The use of the voice can be divided into four vocal modes: Neutral, Curbing, Overdrive and Edge (formerly ‘Belting’). The modes differ by having different amounts of metallic character. Most singing problems occur because of incorrect use of the modes. Each mode has a certain character, as well as advantages and limitations. To avoid mistakes and technical problems it is important to know and control the modes, to use their advantages and to respect their limitations. It is also important to be able to change freely between the modes in order to make the most of their advantages. You can change smoothly or make abrupt changes to achieve vocal breaks. Each of the four vocal modes should be trained individually and in different ways. Remember to obey the three overall principles regardless of the mode.
Neutral is the only non-metallic mode. There is no ‘metal’ in the sound.
The character is usually soft, like singing a lullaby.
Neutral is the only mode where you can sing using a breathy quality voice without causing damage.
The two extremes of Neutral are called ‘Neutral with air’;
and ‘Neutral without air’;
For the sake of clarity, both extremes are sometimes shown individually.
Neutral is found by establishing a loose jaw.
In popular music Neutral with air is used for quiet passages when a breathy sound is wanted. In classical music Neutral with air is only used as a rare effect. In everyday life Neutral with air is used when you speak in a breathy voice or whisper.
Neutral without air is often used in popular music when you want a sound without metal and yet be clear and non-breathy. In classical music Neutral without air is used by both men and women when singing quietly, i.e. in pianissimo and ‘thinning’ (the volume of the note is gradually decreased without the note losing its quality). Women use Neutral without air in classical music when they sing in the high part of their voice, regardless of volume. In everyday life Neutral without air is used when you speak quietly with no breathiness.
All parts of the voice, all vowels and all sound colours can be used in Neutral by both men and women. Generally, Neutral is a mode with a quiet volume from very quiet (pp) to medium loud (mf). Very powerful volumes (ff) can only be obtained in Neutral without air in the high part of the voice. In the West, Neutral is the most commonly taught mode in singing tuition (for women), and is often used in church and school choirs (see ‘Neutral’ on page 87).
Curbing [audio: C-female, audio: C-male] is the only half-metallic mode. There is a slight ‘metal’ on the notes. Curbing is the mildest of the metallic modes. It sounds slightly plaintive or restrained, like when you moan because of a stomach ache. Curbing can be found by establishing a ‘hold’.
Curbing is used in popular music when the volume is around medium and when a certain amount of metal is wanted on the notes such as in soft soul or R ‘n B. Curbing is used in classical music by men when singing medium volume (mf) in their entire range and when women singing loud (f) in the middle part of the voice and sometimes in the low part of the voice. Curbing is used in everyday life when you wail, moan, or whine.
Men and women use Curbing through all the various parts of the voice. The sound colour can be altered quite a lot. All vowels can be used. However, in the high part of the voice, the vowels have to be directed towards ‘O’ (as in ‘woman’), ‘UH’ (as in ‘hungry’), and ‘I’ (as in ‘sit’) to stay in the mode. The volume in Curbing stays more or less in medium compared to the other modes, ranging from medium quiet (mp) to medium loud (mf). It is not possible to sing very quietly and very loudly in this mode (see ‘Curbing’ on page 96).
Overdrive [audio: O-female, audio: O-male] is one of two full-metallic modes. There is a great amount of metal in the notes. The character of Overdrive is often direct and loud, like when you shout ‘hey’ at somebody in the street. Overdrive can be found in the beginning by establishing a ‘bite’. It is usually used when speaking or singing loudly in the low part and middle part of the voice.
Overdrive is used in popular music when the volume is loud and when a great amount of metal is wanted on the notes, such as in rock music. In classical music it is used by men when they sing medium loud to very loud (f-ff), and women use Overdrive in classical singing only in the low part of the voice if at all. Overdrive is used in everyday life, for example when shouting.
Overdrive is the most limited mode in terms of pitch, especially for women. The upper limit for women is D2/Eb2 and for men is C2. There is no lower limit. All vowels can be used in the low part of the voice, but in the high part of the voice you can only use ‘EH’ (as in ‘stay’) and ‘OH’ (as in ‘so’). The sound colour can, however, be altered to some extent. Although the volume in Overdrive is mostly loud, relatively quiet volumes can be obtained in the lower part of the voice. The higher the notes, the more distinct the loud, shouting character becomes (see ‘Overdrive’ on page 106).
Edge (formerly ‘Belting’) [audio: E-female, audio: E-male] is the other full-metallic mode. There is a great amount of metal in the notes. The character of Edge is light, aggressive, sharp, and screaming, like when you imitate a diving airplane. Edge can be found by twanging the epiglottic funnel (e.g. sounding like a duck).
Edge is used in popular music in some styles, and mostly in the high part of the voice when the volume needs to be very loud and with a great amount of metal on the notes, such as in heavy rock and gospel music. Edge is used in classical music when men sing very loudly (ff) often in the high part of the voice such as the high C of a tenor. Women do not use Edge in classical music. Edge is used in everyday life when you scream.
Both men and women can use Edge in all parts of the voice. Only twanged vowels can be used as the twanged epiglottic funnel is a condition of Edge. This means that in the high part of the voice you can only use ‘I’ (as in ‘sit’), ‘A’ (as in ‘and’), ‘EH’ (as in ‘stay’), and ‘OE’ (as in ‘herb’). The sound colour can only be altered a little. In the high part of the voice you must not alter the light and sharp sound colour. The volume in Edge stays mostly loud. The higher the notes, the more distinct the screaming character becomes (see ‘Edge’ on page 116).