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Finding Your Voice in Song

By: Stefanie Emery 

voice lessons

Many people are intrigued by the art of song and the beauty of the singing voice. For some, singing can come naturally, but for others it may be their life’s work to create the best singing voice possible. Either way, there are many mechanics and techniques that go into a well balanced singing voice.

When we learn that our natural speaking voice is in fact the same “voice” we use to match pitch for singing the mystery and challenge of singing can be simplified. The simple idea that we can transfer the speaking voice that we use to communicate every day to song will help a singer manage the obstacles of matching pitch, creating rich tone, and avoiding an overly breathy sound. 

Let’s break the singing voice down into three main areas. Chest Voice, Head Voice, and Mixed Voice.  Although we access these three “voices” differently, and they have different qualities to them, our goal is to create a consistent sound throughout all of our vocal “registers” thus leaving us with “one voice” instead of three completely different sounding voices. This is a big goal for most vocalists, as navigating between these areas can produce very different tones, volumes, and characteristics if not trained with proper control. Here are our three “voices” and some details on the resonators within our body that produce these sounds.

Chest Voice 

Most commonly recognized by the area where we use our natural speaking voice, the Chest Voice is accessed through the chest, acting as it’s external resonator, and in the mouth as it’s internal resonator. If you place one hand on your upper chest and say “HEY” you should feel a vibration in the chest. Chest Voice is where we produce our strongest sound which is usually the most easily accessed with lower pitches (think back to the speaking voice) and into a mid to higher register where we can produce big, belty sounds. 

Head Voice 

Head Voice is the opposite of Chest Voice because it is a much lighter sound and feeling. Think about taking all the weight away from a big chest voice and hitting pitches in your upper register, these are notes that feel higher and are not as easily achieved in a lower speaking voice area. Head Voice resonates externally in the back of the head and internally in the nasal cavity. To feel the Head Voice place one hand on the upper back of your head and say “WEEE” in a high pitch. You may feel that resonator vibrate slightly. Now say “What’s Up Doc” in the style of Bugs Bunny. Hear that very nasally sound you just created? You are using your Pharyngeal Resonator, or nasal tone, which is accessed externally off of the nose and internally at the back of the Pharynx. Your Pharynx is located internally towards the back of the head within the vocal tract. 

Mixed Voice 

Mixed Voice is where we combine the resonators of the Chest Voice and Head Voice, while  including the Pharyngeal Resonator to add in nasal qualities. Without this nasal component we won’t be accessing the “Mix” of these two other resonators to their fullest extent. All three of these resonators are present in a well balanced Mixed Voice. We use Mixed Voice to achieve rich, full sounds that span between our Chest and Head Voices allowing us to achieve the most consistent sound spanning our low and high registers. Mixed Voice can be used in our upper register to achieve higher pitches without them sounding thin or weak.

Learning how to access these three areas of the voice and how to coordinate the proper mechanics can be achieved through vocal technique exercises, experimentation, and application in song. 

Hearing Chest, Head, and Mixed Voice in Song 

While listening to a singer navigate through their vocal registers you can now start identifying which “voice” they are singing in. Dissecting a vocal performance is a great way to learn the different qualities of these areas of the voice. First, recognizing the pitch is most helpful because it will give us a clue to what register of the voice they are in. Is the singer singing low or high notes? Do they sound strong or light? If the sound is lower and strong there’s a good chance they are singing in chest voice, and if the sound is higher and light they are most likely in their head voice. Mixed Voice is sometimes challenging to identify because it usually sounds strong and has a large resonance. Many singers use their Mix to get powerful sounds in their higher register, thus, at times tricking the listener to think they could be in a powerful Chest Voice.  The song “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele is a great example of hearing all three of these voices. She uses her Chest Voice in most of the song but flips into her Head and Mixed Voices in many areas to create dynamic interest and to also achieve higher pitches with ease. Stylistically, she is choosing which voice to sing in to create differences in feel and tone, which creates an interesting performance rather than one that can feel monotonous and dull. When a vocal stays in the same area through an entire piece and lacks stylistic freedom the result is sometimes flat and underwhelming. Using your ear to analyze a vocal is a wonderful tool as it allows one to compare another vocalist’s abilities and begin utilizing the learned techniques in practice. 

Finding your natural singing voice is fun, experimental, and exciting. Knowing how your own voice operates is the first step to becoming a better more well-rounded singer,  and with dedicated practice you may start expanding your vocal range, techniques, and overall sound. As much as singing is technical it must also contain emotion and feel, because without those characteristics it may begin to sound lifeless or even robotic. Remembering that the tools, techniques, and mechanics of the voice are extremely important for vocal success should always be paired with the knowledge that music is an art and without personal expression and thoughtful emoting one will only be attaining, at best, fifty percent of their best possible sound. 

Fall Recital 2018 Highlights

The recitals are the best time of the year every time they come around. Not only do we get to enjoy great music, but we also get to watch the growth of each participant! A good concert, with a great community of people. What more could you want?

Our recitals happen twice per year, once in the Spring and once in the Fall. If you’d like to perform on one, let your teacher know!

Check out our talented students!

Our seasonal recitals are a great way for students to get an opportunity to perform for friends and family! It’s also great for friends and family to get a chance to see the progress they’ve made since last time, whether they are 6 years old or 60 years old. Check out this video offering up highlights of every students performance from our Spring 2018 recital at the Ethical Society of Philadelphia!

