I don’t get this support from the diaphragm stuff. All it does is put an excess of pressure on the vocal chords so that I cannot sustain like I use to. As a Operatic Dramatic Baritone I use to be able to sing the two big baritone arias from Pagliacci and Un Ballo back to back with interpolated high A flat and could sustain beautifully. People marvelled over the ease and power of my upper notes saying I should sing HeldonTenor. I had a full rich lower and middle register and a soaring upper register and never sang in a production anywhere where my voice was not the most powerful(decibel wise)male voice in the cast by far. But my voice teacher says I was shouting and that I had a fast vibratto and that I supported from the chest which was incorrect and that I needed to sing with an open throat,control my larynx position,breath and support low and sing with resonance. Well after 1 1/2 years of this I now sing with resonance and support and a properly open throat. I can’t come near to singing upper notes like I use to and am lucky to make it through a single aria, the whole business has gotten so complex I find myself not even wanting to sing half the time. Before I use to be able to sing piano or forte depending on what I wished. Now it is uncomfortable to sing anything but mezzoforte, if I sing lighter I lose my connection if I sing louder I lose my voice. The warmth of the voice is gone the shining upper notes are gone the power of the voice is gone I can’t sustain like I use to. But at least I am singing correctly,
Well, I thank you for sharing your feelings with me. You sound frustrated, and I don’t blame you. I think you would agree with me that it doesn’t seem like you are singing correctly, even if someone is telling you that you are. Your story speaks to me because one of my greatest disappointments is the prevalence of opinion in voice training. You are singing correctly according to your voice teacher, which is his opinion. We need to always gauge our functioning against what is natural for the voice and not what someone thinks it should sound like. That’s why I don’t really talk about technique anymore because technique is subject to opinion. I focus on function, which is set by nature in the design of the physical body. If we behave in line with natural function we will get the result of the best tone we are capable of.
The key is to really understand the characteristics of natural function. Since we are interested in singing opera we tend to look at things through the filter of that style of singing. But we can be influenced by style in opera just as Broadway singers are negatively influenced by their style. The function of the instrument should be the same regardless of what style you are singing. Just like a trumpet functions the same whether it is playing in a symphony or a jazz band. The expression and style of music is different, but how we make the instrument work is the same. It sounds to me like your teacher has something in mind regarding the sound and is not in tune with the functioning of your instrument. If the voice is functioning in balance with all parts of the body you should have the result of fulfilling the potential of your instrument. Full range, dynamic flexibility, ease, comfort, intensity. All of the qualities of a good voice.
Regarding your specific question about supporting from the diaphragm, I don’t do it. That is not to say that there aren’t things happening in the midsection while we sing. There is, but it is not the deliberate pushing or tensing that people usually do when “supporting”. First we have to ask ourselves what are we trying to support? The tone? Tone is air resonating sympathetically with a vibrating material. In the case of the voice the vibrating material is the vocal folds, which is the source, and the tone starts in the pharynx and is amplified through the principle of resonance. The tone then radiates out relative to the intensity of the source until it reaches the ear of the listener. Since tone is energy moving through air we can’t really support it. And it doesn’t need to be supported. What tone needs is a constant pure, intense vibration to keep it complete. How does that happen? By taking care of the source vibration of the vocal cords.
So we need to understand how we can keep the vocal cords vibrating in a pure and intense manner. The first step is to establish a clean contact, or closure. I try to avoid saying closure because people tend to over-do it and add pressure to the cords. That is not what I am talking about. We just need to have a light contact so we don’t waist breath. This is where the vibration starts. We do this by stopping the normal breathing cycle. Simply hold the breath. Not with the throat but with your body, the breathing system. Suspend might be a better term. Then we can cleanly say the vowel and pitch. But we need to conceive of saying the vowel and pitch with the vocal cords. Like a violinist plays on the string. This will let the vocal cords react spontaneously without being burdened by breath trying to escape through the glottis because of the breathing reflex. The breathing reflex opens the glottis to let the breath pass through into or out of the lungs. This obviously destroys the ability of the vocal cords to vibrate purely which kills any balance in the production. Once the glottis closes it creates a compressed air condition in the lungs. When we do this it makes singing easy. The compressed air supports the voice by always having energy available to refresh the vibration. It is similar to the buzz a trumpet player makes with their lips. The body reacts instinctively to our desire to continue the vibration by unconsciously squeezing the body, keeping a steady compression of breath against the vibrating vocal cords. This keeps the voice vibrating and producing tone. This is the key to long phrases, not taking incredibly large breaths.
From your description I would guess that by supporting you are giving some pressure in a downward direction. This will add weight to the voice and make it feel heavy. This happens when we think of breathing and supporting low. This concept is an overcompensation for the high chest breath that we want to avoid. But we distort the body in order to breath as low as many voice teachers want us to. The abdomen loses its natural position of slightly in, where it can react reflexively to the needs of the voice by holding the breath and compressing it as necessary. Thinking of supporting can also burden the vocal folds with too much breath pressure, causing them to “over-vibrate”. This is the same as forcing. The worst condition is singing with breath-flow and then supporting. The act of “supporting” in this case just pushes the breath out even more causing the glottis to enlarge and make the voice heavy and loud.
