Matt Edwards

Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute

Mix it up Monday: Six factors that affect vocal quality

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Dayme BookDr. Meribeth Dayme is an internationally known voice teacher, author, and founder of the CoreSinging® approach. In her book “Dynamics of the Singing Voice, 5th ed.,” Dr. Dayme outlines six factors that affect vocal quality. I’m a big fan of lists like this as I believe they help us mix up our thought process, which in turn helps us see things differently and come up with new approaches. So to mix it up this week, let us take a look at the six factors Dayme discusses in chapter eight of her book.

Overly active facial muscles: A fixed stare, wrinkled eyebrows, or overall look of worrying can have a significant negative impact on tone quality and is indicative of a lack of vocal freedom. Dr. Dayme says that you can demonstrate the impact of tense facial muscles by sustaining a pitch and manipulating the lips while noting changes in vocal quality. A smile will usually brighten the tone and often lead to a sound that is devoid of overtones and vibrato. Other singers will overly round their lips, purposely covering their front teeth, leading to a tone that is dark and muffled. While the voice may appear “large” to the singer, it does not necessarily convey the same quality to the audience. When singing, the performer’s face should never be contorted, but rather he/she should possess a natural look with relaxed lips that are ready to assist in articulation.

Position and movement of the lower jaw: Many beginning students will protrude their lower jaw when singing. This forward displacement alters the shape of the vocal tract and can have a negative impact on vocal quality. Not only can a protruded jaw affect vocal quality, it also has an impact on a singer’s ability to clearly articulate vowels and consonants.

Rigidity of the tongue: Spend a few minutes on YouTube watching live performances where the camera zooms in close on the singer’s face. You will notice a wide variety of tongue movements. The most commonly observed “fault” of the tongue is retraction – the tip pulls away from the bottom teeth and bunches up in the back. This lump in the back fills the space of the oropharyngeal isthmus (“part of the oropharynx directly behind the mouth cavity, bounded superiorly by the soft palate, laterally by the palatoglossal arches, and inferiorly by the tongue.” (via Wikipedia). oropharyngeal isthmus.png

When this happens, the tongue absorbs vibrations thus altering the singer’s vocal quality. Dayme says that the oropharyngeal isthmus is particularly important to consider due to the interaction of the tongue and palate during vocal production. This space can be enlarged in two ways. The first occurs when the soft palate rises through contraction of the palatal muscles while the tongue releases. The second, and undesirable way, is to depress the back of the tongue. Tongue tension generally works in opposition to palatal elevation. While the singer may experience a sensation of openness in the back when singing with a retracted tongue, in all reality she is narrowing the space in the back, shortening the vocal tract, and she will often find that her sound becomes harsh, strident, and forced. Adequate resonance only occurs when the tongue is free to move and does not interfere with the elevation of the soft palate and the flexibility of the pharyngeal space, which is necessary to produce a wide palette of colors when singing.

Tension in the neck: Voice teachers often become aware of tension in the neck when the superficial muscles of the neck contract enough to create visible outlines of the musculature. When this happens, you will often notice that the area above the larynx appears to be shrinking. If muscular contraction in the neck is severe and pressure builds up below the larynx, veins in the neck will often begin to appear as well. Visible neck muscles and veins are a sign of muscular tension in the neck that will have a negative impact on vocal production.

Tension in the chest: Singing with a concave chest and rounded shoulders will considerably inhibit the singer’s vocal quality and amplitude. This physical posture may be a sign of a singer who is running out of breath and attempting to squeeze as much air out of her lungs as possible. This fault can usually be corrected by addressing poor postural habits and faults in the performer’s breathing technique.

Emotional tension: Many emotional problems will have physical manifestations that negatively impact vocal production. It is important to know that sometimes these emotional strains can come from everyday life or from using certain acting approaches in an attempt to create a more sympathetic performance.

This is only a brief summary of Dr. Dayme’s six points. To read the full description, see pages 136-139 and the supporting information in her book “Dynamics of the Singing Voice.” If you are looking for exercise ideas to address these faults, you can search my blog archives at the bottom of this page or by going to the home page and clicking “Older Posts”. There are now over 100 free articles available to help you when you want to “mix it up.”

Do you have additional thoughts on today’s post? Feel free to share them in the comment section below, or you can enter your name and email address without a comment to be added to my mailing list. Once added to the list, you will receive an email each time there is a new blog post. If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it on social media to help spread the word about functional voice training. As always, thank you for reading!


One comment on “Mix it up Monday: Six factors that affect vocal quality

  1. Zipporah Peddle
    March 16, 2018

    I love that she includes “emotional tension.” It can have such an impact on the singer’s performance and being aware of that and providing a safe space for the student can make all the difference!


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This entry was posted on March 12, 2018 by in Misc. Thoughts.

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