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Why Straight Tone Singing Can Cause Major Vocal Issues

Recently I met with a young soprano, age 28, who had sung several years in a choir that required straight tone vocal production. I have written about the possible dangers of singing straight tone before, and why I believe it to be hurtful to some singers. This case study only confirms my previous concerns, because the young singer described in this article developed muscle tension dysphonia from singing straight tone over a long period of time. One day she tried to sing a tone and heard multiple pitches and disrupted phonation. When the laryngeal muscles (and I mean the deep muscles) tense, the singer frequently develops muscle tension dysphonia. The sound can be similar to that of severe hoarseness. Sometimes you will hear multiple pitches at once due the vocal folds touching in multiple points.

Solutions: Tricking the Sub-Conscious Mind

When a singer suffers from muscle tension dysphonia, it is important NOT to stay on one exercise for any length of time. Why? Because the sub-conscious mind will ‘lock in’ to the ‘grab and tense’ reflex. This is a result of the brain (especially the subconscious mind) going into ‘singing’ mode. In this session, I worked with about 20 different exercises, but I jumped from one exercise to another so that the brain could not send the message, ‘you are singing now’! This allows the free functioning singing tone to begin to redevelop, allowing the singer to begin the process of releasing the old emotion reaction of fear. When the fear reflex takes control we can never free the voice. Another tool I used was to sing out of tune with her, taking away the brain’s ability to ‘listen and judge’ the internal sound. This tool worked especially well, and about halfway through the hour, the voice started to phonate healthily. We used trill exercises to loosen the historic ‘squeeze’ at the vocal folds. THEN a healthy vibrato began to develop and as long as the cords were freely vibrating, the dysphonia never came into function.

In WHAT Direction Should the Breath Spin?

One major issue with muscle tension dysphonia is that the singer can NEVER think ‘free breath’ without giving it the proper or correct direction. In truth, the the sensation of breath-motion should always be of the breath spinning inwardly toward the soft palate. This is a psychological tool to stop disengage the push reflex, or too much air pressure pushed through the larynx. We kept going back to this concept, which is actually a Lamperti idea. In doing so, the dysphonia lessened more, allowing for a free tone to result.

When Vibrato is a Problem:

I was trained first as a choral director. What tools did I use in earlier music as opposed to romantic music? How did my choirs achieve an early music sound without compromising the voice? I used the tiny Italian ‘u’, working the fine edges of the vocal folds to ‘tighten’ the vibrato so it did not affect such a wide pitch range. I also used the ‘NG’, which can be used in all styles and it is another tool that assists in minimizing the range of pitch in the vibrato. This allowed my choirs to tune in all styles of music without tensing laryngeal muscles. I first rehearsed my choir with technical vocal exercises to improve tuning and yet match the style of whatever music they were singing. The results can be astounding.

THANK YOU to all of those hard working teachers who are dedicated to problem solving. The only way a singer can move forward in development is through clear-cut vocal diagnostics, exercises that create full results, and psychological encouragement.

Why Straight Tone Singing Can Cause Major Vocal Issues Recently I met with a young soprano, age 28, who had sung several years in a choir that required…

How to Sing in a Straight Tone

Last Updated: May 27, 2020 References

This article was co-authored by Tanisha Hall. Tanisha Hall is a Vocal Coach and the Founder and Executive Director of White Hall Arts Academy, Inc. an organization based in Los Angeles, California that offers a multi-level curriculum focused on fundamental skills, technique, composition, theory, artistry, and performance at a conservatory level. Ms. Hall’s current and previous students include Galimatias, Sanai Victoria, Ant Clemons, and Paloma Ford. She earned a BA in Music from the Berklee College of Music in 1998 and was a recipient of the Music Business Management Achievement Award.

There are 15 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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Most singers strive to develop an effortless vibrato, but singing in a straight tone is a fundamental vocal technique and an impressive skill in its own right. When you sing in a straight tone, your voice maintains a constant sound rather than modulating up and down. You can practice straight tone singing by keeping your vocal cords in a fixed position and making sure that your breath is steady throughout the duration of each individual note.

How to Sing in a Straight Tone. Most singers strive to develop an effortless vibrato, but singing in a straight tone is a fundamental vocal technique and an impressive skill in its own right. When you sing in a straight tone, your voice…