In this month’s Vocal Fringe Techniques lesson, we’ll teach you how to sing with straight tone. Singing with straight tone means eliminating vibrato. You’ll hear it all over the place, from Renaissance music, to some choral music, to certain aspects of pop and Broadway. As with most of the fringe techniques, we’ve discussed on this site, straight-tone singing is slightly risky—riskier than singing with vibrato. To produce vibrato, you necessarily sing with a relaxed throat, so vibrato has a built-in protective mechanism. This does not, however, mean that straight-tone singing is inherently harmful, and if you use it carefully and in moderation, it’s highly unlikely to cause damage. As always, if you start to feel strain while practicing it, take a break and come back to this later.
Recognizing Straight Tone
First, listen to a choir that uses vibrato. Notice the shimmering quality on the sustained notes.
Next, listen to this choral piece from the Renaissance. Notice the absence of that quality on the sustained notes. This is called straight tone.
How To Sing With Straight Tone:
I’ll give you two useful methods for producing straight tone, depending on the sound you’re looking for. Vibrato is produced through a balance of a relaxed voice box and a good amount of diaphragmatic support through breath work. To produce straight tone, you necessarily need to alter this balance. To keep the sound healthy, you don’t want to produce your straight tone by creating more tension in your throat. Therefore, you’ll need to alter your breath support system.
Method 1: More Vocal Cord Closure
You can gain more vocal cord closure by restricting more air. Imagine holding your breath while you sing and putting a big cry into your sound.
Start out with a hum on a 5-note pattern beginning at the top. Really put that puppy-dog cry into it. You shouldn’t feel any throat tension, but you also shouldn’t be getting a classical vibrato sound.
Now open it up to an “AH” and see if you can do the same thing. Imagine hitting each pitch in a laser-focused way, not wavering at all. If you feel tension, get some water, do something else, and come back to it some other time.
You hear method 1 for straight tone in belty pop music, as well as musical theatre, particularly on one of those money notes at the end of an impressive song, where you use straight tone into vibrato. The straight tone starts with this intense cry that eventually relaxes into vibrato.
Method 2: Less Vocal Cord Closure
You can create less vocal cord closure by exhaling just a little bit more through your note. You don’t want to exhale so much that your notes feel unsupported or out of control. In fact, you may need to concentrate even more on keeping some slight tension in your core. If you want to add vibrato back in at the end of the phrase, you’ll just need to restrict a little more air to add the balance back in. You hear this method of straight-tone singing in more relaxed coffee house sounds.
For choral singing that calls for straight tone, it’s more likely that you’ll use method 2 so that you don’t overpower the other singers, but you may need to alternate back and forth between the two methods, depending on the volume required for a given section of music.
Remember, a third method of creating straight tone is to allow more tension into your throat, but this is not a good way to do it.