I was studying your website, and I came upon the idea of the Coup de Glotte. The paragraphs at the end of this e-mail are the extracts from your articles which I am referring to. Concerning the vocal cords, it seems clear that one should not allow the glottic air pressure to build up against the vocal cords; this causes an unacceptable amount of air pressure to accumulate and bow them.

However, you used a clapping analogy and I was interested in the implications of it. Can the vocal cords be injured if they are adducted too quickly, too sharply, and too firmly in the absence of subglottic pressure? In other words, do the vocal cords behave like the hands in the manner that if they are pressed together slowly they are not damaged, but if they are ‘slammed together’ (like slapping your hands together very hardly) they become injured?

“What makes it not acceptable is not the closure of the vocal folds, it is the build-up of air pressure against the closed cords.”

“We do not want to attack the voice like clapping the hands. This is like whacking the voice and is abusive. We hear this with young singers who are very uncoordinated. The cause of this is not the contact with the vocal cords but is more a lack of breath control. They are tightening the cords and pushing breath pressure against them starting the sound with a violent explosion.”

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Thanks for your question. You have actually described things quite well. Originally the term “coup de glotte” referred to the simple act of starting the vibration of the cords spontaneously with no interference. The meaning has now changed to represent a violent, cough-like attack. This change in definition has caused a lot of confusion. It is an excellent example of why we need to be very clear defining the terms we use.

The main elements that can cause interference to the free start of the vibration are muscular tension and air pressure, or a combination of the two. If we look at the situation realistically, we have to recognize that both of these elements are necessary to some degree. It is when either or both of them exist to an excess that there becomes a problem.

The excerpts of mine that you refer to are descriptions of a common example of excess tension heard in less coordinated singers. The cough-like sound relates to the “clapping” of the cords that I describe. Lamperti described the difference with the terms “whacking” and “smacking”. His statement was something like “Don’t whack the voice, let the vocal lips smack”.

We can use the lips to demonstrate in much the same way I referred to the hands. The harsh attack is like the lips saying a “p” consonant. It is explosive. This explosive condition is abusive to the surface of the vocal folds because of the force of air rushing over them. This air can cause irritation which then can cause inflammation. This irritation can happen just from breathy phonation as well.

Irritation of the folds also can happen from the irregular vibration caused by excess tension in the vocal folds. The tension causes excess pressure in the contact of the folds with each other. When this condition exists the degree of air pressure to get the folds to vibrate increases. This will increase the irritation from the air as well as from the contact.

What we need to learn to coordinate is how to establish a condition of the vocal folds that is taut but flexible. Not loose and not tense. So the breath doesn’t just rush through or get blocked by the glottal closure. The glottis must close, just as the trumpet player closes the lips. But we must not treat it like a dam, stopping the air pressure so much that it becomes difficult to phonate. Phonation should be easy, this is why so many fall into the trap of breathiness. But it is a false remedy.

Ultimately, the only way to accomplish the perfect start to the voice is to coordinate all of the aspects involved. This includes coordination in the breathing, postural alignment, resonance form, and the mental command to pronounce. This last one is probably the most important in relation to the adjustment of the vocal cords.

The adjustment of the laryngeal muscles happens in response to our desire to say something. Many of us have developed habits of imbalance in this unconscious response. These can be either a condition of constricting the air-way or releasing the air though the glottis when pronouncing. What we are after is a proper response of the larynx adjustment so that the air pressure from the respiratory system feeds the vibration of the folds.

If the air-way is constricted it will interfere with the flexibility of the folds and the free vibration. This causes an unconscious response of the body to create more air pressure to make the cords vibrate. This becomes a dangerous downward spiral causing the function to become more and more difficult.

Pretty much the same result happens when we have a weak adjustment allowing excess breath to flow through the glottis. The body senses the lack of efficient phonation and responds by increasing the air pressure to get a more complete vibration. This leads to a condition of needing more air to get the folds to vibrate, or eventually needing to constrict the air-way to make up for the lack of natural glottal closure.

The reality of the situation is the larynx is essentially a valve. Our challenge is to become sensitive enough to coordinate the adjustment of this valve while also coordinating the respiratory system to provide an appropriate degree of air pressure. Then we need to coordinate these two systems together so the air pressure from the respiratory system and the proper adjustment of the valve balance each other resulting in the edges of the tissue that make up the valve are set into vibration. If these adjustments don’t match we get a poor result.

So if we go back to the analogy of the lips, the perfect attack is like what a trumpet player does. There is a balanced relationship between the vibrating tissue and air pressure to create a buzzing vibration. This is the source that is then amplified by the resonators into the tone we hear. The difference between the lips and the vocal folds is the vocal folds are much more flexible and suitable for the purpose of being a vibrating source.

Another analogy with the lips that relates to the Lamperti quote from above of “smack don’t whack” is to start like the folds pucker and kiss. The folds massage each other rather than slap or explode. We can demonstrate this with our lips by making a kissing sound. Then we can imagine doing the same thing with the vocal lips.

When people learn the perfect attack they often observe that it feels like rolling the edges of the cords together. This is the feeling we get when we “kiss” with the glottis. This is what the “coup de glotte” was meant to represent. But through misrepresentation and misunderstanding the meaning changed over time. So now something that was healthy and rehabilitative for the voice is thought to be damaging.

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