Q&A - Swedish/Italian Concepts - Are David Jones and I saying the same thing?
Hello Michael. There’s something I’ve wondered about for a while, and it stems from me having been an eager reader of both your blog and David Jones’ online articles for a long while.
I’ve read through all of Mr. Jones’ articles at least once, and I’ve gone through much of your blog – all the time absorbing ideas about the voice and trying to put the pieces together in my head in order to form a coherent overall picture. And of course, I have gleaned much information from both places and it has greatly helped my understanding.
But then there are some places where I cannot help but wonder if there are discrepancies. I’ve managed to “reconcile” many of your ideas and Jones’ ideas in my head when I take on the viewpoint of “they are using different words to say the same thing,” but there are some times where it seems that the two sides disagree. I am not, in the slightest, saying one side is more valid than another, or that one of you is right while the other is wrong. I am merely curious as to whether I am interpreting things the wrong way. There might be something I haven’t considered.
I think the biggest example of this is the emphasis each of you seems to put on the functioning of the throat mechanisms. From what I’ve read in David Jones’ articles, he stresses the importance of lifting the soft palate with the cheek muscles and opening the throat, stating that the “open throat” is the “shock absorber” for the vocal cords. Also, he gives the impression that breath support is necessary to hold back breath pressure (so that the cords don’t get overblown) while pressing a small, steady breath stream through the larynx. He also states that the glottis isn’t strong enough to hold back breath pressure, which is why the lower-body muscles must accomplish this task. This all sounds reasonable.
But then on your website, your emphasis seems to be more on the larynx and the vocal folds themselves. Mr. Jones states how important it is for the throat and the support system to be working properly to protect the voice box. On the other hand, you seem to state almost the opposite – stimulate the larynx according to your intention, and everything else will adjust itself. Set the glottal adjustment into motion, and the breath will follow, and the throat space will adjust in response to whether you are singing loudly, softly, etc. There is less worry about overblowing the vocal cords as long as you condition the throat and the breathing system to go along with the glottal adjustment. Also, you seem to emphasize the glottis “holding back breath pressure” whereas Mr. Jones says that the glottis can’t do that safely (hence, the breath support). And on an added note, you put less emphasis on the soft palate and instead say that the “lifting of the cheek muscles” stretches the lining of the nasal cavity rather than lifting the palate. Unless I misread what you’ve said, which is very possible.
Personally, I think I identify more with your way of explaining the whole process, as it gives me the idea that a well-trained singer can “just sing” instead of having to worry about every little piece of the overall mechanism staying in place (that just seems like a balancing act instead of being free to express the actual music). But of course, as I said, I’m not trying to imply that one side is wrong or one way of stating things is better. I’m just wondering if there is some way to “reconcile” these two sides or if this is an area where you and Mr. Jones “respectfully disagree.”
Your insight is greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Yes, I can see how someone might make this observation. There are definitely differences in what is emphasized. But there isn’t any disagreement in the overall picture. I think it is more of a difference in what we each have found to be of primary importance. And even more than that, what each of us has chosen to write about.
Really, the things I emphasize are no different that what David emphasizes. It is just that I have a slightly different perspective than he does. Also, I suspect that he is a little more Politically Correct because he has a bigger reputation to protect than I do. And there is nothing wrong with that.
As I have said many times, we can’t really learn to sing from what we read. The things I emphasize can get misinterpreted more easily than the things he emphasizes in his writing. But in person, when he is there with a singer and can ensure they don’t misapply the concept, he practices the same concepts.
This is especially true when talking about the glottis and the vocal cords. As soon as we become conscious of the glottis we are in danger of creating unwanted interference. This is a very true danger, and is why so many teachers and singers not only refuse to talk about the cords, but refuse to even think about them.
In many cases this is probably a good thing. Because without thorough understanding of the negative tendencies that go along with exploring glottal adjustment and how to avoid them, which only comes through the experience of making those mistakes, real problems can be created. It is these problems that have throughout history caused people to condemn this approach. Even though it is what the greatest singers in history have done.
So I suspect (and this is only my assumption, I don’t know) that he is protecting himself from the very real possibility of people misunderstanding what he is saying by emphasizing the surrounding aspects. Which are things I emphasize as well. The concepts that you cite that are the main points of emphasis for me are only possible when done with the body in a productive condition. They won’t work if they are done in a normal state.
For example, the point about supporting to hold back the air pressure so as to not overblow the cords. That is the same thing as when I say we need to hold the inhalation and not exhale when we phonate so we don’t release loose breath and blow open the glottis. This allows us to “think” with the voice directly. It can’t happen without this breath control. Which is really not controlling the breath so much as it is controlling the breathing or respiration.
