Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute
“Twang” is a term that can stir up heated conversation in some circles. There are those who say it is a made-up term, others say it belongs only in country music. In terms of acoustics, “twang” corresponds with the same frequency range (2-4 kHz) as the “singer’s formant.” In some singers twang has a nasal quality, in others it does not, similar to what you may find in classical singers trying to find “ring” in their voice. Regardless of what you may think about the term, it is used by many singers, teachers, and music directors and in my opinion it is worth learning about. Mary McDonald Klimek writes about twang in Exercises for Voice Therapy by Alison Behrman and John Haskell. Klimek suggests the following cues to help a student find twang:
The student should have fun making these sounds and should not use volume as a substitute for finding a bright resonance. If the student is struggling to produce a twangy sound, have them add a little bit of nasality. You can also have the student make the sound at a lower volume level, which may help alleviate pharyngeal constriction. Finally, have the student make the sounds as if they were scraping peanut butter off the roof of their mouth. This will help arch the tongue and decrease the space in the vocal tract, both of which can help the student produce twang.
Help them decide which vocal gesture produces the best twang quality and use that for the following steps. Klimek uses a series of exercises designed for speech; here is my variation for singing. Using the vocal gesture that works best for the student, create a vocal exercise with a simple pattern. Now repeat the same exercise two times in a row: the first time have the student sing their favorite vocal gesture from above and immediately follow that with the vowel of your choice. Then go up or down a half-step. Work through all of the vowels and when you feel like your student is getting the hang of twang, take the initial vocal gesture out and focus only on the vowel. Anytime your student gets away from the twang quality, you can use her favorite vocal gesture to get it back.
Do you teach twang? What are your strategies for finding this quality? If you have additional thoughts or comments, please leave them in the comments section below. For the original exercise by Klimec, see pages 95-96 in Exercises for Voice Therapy by Alison Behrman and John Haskell (Plural Publishing).
Thanks for reading! ~Matt