Throughout my vocal training I have had a hard time projecting my voice. My difficulty with this has cost me a few positions in smaller vocal ensembles. My main vocal focus is Jazz and secondary Musical Theatre. I want to make singing a career and would like to know if there is any advice you can give me on how to project. Exercises to do, maybe a different way of approaching vocal training.
Thanks for visiting my blog and sending your question. The issue of projection is kind of a myth. At least in how we tend to think of it. What I mean is projection is not really something we should try to do. Sound travels by the natural laws of acoustics, and it doesn’t need any help from us. What it does need from us is a complete, pure production.
So the first thing to realize is if your voice is not projecting it is a functional issue that can only be fixed by making sure the whole coordination is working right. We can’t fix it by trying to project better. It is another one of the several things that are a result of good function and not something we actually do.
Think of the example of a photo/video projector. Light and sound behave in pretty similar ways. When we see a picture projected onto a screen, what we are seeing is the reflection of light. This light originates in the back of the lens of the projector. We can call this the light source. It is created by electrical energy in the filament intensifying to a degree that it radiates as light energy. This light energy is amplified by the glass of the bulb and again by the glass of the lens.
Then the amplified light energy radiates outward by its own nature. There is nothing propelling it. It travels through its own radiance. The form of the lens gives the light direction, otherwise it would go out in all directions and not be able to carry a picture.
Now, like I said, light and sound behave in similar ways. So what we are dealing with in the sounding of our voice is similar to my video projector example. We create energy with the pressure from our breathing and apply it to the sound source, the vibrating vocal cords.
This vibration creates sound that is amplified by the sympathetic resonance of the vocal tract. The sound waves radiate out in all directions but are formed and directed by the vocal tract. The sound travels by its own nature and doesn’t need us to propel it in any way (which is not possible anyway).
This is an important point to understand, because we are strongly tempted to try and do something to make the sound go out and get to the listener. But we have to realize the nature of how sound behaves. And this is not how it works. Sound (and light) radiate in all directions. It gets directed by the form of whatever contains the source. In our case the vocal tract.
The vocal tract is pretty much formed for us already. So all we can do is ensure the efficiency of the source and the integrity of the form of the tract. And this is where we actually create our own problem – if we try to improve the projection (a natural result) we will ruin the source vibration of the vocal cords (the cause).
So we need to make sure we understand the nature of the voice and sound. It is not what we tend to think it is. And those misunderstandings create most of the problems people experience.
Your question brings up another myth that I want to comment on. This relates to vocal exercises. Naturally I receive a lot of questions looking for exercises that will help with a problem someone is having.
This is a very common belief. But it illustrates a mistaken understanding of what vocal exercises actually are. Exercises are just a framework to condition the body to learn new behavior. What is really needed is a new understanding of how things work. Without knowing the What, How and Why of the body functioning as a musical instrument exercises are worthless.
So it is important to understand conceptually first, which then can guide you in how to do any exercise. That is where the value really lies. Not so much in the exercise but in the new behavior of the voice.
This may sound like a nit-picky thing to some. But it is a very important distinction to learn. I don’t mean it to be specifically to you, it’s more of a general observation of singers.
But this can apply to your last question regarding a different way of approaching your training. Instead of looking for exercises, learn how the voice is designed to function. Then when you understand that conceptually you can use that to guide how you use your voice.
Exercises are just the framework to make repetitions of that new behavior. You could just as well sing simple songs. It’s just that exercises can be designed to simplify things that songs might make too difficult at first.