Do you have some suggestions about how to get proper closure at the larynx?
This is a very important question to get correct. In some training we hear a lot about glottal/cord closure. And in others there is never a mention of the vocal cords or even the larynx. These teachers even say, flat out, that we should think as far away from the larynx as possible.
Well, to me this seems like putting our head in the sand. Yes, we can create problems if we get too preoccupied with the larynx. But many of the problems people end up experiencing are because of a lack of coordination of the larynx. So it is obvious, to me, that we can’t solve a problem by ignoring it. We just need to make sure we get it right when dealing with the larynx.
As has been discussed before, our objective is to transform the body into a musical instrument. In this context the larynx is like the mouthpiece of a wind instrument. It is the location of the “reed”, the vibrating material, the source of the vibration that turns into tone.
I also find it helpful to think of the larynx like the string of the violin. A string player is primarily concerned with the point of contact between the string and the bow. This is because that is where everything originates. And really, pretty much every instrument is played at the location of the source vibration.
So it just seems to make sense that we should “play” the vocal instrument at the source as well. Which is the larynx.
This is the same concept as has been discussed before here about “using the larynx”. The idea is we think the vowel “at” the larynx when we pronounce. This mental location stimulates the muscles of the larynx to fulfill the intended vocalization. And a major part of that action is for the glottis to close in order to phonate.
This is a significant contrast from the common approach where the attention is on “opening” the throat or, for others, the mouth. As a result the focus is in the pharynx or mouth, where there is nothing capable of producing vibration sound.
When the attention is at this higher level (some even think in the head) there is no instinctive stimulus of the larynx. As a result the glottis takes a limp condition and we get a poor vibration. Then this poor vibration results in poor resonance. And if the singer wants to make an operatic sound they have to resort to forcing to achieve any power or size. A well adjusted glottis provides a naturally intense vibration that results in complete resonance with effortless size and ring.
This is all based on the observation that the breath tends to go to where we are thinking. And we are always thinking of a place whether it is conscious or unconscious. So if we are thinking somewhere beyond the larynx, where the breath does its job of feeding the vibration of the vocal cords, the breath will go to that place beyond where it can be productive. This is just a waste of breath.
As I said, we can create problems if we are too self-conscious at the larynx. We must not be too analytical or specific in this “thinking at the larynx” that I’m suggesting. This is because when the glottis is working properly we don’t really feel it. There is an almost imaginary sense of its closure. But we don’t feel it unless we have added extra pressure to the closing action.
And this adding extra pressure is a very common response to the concept of closing the glottis. When we close too much, what we are actually doing is helping the vocal cords with the larger muscles of the throat and tongue. This is very dangerous because this puts more contact pressure on the surface of the folds. It also inappropriately increases the resistance to the air pressure, which automatically increases that air pressure. And air pressure is the cause of vocal injury.
It is the lack of feeling that causes me to describe our journey to discover this to be like that of being blind. We have to visualize and use the memory of feelings from preparatory exercises. Garcia suggested using a light cough to feel the location and action of the vocal cords. We can then remember this location and visualize the behavior of the glottis as we articulate the vowel sound.
Although we don’t feel the vocal cords when they vibrate, we do feel a sense of stability in the larynx structure. It isn’t so great as to be noticed as pressure. But it does feel like it stays put.
This is a very fine tuned skill that is never successful initially. This is why most who try it on their own dismiss it after their first uncoordinated attempts.
One thing that is of great help is to avoid trying to close the glottis with the heavy register. I suspect this is why there tends to be failure for most who initially try this. The muscular condition of the heavy register creates too much resistance to provide an easy vibration. We notice this as tension in the vocal cords. I often describe this as we are using our “hands” to help the closure, like holding the glottis closed.
When this happens we will notice a different sound at the initiation. Either a cough-like attack, which is now what people mean by coup de glotte, or a vocal fry turning into vibration. These are symptoms that the folds are too stiff to vibrate spontaneously and freely. What we want is an immediate vibration, without leaking unvocalized breath, that results in tone. This gives the impression that there is only the sound of the vowel. No noise of breaking through tense cords or of the breath through loose cords.
