What Are People With Loud Voices Doing Differently?
Recently, someone asked me on Quora whether people with loud voices are using their larynx differently than people with soft voices. In other words, if you have a loud voice, are you doing anything different with your voice box (that protrusion on your neck that houses your vocal folds). Or is something else going on? What are people with loud voices doing differently?
What Is Loud?
First off, we have to define what we mean by loud, because there are different ways a voice can be loud. The perception of “loudness” can occur for different reasons: is it loud because it sounds like there’s a lot of power behind it? Is it loud because it’s piercing and cuts through other sound? Is it loud because it’s full and resonant?
What is Power in Singing
Let’s just start out with power. Usually when people talk about vocal power, it has to do with the interplay between the breath and the vocal folds. To produce sound, a few things have to happen: our vocal folds need to close, and air from below needs to come in contact with the vocal folds to initiate vibration. More breath pressure does not always equate to more power, because eventually that can just cause them to blow open (not to mention that you can damage your voice). When it comes to breath, the most sustainable power comes from holding back air below your vocal folds to create more subglottal pressure (pressure underneath your vocal folds). Subglottal pressure, coupled with vocal fold closure, will result in a louder sound. In this instance, the only difference in the larynx is that the vocal folds close all the way instead of not coming together (often resulting in a softer, more aspirated sound).
Let’s Increase Power by Upping Your Closed Phase!
You can increase subglottal pressure by creating a longer closed phase with your vocal folds. What this means is that your vocal folds stay together longer during one cycle of vibration, instead of re-opening right away. Here’s how to do it!
Thicken Your Vocal Folds
In other words, go for a chestier sound. You’ll get a longer closed phase, and increase the power.
You can do this by narrowing your aryepiglottic sphincter (AES). I know, it’s a super weird term, but it’s not that hard to manipulate. Your AES is a set of muscles that gathers like a tube toward the top of your larynx. You can narrow it by making your sound more piercing, or “brattier,” or “witchier.” Oddly enough, this will create some back pressure that gives you a longer closed phase.
Make a Joyful Noise
Literally, do a healthy belt! Vocal researchers are still studying exactly how this is achieved, but it’s likely that you move some cartilages that help to shorten and thicken your vocal folds so that your vocalis muscle (the one in your vocal folds) doesn’t have to exert so much effort. This is yet another way you can get that longer closed phase.
Get Loud With Twang
Not all power pertains to breath though (except in that way that most of our anatomy is linked in crazy ways). If we’re talking about a sharp, piercing sound, that’s a little different. The AES, which I mentioned earlier, narrows to create that piercing sound. It’s what causes a soprano opera singer to be heard over an orchestra. What’s happening here is that the narrow AES creates more overtones between 2 and 4 KHZ, a range that vibrates sympathetically with the human eardrum. It’s not so much that there’s more power behind it, but it still sounds louder because we perceive it as piercing through other sound.
Get Loud With Fullness
If we’re talking about a more open, full sound, lifting your soft palate is a real big deal. This doesn’t have much to do with changes in your larynx, but it opens up your vocal tract and also keeps sound from getting nasalized. Nasal sounds lose some of the high frequency overtones because the turbinates in your nose act like acoustic baffles (that foamy stuff you see in recording studios) and suck up that energy.
What I want you to take away from this is that there’s no one way to be loud. Loudness comes from a bunch of different sources and even means different things to different people. And just a friendly reminder from your voice teacher: don’t try to be louder by pushing harder. Sooner or later, you’ll injure your voice that way, so pleeease, choose one of the many other ways to be loud.