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[Singing] Fundamentals of Singing

category: Music | course: Singing | difficulty:

Singing is a wonderful thing. It could basically be called elegant exhaling. All you have to do is position your mouth, tongue and vocal box correctly and beautiful sounds will leave your body.

Sounds simple, but the fact is that most people have over the years, as they grow up, stopped using the proper techniques to create sounds. When you were a baby, you could scream very loudly for hours on end, without your vocal chords tiring (which is quite annoying actually). When you were a toddler, you were always screaming and yelling and talking fast, loud and at high pitch, and still you never felt a sore throat. However, as you grow older, your voice changes (boys more dramatically than girls, but still), and you somehow lose that ability. Now I’m not saying screaming or yelling is any good for the voice, but having a higher, clear and moderately loud voice is always better than having a soft, muddy, unclear, grungy one. It just improves your life, your image, so much.

(By the way, there are lots of rock singers who do vocal exercises before shows, so that they can scream all they want without hurting their voice (very much). Screaming is never good, but good vocal technique can even help minimize the stress if you are that wild, so there's really no reason to be ashamed of doing vocal exercises!)

How does Singing Work?

Simply put, singing is making the air you exhale sound exactly how you want. You’re modifying the air you exhale, so that they become sound waves at certain frequencies, which then again are interpreted as (beautiful) sounds. So, which components are involved in the process?

  • Vocal chords: Obviously, your vocal chords are the first thing that comes to mind. It’s a group of two muscles, one left and one right, which work together to create sounds. When you simply breathe, they are far apart and they let the air fly through without obstruction. When you sing, they are pushed together to create pressured air waves (some parts are pressed together, some are stretched), which is the definition of sound. They can also be stretched out to create higher pitches.
  • Vocal box/voice box (larynx): The part of your neck your vocal chords are in. It’s called like this because it has the shape of a box, and can actually move up and down the neck. Men can easily spot it, as it’s exactly where the Adam’s apple is located.
  • Jaw: I’d be tempted to say mouth here, but that would also include some other parts that have different functions, so I like to keep them separated. Lowering your jaw allows sound to come out of your mouth. Leaving it closed forces the air to move out through your nose, which honestly doesn’t sound very well.
  • Tongue: Your tongue is responsible for creating vowels and consonants. Singing can only be done on vowels, which means that your tongue needs to be able to shift quickly between different sounds when singing.
  • Swallow Muscles: Those are located just below your jaw – basically on the bridge between your neck and your head. If you feel tension when singing, it is most likely to come from your swallow muscles engaging (too much).
  • Soft palate: The what now?! This is just a crucial spot on the roof of your mouth, around the back. At the front it is called the hard palate. This part also plays a role in eating/swallowing, which means that you need to get this out of the way as well.


That seems difficult.

I do agree, that this might be much to take in, let alone trying to control all of these at once when singing. Therefore, I recommend not trying to improve them all at once. Vocal exercises work a bit on all of them, so those are always good to do often. But, for example, desperately trying to force your jaw down while singing is not a good idea, just as it isn’t wise to try to keep your tongue out of the way and at the same time trying to keep your soft palate up. Improve one thing until it can be done without tension and without thinking about it, then move on.

Some extra info on Vocal Chords

As seen that your vocal chords are the vital part of singing, extra attention needs to be paid to them.

Your vocal chords work by using small muscles around it to push them together, and to stretch and shorten them. This means that there are no other muscles in your neck, shoulders or face needed to make them work! Low notes and high notes of course require different muscle tension, but that should be controlled by those small muscles only.

The lowest note you can sing is determined by the minimum length of your vocal chords. That means, the length they have when not influenced by any muscles at all, when not stretched. This means that damaging your vocal chords, will create scars and weak spots on them, which in turn shortens them and lowers your voice. Therefore, you can’t train to sing lower than you can, but you can train to make your lowest notes sound the best they can

The highest note you can sing is determined by the maximum length of your vocal chords. Stretching them more creates a higher note. And just as with muscles in your arms or legs: regularly stretching them and working out is the only way to get a bigger vocal range. But do know that there is a limit, and that you will need to switch to falsetto and not desperately try to push higher in your regular voice.

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