There are two sets of muscles which control your vocal registers. These muscles are called the thyroarytenoids (TA) and the cricothyroids (CT). To sing contemporary (popular) styles of music, the strength in these muscle sets need to be especially balanced and coordinated. When one set is much stronger than the other, vocal issues such as these occur:
- Limited vocal range.
- Frustrating pitch problems.
- Lack of control of vocal “licks” or embellishments.
- Limited options of vocal tone colors.
- Lack of ability to blend the voice.
- Vocal register breaks.
- Vocal strain.
The CT muscles “work” the head voice, or upper vocal register, lengthening the vocal cords by tilting the thyroid cartilage. The TA muscles “work” the chest voice, or lower vocal register, shortening and thickening the vocal cords, of which they are the core.
People who strain in chest voice need a stronger head voice (controlled by the CT muscles), People who have trouble reaching lower notes (common with classically trained singers trying for a contemporary sound) need to strengthen the TA muscles. For a singer, more important than knowing the names of these muscles is learning to identify the sensations…how the voice should feel and operate… when these muscles are balanced.
When there is an imbalance, vocal training can strengthening the weak set to match that of the strong set. How? The way you strengthen any muscle is to use it — and use it correctly. Here are some tips:
* If you tend to strain at the upper end of your chest voice (also known as pushing chest voice):
Practice singing in your head voice. Do exercises that take you up far higher than you’d normally go when singing songs, but be sure you’re not leaning or pushing to do so. Just go as high as you are able to without strain. Keep doing this on a regular basis and you will strengthen the muscles that control your upper register. Your head voice will begin to influence your chest voice and you will be able to sing notes that were previously difficult or almost impossible for you to reach without straining.
* If you have been classically trained and find it hard to keep from bringing your head voice too low when doing contemporary (non-classical) or musical theater songs:
Practice singing in your chest voice. Feel for vibration in your mouth and chest; avoid a “hootie”, “covered” or hollow sound. Set up your chest voice the same way you should your head voice… stretch tall and do not bend forward or hunch over. Sing songs and do exercises that take you up into middle voice, but keep it “talking” voice; don’t “go over” to head voice. Important… while using this voice, DON’T PUSH. In fact, it is helpful to imagine a glass plane in front of your mouth when you sing… try not to leave a breath mark on it. Make sure you are in chest voice. If you’re not sure which register you are singing in, find a good voice teacher who can help you learn to identify the corresponding sensations of being in head or chest voice.
When you attain a balanced strength in the TA and CT muscles, you will seem to have ONE integrated vocal register, because your chest and head voices can easily blend into what is commonly called “mixed voice”. The most accomplished, masterful voices are also the most blended.
For highly effective vocal muscle balancing exercises called “blending steps” as well as more great vocal instruction, look for the 6-CD package at the website below: