The way you begin singing a note is vitally important. It’s something you may never have thought about before and it’s not really an obvious topic in singing.
The way you begin singing each note is called the “onset”. And I recorded a short video where I show you an exercise you can do to become more aware of your vocal onset.
Why is onset even important? Well, believe it or not, the way you start a note influences the rest of the musical phrase. If your onset is wrong, it can mess up the pitch, cause you to run out of breath prematurely and give an unmusical quality to your vocal tone.
But how can you control onset? And what’s the right way to do it?
Basically, singing happens when air passes through your vocal cords. And you can open and close your vocal cords. When you make a really breathy sound (pretend like you’re breathing garlic breath on someone to be funny/annoying), the reason it’s breathy is because your vocal cords are open.
Breathy singing is harmful to your voice and is hard to stay in tune because you’re sending air over open vocal cords. This irritates them and doesn’t give them a chance to vibrate freely.
So when you begin a sound, you should start with closed vocal cords. The best technique I know for helping you find the sensation of closed vocal folds is to imitate a car engine with your voice.
Use your voice to “rev” the engine. If you pay close attention, you’ll be able to feel how your vocal cords are connected before you even begin making the sound. You’ll also notice how there’s plenty of buzz happening in your mask.
Strive to begin each sound with your vocal cords in this connected position.
The other component of onset is the flow of air to the vocal cords. If you use too little air and too little pressure, your vocal folds won’t vibrate freely. If you push too much air through too hard, it will force your vocal cords apart and make them “pop”.
This can damage your voice, and a lot of rock singers use this ‘hard onset’ for about 5 years before their voices self-destruct.
So what you really want to do is experiment with the flow of air to closed vocal folds. Do this with all of your awareness and attention. If it feels wrong, it probably IS wrong. If it feels right, it probably IS right. Sometimes that feeling can be deceptive, so it’s good to have a frame of reference from a teacher or singing mentor. If you need help getting this down, just shoot me an email.
In conclusion, I want to leave you with a powerful thought. And here it is: most of learning how to sing opera or any other genre of music for that matter is simply a process of becoming AWARE of what your body is doing, and adjusting it based on the way it feels and sounds. It’s simple, but certainly not easy.
I hope you dug this issue of the Sing Opera Now newsletter.
p.s. I cover onset and other opera singing fundamentals in the Sing Opera Now video lesson. Take a peek below: