Vocal Help: The 5 Necessities For Every Songwriter — #2, Expanding Your Color Pallete

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Necessity #2- Expanding Your Color Pallete

I want to talk about the development of vocal textures–meaning that the color you sing with often becomes the color you write with. Your voice is like crayons or paint depending on the level and style of art, but if you only draw (vocally speaking) with only pencil, you will only write one kind of song. Expand your Color palette and you will expand the the genre and style of songs that you write.

Over the last 20+ years of my life I’ve written countless rock songs, countless country songs,  musical theater, classical, gospel, Christian come, folk,  indie, straightahead pop, and a hybrid of all of the above.  Understanding vocal textures or particular tone qualities, truly is the road to creativity.  I’ve taught 1000’s of singers–in person and through my training program Singing Success  –for over 25 years how to do this by mixing resonance:

chest, pharyngeal and head.

The various blending of these resonances can be accomplished using exercises that seem almost silly.  Silly until you experience results.  The chest voice or resonance is the ‘spoken’ voice that resonates primarily in the mouth, producing a darker, richer tone and is a must for most commercial music.  The head voice is absolutely necessary to develop high notes and produces a lighter sound.  It’s often confused with falsetto because to where the resonance occurs….in the head voice.  This color can be varied to sound a lot like chest voice if you will introduce the pharyngeal resonator into your sound.  This is typically thought of a nasal sound, but really should be considered a brassy form of resonance.  Pavarotti’s voice, as well as the voices of Ronnie Dunn and Robert Plant displayed this perfectly.  Steve Perry, Vince Gill and Alison Krauss are phenomenal examples of diversity in tones that are mostly head voice.

Also, there are varied levels of compression in the vocal chords. More squeeze or edge produces more intensity for a rock bite. More breathy tones are typically employed in pop and sometimes blues genre. A clean, crisp, un-clustered tone would be used for classical.

But how do we achieve these safely?  The idea is to learn how to close the vocal cords, but not in squeazy or pushed manner, but rather use what we call “friendly compression” to close the cords. Once this is achieved, you can vary the amount of closure by adding and subtracting certain consonants with the usage of scales to enforce a disciplined control in your voice, so that you can find and utilize each texture on demand.

Many singers I know will smoke like a chimney in order to find the raspy busted up sound. Some people will yell their heads off. But there is an organic method to getting texture to your voice without having to yell and risk nodules or some other vocal dysfunction that might mean the permanent disability of your voice. Surely this texture has a ton of vibe which can only contribute to the particular style that you’re writing in. If you think your voice doesn’t matter and that you can write just fine already, find your entire voice and watch it change your mind!

Diversity is the cure for the bored and fickle listener and it’s up the presenter to keep the audience compelled and engaged!


Brett Manning is a world-renowned vocal coach in Nashville, TN. He is the author of the best-selling vocal training program, Singing Success. For more information about Brett’s singing programs, before & afters, or to read hundreds of testimonials, visit: www.SingingSuccess.com

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