These pages are about producing a good vocal tone. They are intended to help the community choir member whose formal education may not have included advanced voice training. If you would like to read the entire series of articles I have written on this subject, please visit my other site: ChoirSinger.com
Generally, in Western culture a good vocal tone is considered to be one which is full, clear, and audible.
A good vocal tone should not be stident, shrill, scratchy, or breathy. It should also not sound "forced" or "strained," but instead should sound as if it flows effortlessly from the singer.
Within that definition is still a great deal of room for individual vocal timbre or characteristic sound, and for stylistic interpretation as called for by the music being performed. A singer trained to the Opera would use a different quality of voice than a member of a vocal Jazz group, yet both must produce a "good" tone or face the unemployment line. What is considered appropriate for early music in the style of Palestrina would be entirely iI>inappropriate for a major work with a symphony orchestra, such as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
How, then, is a singer to produce a good tone appropriate to the variety of musical styles typically encountered in a community choir? It all begins with the basics.
Beginning with good posture and breath support, the singer must also relax the jaw, so the air passage is not restricted in any way. The tongue should be relaxed and behind the lower teeth, and the throat slightly open - as though on the verge of a yawn. Be careful not to force the tongue down or exaggerate the yawning sensation, as these produce tension on the larynx and can make the voice sound "swallowed" and artificial.
Take a comfortable breath - not too large, but sufficient to support a sustained pitch. With the jaw relaxed and the throat open begin to sing with an "ahh" sound. Experiment with this sound, opening the throat more, then less, while singing at a comfortable volume. Notice the difference in your sound when you force the throat to open too far. Also hear how pinched it becomes if you don't open it far enough. Find the range of positions that are most comfortable for your throat. That is what you want to feel when you are singing.
Now you can put all these elements together: posture, breathing, and placement. You are ready to begin singing. You now have the foundation of good tone, so it is time to practice what you have learned. Try putting these elements together with some simple songs, ones which are familiar to you so you don't have to concentrate on the words or notes, but can instead think about maintaining this comfortable feeling as you sing. Try singing them first in the middle of your vocal range. Then move up a few keys into a higher part of the voice. If it is too high, don't push. Instead, concentrate on your breath support, and you will find yourself able to sing higher with less strain.
One word of caution here: Learn to recognize when your voice is becoming fatigued. Much damage is done to the vocal chords of amateur singers when they are tired, as they often try to compensate for the fatigue by resorting to poor vocal technique. Always go back to the basics of posture, breathing, and placement. This will do much to reduce the risk of vocal injury, allowing for years of singing enjoyment.
Some miscellaneous tips for the amateur singer: