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Beginner Singing Technique - Intro to Timbre

Timbre or vocal color

First of all, timbre is a weird word. Its pronounced nothing like it should be and what it is is kinda complicated. Timbre is pronounced Tam-ber even though its spelled with an "i." Timbre is the quality or character of a sound. It has nothing to do with the pitch played or the volume, but what the note sounds like. Timbre is the difference between a guitar and a piano playing the same note at the same volume for the same amount of time with the same musical characteristics. One sounds like a guitar and one like a piano, that's the timbre. Much like a guitar can use different strings to change its timbre, a singer can change their timbre with some simple changes that I will address in specific in future posts. I like to call timbre "vocal color."


If you're having trouble hearing what a timbre change in your voice would sound like, try singing a note and, without singing any higher, lower, louder, or quieter, begin to move your mouth around like you're chewing. You'll hear your voice shifting around strangely. Almost as if the note is getting higher or lower without an actual pitch change. That's the timbre changing.


So what makes timbre/the color of your voice change? Its the size, shape, and texture of your vocal tract. When the inside of your mouth gets larger your timbre will "darken" or become lower/deeper sounding. When it narrows you will sound "brighter" or higher/thinner sounding. Similarly, when you change from an "e" to an "oo" your timbre changes because of the shape change and when your muscles flex the timbre changes because of texture change. Some examples of parts you can move to change timbre are your lips, your tongue, your jaw, your face, your larynx position, your pharynx, and your soft palate. There are more options than that, but those are some you can experiment with if you'd like.


In general, timbre is the difference between a bland singer and a full exciting sounding singer. Its the difference between a rock singer and a classical singer. Its what makes you sound uniquely like you and its effected by your body's build and shape. You can never truly sound exactly like someone else without your body being extremely similar to theirs, so learn you use your body instead of imitating another person! Want help learning to use your vocal tract for controlling timbre? Sign up for lessons here or leave a comment and I can help you out!


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