Frequently asked questions about self-perception of voice vs projection of voice
© 2007 Lori Joachim Fredrics
Normally, a person experiences his or her own singing voice through bone conduction as well as by hearing sound waves that reach the external ear. People are often surprised that they do not recognize their own speaking or singing voice when they hear it played back from a recording, as it sounds brighter and thinner to them than it does while they are actually singing or speaking.
So my voice sounds to other people the way it sounds to me on recordings?
Yes. If the recording is a good, accurate recording made on quality equipment, it is a clearer indicator of the prevalence of higher or lower-pitched overtones. A distorted recording made on poor equipment can, however, give an inaccurate and usually unflattering sonic picture of a voice.
If my voice actually sounds brighter to others than it sounds to me while I am phonating, perhaps I should manipulate my voice and attempt to correct the problem by singing in a way that sounds overly dark and warm?
Good theory, but it does not work in practice. When a singer manipulates his articulators and resonators in a way that makes his or her voice sound big, warm and lush to him or herself while singing usually all he or she is doing is simply cutting out the natural brilliance or “ring” of the voice. What sounds like turning up the bass is really merely eliminating the treble by shaping the sound so it becomes trapped inside and is not projected externally? Yes, it is very nice for the individual to monitor, but rather selfish because all of that beautiful tone is not being sent out into the hall as sound waves for the audience to enjoy.
So how can I get an accurate idea of how I sound when I am singing? How can I learn to create a vocal sound that is both brilliant and warm when it projects?
All singers rely on such professionals as teachers, coaches, music directors, conductors and producers to listen to them and to give them accurate feedback concerning the sounds they are producing.
Vocal coaches, conductors, music directors and producers tell you what they hear and what they want. Singing teachers assist you in discovering how to produce specific vocal sounds.
Singing teachers explain and sometimes demonstrate various aspects of singing, then listen to the student's efforts and give them feedback on the results. We have already discussed that the auditory feedback a singer gets while singing is not an accurate reflection of the way the voice actually sounds. It is also an inconsistent reflection of the voice because singers are faced with ever changing acoustical environments. A singer must therefore mainly rely on how it feels to make a sound. Thus, a singer focuses on the sensations experienced in the body, the shape of the mouth, the relaxation of the jaw, the feel of the breath management in the body and the sympathetic vibrations felt in the chest and in the “mask” when making the desired sound. When the singer produces good quality sound he or she gets positive feedback from the teacher and the behavior is positively reinforced.
How can an unamplified singer project above an orchestra or other large ensemble?
All musical sounds are actually composed of many different pitches (notes), or more accurately, frequencies. The pitches we hear include a fundamental frequency as well as a number of softer but important frequencies that are called overtones. Operatic voices that can project over an orchestra or other large ensemble and fill a hall distribute their sound energy in such a way that overtones located at frequencies between 2500 hz and 3200 hz (vibrations per second) receive a boost in volume. This boost is caused by vocal tract amplification of those frequencies and is known as singer's “ring” or the “singer's formant”.
Johann Sundberg, a Swedish researcher, analyzed recordings of the great tenor, Jussi Björling. He discovered through studying spectrograms (acoustical “pictures”) of Björling's voice that the average frequency spectrum of his voice had a large ”hump” (emphasis) at around 3000 hz. Interestingly, that is precisely the range of frequencies that the human ear is most sensitive to, hence causing an even greater perceived amplification effect.
Further studies have shown that great voices of various genres, including rock and Broadway style belters contain “the singer's formant”. That ability to produce “the singer's formant” is not, however, essential for amplified or recorded singing. In fact, amplification can make voices that rings beautifully in the hall sound excessively bright or harsh when amplified or recorded. Skillful singers learn to adjust their singing and use a more intimate and conversational tone when they are in “close-miked” situations, such as would be the case when they are singing with a microphone in live or studio contexts.