "focus", "ring" or "ping".
When evaluating ideal tone, the following criterion are assessed:
Placement refers to the areas that a vocalist feels the vibrations from resonance, when he sings. Vocalists should "place" their voice in the sinus cavities. One does this by raising one's soft palate so that the air does not pass out of the nasal cavities (see more below). When one places their voice in the sinus cavities (whilst supporting their voice correctly) one should produce a forward, well-projected, and a balanced resonant sound. Vocalists tend to find that where they feel the vibrations, when they phonate, is different from the where other vocalists feel them. The vibrations can be felt in any of the sinuses.
Undesirable forms tone production:
Nasality (also known as "singing through the nose"). Nasality is when a singer is singing with a nasal tone, famous examples of nasal singers are Jessica, BoA and Celine Dion (and G-Dragon but he raps, or whatever that's supposed to be coming out of his mouth). When a singer is singing through their nose, vibrations are felt in the nasal cavities and in the nose, instead of around the nose and in the sinus cavities. This produces a thinner tone that sounds whiny or congested, or both.
Contrary to popular belief, nasality is not natural. One's vocal cords do not naturally produce nasality (that's biologically impossible and whoever tells you otherwise is a twat). Nasality is produced when MOST the breath and sound enters the nasal cavity (space behind and above the nose). By lifting your soft palate (try to lift your uvula), the breath and sound will be MOSTLY blocked from entering the nasal cavity, therefore, eliminating the nasal tone, and producing a fuller and more projected sound.
Nasality is a technical fault that prevents a vocalist from singing with an open throat and resonating, therefore it often leads to strain. Sometimes, nasality is caused due to improper diaphragmatic breathing. However, nasality can be used for stylistic purposes when a singer knows how to turn their nasality on and off.
Airiness: an airy or breathy tone is caused by improper breath support and lack of proper cord closure (lack of proper vocal approximation). As explained in the section on breath support, beforehand, when a singer fails to use the correct breath support they end up needing to sing with more air; this leads to the production of an airy tone. This is because the vocal cords are not in full contact with each other, causing air to escape through the vocal cords making the vibrations of the vocal cords unsteady. This is a technical fault because an airy tone causes the sound produced to be weak and also hinders resonance, furthermore an airy tone can also damage the vocal cords due to the vocal cords becoming irritated. Airiness can be used stylistically, but I would only recommend minimal use of it as it can seriously damage a singer's voice - Mariah Carey's vocal deterioration is due to her heavy stylistic choice of airiness, especially during the "Butterfly" era.
Throatiness: a lot of women tend to find the throaty and husky tone of a male singer as "sexy" (sounds ugly imo), but most of the time it's a technical fault rather than a natural characteristic of the singer's voice. A throaty tone is caused by lack of proper breath support (like most things), tightness of the pharyngeal constrictors and by pushing the larynx down. Improper breath support leads to a singer forcing all of the air out, from their throat, causing a throaty and strained sound to form - we call this "singing from the throat". Singers need to place their voices in the mask (pharynx, mouth and sinus cavities) to avoid throatiness. During singing, the process of pharyngeal constrictors needs to be OUT of the way, otherwise the tone will be throaty, restricted and tense. T jaw, neck, tongue need to be free from tension to avoid throatiness. Opening one's throat too much, which means excessive jaw dropping and pushing down the larynx causes tension as the jaw is not relaxed, this leads to throatiness.
Glottic shock: this is when the vocal cords are being held together with an over approximation of the vocal cords (the cords are too close together) and are then pushed apart with an explosion of breath pressure. This leads the vocal cords to smack together. This is very dangerous and can cause serious injury to the vocal cords. Jonghyun is an example of someone who sings with an hard glottal attack.
A vibrato is when the voice is alternating quickly and subtly between two pitches that are very close together. This variation in pitch, of a sustained musical note or tone, should not exceed a semitone up or down from the note itself.
The oscillations that occur in vibrato are the body’s reflexive response to mounting tension, and are believed to be the result of the healthy function of the vocal folds. The tension of the vocal folds is varied rhythmically, creating movement in pitch. Along with this tension change is a variation in the thickness of the folds.
Vibrato is also a good indicator for telling if someone has good or bad technique. Good technique produces a healthy and stable vibrato, which is a free oscillation and proper variation between two close pitches at an even desirable rate of speed.
There are various common types of faulty vibratos that are mostly caused by the lack of proper breathing and presence of strain:
- Vocal Wobble: overly wide, slow and unstable vibrato caused by the lack of proper breath support, lack of proper cords closure, a shaking diaphragm, a pushed down larynx and a too weighty or chesty tone in the middle register (will be explained later). Most vocal students who start off voice lessons have wobbles. Most main vocalists in Kpop have wobble as well.
- Tremolo or an overly fast vibrato: rapid repetition of a single note or very rapid alternation between two pitches caused by pressure at the root of the tongue, improper onset attack, lack of proper vocal cords closure and too much "support" or breath energy causing tension in the subglottic area while assisting the vibrato.
- Diaphragmatic Vibrato: Fake vibrato developed by the movement of the abdominal muscles.