What’s My Voice Type?

voice, type, fach, philadelphia“What’s my voice type?”

Beginner voice students often ask this question. It feels reassuring to classify ourselves, to feel we belong somewhere. Plus, newer singers believe knowing your voice type gives them other information about their voice, such as their range. What seems like a simple question doesn’t have a simple answer though. To understand why, first learn what “my voice type” even means, why voice type exists, and why a singing novice might not be able to find their voice type.

What is Voice Type?

A “voice type” is the classification of voices based on certain qualities and characteristics of the voice. These characteristics include:

  • Range: how high and low you can sing.
  • Timbre: the “color” or quality of your voice.
  • Vocal breaks: the shift in your voice between head and chest voice.
  • and Tessitura: the part of your range you feel most comfortable singing in.

Men tend to have four options when it comes to voice type: countertenor, tenor, baritone, and bass. Women tend to have three options: soprano, mezzo-soprano, and contralto.

All of these variations depend on a number of physical elements just like they do in instruments. A cello has thicker strings than a violin, resulting in a lower range. Similar variations apply to the voice as well. Therefore, the variations in voice type depend largely on physical sex, but also on genre.

These identifications vary according to genre because different genres require different characteristics. A musical theater soprano may be considered a mezzo-soprano in opera because of the average range, tessitura, and timbre of the music.

Why Classify the Singing Voice

While some people like labels, others ask, “Who needs them?” There are pros and cons to identifying your voice type.

Pros

The number one benefit to knowing your voice type is for auditions. If you audition as a singer, the panel can get an immediate idea of your voice through your stated voice type. Why? Because the “rules” of voice type allow others to understand what characteristics your voice possesses.

Similarly, you can select music for yourself this way. If a song has a certain note you can’t reach, or spends a lot of time in a part of your voice you’re not comfortable with, you will know not to sing that song.

Cons

Identifying your voice type can become unintentionally limiting. Especially for younger or newer singing students, a voice type can make you feel boxed in to certain guidelines, discouraging you from exploring new songs.

Voice types are also hard to identify. The voice is a tricky instrument. It’s not like other instruments where you can see and feel exactly which notes the instrument can hit. Each voice is unique, and it can even change based on age, hormones, and more.

What’s My Voice Type Then?

Only a qualified voice teacher can help you identify your voice type. Even if you know your range right now, you may be able to extend it after learning different technical aspects of singing like posture, breathing, and more. And as stated above, no one element alone points to voice type. The subject is so complex, voice teachers have written entire books dedicated to it.

Again, the best way to find your voice type is to sign up for voice lessons today and learn all about your voice. Your voice type will reveal itself to you after developing a solid technique. And remember, it may take some time, but the process of discovery will be a lot of fun along the way.

Fall Recital 2016 Highlights

Students Showing Off Their Skills

Taking lessons and practicing is something that all musicians have to spend most of their time doing, but it all pays off at the performance. Just this December we returned to the Ethical Society of Philadelphia for our largest recital yet. We featured students on piano, violin, cello, saxophone, voice, and guitar for a fantastic afternoon of music making. Our recitals provide our students with the opportunity to show off their skills to friends and family alike. Not only is it a great time for everyone involved, but it’s a crucial experience for becoming a well-rounded musician.

The wide diversity of genres and styles reflects the amazing diversity and talent of all of our students. From Beethoven and Saint-Saëns to The Beatles and Coldplay, enjoy this musical cross-section of our Philly Music Lessons family. We’re so glad to have seen so many people at our recital this past fall, but in case you missed it, here’s a little something to give you an idea of how talented our students are!

 

Kids Violin Class with Rentals & Other Fishtown Music Classes

violin philly

Beautiful Tone, Beautiful Heart!

Suzuki-Style Violin Class for Ages 3-5

“Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens. If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.”

Shin’ichi Suzuki

Saturdays at 11 AM at Philly Music Lessons
October 1st – November 19th
$198 for 8 classes
(Includes a 3 month violin rental fitted for your child’s size at the first class)

Though many different curiosities are piqued when children come into our space and see instruments on the walls and in our practice rooms, violin seems to be of particular interest over and over again! Thus we’ve decided to offer a Suzuki-style violin class for kids ages 3-5. With a violin rental embedded into the cost, kids have the opportunity to experience the Suzuki method and other violin group work intended to introduce young bodies and minds to the violin. Read more about our kids violin class here!


 

Music Exploration Ages 3-5

Tuesdays at 4PM
October 4th – November 22nd
$128 for 8 classes

Our music exploration class is an intro to music beyond baby and toddler classes. Kids will explore ukuleles, their voices, piano techniques, and percussion patterns to gain experience with string instruments, solfege (ear training), and rhythm training. This class lays the groundwork for private lessons in a variety ofinstruments and is simply a fun way to explore music! Each class concludes with an art project that will reinforce a new concept each week.


newmoms

Baby and Toddler Music Classes Ages 0-3

Ongoing Weekly classes at 10 AM Wednesdays and Saturdays
First time FREE! $10 drop in all September

Mommas, daddies, nannies, grandparents, and caregivers can join other families in the Fishtown area for weekly music classes on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10 AM. Babies just a few months old will enjoy classes as much as the toddlers. All classes are drop-in this September, with a special rate of $10 per class (normally $15). Come October, we’ll be moving to a monthly sign up (10 kids max, unlimited makeups) to encourage regular friends and faces, and to allow groups of babies to grow and learn together!