Category Archives: Vocal Technique

Can I directly control the vocal cords for an easier, clearer voice? Yes! (and no)

ImageThe following is an article I wrote in response to several bloggers arguing that the vocal cords CANNOT be manually or consciously pulled together, and that it is only the Bernoulli effect that pulls the back of the vocal cords together. Respectfully, I submit that they are wrong. 

“The Bernoulli effect is absolutely what is involved in the production of tone at the vocal cord (or vocal fold) level. In fact, it is the cause of the sound of our speaking and singing voices (also known as phonation). As the air flows (from the lungs) across the cords, the vocal cords are pulled together, then the little bit of pressure built up is released, and the process starts over again. This releases sound waves (up to hundred of times per second) which we use when speaking or singing.

 However, this effect CANNOT happen without the back of the cords FIRST being pulled close together (adduction) so that the cords are close enough to each other for the airflow to “suck” the cords together, beginning the vibration. The Bernoulli effect will not take effect until and unless the back of the cords are somewhat approximated (brought close together via adduction), otherwise we would phonate (make a sound at the vocal cord level such as in speech or singing) EVERY TIME WE ASPIRATE, breathing in or out. We have to bring them together to ALLOW the Bernoulli effect to take effect, creating sound. Usually we do this without thinking because we do it so often.
Many will say that one cannot consciously or mechanically bring the back of the cords together. They are wrong. We first “stumble” into it immediately after birth when we start screaming, but we can also consciously activate the cords pulling together. Of course, without proper airflow, bringing the cords together does nothing to produce any usable sound.
One such way to pull the vocal cords together in back is to make a vocal “fry” or creaky or scratchy sound. When making these sounds, however, the airflow across the cords is somewhat constricted because there is typically TOO MUCH pulling of the back of the cords together, and TOO LITTLE air release across the cords, causing the fry or scratchy sound. This technique is typically used when a singer is releasing too much air across the cords, generally caused because the cords are NOT being approximated and then stabilized by the muscles at the cord level.
These sounds are only meant to help a singer get a feel for controlling adduction while singing. When balanced properly, we don’t have to think about it, such as in the case of speech. The problem? We typically start to intrusively upset the balance of air and vocal chord adduction when using our singing voices because we try to make tones our ears like, instead of tones that are natural to our instruments. For instance, we don’t typically try to control the tone quality of our speaking voices. When speaking, we don’t really give it a thought, but when we sing we’ll often try to produce specific tone qualities that aren’t necessarily natural to our own “instruments”.
Bottom line? Yes, the back of the cords can be manually adducted, but this shouldn’t be something we HAVE to think about unless we are doing something funky to mess with the vocal process that we already experience from our speech voices.
There’s much more on this topic that I could address (to the absolute boredom of most, though quite interesting to those of us sharing a sick fascination with such things), but I’ll bore you no further! :-)”
Happy Singing!
Eric Bruner

Vocal problem: Stuffy nose only when singing high notes

Stuffy nose when singing high notes

Stuffy nose when singing high notes

Here’s part of a question concerning an uncommon vocal problem posted online:

“It’s definitely not a cold. It’s not exactly the same feel of having something physical (for ex. mucus) in the nasal but more like a short duration tense pressure that requires more effort to breathe from the nose after singing high notes. It goes away after a couple of breathes through the nose and comes back right after the high notes again. Of course I don’t breathe from my nose when I sing, but it’s something I notice after I finish a piece or breaks between verses.” 

My answer to this post:

You’re pinching off your nasal passages when singing high (the same muscles you would use to “snort” either in or out). They will tend stay in that contracted, pinched position for a little while after the high note passages, just as you described. Some good warm-up exercises to do should include some scales or arpeggios on a hum, but drop the jaw as you sing higher, keeping the lips still touching. This will help release the muscles under the jaw. Humming necessitates the tone naturally releasing through the nose without pinching. Keep the air coming through the hum unobstructed.

Another good exercise type for your issue is to use an “ng” sound on an arpeggio of your choice with a nguh nguh nguh nguh sound. Again, it will keep the “snorting” muscles from engaging. 

These should work well for you. Happy Singing!!

Eric Bruner

Eric Bruner Vocal Studios

How can I do scream or “screamo” vocals in my singing?


Screaming singing vocals

The user DaDiscoRanger asks: How can I do scream vocals in my singing?

