This is the follow up email exchange from my last blog post. I thought it might be worthwhile to post because I explain these concepts more in depth.
Thank you so much for your answer. I’m sending you a recording of me some 4 hours after class – as you can hear, I’m in pretty bad shape. If you could give a specific demonstration of how I can, say, “turn up” the volume of my voice without forcing so much air out, I would appreciate it.
OK, I hear what’s going on. It is the same qualities I noticed when we started working together. I didn’t want to make a big deal about it, but I did mention that your speaking habits could be a problem. Basically the breath and the larynx are not meeting each other effectively. There is an unstable quality in the voice. What makes the voice stable? Sufficient energy from the proper breath pressure combined with instinctive action of the larynx. When we apply an appropriate breath pressure to the larynx it reacts by stabilizing against the pressure. But this reaction only happens if we stop the normal respiration cycle first. If we try to speak while still breathing normally the larynx will have an incomplete stimulus from the nerves and the breath will be loose. This is pretty much what is going on for you. If we “use more breath” with this condition we just increase the amount of breath that escapes through the larynx. We get a louder sound but not an increase of intensity. And we also increase the level of abuse to the voice. We need to stop normal respiration and then compress the breath up towards the larynx. Like I said in the previous response, I like to feel like I am pressing the breath up against my collar bones. This helps to keep any tension away from the larynx. The voice needs to be provided energy from the breathing system, not actually breath. Breath is just the mode of transferring the energy to the voice. This is what happens when we compress the breath, it turns into energy instead of being just breath. So when we say that we need to eliminate the extra breath from the voice it doesn’t mean that we use less activity from the respiratory system. It is actually the opposite. There is actually a stronger, more positive action from the breathing muscles to hold and compress the breath to provide a steady energy to reinforce the voice and feed the vibration.
When the larynx is active and the vibration is being fed a steady supply of energy from compressed breath the vibration has intensity. This intense vibration causes the air inside the pharynx and the open spaces of the skull to sympathetically vibrate. That is resonance. If the vibration is what we typically hear from most speakers and singers the resonance is only felt in the pharynx and mouth. If the larynx is pronouncing clearly and the source vibration is intense it is felt on the lips and in the bones of the skull. This is what we want. To the listener this gives clarity to the sound and subsequently to the words. To the singer or speaker this intensity almost seems aggressive and nasty. Because of the almost ugly sound in our head we tend to avoid the very thing we should be doing. This is the key to self-amplifying your voice and being easily audible in large spaces. It doesn’t give the impression of trying to talk louder, like yelling. The sound is louder, but through intensity it is still focused and concentrated. Not dispersed like when just being louder. Signs of good resonance from intense vibration is the buzzy tickle of the tone on the lips and in the bones of the face around the nose, eyes and center of the skull. The sensation of buzz around the nose is often mistaken for nasality when first experienced. It is not. Nasality exists when the breath is loose and the vibration lacks intensity. Then the tone is confined, through partial closing the throat, in the nose space. Because we have been warned that pronouncing through the nose is undesirable we tend to also avoid the healthy buzz around the nose. The reverse exists as well. Some people who have been taught that it is good to have tonal vibration sensations around the nose mistakenly believe they are achieving them by placing the tone in the nose. This usually has negative results because of the closing of the throat necessary to trap the tone in the nasal chamber. Lamperti described this very well when he said that you can’t blow the tone into the head with loose breath and you can’t avoid the heady buzz with compressed breath and intense vibration.
Again, it comes down to HOW we use our breath. If it is loose it will be ineffective. We need to speak with energy. How do we do this if we can’t seem to feel it? Well we need to look at other natural functions that rely on compressed breath. We have blowing the nose, laughing, crying, vomiting, coughing, sneezing, clearing the throat. I’m sure we can all identify many more. Observe what your torso feels like when doing these things. We can easily pretend to do them as well, and make what is naturally involuntary a deliberate action. Then take what you feel happening with these other functions and do it while making a vocal sound. Start with sounds first before trying to speak or sing, because that is how we develop in life. Think of pronouncing clearly and with purpose on the lips, but not beyond. If the tone is not on the lips it is not intense enough to reach them. Do not try to place the tone, or get it, on the lips. We also do not want to pronounce beyond the lips. This is a symptom of spreading and using loose breath. Think of the positive result and make it happen by speaking clearly and with intensity. By thinking of speaking on the lips we can stimulate the larynx without bringing muscular interference to it. If this is done well there is the experience of the breath compression happening because we are saying something, almost automatically as a reflex. You will notice that if there is any holding in the throat the strong pressure from the compression will feel like interference. This is a sign of something that needs to be let go of. Then the voice will be free to function unencumbered. If the relationship between the voice and the breath is working correctly you will start to feel the tone spontaneously filling the skull like light fills a room when the electricity is turned on. The buzz is kind of like an electrical current that you feel in the bones of the face and head. But it is controlled in the midsection. It is also dependent on the pleasant expression that lifts the face in a slight smile. This lift along the sides of the nose and under the eyes opens the upper resonator which allows the tone to reach the bones of the face. The lift of the face also has an influence on the tongue to stay up out of the throat. This allows much more freedom and flexibility in the primary vibration of the vocal folds giving a greater sense of ease in the production.