Resonance: The Science of Echo
Sometimes, when we hear people discussing a singer’s overall voice quality, the word resonance comes up. This term has become one of the buzzwords of singing, right along with the words “diaphragm” and “project.” Just like these classic words of voice, resonance is often misunderstood or used out of context. One reoccurring obstacle that many teachers have to face when trying to teach certain concepts, like tone, is that so many related concepts have to be taught along with it. The difficulty often lies in deciding which part to teach first. “Which is more important”? Each point on its own often does not have great significance. It is necessary put several pieces together at the same time to make the whole picture clear. Therefore, in this chapter, we couple the discussion of vocal tone quality with a discussion the concept of vocal resonance.
Resonance is all around us. It is as much a part of life as gravity or friction. As many things in life are, resonance is so simple that we don’t usually notice it, yet when we examine its existence we see simplicity become infinite complexity. There are many different types of resonance found in nature that lie outside the world of sound. There is orbital resonance for instance. But, what about for voice? Well, resonance, as is it is applied to sound, is simply defined as sound layering over itself. Not a big deal right? Well, not until we realize that there are three types of resonance’s found within the act of singing, and all three need to be in place and working well together to enhance our vocal tone. Notice that I said enhance our tone. Resonance is not exactly tone itself. It is a thickener of our existing tone. That’s all. In fact, Webster’s defines resonance as “the intensification and enriching of a musical tone by supplementary vibration”.
Lets look at resonance as it is used in the world of audio recording, which is where (in my opinion) tone is understood and applied in the most demanding manner. Any recording studio or computer based recording program such as “Protools or Cubase” will have applied on the different recorded instruments an equalizer (which is meant to shape the tone) and then an echo effect known as reverb. This effect is usually placed on instruments such as guitars, drums, piano and of course, voice. Again, we have the tone shaper (which is EQ) then the tone enhancer (which is reverb). These are two separate effects working as one. The confusion between tone and resonance is understandable. The echo itself will be enhancing or thickening certain frequencies more so than others and in the natural world tone is shaped through external vibrations as well. The fact is, both the concepts of shaping and enhancing are very closely related, but again, are not the same. What we want to ultimately achieve as singers is to shape our tone and enhance them naturally first, before we alter them artificially in a recording studio or with a PA system.