What do you think about the approach of separating falsetto and chest muscles and then when they are strong enough, coordinate them? I have come across threads in the forum at classical-singer.com and it seems like a few active people there advocate that. For example: singing forte in pure falsetto on “OO” or “EE” around F4-C5 and forte in chest voice on “EE” or “EH” around E3 and below. One coordination-exercise is to do yodels from chest register to falsetto and not hold back. It seemed like to be able to strengthen the muscles properly you have to do the exercises pretty loudly. What is your opinion? Thanks!
Thanks for your question. I agree with the basic concept of separating the registers and strengthening them. I learned the concept from my research of the teaching of Allan Lindquest and from my work with David Jones. The practice dates back to the very beginning of organized voice training. The pedagogue Mancini refers to the practice in his book. (I’m going by memory so I think it was Mancini) He states that the voice naturally divides itself into two basic registers. This is observable by anyone doing a little experimentation. We should exercise the voice in each register separately and then join it from the upper down to the lower.
Lindquest practiced this by using a two-octave exercise that started as low as the singer could comfortably phonate. After doing a three-note scale in the very low register you either stop and then start again two octaves higher, or you slide up two-octaves, and come back down on a long two-octave scale. The vowels that are generally recommended are “ah” in the lower part and “oo” in the upper. Males can change to “ee” in the upper to strengthen the register after doing it on “oo” for some time.
I agree that the lower register should definitely be performed forte in order to anchor the voice. The upper register should be performed solidly, but no louder than can be done with stability. Usually when I have heard others perform this exercise (not guided by me) typically they force the upper register. This is partly due to thinking falsetto and partly due to singing louder than the register is strong enough to take.
The first part of the problem is why I don’t use the term falsetto for the pure upper register. I define falsetto as not only a false tone, but a false vibration of the folds. When this condition exists the vibration is not pure and true, but diluted by unvocalized breath. (Using this definition makes it possible to be falsetto in the lower register as well. That is also referred to as crooning.) When I do this exercise I emphasize not to sing too loud in the pure upper register because it is generally starting from a weaker condition. We want to keep the vibration true or else we are just forcing the breath through the glottis, which does nothing to strengthen and develop the voice. It helps to think you are just speaking confidently to begin with so you don’t force the breath through the glottis, but actually phonate in a balanced manner.
With this approach you strengthen the registers through purifying them and not through brute force. This applies to the lower register too. But it is naturally stronger so it is less at risk. It is important to recognize the difference between strengthening the tone by just using more breath force, which is harmful to the voice; and strengthening the vocal muscles themselves by keeping a balance between their resistance and the breath pressure and gradually increasing the strength of both.
After the body becomes more sensitized to the proper balance between the resistance and the breath pressure of the upper register the downward scale brings that condition into the middle range. This is how we find our perfect balance of strength and flexibility in the middle. Many teachers profess that the best way to work the voice is from the middle out. This is only true if the voice is in balance. If it is not it will be a difficult if not futile process. But if this register balancing has been done (which is the process of working from both opposite extremes back to the middle) it gets us to the point where we can then work from the middle back out. This process encompasses all possibilities of vocal coordination and develops the voice in the most complete manner possible.
Yes, those are muscles involved. Notice that along with the outward movement of the “flank” muscles the abdomen compresses in. This is basically the same action that should happen when singing. But it should be a reflex, just as it is when you cough or clear your throat. In other words, you are not trying to do that with your torso. You are singing and that happens to help do it. Just as when you clear your throat you are not trying to do that with your torso. You are trying to clear your throat and that happens to create that result.
I noticed that when I “cough though the nose” or clear my throat or exhale with force, the muscles on the sides of my lower torso engage and move outward. Is this the sort of action I want to achieve when beginning a tone?
Breath compression is the squeezing action the body makes when performing many natural functions. We want to make singing be a natural function. Breath compression provides the energy to activate the vibration of the vocal folds. As I suggested before, observe your body performing different functions like clearing the throat, coughing, laughing, crying, sneezing, vomiting. All of these and more are based on breath compression. The same automatic response of the compression muscles that happens in these functions should happen when we sing, properly coordinated to the needs of the act.
Thanks for the helpful info. I’ll be sure to review those articles. However, I’m still not entirely sure as far as what breath compression is and how it relates to singing.
Very nice suggestions, Simon. I also suggest observing what your body does when doing natural functions like coughing, sneezing, clearing the throat. Anything that involves breath compression. The act when singing isn’t exactly the same, but it is related.
The best answer I can give you is to develop it naturally over time. This is something that takes time and proper care to develop. It can’t be learned from reading it, though. Could you learn to ride a bike from written instruction? Shoot a Basketball? Singing is a physical skill that we learn by doing it. And if we are lucky we have some accurate guidance to make sure we’re on the right track.
Hi Joseph. Maybe it’s time to take a singing lesson with Michael!!! :)
To save Michael some time, one of his previous articles on posture mentions some of the sensations for body connection: http://vocalwisdom.com/voicearticles/posture
David Jones also mentions some of the sensations in these articles:
Some of the other sensations can be felt with a loud hiss (a softer hiss also works, but I’ve found it easier to feel the sensations with a louder hiss). If you put your hands around your waist in the lower back area whilst hissing, you can feel the muscles there expand. Then if you lie face down on the floor, supporting your head with your forearms, then do a hiss, you can feel your upper and lower abdominals contract.
I’m sure there are other sensations, so Michael will either point them out, or tell me that I’m plain wrong. :)
Also, what sensations should I be aware of when the body connection is present?
I’m guessing that the idea of “taking a deep breath and holding the expansion (pushing out/tightening the abs)” isn’t the most effective way of supporting the voice, nor is pushing the voice an effective way of reaching the high notes. So, what would be the best way to go about developing the upper range?
