Considering Resonance

honking_singerWhat does “resonance” mean? You can look up different dictionary definitions as well as I can, but today let’s call it “maximum sound output per energy unit expended”. Let’s assume this includes a nice distribution of overtones that gives the voice a pleasing timbre.

Generally, when we sing, we are hoping to make sounds that people want to hear (and/or that we want people to hear), so the more the better, right? In classical singing many people are obsessed with making the loudest sound possible. Some people use the word “big” instead of “loud”, while others say that “big” and “loud” are different things. And then there is the chestnut “projecting”, which is supposed to mean a sound that can be heard far away, regardless of volume level or vocal “size”. So many cans of worms here; I could open a bait shop right now!

When we are making a free sound, and it feels good, and it can convey the music well, we want to give all we can. However, many of us take it too far. We are sometimes “louder than lovely” as my coach would say. What should be the limit of loudness for each singer? I would say that the outer limit of sound output should be set by the maximum decibels that can be produced without strain or exhaustion, with clear vowels, and the ability to move nimbly if necessary. These are all functional measurements that the singer himself can monitor, independent of the timbre of sound he is making. If he can modify his timbre at will and still operate in these functional parameters well, then woohoo! But if “going for a sound” makes any of this difficult, he should stop.

The decibel level of the sound that is the biggest bang for the buck will vary greatly from singer to singer. This is OK. Please don’t fight this. Everyone can’t win the Loudness Pageant. You’re all pretty!

Here are some questions that make the question of resonance rather complex:

  • Does this singer sound like themselves, or are they trying to pour the voice into a mold?
  • Is the performance immediately enjoyable?
  • Can the singer effectively perform varied musical moods?
  • Is the voice charming? Soothing? Seductive? Exciting? Sweet?

Please don’t let the pursuit of maximization take anything away; it should only “add to”!

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