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Table of contents
These are terms that are commonly used in vague ways or present other problems. They may not be all inherently bad, but just present issues, either because of word use pollution (people using the word in too many different ways) or because they are always involved in risky or ineffective techniques.
This is an evolving document like most of the site, so we’re always looking for more info.
Sound Production Terms
Chest voice, Head voice
Chest and head voice are often very confusing in the world of singing pedagogy and even misused in research. They are inherently subjective terms, but their definition changes depending on who is asked. Chest voice can mostly be translated as M1 or modal voice. Head voice is usually referring to M2, but specifically for women, then some people use it for men but only when it’s not “falsetto” and has been trained to be more full sounding.
- M1, M2
- modal voice, M2 / light M2
Falsetto refers to a light M2 sound, often hollow and sometimes slightly breathy. The term is classically used to refer to male M2 of any kind that is not convincingly full, but has been more recently used for all light M2.
- light M2
This only applies to its use as an interchangeable term for vocal weight.
Although the term is usually a good description of a few sound qualities, and is useful for describing overfull bright voices, it is sometimes used as an interchangeable term pointing to vocal weight / vocal fold mass. There are other sounds that sound buzzy, such as hyperadduction, pressed M0 / fry, twang, some forms of constriction. If trying to make a voice less buzzy in an attempt to make it more feminine, we’ll likely sacrifice clarity and brightness in exchange for a dark, smooth, breathy voice. It’s even more dangerous to base practice on this term when it comes to masculinisation. If we assume vocal weight is what “buzzy” refers to, then we may become hyperadducted or add any number of other factors while chasing a “buzzy” sound.
- describe vocal weight as a clear undercurrent “rumble” to avoid conflation with other factors
Forward Resonance, Throat / Chest / Head Resonance
Though these words on their own mean something, it gets very vague when talking about “where the resonance is”. Not only is it subjective and perceived differently person to person but it’s based on the assumption that sound can be moved to different parts of the body. This is different from the very real concept of vowel position. In normal phonation, the source of the sound is always at the vocal folds, in the larynx. We can affect how the voice resonates within our bodies, but not where the sound emits.
The problem is when people chase certain feelings instead of sound qualities. Basing practice on “where the resonance” is will often result in nothing at all, or doing extraneous things in an effort to affect that feeling.
- just describe the actual method to get the “forward” or other resonance
- too vague to even offer alternatives
R1 / R2 (in specific uses)
Although it’s useful to talk about formant values numerically at times, this is about the use of the terms as a description of resonance or vocal tract size. Chasing numbers doesn’t help, and usually ends up developing some unwanted habits. Also, F1 and F2 should be used in place of R1 and R2 for most cases that formant values are being discussed, partially because of the pollution of the term as mentioned.
- vocal tract size
- F1, F2
Size (in specific circumstances)
This entry is only in regard to where the term “vocal size” is used as just “size” or if people intuitively try to make their voices “smaller” because they have not had actual guidance or the proper knowledge yet, and without understanding that it is not a literal physical property. Size, or vocal size is a perceptual quality of voice, similar to how vocal weight is perceptual.
If we try to make our voices smaller without the proper knowledge or exercises, it will almost always result in constriction and if not false fold constriction then extraneous muscle tension and fatigue habits. However, this risk only applies to people who see the term “size” spoken about but do not see any actual resources. Normally, constriction is warned against, but not all people are warned before intuitively attempting resonance modifications.
Do not tell people to make their voices smaller! Instead, tell them to do an actual exercise which results in smaller vocal size, or tell them to change vocal size not just size. The risk imposed by the misunderstanding of the term would only really be felt if the term were to become ubiquitous.
- vocal size
- small / large vocal space
Bright (in specific uses)
This is only in regard to its use as a description of resonance frequency / size regardless of other factors. A voice that is high in resonance can sound dark, and a voice that is low in resonance can sound bright, so using it to describe level of resonance / size is going to miss those cases. Brightness is a multivariable sound quality that can come from many things.
- high / low resonance
- vocal tract size
Breath Support (in specific uses)
This relates to its overuse in the singing world. Although breath support is important, and a prerequisite to almost anything voice related, most people do it automatically. It doesn’t really solve any problems on it’s own, but having breath support just means the voice isn’t unstable and hard to control. In other words, although breath support is important to voice, so is opening your mouth. It’s not common you need to tell people to do either, but for certain techniques it can be important enough to mention.