By “screaming” I’m assuming you mean an aggressive, unclear, somewhat raspy distorted tone in the upper or upper-medium vocal range. There are singers of many styles who use vocal screaming either very often, or just occasionally for effect. What I’m not talking about is “grinding” the voice like a growl. I won’t address this because it is the absolute fastest way a singer can destroy his/her voice permanently… period. That being said, let’s turn to a discussion about screaming.

Asking how to scream without hurting your voice is a bit like asking how to punch yourself in the face without bruising it. Screaming is abusive to the vocal cords, plain and simple.

You might ask, “Well how come (insert famous screaming singer name here) can scream and doesn’t lose his/her voice and he/she’s been doing it for years?”

Good question. Here are a few of the realities that explain it.

1. The reality is that the vast majority of screamers trashed their voices a long time ago. Most of them have had multiple surgeries, and many can no longer sing at all.

2. What their voices MIGHT be able to handle in the recording studio once a year isn’t the same as handling that kind of abuse all the time. Many of these “screamers” (the smart ones) sing with softer and clearer voices outside the studio in order to try to save their voices from permanent damage.

3. Did I mention that most of them have had multiple surgeries for serious vocal damage?!? (Just wanted to make sure you got that!)

4. Each person’s tissue has a different reaction to abuse. For instance, you might slap one person across the cheek and 5 minutes later there isn’t even a red mark. Do the same to someone else and they’ll be bruised for a week! Allot of times the singers you hear do this don’t have tissue that irritates as easily as the average person.

5. They aren’t singing as loudly as you think. If you “pretend” to scream loud, but you are actually singing at a soft or normal volume level holding way back, then you can let the microphone (with allot of reverb behind it) make it sound like a huge screaming voice.

6. If they are doing it “right”, they aren’t building up much air pressure. against the vocal cords. They are releasing the air across the cords.

It’s true that most singers, even the very good ones, sing slightly out of balance (not necessarily screaming) sometimes for emotional effect, but their technique is so good that they “snap back to center” after one or two notes. But even this can be dangerous if done too often because singers will start losing their “technical center”, or perfect vocal balance. Center is what we train toward, and what must be our compelling habit.

Ok, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Now, let’s talk about how to scream with the least possible damage:

1. Start in falsetto. The falsetto is the highest, lightest area of your voice. It’s usually a bit weak and somewhat airy sounding, but it is fairly easy to produce high sounds in falsetto with very little pressure, that’s why falsetto is a good starting point.

2. Add a vocal fry or slight scratchy sound. This will start to pull the chords together, giving the illusion of chest resonance (bottom range resonances) up high.

3. Add volume across the scream, little by little, leaning more against the falsetto feeling than the scratchy feeling. Let the falsetto dominate, leaving in only a little bit of the fry/scratchy feeling. You’ll need very little fry to do the job. Also, never push against the throat by bearing-down, causing air pressure build-up.

Final result: It will almost feel like a breathy voice, falsetto voice and scratchy voice all happening at the same time.

If it feels uncomfortable at first (and it will!), take breaks. I wouldn’t recommend experimenting with this more than 5 minutes a day to start, and always warm-up and relax the voice before you start. Cool down the voice afterward with some nice, low, soft, clear humming. Irritated throat? (Gee, I wonder why?) Gargle warm salt water. Also, before during and after your singing use Entertainer’s Secret throat spray. It’s a non-medicinal, non-numbing throat moisturizer spray. It helps allot. (Never use sprays or lozenges that numb the throat. Pain is a good thing if it warns you to stop hurting yourself!)

Now remember, I am against screaming because of the potential for serious damage. I’m only giving you these instructions so you mitigate whatever stress you were planning to put on your vocals anyway.

I’d rather have you only punch yourself in the face one time, rather than twice!

Happy Singing!!

How do you avoid singing through your nose?


Nasally singing!

The user unacceptable love asks: How do you avoid singing through your nose?

“I sing really good. I’m doing a recording soon actually! But I tend to sing out of my nose and it has a “nasaly” sound to it. So how do I avoid this sound?”

The bottom line is that your swallowing and/or bearing-down muscles think they’re helping you sing, so they are closing your throat and thereby sending the sound into the nasal cavities… but you want to know what to do about it, so…

Because you’ve got the recording coming up, I’ll give you a couple of temporary “patches” to help get those swallowing/bearing-down muscles to let go, which should then give you a less nasally sound. The things I’m going to suggest aren’t necessarily going to give you perfect finished sounds, but they should at least get you into the ballpark. Habits are hard to break, but we have to start somewhere!

First of all, if you drop your jaw into the higher notes, that will deactivate the swallowing muscles quite a bit, so that’s an easy fix on the high notes, especially on the high notes that are held out.

