Have you ever struggled for a high note, felt out of breath after singing a single phrase, or experienced a break in your voice? Have you ever hoped to train your voice to sing in multiple styles but felt limited by your current abilities? If so, you’ve probably longed for a magic bullet that would solve all your singing problems.
What is it that allows some singers to sing with total freedom? It’s vocal balance.
Think of your voice like a three-legged stool: If one of those three legs is shorter than the others—or, worse yet, is missing!—you will have a difficult time sitting on that stool . . . that is, if it even stands at all!
Singing is made up of three systems: respiration (breath), phonation (your vocal folds coming together), and resonation (how your vocal tract is shaped).
If any one of those three systems is out of whack, you’ll feel that familiar frustration or even discomfort in your voice.
When you are able to bring these three systems of singing into (vocal) balance, you will have access to your full range of notes, with control, ease, power, dynamics, and flexibility.
These three systems of singing are the only things we singers are in direct control of.
We can choose how much air to inhale and then how quickly or forcefully to expel it (respiration).
We can choose (with GREAT amounts of practice!) how thick or thin our vocal folds are when we go to speak or sing, therefore affecting how heavy or light of a tone we create, as well as on what pitch (phonation).
And we can shape our vocal tract in a variety of ways to achieve brighter or darker sounds, namely by shaping and modifying our vowels and adjusting our larynx position (resonation).
Vocal balance means that in our neutral, relaxed state, no part of the voice feels more squeezed OR more breathy than any other area. We have access to our lowest and highest notes, and they sound and feel connected, meaning there aren’t any flips or breaks between our chest and head voice.
There are certainly transitions that occur that we may be able to feel and hear, but for the most part, we enjoy a smooth singing experience from the bottom to the top of our range.
When these systems are in balance, your voice is free to make the widest possible variety of sounds!
But how do I find vocal balance?
There are four key steps to finding what “vocal balance” means for you:
- Finding basic intonation. This means coordinating your brain and your voice to match pitch and follow melodies.
- Finding what is known as chest voice and head voice.
- Finding what we call a “connection.” You’ll need to learn how to blend head voice and chest voice and find what is often referred to as “mix.” The effect is singing with one continuous voice instead of disjointed registers that don’t meet in the middle. This is really where you’ll make great strides towards vocal freedom!
- Eliminating unnecessary extrinsic muscular tension. The extrinsic muscles are the muscles around your larynx (voice box) in your neck, jaw, and tongue. We don’t want them to get in the way of our larynx from functioning how it’s supposed to.
The feelings you discover when working towards vocal balance may be different from other singers, and that’s ok! While certain vocal technique principles guide us all, each voice will be, feel, and sound unique. That’s the beauty of the human voice, each instrument is unique.
Think of training your voice like a gymnast might train for the balance beam.
When the gymnast is first starting out, she may only be able to very carefully, and with a lot of effort and thought, walk from one end of the beam to the other. No fancy turns, jumps, or leaning off one side or the other.
But imagine that as the gymnast increases her strength, muscle memory, and coordination, she is able to add in a turn, then a leap, and one day somersaults, backflips, and then finally that crazy helicopter leg thing that Simone Biles does at the Olympics!
How is this possible?
Well, this gymnast first found balance on that narrow beam. She knew where the exact middle was. She memorized the feeling of her whole body in perfect alignment over those few inches of beam and knew how to always come back to that placement.
Only then could she start to lean off one direction or the other. She probably fell plenty of times along the way, pushing herself too far from “balance,” but that just taught her to come back to “center” each time.
The same is true for us vocalists!
Once we find balance and are comfortable there, we can lean toward that powerful belt-y Adele song that we long to nail at karaoke night.
Or we can lean in the other direction and commit to a legato, legit classical piece for an upcoming music school audition.
Whatever your vocal goals are, I am thrilled to guide you to finding YOUR balanced voice. Because from there, anything is possible!