The Illusion of Loudness: Less is More

There are several ways to make a sound louder. One simple example is to try and make an audible sound by hitting the tips of your thumb and pointer finger together. You will notice that the sound is very small no matter how hard you hit it. Now clap your hands together and notice that the sound is much bigger. This simple experiment identifies that one way to amplify sound is by increasing the surface area of what you are striking. The next experiment is to clap your hands together more forcefully. The sound is greater because the intensity of the strike was greater. While these two methods are certainly important for many instruments, they create some big issues for singing.

The human voice is approximately the size of a quarter for men and a dime for women, so the big question is how is it possible for the human voice to sound so loud? Wouldn’t it sound similar to my two fingers touching together, because it’s so small?

If we increase the intensity of the vocal folds hitting each other too much, much like screaming, we find that our voice goes hoarse rather quickly. The voice gets smaller and smaller and eventually becomes a raspy ghost of its former self. Metal and wood can be hit rather hard, but even these materials have their breaking point. Organic tissue like that of the vocal folds are far less resilient to excess force and so as a general rule of thumb, forcing your voice to sound louder will eventually do the opposite of what you intended in the long run

If you are singing an A at 440hz, that means that your vocal folds are hitting against each other 440 times per second. Plus women, who by nature sing higher than most men, have smaller vocal folds. They can sing notes that vibrate at 1100hz for much longer than a second and can sound very loud. If you are smacking your vocal folds together with too much intensity, then you could be doing this to yourself hundreds of thousands of times in just an hour of practice.

So either you have chords of steel or you are doomed? I think not! The key to singing loudly is through resonance with the bones in your skull. We all have the ability to do this, but its not done that often in day-to-day conversation and requires a lot of focus to achieve. Good singing comes from excellent coordination and proprioception! You know you are achieving resonance, when there is a metallic buzz in your head. A good way to find it is to imagine your back molars and tongue are moving out horizontally, as they swivel open to sing. Is the tongue trying too hard to place the sound? Resonance is more of an internal balancing act than weight lifting. Once you find a place of resonance, then it will be much easier to sing into the sound. The end result is a fuller voice that sounds shimmery without auto tune. Furthermore, you can reach people much farther than before without hurting your voice!

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