The next thing you can try is to make a “dopey” sound, almost dorky (like Barney the dinosaur) but say a dopey “gug” “gug” “gug” sound. It will sound a bit tubby. Now, the places in the songs that you think you sound especially nasal, practice by replacing the words of the song with that dopey gug sound, so you’ll sing the song but you’ll change all of the words to gug. Do this so that you get the feeling of singing with a lowered larynx (voice box). Once you get used to this lowered larynx feel, sing the words again, keeping in mind the more stable position of the larynx that the gugs gave you.

Finally, try plugging your nose when you sing. Sometimes plugging your nose will give you some immediate feedback as to how the sound is being directed there. Just try not to sound nasally when you sing with your nose plugged. You’ll probably feel the tone shift to coming out of the mouth like when you speak, instead of going into the nasal cavities. For some people this works quite well.

Hopefully one or more of these will give you a little help until you can find a good teacher to work with long term.

Happy Singing!!

Eric Bruner Vocal Studios

Why are choppiness, stridency, and breathiness three common vocal problems?

Why are choppiness, stridency, and breathiness three common vocal problems?

Three fairly common vocal problems are choppiness, stridency, and breathiness. Each tend to be a result of poor or inconsistent coordination between the vocal folds (vocal cords) and the other muscles controlling the air flow.

Breathiness is the most common problem of the three that you mentioned. Basically there is too much air escaping across the cords, and this makes the sound waves weaker and more disbursed, giving a breathy or fuzzy sound. A clear sound is more efficient because it translates more of the airflow directly into sound waves, and in doing so actually uses far less air to produce a stronger, fuller and more natural sound.

Think of your speech. You have a good balance of airflow to the cords when you speak, which is why you produce a clear, natural sound. If you start to sing in the same range in which you were speaking, but you get a breathy voice or weak voice, it’s NOT because you weren’t thinking about your diaphragm. You weren’t thinking about your diaphragm when you spoke, yet it was a clear sound. So what’s the difference? Well, often when we sing we are trying to control the tone (or unique sound) of our voices. In doing so, we interfere with what should be a very natural air to cord balance.

Certainly nervousness can play a large part in vocal imbalances, which is a topic for a different article, but let’s talk about choppiness. This is also an airflow problem. Instead of thinking about singing across an entire phrase (which could be either a “musical sentence”, or literal lyric sentence), singers will often incorrectly sing into individual notes or words giving a bouncy or choppy effect. Instead, we should sing through and across words and notes, not into them. To use another speech analogy, when you speak a full sentence, you don’t typically bounce along each word, rather you speak one long constant tone that doesn’t stop until the sentence is over. In singing, we want to do the same thing. Start the musical phrase with the idea that you are singing through and across the phrase until you sing out the back-end of the last word. Simply touch the notes and words as you sing through and across the entire phrase.

When speaking about choppiness, it’s also possible you were referring to another issue which is a vocal tremor or shakiness in the voice. Generally this can be caused because of vocal fatigue – sometimes a good thing, sometimes a bad thing. For instance, if you were working out in the gym and you were on your very last rep of your bi-cep curls, your arms might start to tremor a bit because you have pushed the correct muscles to their limit. That is a good thing, unless you try to do three more reps, using bad form to do so. Instead, you should take a break before you continue with another set. As a singer, if you tire the right muscles the correct way, you might start to get that shaky sound. Take a break immediately at that point and give it a minute or two to recover before you continue practicing.

That all being said, it’s been my experience that singers get that vocal tremor thing going because they’ve been driving too hard against the cords, causing fatigue far more quickly than if they’d had a better, more relaxed vocal balance. Take a break an go a little easy into the next exercise, backing off of the pressure and volume if that’s the case. If you still get the same result, don’t keep singing through it! Cool down your voice with some easy, smooth exercises and consider yourself done for the day. When you come back to your singing the next day, again, use less pressure and lower volume levels.

Stridency is an over compression issue, usually accompanied with a high larynx. The tone is “driven” or pressed hard against the cords rather than allowing a more natural flow across the cords. When this driven, “metallic” sound is accompanied with a high larynx, any warmth that would have mitigated the harsh driven sound is gone, leaving an over-bright, thin, harsh and sometime nasaly sound – stridency.

Hope this helps.

Happy Singing!!

Eric Bruner Vocal Studios

[I wrote the article in response to a question from the user LiveLaughLove on YahooAnswers]

Zoso from YahooAnswers asks: F2 – A5 is this a good vocal range?

