Should We Smile When We Sing?
I recently received a question asking about “all aspects of placement”. I have talked about this topic quite a bit over the years because it is often recommended but not well understood how it happens.
Here is a post about it from several years ago to get a basic idea of my perspective on placement: VocalWisdom.com/Voice-Placement/
The unfortunate situation is there are too many different recommendations when it comes to placement. Which is confusing and why I wanted to address it again.
This is also related to something I was teaching someone just the other day that I wanted to share with you – The proper way to include smiling in your vocal coordination.
It has been stated that smiling is not something we should do while singing. That it closes the throat or spreads the tone. And this can be true depending on HOW we do it.
Which is an example of what I often say, it is not so much what we do that is important but how we do it. This applies to placement as well.
Placement is the experience of where the tone seems to exist while we vocalize. There are several recommended “places”, but a common and traditional place is forward and/or in the face. What is often called the mask.
The problem is figuring out how to have the tone forward and placed in the mask. If we try to just do it the result is often unpleasant. The tone sounds pinched, tight, spread, nasal or many other possibilities.
(Because of this we have others advocating placement in the head as well as in the throat.)
This is our first clue that we shouldn’t try to directly do placement. It is better if it is a result of the good conditions we create when we activate the vocal instrument.
One key aspect of creating the conditions is using the smile to create elasticity in the voice. The trick is doing it without creating the negative consequences that can happen when we smile. I am going to explain that and show you in the video below.
This video of Jussi Bjorling performing with Hilde Gueden is a great example of using smiling effectively.
We can see the expression of all three singers is pleasant. We also see the reality of smiling while singing doesn’t necessarily mean that the lips are obviously in a smile. This is the detail of how to do it that gets overlooked.
Most of the time the smile turns into a nice, neutral mouth position once the jaw is stretched open. The key thing to notice is the activity in the face when the smiling happens stays even when the jaw opens and the lips go more neutral.
This is how to create the lift in the face that I always talk about. Which keeps the nasal passages open, lifts the roof of the mouth open and establishes a sympathetic elasticity in the tongue and vocal cords.
These conditions are what cause a good, complete vibration of the vocal cords. Which then leads to a complete acoustic response from the vocal tract. But that is only possible when it is in the alignment that comes out of the smiling start.
When there is not obstruction to the vibrant tone production the sound energy radiates all the way to the front of the mouth, which is the end of the vocal tract.
This is why we have heard the instruction to have the tone forward. Because that is where it feels when the conditions are right and the voice is well produced.
You can hear in the video above the impression that the tone is forward and not back in the throat or stuck anywhere. But it is not spread either. (Although the soprano sometimes comes close)
Now, I will say that if your ears are not accustomed to hearing such bright vibration it might sound a bit harsh. But this is the nature of a well produced voice.
The voice naturally wants to be brilliant. What the Italians traditionally called squillo. It is the quality that allows the tone to carry and be heard in larger spaces and over distance.
Without this carrying quality we will have to work too hard to be heard and risk straining the voice.
P.S. If this approach is making sense to you consider joining the VocalWisdom.com Private Community. We meet on Facebook and we have these kind of discussions almost daily. The best part, there are still some Founding Member spots available. Which means you only pay $5/month for as long as you are a member. It will normally be $10. You can join and learn more at VocalWisdom.com/Private-Community