Finding your inner Wicked Witch with twang

In our most recent session, we continued to experiment with the soft palate. We started with a short stint in the velum gym and then we sang a short excerpt of Eriks Esenvalds' Stars to see how the sound is affected. If you've seen us perform recently, this is the song where we play wine glasses.

In low velum, the sound gets dampened because it’s sent through the nose. In mid-velum, the sound is clearer, but still veiled. Lastly in high velum, we’re back in the room! What a great idea to have a nice high soft palate if you need to sing with projection.

Have a listen for yourself:

We also worked on twang in this session.

Twang is a reedy, small, loud sound like the Wicked Witch of the West, a quacking duck, or the baaa of a sheep. In its pure form, twang will sound quite nasty and like a comedy sound, but mixed in with singing it gives the voice a carrying edge.

Twang has a frequency we can hear very easily. Duncan Brown pointed out that one theory for this is that little babies have twang in their cry and that humans are hardwired to hear their call and come to help. The ‘edge’ or brightness of twang is what allows an opera singer to carry over an orchestra or an actor to be heard clearly in an auditorium.

So what’s the trick when we learn about twang with help of the Estill Model?

It’s important to:

  • work in a comfortable range

  • keep the vocal folds thin and establish a quiet voice before doing the play sound

  • keep the tongue high and allow the larynx to rise

  • use nasal twang first as it’s less likely to cause constriction

Twang is very much a part of Appalachian folk music and a "must have" skill for bluegrass and country & western. We experimented with the murder ballad On the Banks of the Ohio and with a country & western song All My Exes Live In Texas.

Scott Roedersheimer, who grew up in Appalachia, said:

“One reason for the twangy sound in Appalachian folk singing might be the accent. It’s also perhaps that one of the main purposes of these songs is the story that's being told and twang helps to put the words across very clearly, even outdoors.”

So how did the members find practicing twang?

Dave Nowicki-Stephen said:

“I have enjoyed practising twang this week. I hope I haven’t annoyed my neighbours too much, though! I have no problem with it at all. I think I was born to be a witch!

Gavin Dormand said:

“It’s hard to feel what happens when I twang and tricky to know what to do with the tongue. I find it easy to do the play sound, but when I apply it to a song I’m not sure that it’s coming across, that I’m actually doing it.”

Resound is a Brighton-based voice group with vocal development high on the agenda. As their MD I’m using Estill Voice training this term to see if we can learn to adapt our sound to all the different genres of music we tackle in a project called Vocal Chameleons.

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