F2 – A5 is this a good vocal range?

i am male 22, i have 3.3 scale vocal range. what catagory does it fall?
is it baritone or soprano or something like that? help me figure it out plzzz 🙂
My answer for Zoso:
3.3 oct range is pretty darn good. You probably have more range than that if you develop the vocal “fry” area of your voice in the lowest register. Most of my students sing between 4-5 octaves, some more and some less.As far as your voice part, it’s hard to tell based only on what notes you can hit. Sometimes singers who can sing very low notes still have a “vocal timbre” that sound like high notes. In other words, some guys might have and E2 or F2 as a low note (which might normally be associated with a baritone voice) but have a tenor timbre (vocal color and quality of a tenor). Conversely, some guys might be able to sing extremely high notes, yet have a baritone timbre which is generally deeper and fuller than your typical tenor.All that being said, I would say that the range you described for a guy would typically make you a 1st baritone (high baritone) or 2nd tenor (low tenor). With a really good voice teacher, you could easily develop good, comfortably sung performance notes right up to B5 or beyond.

Happy singing!

Eric Bruner Vocal Studios

What is vibrato? Is vibrato “natural” (happens by itself), or is it consciously “caused” somehow by the singer?


Vibrato or straight tone?

These are good questions. There are many voice teachers who teach otherwise, but straight tone, not vibrato, is actually the most natural way to make a sound.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!  You never hear a baby cry with vibrato, nor do people talk with vibrato (unless you count Katherine Hepburn).  Vibrato must be consciously or unconsciously caused physically by the singer. Even instrumentalists cause vibrato either by mouth motions (embouchure vibrato), hand motions or conscious diaphragmatic pulsations.

For some singers, their musical ears tell them to sing with vibrato and their bodies react and respond, “kicking off” the muscle work to begin the vibrato. They might not even know how they’re making it happen! Singers without a vibrato, on the other hand, will have to make a more conscious effort to train their bodies to produce vibrato. Once the vibrato does begin, though, it soon becomes relatively easy to maintain,to the point we don’t really even think about it. It’s like when we learn to bike ride with our hands on the handle bars at first, but eventually we’re so comfortable with the balance that we can take our hands off of the handle bars with great control.

Vibrato isn’t natural until you can do it naturally. What do I mean by that? Well, I’ll make an analogy with hula-hooping. My oldest daughter and my son took to hula-hooping like ducks to water. After just one day, they knew how to hula-hoop for hours without stopping, and they looked like they were barely moving or even giving it any thought. They both routinely won the hula-hooping contests at school. Now me? I have to work really hard just to get the stupid thing to go around 4 or 5 times! But then, I also didn’t care to work that hard to learn, either. If I wanted to learn (and I lost a few pounds around the waist!) I know I could learn, but I’m not that motivated. Maybe in my retirement…

Ultimately vibrato feels natural, just like hula-hooping feels natural, easy and effortless, but only AFTER someone can do it. Some people find vibrato easily (like my kids with hula-hooping), others have to really experiment allot (like me with hula-hooping!). But anyone can learn, though the process may not look or sound pretty!

Let me give you this as a crude (and somewhat boring) example of what vibrato is:

It’s a bit like an air hose underwater, slowly letting air bubbles out at a consistent rate; say at 5-7 bubbles per second.  Once one bubble is released, there is a little time for the air pressure to build back up, and then it releases the next bubble, and so on. In this example, of course, there is a complete break between each air bubble.

In singing, however, there is a constant, but uneven release of air.  There is slightly more air pressure build-up than is being consistently released.  As a result, there are periodic releases of that extra build up of air – the pulses that become vibrato. The extra back pressure before the release of each pulse, as small as it is, is felt all the way back in the lungs, and then it’s released. The vibrato sound we hear is the pressure-release-pressure-release pulsing that occurs. There is synergistic pressure build-up and release between the vocal folds (chords) and the muscles controlling the upward air flow (abs, diaphragm, and dozens of others). How’s that for boring?

But, at the end of the day, the vibrato process has to be “kicked off”, and then maintained by the singer. For many singers, their ear told them their tone needed a pulse to it, so they put it in, consciously or unconsciously. It’s frustrating to those who have to work at “causing” it to start, but it can be taught and it can definitely be learned.  Once it’s learned well, it will feel “natural”.

I’ve worked with hundreds of students who had no vibrato. Every student with no vibrato that I’ve worked with has achieved a natural vibrato, as long as they practiced the assigned vibrato exercises consistently. Some had to work longer, but they got it. So will you.