Technique Tuesday: Making Sound 101

We’ve spent a couple weeks on Breathing…and now we get to find out why!  How does our air affect our sound?  Why is it so important that we have control over our airflow?  How does this help me sing?
Well, the answers come when we understand how our voice works.  I like to think of your voice as a string/wind instrument.  Most of us know that our vocal folds are what produce sound…that’s why we think about sound being made in our “voice box” or throat area…cuz it is.  Sound is made by our vocal folds vibrating together…kind of like when you do a lip buzz or raspberry to make car noises or just entertain a baby 🙂  You notice when you do that if you go faster the pitch raises, and what is controlling that speed?  Yep, how much air you are pushing through those lips!  The same is true of our vocal cords.
The vocal cords produce sound much like a string instrument.  Think about a guitar or violin.  The strings vibrate and produce sound.  The specific pitch is determined by how many times per second the string vibrates.  Pretty much the extent of my physics knowledge is how sound waves work in regard to pitch.  The more waves per second/vibrations…the higher the pitch.  Basically, the faster your vocal folds vibrate, the higher the pitch, and the slower they vibrate, the lower the pitch.
The thing is…when you think about a string instrument, the strings are passive!  The strings vibration is what makes the sound but there is always an outside force that causes them to vibrate, whether it’s a guitar pick or a bow sliding across a violin, something else has to make the strings vibrate.
For us, that’s our air!  That’s right…this amazing instrument called our voice is also a wind instrument.  Think about a flute or trumpet…you blow into it and it makes sound.  Often you can change the pitch or sound by how much air you use.  The same is true of our voice.  If you want to raise your pitch, you need the strings (vocal cords) to vibrate faster, so what do you do?  Blow more air through them.
Granted, this is not the ONLY thing you have to do, but it is the most basic.  We can tweek the resonators or how you say vowels or a number of other things all we want, but the truth is if you don’t use your air to make your vocal cords vibrate, it’s not going to matter.  So get used to using that breath control and making sound!  Work your way through your whole range and start to get used to how much air it takes for each note.
One more note:  while a certain amount of tension in your vocal folds can be felt and is necessary…like tuning a guitar string, if you tighten too much, the string doesn’t play and can even break!  Most of us have a tendency to tighten our throats because we are trying to use our throat muscles (constrictors) to force the vocal folds to vibrate instead of letting the air make that happen.  Try thinking about taking that tension from your throat and moving it to your abs.  Check out this video for more: