Q&A - Voice Placement
I have been having contradictions about “voice placement“, some encouraging forward placement during singing, while others even stating that there is nothing like placement, either forward or ‘backward‘.
Plus, I have been trying to train my soprano and tenor singers (choral) on how they should use their voices accurately (especially the vibrato), but I am afraid of giving them wrong guidance. I dont know how you could help me in this. Thanks, sir, in anticipation.
Thanks for your question. I feel it is very important to accurately understand how the voice works and so then be able to understand the sensations that go along with it.
The concept of voice placement can be difficult to make sense of. Partly because there are so many differing opinions, but mostly because it is actually an illusion.
As always when we talk about concepts we must first define what we mean by the term. Otherwise we will increase the confusion because we aren’t necessarily talking about the same thing.
So I think in general, the term voice placement refers to the location of the sensations of tone. When we sing we tend to feel sensations from the vibrations of tone. Where we feel these tonal sensations we tend to call the “placement” of the voice. Although for me that is a misnomer because the voice itself can’t be placed anywhere other than in the neck. (voice to me is the actual vocal mechanism, the larynx) What people really mean is the placement of the tone.
Unfortunately this is where opinions start to come into the situation. Much of these opinions are based on what they imagine when listening to another singer. Other times these opinions are based on what they feel when they think they sound better. And still other opinions are based on what they have read or been told by someone else. They just adopted someone else’s opinion.
Some say placement should be forward and some say it should be back. Within the “forward placement” advocates there are some that say it should be forward in the mouth and others that say it should be forward in the mask, or the face.
Then with the back placement some say it should be “down and back” like a yawn while others say it should be up and back in the head.
Then there are others still who advocate no placement at all. What are we to think and where are we going to get the “right” answer.
Well, this is where we need to learn to be logical and think for ourselves. We all tend to look to someone else for the right answer. I’m saying learn to think logically and find your own answer. Ultimately the answer needs to make sense to you and even more important, it needs to make sense in your body.
The opinions of others will never make sense in your body. Only when you figure out the reality of your voice will things make sense both conceptually and physically.
So where do we start? I like to start by forgetting about the outcome for a bit and look at what is actually there. We have done part of this by defining what we are talking about. What is voice placement? It is the sensation of location of tone.
Next we need to ask, “can I control placement?” Or in other words is placement something we “do”? To get the answers to these questions we need to do some thinking. Real thinking.
As humans we tend not to want to actually think. We just want someone to give us the answer. But just receiving the answer doesn’t help us to understand anything better than we did. We need to mentally go into the question and then experiment vocally to see what is true.
If we can look at the situation logically we will see that “tone placement” is a result of our tone production. Tone is produced by the reverberation of the air inside the vocal tract in sympathy with the vibration of the vocal folds. This is actually energy radiating through the air inside the throat, mouth and nasal passages.
When this energy strikes the inner surfaces of the mouth, throat and skull we sense these locations. If the energy congregates more in a certain area the sensation is stronger and we notice that location and call it voice placement.
Throughout history people have observed that when the voice feels free and functionally balanced the sensations of tonal placement are in certain areas. And they have also observed that when the voice feels heavy and difficult there are other locations they sense the placement of the voice.
Through these observations we start to get concepts of desirable and undesirable locations of placement. And now this is where the problems start. Because once we notice locations of placement when the production feels good, we naturally want to recreate that. And then we tell others that they should have that placement as well.
Or even more common the less experienced singer admires the tone of the good singer and imagines a location that it sounds like the tone is placed or they find out what their sensations of placement are through a master class or interview. Then they try to emulate that by “placing” their tone in the same location, thinking it will result in the same desirable quality.
But unfortunately it rarely, if ever, does. Why is this?
The big reason it rarely results in a desirable quality is because placement is a result of our tone production, not a cause. This means that we can’t accurately create it without creating the correct cause.
And the cause is proper function. When the voice is properly functioning there are slight amounts of placement in many, if not all, of the places mentioned. It is a feeling of “all over” placement. If we try to place the tone in any one area, forward for instance, what we are actually doing is restricting the natural expanding of the tone and confining it into that area.
This is done through manipulating the throat with constriction. And as anyone who has been reading my blog will know, constriction of the throat is absolutely undesirable.
So the more correct question is not “where should my tone be placed?” It is “how can I get my voice functioning well?”
If the voice is functioning completely and all the components are working together and balancing each-other correctly, then there will be some sensations of placement. Because the tone is free to reflect and pass through the various chambers of the head and there are certain areas that we have sensation. This is where we will feel some sense of placement.
But we must not try to place the tone in these areas. They are a result, not a cause. These sensations are like a confirmation that our system is working well. We can’t make the system work well just by creating these sensations, because we are capable of imitation. And that is all this would be.
So rather than imitating the placement of a well-functioning voice, we should imitate the actual function of that voice in our instrument. And that is discussed through all of the posts of my blog.
Regarding your second question, I’m not sure either since I don’t know how you are guiding them. It is good just to talk about using the voice healthy. Even if you aren’t sure of the details. General awareness can do a lot. One thing, since you mention it, is vibrato is also a symptom, much like placement. It is not something we try to make or improve.
If we try to directly change it we will create new interferences that will be unhealthy. The condition of the vibrato is a sign of the condition of the voice and the function. It will change relative to those things. It should not be changed by trying to directly change it.
I hope that helps. Thanks for reading.
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