Body connection is what we feel when we go to our complete voice. The small cooing voice is the separated little head voice. It sets up an optimal condition in the vocal fold adjustment. They are flexible and close together without rigidity. But this adjustment is not capable of any intensity, which makes it ineffective for most performance, except for super pianissimo.
To get a performance level of tonal intensity we need to combine this little voice with the strength of the breath compression of the body. The little voice uses almost no noticeable breath compression. This is what makes it seem to not be connected to the body. When we change our intention from making a small sound to a full one, we stimulate the body to activate the breathing muscles in the torso to compress the breath. When this happens it gives us the feeling of connecting the little voice to the strength of the body.
But the concept of connecting to the body provides an important directional influence also. If we just think of compressing the breath, or supporting, we risk blasting the air pressure through the gentle adjustment of the larynx. The idea of connecting to the body provides a subtle instruction to stabilize the larynx in the direction of the body, which provides necessary resistance to the increased air pressure. A sense of “leaning” into the breath. Which makes it feel like the larynx stays stable. Then we have balance between the larynx and the breath.
As a result of the connection we complete the vocal system and the result is full voice. If performed in a well coordinated manner this will result in a full performance tone that feels as easy and flexible as the little cooing vocalization. This is the definition of the weightless voice that was the goal of the traditional Italian School. But the lack of weight is not the only benefit. This adjustment provides a sweetness to the tone that doesn’t exist in any other approach. This sweetness translates to a beautiful quality that can’t be described.
There are varying degrees of connection depending on the desired objective. The body reacts to differing degrees depending on the nature of the expression. This sense of connection is the natural physical reactions that people refer to as “support”. The only way to become more proficient at it is to practice and explore the possibilities of your body connection. It always takes more time to learn how to stimulate natural physical reflexes to accomplish your singing than to learn deliberate technical actions. But the instinctive reflexes will be more effective and keep the instrument healthier over the many years we desire to sing.
How do I employ this “body connection” that you speak of? Are there varying degrees of its use? How might I become more proficient at it?
If the larynx is not squeezing up then you are safe. I’d say keep going with it. But at the same time make sure you are going to the connected quality as well. Work in a progression, from small cooing to the strong but still separated witch voice. Then connect that to the body to complete the full voice. Then that is where you sing from for performance quality.
Thanks for your response. On a related note, when I make this odd phonation in light mechanism, my larynx is in a slightly-lowered position, so the “clarinet” sound must be resulting from a slightly-closed soft palate, but not from a completely closed throat space. So would you suggest that I keep vocalizing in this “witch’s voice” while ensuring relaxed musculature in the front of the neck?
Hi Joseph. By your descriptions it sounds like you are strengthening the lighter register but you also might be squeezing the throat some too. The reinforced light register has often been described as a “witch voice”. This is a sign of strengthening but it is still in a separated condition. We would never want to perform with this voice. But it is good for exercising. The musculature under the chin you feel is the underside of the tongue. If that is flexing you should check to see if the larynx is also being pulled up. This is a sign that the extrinsic muscles are helping the voice by adding more pressure to the vocal cords through constriction. This can make the tone much brighter, but also is unhealthy. We never want to add extra help to the larynx to make sound. So make sure you never do any kind of squeeze in the throat. This is why I encourage people to think at the larynx. When we think at the mouth or the back of the pharynx there is a risk of squeezing, especially when saying [i]. This can also happen when we try to sing too loud in the separated voice. It is not strong enough by nature to be very full. It requires connecting to complete it.
Whenever you experience an airy falsetto you have over-stepped balance in some way. So from what you describe as using too much chest voice, you are allowing the glottis to enlarge. This will cause a temporary irritation that interferes with the natural closure of the glottis. When the glottis doesn’t close cleanly we get airiness. That’s why I encourage people to exercise from the smallest phonation first. Like a “coo” or whimper. It is just a murmur, like singing to yourself. This is the smallest sound your voice can make, and should be the foundation of every sound. Then when we sing full we should be on the same balance. We can’t make this small sound with tension. If we tense the throat or the larynx no vibration will happen. We also can’t make this small sound with breath because the voice is so light the breath will blow right through. This is a benefit because it will teach us how to stay balanced. But it is challenge not to start too big. This can help with that.
P.P.S. Whenever I exercise using too much chest voice (as when warming up during the opera class), my “special” head tone becomes weaker and more difficult to access, and I’m instead restricted to a more airy, brittle falsetto sound. Is this a negative sign?
Since this post is about developing the registers, I think I ought to bring up an observation I’ve made in my own vocalizing. When I vocalize on an [u] vowel in light mechanism for a while (usually in a casual manner, such as when I’m alone at the computer or harmonizing with a song), my voice takes on a strange quality. To my own ear, it sounds similar to a clarinet. When I vocalize on an Italian [i], the “clarinet” sound becomes even more pronounced. When I first discovered this, I was at first overjoyed and thought I’d begun normalizing my middle voice (especially since it sometimes almost chest color to it on the lower end, closer to middle C) or at least bolstering my head voice, but then I observed myself in the mirror and listened more closely and realized that my soft palate seemed more “closed” than lifted, and my tone sounds rather twangy or similar to a witch’s cackle. I know that I cannot trust my inner hearing, and this might very well be a positive thing I’ve chanced across, but I’d like to know if continuing to vocalize with this clarinet-like tone would be a good idea.
P.S. When I use the aforementioned vocal quality in the range above the staff, it creates much less tension around my neck than using a pulled-up heavy mechanism. However, when I try to take it too high, I feel too much musculature engaging under my chin. Sopposing that this is a legitimate vocal coordination I’ve found, should I stick to exercising it in a more moderate range?