If any of you have ever worked with mixing boards or PA systems, you know that by tweaking the EQ, which effects the amount of low, mid, and high frequencies, you can greatly change the quality of sound coming from the speakers. Well, your body has a kind of EQ system of its own, and you can use it to enrich your sound and help conceal your transitions into and out of the head and chest voices.
First off, what do we mean when we say low, mid, and high frequencies?
I’m not going to go too deeply into the study of acoustics – mainly because I’m not qualified to. But on a basic level, understand that the voice, as well as other instruments, creates complex wave forms. What that means is, you create a fundamental frequency while also creating other less detectable frequencies called harmonics and overtones.
The fundamental frequency creates pitch. Harmonics and overtones create the quality of sound, which in music, we call the timbre. Timbre is the reason you can tell the difference between a trumpet that’s playing a G and a violin that’s playing the same G.
It’s also why our voices sound unique. Because we each have physical variations in our vocal tracts: the shape of our mouth, the size of our pharynx, the thickness of the vocal folds. These differences cause some harmonics and overtones to be enhanced or decreased or eliminated, thus creating a different timbre even while singing the same pitch.
When you work with a sound engineer, he or she uses electronic EQ settings in the same way, to reduce or enhance harmonics and overtones and thereby effect the characteristics of your sound.
Why am I sharing this with you?
Because I want to encourage you to play around with your body’s EQ settings.
Now, your body’s EQ isn’t as extreme or exact as a piece of electronic equipment. In fact, some might debate whether I should even call it an EQ system. But I want you to think of it that way.
Sing an Ah very low in your range right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait…
Most likely (assuming you REALLY just sang a low Ah), you opened up your throat nice and big to sing that note, which dropped your larynx. Dropping your larynx enhances your low frequencies.
Do it again, this time with your hand on your chest. Do it for real, this time…
You should feel your chest vibrating as you sing that low Ah.
Now, keep your hand on your chest and sing another Ah way up high in your range. This should create much less vibration, or no sense of vibration at all. That’s because lower frequencies vibrate in your chest. I’m not saying that the sound itself resonates down there in your lungs, just that your body experiences those low vibrations in your chest.
In the same way, we tend to experience the vibrations of higher notes in the nose and the nasal cavity behind it. The nasal cavity is not a significant resonating chamber for the voice, but we experience a greater vibration in that area when we sing up high.
Sing another Ah up high in your range, but this time, smile big – with your top row of teeth exposed.
Most likely, singing the high Ah this way effected the quality of the sound compared to the first high Ah you sang, and helped you experience more vibration behind/through your nose (if not, try it again and see if you can create more vibration up there).
I’m not saying that you “placed” the sound of this high Ah inside your naval cavity (as some teachers put it), but because of the way you changed the shape of the mouth, your highs were enhanced, and you experienced a greater vibration in that area. That’s the “feeling experience” you want when singing a strong vowel higher in your range.
Mid frequencies usually create a smaller vibration in both areas, as well as in the back of the throat.
When I start low and vocally slide up to the very highest notes of my range, the feeling experience begins with a strong vibration in my chest. As I approach the mid part of my range the vibration seems centered at the back of my throat, which I’m sure to keep nice and open so the mids can be enhanced. As I continue upward in pitch, I begin to stretch the roof of my mouth and the vibration begins to feel focused there and in my nasal cavity.
If you repeat this slide through your range while intentionally focusing on the feeling experiences I described, you should reach a point where you can slide with no detectable “flip” into and out of your head voice.
When trying to help my students open up their sound, I often tell them to imagine the sound vibrating inside their chests for low notes, in the back of their throats for mid-range notes, or behind/through the nose for high notes. That imagery almost always catalyzes the necessary physical changes to get a full tone throughout their ranges.
But there is an even more useful way to use this imagery.
Despite artistic reasons to sometimes do the opposite, in a general sense, we want our head voice to have a timbre that matches our chest voice. So, here is something for you to experiment with to that end:
Do you remember how the inside of your mouth felt when you sang that high Ah while smiling? Do it again, if need be, to notice how it feels. Then, try to incorporate that inner mouth position (some call it an “inner smile”) into your low notes. While you do this, imagine the sound vibrating inside your nasal cavity. Vary the position to see what changes in timbre you can create while singing low.
What we’re doing here is trying to add “highs” to your low notes by activating the area in your body where highs are experienced.
Now sing a low Ah and pay attention to how it feels in your throat. Then, position your throat as though you’re going to sing another low Ah (larynx dropped) but sing up high in your range. As you do this, imagine the sound vibrating inside your chest.
Now we’re thickening your head voice timbre by activating the area where low frequencies are experienced.
Meanwhile, if you’re moving up through your mid-range on the way to your head voice, be sure that the back of your throat is open to fully experience the vibration passing through that area as it travels from the chest to the nasal area.
It takes time and testing to calibrate what positions work best for you, and in what situations.
Just know that the overall goal is to add highs to your chest voice and lows to your head voice. The more you do this, the less distinct each part of your range will be, and the better you’ll be able to conceal your transitions between head and chest voice.
Time to hit the lab for experimentation. Good luck!