Enhancing the Tone

The Queen’s voice is deep and resonant –                                                                                like a physical thing, it takes up space in the room.   Sara Holland


A resonator is any object through which a sound wave can be filtered, amplifying and modifying the vibrations. It is part of all sound, and singers use resonance to affect the intonation, vowels, tone qualities and dynamic levels of their singing.  Changes in the size and shape of a resonating cavity will affect the tone quality. A resonator can make the tone light or dark, clear or muffled, brilliant or dull.  Through vocal study, singers learn to form vowels that create optimal resonance and a desirable tone.

There are two kinds of resonance, sympathetic and conductive.

Sympathetic resonators have no physical contact with the vibrating source. Vibrations are received through the air and the resonator responds sympathetically. What the listener hears is a result of sympathetic resonance.  (Example:  you are singing and the lamp in the room buzzes)

Conductive resonators vibrate as a result of physical contact with a vibrating body. Vibrations from the vocal folds travel along bones, cartilages, muscles of head, neck, upper chest, causing them to vibrate. However, these sensations have little do with the external sound. ( Example: vibrations you sense in your body when singing)

Factors affecting Resonance
  • SIZE– the larger the resonator, the lower the frequency (pitch) it will respond to.
  • SHAPE – this greatly affects resonance.
  • TEXTURE – the composition and thickness of a resonating body; for example, the material differences between brass and wood. Generally, the harder the surface the more selective it will be. Extreme hardness results in a penetrating tone with a few strong, high partials. Too much softness will result in mushy, non-directional tone. 

 VOCAL RESONATORS – since they are part of the body, the vocal resonantors are much softer than other instruments. When forming vowels, you change the shape of the resonanting area, thus voice teachers are very picky about this!

Larynx –  This is the primary vibrator. With its small cavity, it only resonates for high frequencies and contributes to the “ring” of the professional voice.

Pharynx –This is the most important resonator due to its position, relatvely large size and ability to change.

Oral Cavity – This is second in importance to the pharynx. Size is altered by the tongue, soft palate, jaw, and lips.

Nasal Cavity – third in importance and essential for [m], [n], [ŋ].  This is not an adjustable cavity, but it can be taken in and out of the resonance system by the action of the soft palate.

Learn more about the anatomy of the vocal tract:

https://www.. getbodysmart.com/pharynx/pharynx-anatomy


PHARYNX (vocal tract)

The quality of sound depends on the shape of the pharynx, which is very flexible and capable of forming many different shapes. The pharynx is pulled up (along with the larynx) when we swallow. The throat becomes short and narrow. When the muscles relax, the space is wide and long, the optimal size for the most resonance and freely produced sound.

The pharynx, or vocal tract, is made up of the mouth, nose and throat. These cavities are the oropharynx, nasopharynx and laryngopharynx. The laryngopharynx extends from the base of the cricoid cartilage to the top of the epiglottis. The oropharynx extends from the top of the epiglottis to the soft palate (velum). Together they form the largest resonating cavity. The nasopharynx is above the soft palate.


Articulators are involved in both vowels and consonants, but vowels are what affect resonance the most. They are the core of every syllable and without a resonant vowel the tone will not carry. The main vocalizing vowels are ah, ay, ee, oh and oo.  Other vowel sounds may be used, but singers usually begin with these five, which are pure vowels and easily produced. You may find that some vowels are easier to sing than others – this is a result of resonance.


The jaw should hang down comfortably for singing. This may be a challenge for clarinet, trumpet and flute players due to the nature of their embouchures. Think about the position of your jaw when you play your instrument and how that position compares to singing.


The lips are the outer edge of the mouth and can affect tone quality quite a bit. The vowels oh and oo are called “lip” vowels and the shape of the lips directly affects the vowel sound. Have a clear idea of how these vowels are formed.


The tongue is a large muscle that can move in many ways. In singing and playing wind instruments the tongue affects both resonance and articulation. Additionally, singers must be able to create beautiful tone while singing text.

TTo get a sensation of how the tongue moves for each vowel, rest the tip of your finger on the body of the tongue and say/sing ah, ay, ee, oh, oo.  Feel the movement of the tongue for each vowel. See Appendix I for vocal exercises that focus on the tongue.


The soft palate muscles lower and raise to close and open the air passageway into the nose. English uses a lowered soft palate for three sounds m, n and ng.  All other vowels and consonants are formed with the soft palate raised. A nasal tone is not desirable for vowels; it sounds twangy and pinched and vibrations are felt in the nose. You can experiment by singing a twangy ah vowel and pinch the nose. The sound will be felt in the nose and will sound small and pinched. Next, sing an open ah and pinch the nose. The vowel should feel and sound no different.

Learn more about the function of the vocal tract and articulators here  https://www.voicescienceworks.org/vocal-tract.html


Exercise:  Sensing Vocal Resonance

Sing a descending sigh on [ŋ] like sing, ring

  1. Say the word “sing” and hold the -ng position. Make sure the tongue is arched and loosely touching the back of the hard palate/front of the soft palate (you won’t have much sensation of this) and not pushed into the soft palate (too far back).  You will hear the difference if the space is closed off by pushing the tongue back.
  2. Add a vowel after the [ŋ] as in “sing-ah” and descend on the vowel.
  3. You can also try to get the tongue to move into position more easily by repeating Sing-ing-ing-ing on a descending so-fa-mi-re-do pattern.









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Vocal Techniques for the Instrumentalist Copyright © by Amy Rosine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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