This phrase, “supported voice” or “supported tone/sound” is used a lot in singing. It typically refers to a sound that is full and solid, has some “oomph” or carrying power and is not unpleasant. It’s not breathy, incipid, nearly inaudible, or monotonous.
Amazingly, many of today’s vocalists do not think they should use such as sound. Why? Probably because they have never sung acoustically. If you ever have to fill a house/church/
auditorium/theater on your own lung power, you find out how hard it is to be heard without your trusty sound system. You realize that getting the voice to produce carrying power, or what used to be called in the old days, “projection” isn’t just a question of being loud. Loudness might be a factor, but if all you do is sing loudly, you discover in rather short order that it doesn’t hold up. Loud may not be the same as strong.
This can be a problem for singers who like soft, easy sounds. They fear, just like the classical people who fear the opposite, that “supported” or louder singing will “ruin” what they do or make them sound phony or not like themselves. That is only true, however, if they work with volume for volume’s sake. Loudness, learned over time, has many parameters, not just increased decibels, and has many benefits that can be useful no matter what kind of music one sings.
Fear of losing something in order to gain something else is a big problem when one is teaching singers who already have an identity as vocalists and who are rather satisfied with their voices. If you are going to address functional development, it is necessary to recalibrate the system, and temporarily at least, change things in some profound ways. If the person singing doesn’t trust that this change is not going to take away what they had, it is nearly impossible to get the vocalist to adjust their production, no matter what technique, exercises or approach is used.
If someone comes to you for lessons in order to “have better high notes” you might have to re-organize the singer’s entire range in order to get them. The typical set up is that the low notes are weak or pushed, the middle is too heavy and head register is weak across all pitches. Fixing the high notes, in isolation, would be nearly impossible, because if getting them were simple, the vocalist would have discovered a remedy on her own with just a little experimentation. This is where the functional unity of the voice comes into play. The machine is either balanced throughout or it’s not. If it is not, nothing will work easily and all correction will be some form of manipulation.
Let me say that again: If the voice is not mechanically and functionally balanced across the break in mid-range, nothing else will work easily and all correction, no matter what kind, will end up being some form of manipulation.
If you do not understand vocal mechanics and function, “balancing the voice across the middle” will make no sense to you and you will confuse this will some kind of vowel sound change. The only way that a vowel sound change can make a difference in vocal production, however, is when the voice is balanced, through registration, in the first place. It can be balanced either way (chest dominant or head dominant) but it has to include both registers and they both have to be equally strong. Since head register isn’t strong in anyone in mid-range, if you do not work to strengthen it there, you will wait a long time (maybe forever) for the balance to arise from “breath support” or “vowel changes”.
A “supported” sound is only possible when everything lines up and stabilizes. Vocalists who like a soft easy sound need to be willing to at least learn how to sing fully and with a unique quality, even if they only use it once in a while. Those who are only willing to sing “in a supported tone” should try singing without it once in a while, too, as it isn’t harmful and in some circumstances in certain styles, can be quite effective.
In all cases, fear is not part of the process once the voice is free to do what all voices do and the singer understands how to ride on that freedom to express whatever the music demands.
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