Instead we should practice glottal closure with the lighter register. This is the basis of the “cooing” and “whimpering” exercises I use. The result is a pure, little voice we might use when trying to sooth a baby. For people familiar with David Jones’ writing, you may recognize this as the pure “cuperto” vocalization ideally performed on a closed vowel like [u].
As this adjustment gets more familiar it gains stability. Over time it can be connected to the breath compression of the body and reinforced to full voice. This must be done without enlarging the size of the glottis. We do this through balance and not through force.
It is critical that this last statement is at the front of your awareness at all times when dealing with glottal closure. We are looking for a balanced condition. We never are creating a rigid closure that requires breath force to break through in order to vibrate. When balanced the closure happens just from the little muscles of the cords themselves, which we don’t really feel.
In reference to my earlier analogy, this is like using “no hands”. For those who are accustomed to strong activity around the throat it can feel very “out of control”. For others who are used to a free flow of breath through the glottis when they sing it may seem wrong, because of how unfamiliar it feels. This is part of what makes change difficult.
Proper glottal closure requires a level of sensitivity that we don’t have when we start. It must be developed over time. Through exercise we can get to a point where we use the little “cuperto” to learn how to vibrate on the edges of the folds, which gives us a sense of flexibility and ease, and also use the strength of the breath from the body to provide power and intensity.
Ultimately this all gets filtered down to the visualization of vibrating on the edges of just the front portion of the vocal cords. What Lamperti called “the point” of the voice. Because the rest of the body reacts to this action, the mental sensation of staying on the front edges becomes the guide for all of our singing.
absolutely phenomenal and perfect way of describing this. Truly helpful
Yes, that is the trick. Lamperti said it well, “keep a warm heart and a cool head. 50/50 is a good mix.”
thanks Michael. Of course such knowledge only gets you so far: I have in the past let my psychology stuff me around too much!So I just REALLY want my emotions and heart to catch up to my head!
Good concepts. You have a very accurate perception of what we are looking for.
I think this is a very important topic as people tend to think that unless they FEEL the chords close, then they mustn’t be closing.
I once heard this proper chord closure described variously as a ‘suction cup’, an aerofoil on a plane’s wing and even like static holding two sheets of paper together.
These analogies to me describe the FEELING of a tight seal that is delicately held together without overt pressure. The feeling you get when the chords just ‘suck’ together and don’t blow apart, but are held in an almost magnetic-like balance is awesome (when I am calm enough to let it happen).
I have only learnt this in the the 6 months (after years of gentle insistence from more knowlegeable people who got tired of repeating themselves!) and I admit sometimes it’s been tempting to push the voice instead of letting it be.
I find it helps me (as a contralto) to be vocalising on the open vowels up and down the scale while letting my jaw ‘chew’ back and down while my head tilts up (not dragging my jaw down, but slightly raising the top of my head to open the passage way of sound flow). This helps because, as David Jones says on his site, contraltos and basses really need to keep things ‘open’ in the pharynx “north, south, east and west” in order to blend and not squeeze or pull up chest way too high.
Keeping things metaphorically open and physically supported really helps get that balance so I can let the static-like closing of my glottis just ‘happen’. I have done a vocal fry and if not done correctly it feels yucky and squeezed; however visualising the back of your pharyx being open and imagining the vowels being sung low in your larynx helps to prevent such squeezing and you don’t even need to fry your chords, they just suck together.
I would recommend whining, cooing or crying over the vocal fry any day as they are done on a higher frequency and as you said, only use the lighter vocal folds. The fry is so EASY to stuff up. Seth Riggs used the ‘squeaky door’ analogy but all of these methods tempt you to slowly sneak away from the open and free flow of sound through a relaxed pharynx and encourage vowels to be sung ‘higher’ than they should. The cuperto is definitely the safest method, again encouraging openness of the throat and closed ‘static’ chords at the same time.
My final helpful hint was the tip from David Jones to very occasionally put your hands in front of your ears to the side like wings so you can ‘hear’ your voice better – you will notice that what feels like an unconnected sound in your head sounds very much like a loud, connected, closed chord sound when you hear this way – this experiment brings you much closer to what the audience outside your head is hearing!