As long as we don’t breath out while we are phonating the vibration of the glottis does hold back the air. But again, only if we don’t allow an uncontrolled flood of wild air to over-power it. That is what is meant by the glottis can’t hold back the pressure. And this is done through the suspension that comes from stretching the body from a feeling of the heightened emotion of inspiration.
Regarding the “lift of the soft palate”, in practice that is the same thing as the stretching of the nasal passages and lift of the cheeks/face that I talk about. That is how we access the soft palate. Because like the diaphragm, we can’t control the soft palate without creating interference. This is heard when we hear singers that are lifting their soft palate. Much of the time it sounds distorted or unnatural.
In addition to that, what seems like a lifting of the soft palate is really an opening of the resonators. Which is more of a stretch than a lift. And David has told me himself that it is more important to stretch than to lift the soft palate. Because by stretching it the right kind of lift happens. But just lifting doesn’t do the job.
But for me the idea of lifting the soft palate stems from the belief that we need to make the pharynx bigger in order to resonate fully. This is a misconception. If we successfully lift the soft palate the resonance gets trapped in the oro-pharynx which sounds throaty or yawney, and eliminates any possibility of head, “ng” or nasal resonance (naso-pharynx) which is the basis of ring and ease through the range, but especially in the high voice.
And David is a serious proponent of nasal resonance. That is the purpose of exercises that involve humming consonants, but especially the “ng” consonant. So when he talks about “lifting and stretching the soft palate” it is for this purpose. But my experience is that we achieve this not by lifting the soft palate, but but stretching it as part of an overall stretch of the mouth and throat, especially the naso-pharynx.
So really there is not any disagreement. We need to do all of these things. He might leave out the issue of the vocal cords to some degree. It might seem like I don’t speak on these other issues to the same degree. But I think I do speak on these issues a great deal.
Everything about preparation addresses the issues of the breathing and stretching of the resonators. There are two parts of the whole act of singing. First the preparation of the body. Then the vocal action. In other words creating the instrument and then playing the instrument.
If we successfully create the instrument every time we sing then all we have to do is play it. So we don’t have to focus on many of these things while we’re singing, we just keep things going by keeping the condition we set up in the preparation.
But if we don’t prepare correctly then we won’t be able to play the instrument as effectively, and this might make it seem like what I say doesn’t work. And then we will feel like we need to support with the breath and lift the soft palate in order to get the result we would if we prepared effectively.
(Then there is the issue of preconceiving our tone. This discussion has been from the assumption of a classical oriented singer. But what if someone is a non-classical singer? They aren’t going to want the quality that comes from “lifting the soft palate”. If they are focused on the condition of their body they can create a productive state that protects the voice and utilizes resonance without creating an artificial “classical” sound.
And this is an important observation for people to make. Is your technique fixing you into only one style? Free functioning of the voice should be flexible to respond to different degrees depending on the intention of the singer. If you are consciously lifting the soft palate there is a strong likelihood that the result will sound out of place for a non-classical singer.
The demands of operatic singing will create a stronger demand from the body which, if it is prepared effectively, will cause it to stretch and respond to a greater degree resulting in an operatic sound. But if that is not the intended objective then there will be a lesser demand and the body will respond appropriately. The airway will still be open so there is no unhealthy interference and a natural resonance. The glottis will still be creating a complete vibration, although at a lower intensity, creating clear pronunciation. And the breathing system will still be suspended and stretched but free to respond as needed for whatever is sung.)
The bottom-line is the body needs to be in a heightened emotional state, which these things we’re talking about are conditions of. So just doing what is described will not likely result in good coordination. They are descriptions of what we’re doing but not the actual way of doing them. Because they can be done in either of two (or more) ways.
They can be done in a normal state, and the singer will say “I’m doing what he said but nothing’s happening”. Or they can do what happens when we are in a heightened emotional state and get much different results but not feel like they are doing any of those things. So really, what makes the difference isn’t so much that we do these things (lifting the soft palate, support, etc.) but that we are in a physical state where these things happen in response to our desire to sing. They happen in both situations, but there is a difference in how they come about. And there is a difference in the nature of how they exist.
That is why I try to emphasize playing the instrument (which is not much more than pronouncing completely with the larynx) while in the productive condition of a heightened emotional state. (The feeling of which is basically being stretched in every direction at the same time) The condition of the body is completely different between the two scenarios. And as a result so is the coordination of the singing.