Q&A - Opposite Concepts Effective for Different People
I am an old man, nevertheless I still enjoy singing and I can throw down a good Di Provenza or Valentin Aria. My question is that all my life my singing teachers and fellow singers kept telling me that the voice should be placed high and forward. So I tried to place my voice high and forward and all I could get was a narrow sound so people kept telling me that I was a lazy tenor. Once I read something on the Internet about this professor Melocchi that said that you should lower your larynx, place the voice back and the higher you sing the lower in the throat you should think that your voice drops. To me that sounded like opposite to everything I had heard since then. But Alas! when I tried that my voice changed 100%. So this is my question, is Melocchi right or it just worked for me?
Another question, I always vocalize with the (u) sound because it lowers my larynx and give me a sense of repose in my throat. Why is it that prestigious singers like Domingo vocalize the sound (ee)? Doesn’t that constrict their throat? Or would it be that he does not need to improve the passaggio but to improve his high register?
Thank you for your questions. These are very common and can be the starting point for real understanding of the voice. In answering these it also opens up a wide range of related issues that need to be understood to make sense of the various practices. I will try to stay focused on the more common situations.
In short what you discovered of the Melocchi approach is correct, IF it is applied correctly. There are several aspects that need to be coordinated correctly or else the very same concept that helped you could be catastrophic for someone else.
One aspect is these particular issues are examples of the difference in perspective between the singer and the listener. The listener hears a singer and creates images of what they hear. A free voice that isn’t obstructed will sound high and forward because the sound waves are freely transferring through the bones of the skull.
The problem starts when the listener tries to do what they heard in the other singer. As you experienced, if we try to sing “high and forward” we will get a thin sound that is only a fraction of our true voice. This happens because in order to create the high and forward placement the throat constricts. I had a similar experience when I was working things out. I was told that it didn’t sound like my tone was in my head like a good voice. But no matter how hard I tried to have my tone in my head it didn’t happen.
But once I started to find more depth in my throat the tone started to appear in my head. Our impression of “depth” is a result of the larynx taking a more balanced lower position. Really “lower” just means not constricted. Because there is no constriction the sound is free to radiate through the vocal tract, including the head.
The key distinction is to recognize the difference between the larynx taking a balanced position that is lower than the lifted, constricted position versus a deliberate “lowering” of the larynx that creates new problems. So I wouldn’t necessarily say that Melocchi is right in the sense you are speaking. I would bet that although you feel your results are better than they were when you tried to sing high and forward, they could be better still with a balanced approach that incorporates all aspects of coordinated function and not just lowering the larynx.
This question also deals with the fact that much of what passes as “common knowledge” is misunderstood interpretations of traditional concepts. As you experienced, it passes as common knowledge that the voice should be placed high and forward. But there is a serious lack of understanding what that means and the problems that are created by trying to accomplish that.
Another aspect of these questions, and many like them, is that they are of an “either-or” type. You are asking should we do either this or that. And what I always tell people is when faced with an either-or question the answer is usually Both.
The reason for this line of thinking is because when we just do either one thing or the other then we will be out of balance. Balance is accomplished by the coordinated activity of opposite principles.
For example, you ask about vocalizing on [u] versus [i]. Both vowels have benefits because they both have different influences on the mechanism. These influences tend to be opposite of each-other. That is why it is a mistake to only vocalize with one and not the other.
The [i] vowel is good for building the resistant strength of the vocal cords. The [u] vowel is good for developing an enclosed resonance form. These are both necessary characteristics of a well-developed instrument.
But many have difficulty with one or the other vowel because of their history. We all develop habits and tendencies based on how we habitually use our equipment. These habits become our “normal”. What the body is most familiar with.
When we try to do something outside of our familiar behavior the body tends to reject it. This is what is happening when we feel something doesn’t “work” for us. It sounds like [i] doesn’t work for you.
But is that permanent or just a habit. It is just a habit. What is required is learning how to pronounce correctly so that we can say any vowel with a stable system.
My question for anyone in a situation like your is, “How do you know that what feels better is actually correct?”
I agree that if it feels better it probably is better. But that still doesn’t make it well-coordinated. And as such is still at risk of problems and deterioration.
Being a lower voice the limitations that go along with “low-larynx” singing are less noticeable. But they are still limitations. And because of that I would say that both the “high and forward” camp and the Melocchi camp are wrong. Because they both are only dealing with half the situation.
Hope that makes sense and is helpful.
Please comment below.
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