Every singer carries a unique vocal weight. Because every singer has a unique vocal cord structure, the initial weight of the voice can vary greatly from singer to singer. What do I mean by vocal weight? When I am talking about vocal weight, I am talking about the thickness of the vocal cords as a singer ascends in his/her vocal range. The vocal folds are meant to thin out as a singer ascends into his/her upper registers. When the vocal cords do not thin out, the added weight of the vocal cords can cause a myriad of issues, including (this varies from singer to singer, and the list is not exhaustive):
1) a heavy/dark compression that struggles to hit high notes (overcompression)
2) a light/squeaky/painful compression that also struggles to hit high notes (normally a result of a high larynx)
3) vibrato issues
4) breath and support flaws
5) trouble singing legato (smooth) scales in the upper registers (I find this very common with people that carry too much vocal weight into their upper registers)
6) trouble singing certain vowels
…and there are a few others, but these in general are marks of too much vocal weight in the upper registers.
Daunting list, isn’t it? Don’t worry though – every singer struggles with these issues, even the best (David Phelps could be an exception, but I’m fairly sure he has his own fair share of struggles too). Now that we understand what vocal weight is and how it is determined if we are using too much of it, let’s look at a couple ways to relieve some of this weight and allow freedom in the voice.
The lip roll (or lip bubble) exercise is one of the best ways to quickly relieve and remove excess vocal weight from the upper registers. If you have never heard of lip rolls before or have never done them before, be sure to watch this video below to gain an understanding of what they are and how they work.
Sounds silly, doesn’t it? I get funny looks from people all the time when I show them the exercise. They truly think I am crazy when I say it works. The lip roll does three main things:
1) it takes your mind off vocal coordination (you tend to focus on the actual rolls), thus allowing you to ascend into your upper registers with less stress and weight
2) it automatically raises your soft palate, allowing you to have the full amount of resonance space possible (so now when a teacher asks you to raise your soft palate and you have no clue how, just think of the lip roll)
3) it regulates your airflow, giving you a more consistent tone
Activating the thin edge of your vocal cords is also critical for lifting vocal weight from the upper registers. If the thin edge is not activated, you have no other choice but to carry vocal weight into your upper registers. The thin edge can be activated and trained by doing exercises such as “nay”, “aaahhh” (with the tongue out of the mouth), and carrying vocal fry up into the upper registers (light, squeaky sounds on staccato scales).
Finally, you can also help reduce vocal weight by practicing exercises that do not carry much vocal weight. Exercises using the vowel “o” are helpful, as well as “wee” (or “gwee” if you have trouble connecting) and “goo”.
Vocal weight can be a pain and can be debilitating to a singer if he/she is not savvy to recognize vocal weight issues. It is important to keep a check on yourself on monitor your voice. When you feel that you are struggling in your upper registers, check to make sure you aren’t bringing up too much vocal weight. Practice lip rolls and train your thin edge. You will be seeing results in no time!