Discussion of Nasality - Part 2
E: Michael, You are a superb analyst. I’ve been meaning to write about your piece in the recent JBS newsletter. It is brilliant. I just haven’t found the time … but I will … after I get back from NYC (I leave domani). One correction: I was also talking about the “cause of how the voice is working”. When a person produces a nasal sound, the air goes straight to the nose (Peerce and to a lesser extent, Calleja). In a nasal sounding voice, the air does not go to the front of the forehead, it remains centered in the nose. Jussi kept the voice forward in the mask (the nose plus the head), and as well had great chest support.
“E”, your correction is noted. Your concept is basically correct. But there is a widespread misunderstanding that shows up in your description.
What you describe is the same scenario that I was talking about with the constriction of the resonators. What we want is a feeling of the whole head being open, ala Jussi. This openness allows the sound vibrations to reflect through the open spaces and the bones of the skull and face. This gives the impression of the tone being in the mask.
If the throat is constricted in some way the sound vibrations can be restricted in their radiance and get trapped in just the nose. This is noticeably unnatural. This often happens with singers that are trying to make “nasal resonance”. Hence my explanation for why I avoid that term.
Singers that try to avoid nasality fall into the trap of avoiding healthy resonance through the head. This causes the resonance to be trapped in the throat or exposed out of the mouth. These result in singing that is either overly-dark and heavy (like the majority of modern classical singing) or white and spread (like modern pop singing).
The key misunderstanding I mentioned is so common it has become an accepted part of modern technique in the concept of how the air behaves. It is the basis of the “breath-flow” concept. You mentioned that the air travels to these different places. To a certain extent it may feel like that, but it just is not so.
As I stated in my description above, the sound vibrations travel through the skull, and through the air, but the air doesn’t travel. Sound is energy that passes through the air. The air itself does not travel. Sound vibrations can also travel through material, like bone. Air cannot.
The nature of this is complex, but it can be simplified to some degree. Consider water. In general we observe water in two basic states: moving, like a river and not moving, like a lake.
If the lake is calm and the water is still you can drop a rock into it and cause a disturbance. This disturbance will create waves. Waves are not actually the water moving, they are energy moving through the water. It is motion but not movement. Meaning the water doesn’t travel anywhere. If you fish you might have noticed that a bobber goes up and down with the waves but doesn’t really travel.
In a river the water is moving. If you drop a rock into it the moving water consumes the energy and it creates very little to no waves. Moving water is a poor cunducer of energy. The waves will be more regular the more calm the water is. In the same manner the more still the air in the resonator the more effective it is in having energy travel through it.
This is the principle that determines resonance. If we move the air by breathing out while singing we decrease the effectiveness of the resonator. Imagine the resonator of a violin or guitar. They don’t have air flowing through them. They contain still air that is excited into sympathetic vibration with the vibration of the strings.
With the voice this is a big challenge. But critical in order to realize the full potential of the instrument. The voice has the additional issue of the fact that our breathing goes through the vibrator. When we breath the vocal cords open to allow the air to pass through in and out of the lungs. This diminishes the effectiveness of the cords ability to vibrate, which is maximized when in a closed position.
This is the reason for the importance of breath control. Not, as many believe, to let it out so there is enough to reach the end of the phrase. It is because if we let the breath out it will destroy the balance of the vibrating mechanism.