Sunday, May 02, 2010

How do you keep your natural sound yet develop real tone quality?

This is a guest post by professional singer and qualified teacher Janet Shell. She writes here about how to maintain your own unique vocal quality whilst improving your tone. Contact me if you’d like to submit a guest post.

As a professional singer and teacher, I am very keen on developing a technique which allows the singer to be in control of their own sound and for it to sound like the person you know singing rather than some kind of manufactured robot!

Janet Shell

Janet Shell

Do you ever think that when somebody sings, the sound they make does not match what you are seeing? Here are some ideas to help you maintain your authentic voice whilst improving your tone.

don’t force it

The fundamental rule is never to force the voice into sounding louder than it is, or deeper or bigger. People associate largeness of voice with success. In fact that only serves to push the vocal mechanism into bringing in other muscles to support it. You see this by the muscular strain around the neck, you know those neck muscles sticking out like veins?

using your resonators

Strong tone comes from picking up your inbuilt microphones – your resonators. It is rather like bringing a camera image into focus. Nothing has been forced, but the result is cleaner and clearer. You can feel these working when you hum and then open up the sound, imagining it pouring out between your eyes.

A great way to feel the resonators is to sing the word LUNG and sit on the NG part of the sound. You can move through lots of pitches on this sound and as you do so, if you gently place your fingers against your nose, you will feel it vibrate.

The trick is to place all the sounds you make in this part of the face when you start singing properly. It will have the effect of feeling the sound going away from you.

avoiding breathiness

When working with singers, whether in a group or individually, I spend some time eradicating breathiness and huskiness. Ironically, this is caused by not getting enough breath flowing through the vocal cords. They come together because air is sent out of the lungs. If you don’t expel air out of the lungs, you cannot close your cords! It is the opposite of what you may think.

How do we get a strong sound which is not breathy and which allows the voice to glide easily from pitch to pitch? It really is to do with the preparation before singing. The intake of air needs to open up everything inside in your thought process. So taking a breath in means your ribcage expands and therefore moves outwards. If your shoulders raise up, you have not opened up sufficiently.

Try expelling all your air so that you have to take in a breath – that way your body will be in crisis and take in a lot of air in its most efficient way, which does not involve squeezing and raising the shoulders! You will notice the expansion of your rib cage. Try bending forward and breathing: here you can feel the ribcage working naturally. Now try and create that when you are upright!

building the layers

The development of tone for me is like layers. The first layer is the childlike, simple sound – with no hint of maturity. As you develop your voice, it is like adding layers: however, you should always be able to access the simplest layer – a healthy voice can make a complex sound or a very ‘straight’ sound at will. Sometimes I am asked what I mean by that. The ‘straight’ sound is the one where you make a childlike sound. To make that your cords come together cleanly giving a clear and uncluttered tone.

If you can manage all these things, and it is a process which you have to practise until the muscles respond automatically, then you will have a natural and unforced tone.


I sometimes hear people talking about creating vibrato but this is a ‘put on’ element if you approach it in this way. Vibrato happens naturally as the voice develops. Uncontrolled vibrato is almost always a sign of tension in the voice and a forcing of the muscles. It is the very thing which ages a voice and is not the sign of a mature technique but actually quite the opposite!

To sum up, natural developed tone quality comes from managing the breath and placing the sound so the muscles are free to work and therefore the tone can be true and strong without being interfered with!

Janet Shell offers active voice management and communication skills training through her website


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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