How do I make my voice stronger?
This is a common question I hear from commercial singers, but we can apply the approach to classically trained voices as well. The secret here is not to give “more vocal effort” when singing. Often when a singer thinks of giving more power, the end result leads to more strain on the instrument. The true secret is efficiency of vocal production and tone.
There are many ways to address efficiency in vocal production and tone. We know that the singing voice can often seem like a puzzle. Some singers have a thousand pieces to their puzzle, others have five-hundred pieces. Some already have the edges of the puzzle put together, while others are nearly completed. Regardless of where someone is with their puzzle, there is one piece to always keep in mind: registration.
What is vocal registration?
In very basic terms, vocal registration is how the voice is divided. This division has been traditionally classified by sensation into three registration categories: chest voice, middle voice, and head voice. Singing in “chest voice” results in a feeling of resonance that can be physically felt in the chest cavity. Chest voice is sometimes thought of as lower in pitch and a heavier mechanism. Similarly, singing in “head voice” gives one the sensation of resonance in the head. Head voice is usually considered higher in pitch and a lighter mechanism. Middle voice is a place in the voice that exists between chest voice and head voice — it uses elements of both the heavy and light mechanisms. Singers lose power by not acknowledging registration or by being stuck in a less-than-optimal register in a given range. Losing power can happen while singing breathy low notes without chiaro (or clarity), singing in head voice with the added strain of the heavier mechanism, or producing a lower belt sound without enough chest voice. (As a side note: when the voice “cracks,” this can be a sign of an inconsistent approach to vocal registration and not necessarily a weakness in the voice.)
Let’s not fool ourselves!
Registration alone will not correct one’s entire approach to singing, but it may help clean up some rough spots in a performance. Sopranos, mezzo-sopranos, and altos should get to know chest voice. Tenors, baritones, and basses should embrace head voice (and falsetto).
What is an exercise I can try?
Bar none, the best and simplest exercise to help improve registration in my experience is what we call messa di voce exercises. This means to sing a single sustained pitch on a given vowel (or with a semi-occluded vocal tract [SOVT] position) starting softly — with core/presence — on a piano dynamic, evenly crescendo to a forte dynamic, and then evenly decrescendo back to a piano dynamic while still maintaining core/presence in the sound. Again, this is all performed on the same sustained pitch before moving by half-step and starting again on the next pitch. This exercise should be executed with the help of a voice professional on every comfortable pitch in the range.
It is always helpful to…
ask a voice professional for help with topics like these. Even one or two sessions can clear up a lot of questions.