I was reading Richard Miller’s Structure of Singing, and he’s down on the phonation style Swedish-Italian uses. Are you familiar with what he says on it? I’m not trashing it, but curious. I was reading about types of onset, and there were three types, with the balanced onset being the one in the middle. One was breathy/ aspirate, one used air build up to close the cords, and his description of balanced seemed to be in between the other two. Maybe I am not understanding the usage of our suspension of air before phonation, or our thinking of what the larynx feels like just before a grunt. I look forward to having you explain this to me. Basically pages 1 through 5 deal with what balanced onset is, indicating the hard attack to be only used in rare occasions, so I am wondering if the Swedish-Italian school takes a different route?
I also need clarification of page 5’s discussion (at the bottom) of fully opened glottis with inhalation and then efficiently closed glottis.
Maybe this will help you see where my confusion lies.
By your questions I’m starting to realize where your confusion lies. It sounds like you think we want a hard attack. Maybe you have missed all the times I’ve pointed out that we don’t want the hard start to the tone that resembles the vocal cords clapping. I’m always repeating that we are looking for balance. It is a balance between the air pressure provided by the breathing and the resistance provided by the larynx. But that is a fine coordination. The spectrum of possible onsets that you are referring to is a description of the possible conditions that result from either of these two forces overpowering the other. This is the basis of the coordination that I am always talking about. The aspirate and the hard attack are both examples of a lack of coordination. There is also a difference between hard and firm. That might also be a point of confusion. Hard is lacking coordination. Firm is stable, not loose, and refers to the condition of the breath as much as the larynx.
A way of thinking of what we’re after is to consider the difference between the intrinsic muscles of the larynx and the extrinsic muscles of the throat. I always get the image of the throat muscles being like hands. They want to hold onto the sound to feel in control. The intrinsic muscles of the larynx pull the vocal folds together and stretch them appropriately for the pitch. We need these muscle to be active, but they are very small and we don’t really have sensation of them. They also depend on coordinating the breathing so we don’t exhale through them and cause them to open, defeating their ability to tune a pure vibration. This is especially important because there is an instinctive reaction in the glottal muscles to open when we breath. This is what Miller is referring to in your last question. The glottis opens automatically when we breath. If we try to phonate while we are still breathing we will get an incomplete action which will impair the quality of the vibration. The glottis closes naturally at the point of the breath cycle that lies between inhalation and exhalation. That is the point we want to sing at by sustaining that portion of the cycle which usually only lasts a moment.
Getting back to the throat muscles (hands), they are larger and we can feel them. Because we can feel them they tend to be used by many people to feel secure. We can use them to close the throat, in an attempt to close the glottis, as a way of compensating for the opening that happens when we breath. So the closed throat often gets mis-interpreted as a closed glottis because it is more obvious to feel. What we want is an open throat and a closed glottis, which only happens through subtle coordination and not muscular effort. For these people that have developed a dependence on the throat muscles, if they let go of them they have no control and the breath escapes wildly. The challenge is learning how to coordinate things so the vocal muscles can close naturally to tune and vibrate freely. To the singer this is like learning how to do something without using their hands. It feels completely out of control. The voice is at the mercy of our breathing. That is why the breath is so important, (for coordination) not because we need to use a lot of breath to sing. This coordination is critical, because a lack of coordination in the breathing will cause the breath to go through the larynx and dilute the purity of the vibration.
Now the way we establish this coordination is by suspending the breath. The breath suspension is talked about by Miller. It is the whole purpose of the “Noble” position of posture that he talks about. The breath suspension is how we avoid the hard attack. The hard attack is caused by uncoordinated loose breath being pushed out, trying to escape the glottis, and the throat muscles blocking it. This pressure is then released violently making a harsh attack.
As I said before, the key is recognizing what is the goal and what are the means of getting there. If someone has no experience of resisting the breath then trying to accomplish it “with no hands” usually doesn’t work. We have to first use the help of the hands and then progress to doing it with no hands. (The hands being the throat muscles)
I think a key element that may not have been emphasized by me enough is always keeping an open pharynx. If we do this correctly it removes the muscles of the throat from getting in the way. This is the part that can make or break the whole coordination. Allan Lindquest was quoted as saying that the open pharynx acts as a shock absorber for the vocal cords. And I find that to be absolutely true. A universal characteristic of voices that develop problems is an ineffective resonating space in the pharynx. So I need to emphasize more consistently the role that aspect plays as well.