- Vocal Trill Vibrato: Fake vibrato developed by the practice of moving your voice up and down of a pitch slowly and then gradually in a rapid way.
- Laryngeal Vibrato: Moving the larynx up and down rapidly to create a fake vibrato.
- Jaw vibrato (Gospel vibrato): Rapid shaking of the jaw and tongue in order to create a fake vibrato. Please keep in mind that just because a singer's jaw is moving does not mean they are using a jaw vibrato technique. The jaw needs to move to a little degree, showing that the singer is vocalizing in a relaxed manner. Moving the jaw TOO much and hearing the tension in their voice due to that is, in this case, considered as using a jaw vibrato technique.
- Caprino: Goat vibrato, similar to an overly fast vibrato, or a reduplication of a single note. It is caused by lack of breath focus, inadequate breathing technique and other reasons similar to the causes of an overly fast vibrato
A vibrato should occur naturally, if anyone tells you to force a vibrato whilst singing they are spouting bullshit and should be sued for crimes against vocal cords. Forcing a vibrato is VERY DANGEROUS.
How vocal performances should be judged
A vocal performance is judged by focusing on the following criterion:
- Primary aspects: pitch, breath support and stability.
- Secondary aspects: musicality and musicianship (explained below)
How a vocalist should be judged
A vocalist is judged based on their consistency within the limitations of their vocal technique. Therefore, when judging a vocalist we look at all the times they sung well and all the times they've sung badly and weigh them up against each other. We also analyse every register of their voice (upper, middle and lower) and from there we determine their comfort zone (tessitura).
We also look at the following:
- Their ability to resonate
- Stability (vibrato)
- Breath control
- Vocal dynamics
- Vocal phrasing
- Legato (the smoothness of one's singing)
This is how I label a vocalist after I've analysed them:
- Fantastic: Maximum power in the belting register OR great agility, solid lower register, great sense of pitch, operatic-placed head voice, even scale and consistent column of sound throughout the range, musical creativity and musicianship, great sense of interpretation. Extremely consistent.
- Great: Somewhat similar to the characteristics of a fantastic vocalist, but a few qualities not as perfect or missing to a small extent.
- Good: Normal level of resonance used consistently, developed head voice, supported lower register, good sense of pitch. The lower register, upper register or both might not be as developed as the middle. Musicianship is not required.
- Decent/Competent: Lack of consistency in producing resonance, consistency in supporting notes decently in their tessitura, frequent tense notes. Pitch issues and occasional wobble.
- Mediocre/Above Average: Lack of consistency in producing healthy and decent notes, wobble and unstable vibrato, major pitch issues. Frequent strain.
- Bad: Frequent strain, very serious pitch issues, unsupported tone.
Barely any vocalists in K-Pop are above being good.
Vocalists in K-Pop that are good, are Younha, Ailee, Hyorin, Haeri, Shannon Williams for females. For males, Kyuhyun, G.O, Ryeowook, Hwanhee (well he's great).
Musicianship and Musicality (in singing)
- Musicality: Understanding of the music
- Musicianship: Personal interpretation of a song/performance by including their personal style, vocal dynamics, vocal phrasing, vocal runs, changing melodies, rhythm, pitches, etc.
- Open Throat: The singer's throat needs to remain open and free at all times, like a column or a round tube.
- Appoggio Method: "to lean on". Technique used to slow the ascent of the diaphragm for improved breath management.
- Breath Support: Using other parts of the body to support the tone and sing extended long notes and phrases.
- Resonator: Chamber of air space that extends from vocal folds to the lips.
- Projection: The ability of a sound to carry well over other sounds.
- The Ring: A resonance of the vocal tract at around 2800 Hz. This is the special region which opera singers use to project over the orchestra.
- Larynx: Structure that contains the vocal folds.
- Vocal tract: The channel through which sound passes after produced in the larynx. Comprised of the larynx, pharynx, the mouth and the nose.
- Pharynx: Space above the larynx and behind the mouth.
- Pharyngeal constrictors: Assist during swallowing and regurgitation. The job of these constrictors in singing is to stay out of the way.
- Nasal Cavity: Lies above the oral cavity. If not closed off by the soft palate, it can nasalize the tone and detract from resonance. The only time the soft palate should be slightly lowered is when nasal consonants like [m] and [n] are being sung.
- Soft Palate: The back part of the roof of the mouth; soft and flexible, and does not contain bony structures. Closes off the nose when we speak or sing.
- Velopharyngeal Port: Small opening between the oral and nasal cavity that can be closed off to varying degrees according to the position of the soft palate.
- The Mask: The area in front of the face. Asking singers to place the tone in the mask will help singers draw the sound forward in the vocal tract. It is merely an imaginative process, not a physical one.
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That's all for my introduction to vocal faggotry! I'm sorry part 2 came so late but I was ~very~ busy these past four months (finals). I'll be starting a monthly column answering your questions on idol's vocals (I'm starting with a question about BoA that was sent to Chuck months ago). So, if there's an idol you'd like me to analyse please email me at email@example.com. Please do NOT use the form in the contact section as the request will get to everyone.
ALSO, if you did read this, then here's your reward:
*Credit to Singwise for the section on Vibrato.