In all styles and genres of singing, one of the most sought after skills is more power. Many people think they sound pretty good singing along with their favorite star in the shower or in the car, but when they try to stand alone, they realize something is missing.
That “something” is often the ability to project the voice and to sing with power. Even with a microphone and amplification, a singer who does not have vocal power is fairly limited in the song repertoire they will be able to perform. There are a few singers, like Norah Jones, who have had successful careers by singing with a soft and breathy style, but if you want to be able to sing anything other than soft jazzy ballads, you need vocal projection and power.
Powerful and strong singing is a result of good balance and coordinated function between all the elements of the vocal mechanism; the vocal cords or folds, the resonance chamber of the pharynx, breath, and some degree of “support” (I prefer the word “energizing”) from the body. The voice is a system and when all of the various parts in the system are working together properly, the system as a whole functions smoothly. If one piece is missing or not working well, the system (the voice) does not function correctly. It’s a matter of balancing and coordinating all the working elements.
For the purpose of this discussion, I will be focusing on the vocal cords (also known as vocal folds). The vocal cords should adduct, or close, properly with the onset of a properly produced vocal tone; I refer to this as the “adducted onset”, as contrasted with the “aspirated onset” where air escapes through un-adducted vocal cords.
The feeling of the adducted onset can be experienced easily if you simply say the words “uh-oh”. This is one of the first phrases a baby learns. If said correctly, the beginning of each of these words will gently adduct or close the vocal cords. A gentle, appropriately adducted onset will create balance between the vocal cords and the air pressure, resulting in an efficiently produced tone. In vocal training, it is often necessary to begin training singers who are too airy and breathy with adducted onset exercises. Once the feeling of starting a tone with good cord closure has been achieved, the onset exercises should be discarded.
The other key to singing with more power is in what is known as the “closed quotient”. During phonation, the folds open and close rapidly to create pitch, releasing air during the open phase. The longer they stay closed (this what is known as “closed quotient”) the greater the resulting volume will be. A higher closed quotient is developed through vocal training and exercises, which we refer to as vocal technique. The correct vocal technique will make the difference between a weak, airy, breathy and uninspiring vocal sound, and a powerful and thrilling one.
You may be surprised to know that you really don’t need a lot of air or breath to produce more volume in singing. Volume is created by air pressure, or the ability of the vocal cords to resist the air, which is affected by time that the vocal folds are closed during each cycle.of opening and closing.
For example, at A=440 (the A above middle C) the vocal folds open and close 440 times (cycles) per second to create that particular pitch. During the cycle of opening and closing 440 times, greater air pressure occurs if the cords remain in the closed position longer than they remain in the open position. Greater air pressure will result in more volume.
Ideally, the folds should be closed about 40 to 60 percent of the time during each cycle of closing and opening (adducting and abducting). This provides the correct amount of resistance to the correct amount of air pressure, resulting in balanced, healthy, and powerful singing.
If the folds are closed for less than 50% of the cycle, air pressure is reduced and the tone is breathy. This is not a healthy approach to singing. If the folds are closed for too long during each cycle, the air pressure is increased too much, and the voice is over-compressed. This is also unhealthy for the voice. A 40%- 60% closed quotient will result in a good balance between air pressure and vocal cords and a more powerful yet healthy vocal production. The ability to vocalize with a 40%-60% closed quotient develops over time with good vocal training.
The keys to more powerful singing are an understanding of the appropriately adducted onset- the easy closure of the vocal cords when initiating sound, along with the ability of the vocal cords to maintain a closed quotient of around 40%-60%. These are two elements that are developed with good vocal training and technique.
I wish you all the best as you reach for your dreams! Tricia Grey, MM