If you say the word “hung” and emphasize the two consonants on the end of the word you will feel a buzz on your hard palate. This is resonance in your talking voice. Because “ng” is a nasal type of sound it naturally wants to go forward when you say it. If I were then to tell you to talk in the back of your throat, something we probably did at one time or another when we were kids, you could do that easily. How did you put your voice in the back of your throat? Well, you aimed it there. So, by this little experiment, you can see that your mind aims your sound. If I were to then get you to sing the word hung (around a “G” above middle “C”) and aim it at a quarter sized area in the front of your mouth behind your nose, you should feel your voice vibrating on that spot. This is the resonance in the singing voice.
Of all the basic vowel sounds (aw, ay, ee, oh, and oo) two are “open”, two are “closed” and one is “neutral”.
When we sing an “aw” vowel the vocal chords are at their widest open position. The vocal chords then vibrate together to create sound. On an “ay” vowel the vocal chords are a little closer together, vibrate together, and create sound. The “aw” and the “ay” vowels are called your “open vowels” because of the physical position of the vocal chords to create those vowels. The “aw” vowel is called the “perfect vowel”. On the “oh” vowel the vocal chords are in the middle or “neutral”, and on the “ee” vowel the vocal chords are almost touching. On an “oo” vowel the vocal chords are closed across their entire length. The “ooh” and “ee” vowels are called your “closed” vowels, once again because of the actual physical position when those vowels are created.
The natural tendency on closed vowels is to squeeze those vowels out, especially on high notes. That’s why “ee” and “oo” are killer vowels when singers get into their higher register. That’s also why singers love singing “aw” vowels on high notes, because the vowel is “open” or “perfect” and naturally spreads itself out because there is a wider stream of breath coming from the vocal chords on an “aw” vowel. The Italian language is full of “aw” vowels (listen to Ave Maria for instance) and that’s one reason that Italian is called the language of love. Classical singers love singing in Italian for just that reason.
No matter if you are singing a “closed” or an “open” vowel, you should always be singing in an “open vowel position” however, or in other words, with your throat lifted or “open”. In untrained singers one of the reasons for an unevenness in tone is because the singer is opening and closing the throat, or opening or closing the vowel. So, along with relaxing the throat, singing in “dummy face” or in that lifted “aw” position also helps to make the tone of the voice even by “opening up” the vowel.
All your sound is created on the “mask of the face”. The mask of the face resembles an inverted triangle, with the point of the triangle being in the upper “V” of the top lip; the sides of the triangle running from the “V” to the temples and then across the face on a level with the bridge of the nose.
A common mistake made by singers is to “swallow” a low note, but in reality the low notes are the most forward of all the notes you will sing. Let’s look at this from a scientific standpoint. Your low notes vibrate at a much slower frequency than your high notes, use much less breath, and as a result creates a weaker signal. When a singer takes that weak signal and swallows it, it effectively lands that weak signal on the “soft” palate. and as a result the listener hardly hears anything.
The proper way to sing that low note is to aim it at the bottom of the “V” of the mask, or in the “V” of the upper lip, on the outside of the head. Remember it’s your mind that focuses your sound, so you have to aim that note forward and only as wide as the end of your finger or the bottom of the triangle. You want to aim forward to reflect your voice off a hard surface and you want to aim narrow because of the nature of the low note. Because the low note has a weak signal, the only way to get that note to travel is to focus it on a smaller target. Let’s compare sound to light for a minute. If you were to stand a hundred feet back from a wall and shine a flashlight on it, it would be dimly lit. If you took the same flashlight and put it only an inch from the wall it would be quite bright. Why? The answer is obvious-because one example is focused and the other is not. So, to get any volume out of that low note, which has a very weak signal, we have to focus that note on a very small area or the point of the V of the mask of the face.
Your mid range notes are about an inch wide (the size of a quarter) and located half way up the triangle or mask. You want to place your mid range notes on the inside of your mouth, forward on the hard palate right behind your nostrils. As you can see, we aim the lowest notes slightly more forward than the mid range notes. Once again this is because of the characteristic of the low note, which is less breath. The low notes are aimed only 1/16” inch farther forward, not much, but enough to get that low note forward on the hard palate. Note***Even though we are aiming outside the head on the lowest notes, they are still vibrating inside the mouth on the hard palate. We do this to give the low note a “helping hand” in getting forward. It should also be noted here that the singer does not want to aim his/her voice too far forward as this will introduce too much nose or naselness to the sound.
Our high notes are as wide as our head, on a level with the bridge of our nose. We also think of these notes being inside our mouth, which makes sense because that’s where your hard palate is. Remember that the hard palate runs from the upper gum line to the dome of the palate, situated under the eyes. Unlike our low notes which only have a weak signal, not so with our high notes, which have much more breath and where the vocal chords are vibrating at a much faster frequency. They have to be spread out. The high notes are vibrating primarily in the sinus cavities, two of which are located on either side of the head at the temples. Once again, because the mind focuses the sound, you want to include these two “speakers” on either side of the head.
Learning how to use the mask of the face when you sing it’s like learning how to shift gears in a car. When you are in your low range your notes are as about ¼” wide, situated in the V of the upper lip. Your mid range notes are as wide as your nostrils on the inside of your mouth, forward on the hard palate. Your high notes are as wide as your head, inside your mouth, on a level with your nostrils. All your sound is created in that little 1-1/2 inch high area in the front of your face. That’s why you never want to think of your sound being any higher than your cheekbones. Your voice should have a nice even sound from your low notes to your high notes.