Another effect of consciously supporting is the tendency for the resonator to close. Some degree of constriction of the airway tends to happen when we tense or push out with the abdomen. This cuts off the upper resonator behind the nose because the tongue tends to go down, causing heaviness and stiffness. The voice loses clarity and ease. It gets louder and darker, which can fool some people into thinking it is good. But that is a very limited viewpoint and misses the limitations of range and flexibility which are lost.
I thank you again for sharing your situation with me. I hope my response will help you to look at your voice in a more complete way. If I can be of any more help please let me know.
Thanks, V.A. After I read the comments more thoroughly I realized that it was probably you. I will be posting your comment and my answer in a new post.
The anonymous post above yours is mine, the one who signed the first post. The anonymous immediately in the middle is not mine. I was not connected to my google's account, so I could not sign.
Sorry for not getting to your comment. I am working on a complete overhaul of my website and have not kept up. Unfortunately most people comment as Anonymous, so I'm not sure which comment is yours. But I will get to all of them.
I know that maybe there is too many things to take care of, but I'm still waiting for some comments on the issue I posted.
Also, as a matter of fact, I noticed my question was not very clear. I would like to know how much emphasis is put on silent breathing exercises by this school. I'm eagerly waiting for Mr. Jones' book, but it was not published yet.
I came up with another doubt. I perceive that somehow many singers take the admonition of suspending the breath too far and sing in apnea, I mean, not allowing the airflow to come out in a controlled way, naturally, attempting to sing with a minimal breath. It causes a sort of muscular struggle, too much effort around the neck, veins visible, the larynx unstable… My question is: should the singer focus on the air flowing through the open larynx(under the control of the muscles of the torso)or should he focus on the opening of the ribs? I suppose the latter is conducive to hyperextension…am I wrong? I think that there lies the importance of silent breath exercises. You have the mechanics, so it happens automatically, only in difficult passages your attention to the intake of air is called for, and you can sing freely. Sadly, I notice teachers claiming it is unecessary to practice silent breath exercises because the coordination is only obtained through vocalizing…I think they take the teaching of Richard Miller too far, because even Miller mentioned and prescribed the famous Farinelli exercise. And if he wanted, he couldn't deny it and still claim any fidelity with the teaching of the old italian school.
I find this quite interesting because my voice only started opening up and my passaggio only began aligning when I employed the "breath-in push out method", which I only started doing a few weeks ago, all the tension has gone off my vocal chords and my throat feels relaxed and open, I can comfortably reach a high A flat where as previously I could only sing a up to an F, I am a baritone and my voice has gained freedom and expressibility by employing this way of breathing. My previous breath technique was based on breathing in and pulling in the lower abdominal muscles and this constricted my throat and my voice was tight and "white" sounding what is called in Italian "voce bianca" but as mentioned above it has all changed for the better now with my new way of breathing. I like this blog BTW.
I'm the one who wrote the post above.
I think that at least 50% of singing is knowing how to breath and how to spare the breath. When one reads the old masters of bel canto (Mancini, Tosi, Garcia, Francesco e Giovanni Lamperti), they all agree with that, and always emphasize the importance of breathing exercises.
Montserrat Caballè, for example, declared that at the beggining of her training, for 8 to 9 months, her teacher had her practising ONLY breathing exercises, so that the muscles were used to the task they had to do. And she always states in her masterclasses she is unable to proceed her daily obligations before facing 20 minutes of breathing exercises.
By observing singing teachers today, I myself believe this breathing issue is much overlooked and, when it is taught, it is done the wrong way, I mean, pushing down and out (when it is only a natural and discrete reflexive response of a well-developed apparatus, a slight resistence), hiperextension of the rib cage, and other "inventions" that I feel end up giving a feeling of choking. It seems that the student is preparing to become a professional diver. It creates only tension on the voice, I feel.
I know of many singers that dare to sing difficult repertoire (beyond their reach) who don't have a clue of how to breath. They usually repeat what their teachers say, defending it is useless to train at all, a position that contradicts the teachings of old school.
I would like to pose a question here. What the Swedish/Italian school has to say about the practice of breathing in terms of muscular training? I have read for years the articles of Mr.Jones about the concepts of the school, but I feel it is particularly difficult to put in practice the "breathing to the small of the back". My question is: practising the intake of air based on this principle and expirating slowly is enough, or one must also keep the chest (la fontanella, solar plexus)CONSCIOUSLY up all the time? I always thought it should be acquired with time and practice, when one gains strength and not by imposing this position to the torso.
I beg your pardon for my english. I'm a 27-years-old brazilian guy and still learning…
Thank you for your comment. You share important warnings about the dangers of doing too much with the breath and over resisting with the vocal folds. This is why it is important to hold the breath with the breathing system of the body, so the glottis (really the throat muscles) don't do it. The extra resistance those larger muscles provide allows us to push a lot more air pressure against the folds in order to make a thicker and louder sound. Very dangerous and not at all what I recommend.
I know very well this trap, for I suffer the effects 'til today. I was encouraged to push all the time, to sound mature and big-voiced. The result was that I got so tense, that after one year and a half I couldn't even speak. To this date I couldn't overcome the stress and the loss of coordination after this traumatic experience. More than a decade has passed.
I used to hold the breath with the glottis, and I could sing louder and louder with this device. I was obsessed with breathing exercises, because the voice was growing in volume after some months doing them. The main problem is that I practiced them in a wrong fashion.
I wish I could come back and do all over again…