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On recordings I've noticed, when I belt, my voice tends to have a sharp resonance in the region of the first formant, typically when the 2nd harmonic hits the 1st formant, causing it to become unpleasantly dominant. The only way to get rid of it on the audio without compromising the overall sound is to use a dynamic EQ with multiple very narrow bands.

Do you have any suggestions to alleviate the problem and decrease the intensity or sharpness of the first formant during powerful singing? Should I try to keep the first formant away from the harmonics? That feeling of resonance in the mouth is so inviting.

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    We'll figure out whether we agree with you about how unpleasant your formants are: can you please provide a recording of you singing normally? A website that permanently stores vocal recordings like Google Drive is fine.
    – Dekkadeci
    May 9, 2021 at 12:28
  • Some styles of singing consider belting to be ok or even necessary depending on the music, but generally belting is not considered healthy or good singing practice. I suggest in addition to or maybe instead of fixing your belting tone, you might work on training your voice to hit the desired notes with projection without having to belt May 9, 2021 at 15:46
  • @Dekkadeci: please trust me, it's one of the few things I'm certain about after a year or two of learning how to mix music. It's not unpleasant per se, it just way too loud, it masks the rest of the voice. When the resonance becomes really strong, it's either so loud that it hurts the ears, or the rest of the frequency spectrum is basically inaudible.
    – Fid Rewe
    May 9, 2021 at 18:22
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    I guess I’m thinking the best answer to “it sounds bad when I sing like that’ might be, “don’t sing like that”. May 9, 2021 at 19:23
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    I’m trying to suggest that maybe your method for singing “powerfully” is the source of the issue and you might need a voice teacher or vocal coach to help you shape your tone. “Belting” is not the only way to sing powerfully, and it’s generally seen as a bad way to sing May 13, 2021 at 16:52

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After some research I'm now able to answer my own question. I've spotted three factors that affect the intensity of the resonance associated by the 1st formant (F1).

1. Formant tuning

When F1 lies in close proximity to a harmonic, the resonance can be reduced by tuning F1 slightly lower or higher. This can be done by a slight modification of the vowel, which would correspond to a lateral movement on a vowel chart, while keeping F2 and F3 constant.

In figure 1, you see the intensity of the first 9 harmonics* of a sung tone, while gradually shifting F1 from the 3rd harmonic (blue) to the 4th one (red). At the same time, I tried to keep the other formants constant. You can tell by the changing shape of the F2 peak that this was not perfectly successfull. Still it is clear that the loudest harmonic is 3-7 dB lower when F1 is tuned well away from the harmonics 3 and 4. At the same time, the formant peak remains well-defined, as the intensity is basically just distributed among 2 harmonics instead of 1. Note that might not be the case between the harmonics 1 and 2 anymore, as their frequencies lie more than twice as far apart than the ones of the harmonics 3 and 4.

Tuning the first formant Figure 1: Tuning the first formant

However, being able to do this takes practice, either supported by the ability to hear the individual formants or by live feedback through a spectrogram. We'd have to develop a feel for when the resonance occurs during a song we practice and then modify the problematic vowels over time. I'm not sure, if this is possible, but it's plausible, since I've discovered I have the tendency to tune F2 towards harmonics that fit the context of the music without conscious effords, just by trying to make it sound "right".

2. Lowering the soft palate

Lowering the soft palate opens the connection to the nasal cavity and seems to be the only parameter which directly reduces the sharpness of the F1 resonance. Figure 2 shows a transition from a high soft palate (nasal cavity completely shut off, red) to low soft palate (singing mostly through the nose, green) on an o-vowel*. I managed to keep the formants quite constant during the transition. You can see how F1 gets less and less sharp, as I lower the soft palate, while the less intense harmonics around it get amplfied, creating a softer, fuller bass. In total you can easily reduce F1 by 6 dB compared to the rest of the tone, which is a lot.

Lowering the soft palate Figure 2: Lowering the soft palate (red to green)

What many sell as the beneficial effect of a high soft palate is obviously not actually an effect of a high soft palate. Due to "good advice" like this, I used to sing with the nasal resonator completely closed. Later I have retrained myself to have the nasal cavity slightly open. Still I'm catching myself raising the soft palate to the maximum in some occasions to increase the intensity of higher notes. However, what I'm doing there is boosting the one harmonic that already dominates the sound. On a recording this doesn't sound great at all. In addition, I'm losing the warmth created by low and low mid frequencies, and high mids and treble become less rich and balanced.

Still it's important to note, the soft palate should not be too low either. While I found it beneficial for the overall sound to have the nasal cavity involved, lowering the soft palate too much makes the vowel muffled and n-like. F1 should not completely lose its definition and you can see in the green curve of figure 2 that at some point, even F2 loses its definition, when the soft palate is too low.

3. Increasing the brilliance of the tone

It's hard to put into words what I mean by "brilliance". I don't even know, how it's achieved. Accoustically it involves an increase of the intensity of all the formants above F2, and a slight increase of F2 compard to F1. It adds power, edge, ring, clarity, air and definition to the sound. I think it has to do with vocal folds closure, involved vocal fold mass and laryngial resonance. I think it's a key ability of any good singer. Anyway, you can see the effect in figure 3, where I plotted the intensities of the first four formants.** It doesn't affect the sharpness of F1 - it just makes the whole F1 region less significant compared to the rest of the sound. And the effect is huge - about 18 dB in this plot. The relative intensities of F3 and F4 depend very much on small changes in the vocal tract configuration (and I got lazy). Therefore they are showing large variations.

Increasing the brilliance Figure 3: Increasing the brilliance (red to green)

So when "brilliance" is lost during intense singing, F1 can suddenly burst through and interfere with the rest of the sound, even more so when a compressor is used. Avoiding this and perfecting vocal technique should make a big difference.

*With a slope of +4.5 dB per octave, normalized to the average intensity. Sung with a low tone, so I have a reasonable density of sampling points (the harmonics sample the formant structure).

**Again with a slope of +4.5 dB, this time normalized to the average intensity of F2-F4.

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  • Where did you get these plots from? Also, I think I understand what "brilliance" is supposed to mean, but an audio sample would help
    – Edward
    Oct 13, 2021 at 22:24
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    @Edward a got these plots by recording my voice as I transition from one sound to another, using an audio plugin to obtain intensities of the selected harmonics at different points in time and putting the values into an excel sheet.
    – Fid Rewe
    Oct 22, 2021 at 13:40
  • @Edward I can say now that "brilliance" simply means leaning into ring, twang or a combination of the two. This is opposed to "shouting", where one is trying to achieve intensity primarily through pressure and vocal fold mass, resulting in a dull, boomy sound.
    – Fid Rewe
    Jan 18, 2022 at 8:42
  • Coming back to this some time later, I think the "brilliance" you speak of is singing with a high larynx position.
    – Edward
    Apr 30, 2023 at 4:41

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