Saturday, June 14, 2014

An Introduction to Vocal Faggotry, Part 2: The Technique

Yes, this is Younha showing off her cleavage, and yes this picture is relevant to the article.
Welcome to part two of the introduction to vocal pedagogy, in this part 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
This shall be explained after the jump, like the previous post, this is also very text heavy so I've tried to break it up with nice images.

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 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.

One should avoid breathing out to quickly, this is because if one pushes the air out whilst one sings, an airy and weak tone will be created. This is apparent in Soyou; she breathes out too quickly which is why her voice is airy, even when it isn't intentional. 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, whilst vocalizing, they will most likely strain (and in extreme cases will be unable to produce a line of connected notes - see 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 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:
  1. Breath Support: the interactions between various muscles in order to control the air used to vibrate the vocal folds.
  2. 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. Whilst sustaining notes (especially harder ones), handling complex vocal lines, executing vocal runs/melismas properly, being about to play with vocal dynamics (levels of volume), being able to produce a proper vibrato and sing 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.


 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:

What Chuck likes to do in his spare time :-)
A singers 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 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)
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 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.

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 which will prevent the throat from opening causing strain.

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 Resonance 

During 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.

Vibrato a reflection of reflection of the continued energy level required of them to maintain equilibrium and muscular health. Consider how muscles elsewhere in the body, such as those in our arms, begin to shake when strain or tension is prolonged. When we lift or hold a heavy object for a long period of time, we’ll often experience a periodic but constant shaking of the muscles that are being used.  In other words, the muscles of the larynx begin to pulse rhythmically in response to tension and subglottic pressure, and that produces the characteristic vibrato sound. It occurs naturally in order to protect the vocal folds.

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
  • Agility
  • Vocal dynamics
  • Vocal phrasing
  • Legato (the smoothness of one's singing)
  • Musicianship
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.

Key Words 

  • 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.
- - -

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 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.


  1. Nice~ Judging my own signing and how I feel when I sing (which may not be correct) I guess I'm decent/above avarage. Which I feel is pretty good when I've only taken lessons once a week for two semesters now.

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  3. What would be a good example of a fantastic vocalist? (Doesn't haven't to be K-Pop but that would make things easier)

  4. Yay about time! Now you just gotta do the "Craigslist story"!

    Also please watch the following video, classify the singer (soprano, alto, mezzo etc etc) and evaluate the following singer's technique. I'm curious! Go to 0:43 if you want to skip straight to the vocals.

    1. (sorry I just realised that the audio and video is slightly out of sync on this video, keep that in mind as you watch)

    2. Here's another more recent performance for comparison, fancam this time. Watch from 13:40.

    3. I do that sometimes to surprise people and make them laugh. I call it my metal shrill. I don't know what it's called. Some people call it falsetto but I don't think that's right. It stays in my normal range but it's just... different.

    4. Actually maybe it's not normal range, but exactly an octave higher, but the limits are on the same notes.

  5. I will use this knowledge to become the next Chad Future.

  6. I don't care what anyone says, Sung Si Kyung and Kang Min Kyung are king and queen of the godpipes. Never in my life have I heard such perfect voices.


      Unfortunately you can't make babies with someone's voice, so I will settle for her.


      #deadfromvoice #raisedbacktolifebyvoice

  7. I honestly like the sound of a lot of vocalist I probably shouldn't. Seriously, an example is Bom. I know her voice is shit and I would love to see her build her voice back up, however I just really like her voice. A lot.

    1. I think Raina is the best vocalist in k-pop because she's the prettiest.

    2. Are we the only people who think Raina and Hyorin are pretty, Kpopalypse? I feel like you and I are "the lone duo" in this category.

    3. Hyorin looks great when she's styled right but I reckon waking up to her would be questionable. Raina is just hotness period.

    4. Hyorin is pretty but she's the victim of a terrible make up artist.

  8. Thanks for the Sojin video and the info

  9. What you think about Kim Yoon Ah from Jaurim?

    1. Not good. She does OK in her comfort zone which is about 5 notes (don't ask me the specifics, I've always sucked when it comes to note telling. lol). Her belts are throaty and she's a prime example of someone who pushes their larynx down to achieve a louder sound. Jaw position is all wrong too. Yeah, she's really nasal as well which is why her projection sucks. Take away the microphone from her and she won't be audible.

      Nice songs, though.

    2. then what about Yoon Do-Hyun?

    3. as for Kim YoonA, in one interview she stated that her nasal voice is her trademark, so she sticks with it ;p

  10. Being a good singer doesn't necessarily mean you're gonna hit it big. There's so much more to being a musician/artist (whichever suits you best) than a good voice.

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  12. what do you think of Chen from Exo?

  13. It is perceived that dancing does not affect singing. In that case, has any of the best few female vocalists performed difficult choreography and yet still sang in the usual standard, or even better?

    1. Dancing definitely affects singing, especially if the singer's stamina is weak. Singers that can dance and perform difficult choreography tend to learn how to sing whilst running on a treadmill to improve their lung's.

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  14. So does that mean that the best few vocalists who sang well consistently can dance but just easy to do dance steps and those who dance very well can't sing on the same standard? I like to have videos of performances that does not prove the above standards.

  15. What happened to the fuck kpopalypse tag?

  16. Can you do a quick appraisal of this guy?


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