Tag Archives: voice

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 the 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 MUCHpulling 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

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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

Take this vocal technique quiz!

Take this vocal technique quiz. Answer the questions and keep track of your answers. Your answers will be either yes or no.

Do I ever have to “break” or have to change the tone or sound of any notes because they go too high or too low? Does my voice ever “crack” when I sing?
Your vocal tone should remain relaxed and consistent throughout your entire vocal range. Breaking or cracking in your voice happens when the imbalance in your voice can no longer be maintained, and suddenly, snap! It falls into a different sound production, and not necessarily a much better one than where it was.

If the vocal chords (working with the air) aren’t doing their job, then the muscles outside the larynx (the voice box) will try to help.  That’s what causes reaching for notes (high or low), squeezing, or baring down in an attempt to produce the right air/muscle balance at the vocal fold (vocal chord) level. That’s like trying to stand up by flexing your biceps.  One has little to do with the other!  The same balance you feel in your speaking voice will give you control in your singing voice.
Do I have to change the way my voice sounds or is produced so I can sing either in the high range or the low range?
If you have a well-balanced voice from top to bottom, there should essentially be no change in the way you produce high or low notes. It will feel as easy as speech.

Does my voice ever feel sore or fatigued after singing (including the day after)?
Your vocal folds (vocal chords) are only about your thumbnail across in length.  They’re actually quite tiny.  In fact, some of the muscles that help control the vocal folds are as small as 1/5 the width of your thumbnail! If those tiny muscles aren’t all working “in concert”, so to speak, the outer larynx muscles have to do quadruple duty to try to have some small influence on the pitch production. It’s those outer muscles that get fatigued.  They have almost no leverage on the voice, so they stay in a constant state of tension if they think they are helping you sing. That’s just plain tiring!

Does it take my voice 1-3 days or more to recover from a performance?
If we have to push those tiny vocal folds (only the length of your thumbnail across) beyond their capacity by yelling, gripping, etc., then those muscles get stiff, just like when we use any muscle we haven’t used in a while (raking leaves, etc.). We feel stiff or sore for the next couple or few days.

Also, the vocal folds have an outer tissue layer (sort of like skin on the outside of the chords). This tissue can get irritated, or even inflamed when they are squeezed and “over-muscled” together. It takes a while for the inflammation to go down. With a good vocal balance, a healthy and conditioned voice can be used to sing for hours without irritation.

Do I run out of breath too soon when trying to sing longer phrases?
Think in terms of efficiency here. If I have trouble cooling my house in the summer, I might think I have to upgrade my air conditioner.  I might also add more insulation, or energy efficient double-pane windows. But after I spent all of this money, time and energy, my house still isn’t cool! Why? I may have overlooked the obvious. I’m constantly leaving all of the doors and windows wide open, all day!

My point? If my vocal chords aren’t coming together lightly, but with a good seal, then they are going to leak out a bunch of air.  Even if your tone is only slightly airy, you can use up to 2 or 3 times more air than you need to.  So if your vocal chords aren’t doing their job, then just taking a little bit bigger breath or doing all of the diaphragm exercises in the world won’t help your breath “support”. You’ll still run out of breath before the end of the phrase.

A side note here: think about this, breath isn’t “supported”.  I don’t like that terminology because it isn’t a physical reality… a subject and discussion for a different day!)

Does my voice feel/sound weak, breathy or airy?
Usually, too much air is escaping across the chords. Just like a whisper is soft, so is a sung tone that lets out too much air. The “airy” sound waves that come off of the chords are fuzzy so they dissipate easily. You want to produce clearly delineated sound waves, these can produce far more resonance. An efficient use of the air at the chord level produces more sound.

Is it hard to sing the upper notes? Are they weak or tense or “pushed”?
Again, the outer larynx (voice box) muscles might think that they themselves are doing all of the work. They should do very little at all other than stabilize the larynx. (The same stabilization, by the way, that you use when speaking.) Virtually all that is needed to produce high or low pitches is negotiated between the vocal folds and the air.

Do I ever feel extremely nervous about singing because I’m not sure what my voice is going to do in a performance?
Listen, if I weren’t fairly confident that my vocal technique was balanced and running somewhat on auto-pilot, then I wouldn’t perform. Otherwise, I’m trying to juggle remembering the lyrics, emotional communication, stage presence, tone, pitch, and about 20 other things going on in my head.

We have to develop great vocal technique habits that take pretty much take over, even when everything else seems to be going wrong. There are certainly other factors that need addressing with regard to “stage fright”, but in my experience, vocal technique inefficiencies are the primary cause of our performance fear factor!

Does my voice lack strength or stamina?
I’m sure you know by now that my answer to this question is going to have something to do with a poor vocal balance. True.  But let’s assume for a moment that you have a perfectly balanced voice, then your problem is just conditioning.  The conditioning and strengthening of the voice have much to do with isomeric and flexibility exercising – not powerlifting! Projection doesn’t mean pushing! It’s an effect, not a cause. A good vocal balance causes projection.

What were your answers?
If you answered YES to just about any of these questions, there is a more than 95% chance that improving your vocal technique (the way you use your voice) will eliminate the problem. That really is about finding the right teacher.

Just like any great athlete works with coaches and teachers throughout their careers, we too need that extra “pair of ears” to guide us. That being said, unfortunately, very few teachers know how to help students find a good balance in their voices. See my article on finding a good voice teacher.

Hope this helps!

Happy Singing!!

Eric Bruner



Live chat button

Want to talk to me about voice lessons, the Voice Teacher Certification Program, or my self-study vocal training products? Click the “Live Chat” button now to talk to myself or my assistant.

I want to hear your ideas on vocal and singing topics for future posts and articles! Leave ideas in the reply box below…