Q&A - Breath Control and Open Throat
Would you say that good breath control, an open throat, etc. are causes or results of proper technique? Or do they cause each other? I think the reason I’m asking is because many people seem to put a lot of emphasis on deliberately lifting the soft palate or supporting the voice, and the idea of a proper glottal adjustment is simply overlooked. It’s as if they believe that putting everything else in its place without addressing the larynx itself will cause an ideal phonation.
Yes, the vast majority emphasize these things. But they are only parts that aid the core activity of vibration. They don’t cause it. By focusing on secondary things they neglect the primary. The bottom-line is everything needs to be acting correctly. The majority of what we do is done before we sing, as a preparation.
Breath control and an open throat are not really causes or effect, they are conditions that allow the causes and effects to happen. I guess you could say they are an effect of the emotional condition that causes them. But the important thing is that they exist, which for most of us they don’t until we figure out how to stimulate them.
We can’t just try to open the throat or control the breath. It has to happen as a natural result of putting ourselves into the right state of being. When we do that the act of singing is almost the only thing that can happen. We almost can’t help but to sing. That is why we want to prepare in this way.
It is like a bow and arrow. The objective is to have the arrow fly to the target. But while that is happening we aren’t doing anything. Our job is done before the action happens. We prepare the flight of the arrow by drawing back the bow and holding it in a state of elastic tension that is full of potential energy, while we aim where we want the arrow to go. Then we release the energy which sends the arrow flying on the trajectory of our aim. Once we release the arrow we don’t have much influence on its flight at all.
This is what I mean when I say most of our work is in the preparation. We create a condition in the body of potential energy that when released in a coordinated way causes the vocal cords to vibrate. This requires very little from us once it starts, other than to keep the condition from falling apart.
It is more of a process of making sure we DON”T do things than DO things. An open throat exists because we make sure NOT to close it rather than DO something to open it. We support the voice with the breath by making sure we DON”T let the lungs deflate rather than DO something with the breath.
The open resonators and especially the lifted soft palate are just elements of the proper condition of the body. Not things we directly try to DO. Breath support is an automatic result of keeping the condition of the body and not letting it collapse. Then we can pronounce with the mental awareness at the larynx to stimulate the adjustment of the glottis and the spontaneous action of the vibration.
This is done, at least in how we experience it, with no impulse of breath or muscular strike. It is as if the vocal cords just start vibrating like we flipped a switch. Like a light. The body unconsciously does what is necessary to allow this to happen.
There must be absolutely NO HOLDING at the larynx. The term Cord Closure is used by some. Yes, the cords are closed but we MUST NOT try to close them deliberately. They must close as a natural response to our desire to say something. It is an automatic reaction to our intention to pronounce with the larynx. It is more like it is electrical rather than muscular.
But this can only happen if all of the conditions are correct. And developing that is the real skill of a singer. It doesn’t happen just by knowing the right things. It takes time to create that kind of sensitivity in the body. We develop our skill over time, just like any other athlete. I may understand perfectly the mechanics of shooting a basketball, but it has taken me many repetitions to develop that understanding into my nervous system so I have the skill of shooting the ball through the hoop.
That is what we need to do to be a well-functioning vocal instrument. There are no shortcuts and it is not enough to have the knowledge.