Recently, I started working with a wonderful student who complained that she wasn’t getting solos in choir. Her choir director told her that her voice is perfect for blending but that it doesn’t stand out enough for solo work. This advice frustrated me to no end, because it’s such a vague and unhelpful thing to say to a teenage girl who’s still discovering her voice. But instead of using this post as a platform for railing against this choir director, I thought it would be more useful to offer up some tangible advice on how to make your voice stand out.
Get Some Frontal Resonance
You may have a lovely, pleasant sound, but if you don’t have frontal resonance, or twang, your voice will tend to drift into the background. Frontal resonance will feel like your voice is projecting forward like a laser instead of dispersing.
How to Improve Frontal Resonance
Try quacking like a duck, or saying “nya nya nya” like a bratty kid. Do you feel that laser-pointed narrowness? Anatomically, your aryepiglottic sphincter (AES) is narrowing, and acoustically, you’re creating a bunch of frontal resonance that will have an easier time carrying over a group.
If you’re singing in a more commercial genre, scrunching your nose can also be very effective.
Get Some Back Resonance
Frontal resonance without additional resonance will just sound shrill, so you’ll want to round some of that out by widening your oral pharynx and making sure the sound isn’t getting swallowed up in your nasal cavity.
How to Improve Back Resonance
To improve back resonance, you’ll need to learn to lift your soft palate, or velum. Think of your velum as a gateway that opens and closes the passage to your nasal cavity. When the passage is open, the sound gets sucked up into your nose and muted. When the passage is mostly closed, you get a much more open, resonant sound.
Try yawning, and when you’re at the very top of your yawn, with your cheekbones way up high, you’ll feel what it’s like to have a lifted soft palate. Now apply this openness to your vocals. Since thinking about yawning all the time while you’re singing can be challenging (and sometimes detrimental to the genre you’re trying to sing in), you can also just focus on lifting your cheekbones and smiling with your eyes.
Be Playful With Phrasing
If you want a great example of a singer who plays around with timing, listen to some old Frank Sinatra clips. Nothing screams “blender,” especially in a more commercial genre, like following phrasing exactly as written without adding any of your own flair. Don’t get me wrong: you can’t go too far with it–make sure you don’t get behind the music. But you don’t necessarily have to adhere perfectly to the sheet music. Listen to these two different clips of “Feeling Good” (start on the part where the instrumental comes in when you look at the Nina Simone version) to see the radically different ways you can play with rhythm without losing the overall timing.
Certain songs will afford you more liberty than others to play with your phrasing, but almost every song will allow some playfulness.
Don’t just keep your volume consistent. Play around with different shifts in dynamics (but be aware of whether or not you’re amplified and whether your voice is at least loud enough to carry over the choir).
If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this post, it’s not the specifics of it so much as the fact that there is no such thing as a voice that’s just “meant to blend.” It’s an irresponsible thing to tell a young person (or even an old person), and advice like that usually comes from someone too lazy or not knowledgeable enough to pinpoint areas that could use some improvement.