To some degree, your vocal tone is already part of your vocal anatomy. If you’re a soprano, no amount of vocal training will give you the tone of Barry White. And conversely, Barry White would never have been able to pull off the lighter tone of, say, Michael Jackson. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to alter your tone. In today’s post, we’ll help you learn how to sing with a warmer tone.
What is Tone?
Before anything though, let’s talk about what tone is. When we talk about the tone of an instrument, we’re describing the quality of the sound the instrument makes. Is it warm and rich like a cello, bright and brassy like a trumpet, or light like a piccolo? Many things contribute to tone color, from the size and shape of the instrument, to the way the instrument is played. Vocal tone works in a very similar way. We describe someone’s voice as warm, light, dark, harsh, heavy, or even shrill. As with instrument tone, vocal tone is caused by a variety of factors: the size and shape of the singer’s vocal tract, the thickness of his or her vocal cords, and the way the singer attacks each note are only a few. While to some degree, there’s luck involved in what your tone is as a singer, there are many ways you can learn to manipulate your tone color. If you go too far with it, you’ll risk sounding unnatural and won’t the most of what your unique voice is built to do well. But to some degree, you can alter your tone color and may even want to use slightly different tones on different songs.
How To Sing With a Warmer Tone
What Does a Non-Warm, or Shrill Tone Sound Like?
First let’s talk about what you might sound like before you warm up your tone. Here’s a video of Alanis Morissette’s “All I Really Want,” off her Jagged Little Pill album. Let me start by saying that I love Alanis and do not in any way think that she needs to warm up her tone. I think her shrill tone works perfectly for this angst-ridden 90’s alt-rock album (which I’ve listened to about a billion times in my life). I’m simply using her voice as a neutral example of a non-warm tone.
What’s Going On Anatomically?
A non-warm, or shrill tone, often comes with some physiological characteristics.
-Excess of Nasal Resonance
-An Excess of Throat and Tongue Tension
-Low Soft Palate
What To Do
If you have a pinched, or shrill tone and want to warm it up, you’ll need to lower your larynx and add some space between the back of your tongue and your soft palate.
Sigh It Out
First, try eliminating tension by letting your jaw hang open and letting out a big sigh. Feel how relaxed your jaw, throat, and tongue feel? While this is much harder to do while controlling pitch, it should be your goal to stay this relaxed while you sing.
Try This Vocal Exercise
Arpeggiate on “BUH BUH BUH.”
This could also work on “DUH DUH” or “GUH GUH.” The important part is the open, dopey sound. The exercise should help lower an excessively high larynx and lift an excessively low soft palate.
Put BUH Into the Melody
If you sound shrill on a particular song and want a warmer tone, try putting the “BUH” syllable into the melody line instead of the lyrics, and remember to stay relaxed and dopey.
Put the Words Back In
When you put the words back in, try slurring them, so that everything is open. At this point, the consonants should be difficult to understand.
Back Off the Dopey
By now, you should have a warmer tone, but chances are, if you’re still slurring all your words and making your sound excessively dopey, you may have gone too far with it. Everything should feel more open and relaxed, but you’ll need to slowly back off of the dopiness until your words sound speech-like and bright again, all the while trying to maintain the relaxed openness. Tone is a balancing act, and when you go too far in one direction, it’s time to go back in the other direction.