Spring is here and I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about tone quality. What does that have to do with a ‘ring’ you ask? Let’s explore…
Resonance is what makes your tone sound “pretty”…or not. When you sing, the vibrations from the vocal folds find their way to various parts of your body and bounce around there. The resulting sound is what we call resonance. The type of resonance we end up with is largely related to where we send those vibrations to ‘bounce around’ and believe it or not, you can actually make a conscious choice as to how/where you’d like to resonate! Although the shape of your resonators is largely a matter of inheritance you can choose which ones you prefer to utilize at any given time.. Learning to place your tone where you want it is a wonderful skill to acquire. It will give you flexibility as a singer and enable you to blend more effectively with others. I want to tell you about a special way to resonate that can help make any tone quality sound better, stronger, safer and have a lovely ring to it.
This “ring”… can be used as a very small sound or once mastered, can be added to other areas to help make a big sound. What’s even better is that it’s simple to find!
How to find “The Ring”
I would like to try and help you find this very useful area of resonance. This area, when added to other areas or even at times sung by itself, can be very effective. I like to call it “the ring”. This “ring” will bring out the best in the other resonating areas by adding focus. It can be used as a very small sound or once mastered, can be added to other areas to help make a big sound. What’s even better is that it’s simple to find!
Most of us are very familiar with humming on an “M”. An “M hum” is very useful for bringing the mask area into focus. The mask utilizes multiple areas of resonance in the face area. When you hum on an “M” you will feel a strong buzz in your lips and vibrations in your cheeks and up through your nose. But I would like you to try something different. I want you to hum on an “N” instead. The “N hum” will place the vibration much higher and isolated it strictly in the nasal area/nose. In fact, if you are doing this hum correctly, the tone should stop completely if you pinch your nostrils closed with your fingers. You should feel a strong buzz in your nose while you are humming on an “N” especially in your mid to lower registers.
How to use “The Ring”
There are multiple ways to use this area of resonating to your advantage. First of all, by resonating so high, you take away some of the stress from the throat area. This is always a good thing. In fact, because of this, you will find that you can accomplish many of your vocal goals more easily. The vocal cords stay adducted more easily in this register making it easier to deal with that pesky “break” in your voice more effectively. Try doing your usual warm-ups on just this “N hum” and you may find that you don’t break at all!
Next try to open the hum up into an “Ahhh” (by gently lowering the back of your tongue) but keep the tone placed in the same area. Deliberately keep the tone a bit on the nasal side (you can improve the sound later) to make sure it stays placed in the right area. Once you’re confident that you have the tone placed and secure, you can make slight adjustments to the sound. Experiment with multiple different ways of affecting the tone slightly while keeping it placed high-in your nose. Once the tone is placed it should be relatively easy to keep it there. What I’m looking for is a ‘ring’ that stems from the original N hum to continue on into your tone. This ring will help to keep your tone focused, pretty and strong.
A perfect illustration of this sound would be Aretha Franklin’s original version of “Respect” (1967). Try singing along (men in your own register!) and see if you can imitate the “nasal” placement she uses. Make it very nasal to start with until you are confident that you placed correctly. Try to sing almost as a caricature of her voice in the beginning. Eventually you can try softening the tone in various ways to give you options. The more you practice this the better you will get and the more uses you will find for this amazing little “ring”!