Again I have a response to a comment from the previous post. This time regarding the Vowel Modification discussion. You can find the complete comment here: http://vocalwisdom.com/n9v
The “Aggiustimento” as it is often referred to, or migrating of vowels (which is different from modifying them — this has always been to my mind a deliberate changing of a vowel sound into something else to round the tone; I was never taught that, so it seems strange to me, and ruins diction) is a topic often talked about, but seldom really explained. The explanations here are good, excepting no singer can see what they are doing with their resonating chambers. The larynx itself doesn’t actually produce any vowel sound (and in fact doesn’t even produce an even tone, but rather a series of pops) so talking about “having the vowels formed at the larynx is really just getting people to understand that the vowels are formed at the pharynx and not with the lips. And yes, everything we do IS to protect the balance of the vibrating glottis. But absolutely NO singer or teacher can see what is happening deep down inside you. THEY HAVE TO LISTEN TO THE RESULTS. Although it is nice to condemn teachers for using what they hear to judge what is happening, they really haven’t any other way of doing what they do. That is where sometimes I think too much is made of this “people striving for a result” rather than “seeking to understand function.” Though it is absolutely necessary to understand function, you simply cannot ever see if it is doing what you think it is doing. You have to judge that by the resulting sound. Even you, Michael, cannot judge the progress of your students by any other means than their sound. Certainly we shouldn’t ever be striving to “produce a certain sound” but rather have a freely balanced produced sound. But what does that sound like? How can one know what is balanced? You may not feel a thing in your body, it may have no visible tensions, it may be functioning perfectly so the resulting tone should be good. But how do you know it is good? This judgment relies totally on what someone hears, and then their interpretation of what sounds good. That is why people get more interested in the resulting sound than whether all the little muscles are working in balance: they can hear the sound and know if the result is good, they cannot see anything happening in the pharynx, or the larynx, or any other resonating chamber. And unless a singer actually feels noticeable strain, they would have no real clue if things are in balance or not.
Bea, it is funny, because I feel like you are disagreeing with me and then you say you agree with everything I said. First, as I have said before, I cannot control how people interpret, or mis-interpret what I write. I write from my understanding and my experience. If what I say is interpreted correctly we can develop our best singing. If it is not interpreted correctly the result will be something less desirable. But what I’m saying isn’t correct because I said it. It is because what I am saying is how the voice naturally behaves and interacts with the laws of acoustics.
Second, yes the teacher learns what is going on in the singer by listening to the tone. I don’t know where I “condemned the teacher for using what they hear to judge what is happening”. I wish you wouldn’t put words in my mouth. Of course the teacher listens to the tone to judge what is happening. Everything is in the tone. That is how I can help a singer without seeing them. And I do it well. I can hear what is going on in the body just by listening. But that doesn’t mean I instruct the singer to do anything with the sound. I understand what the body is doing, or not doing, by hearing the sound and then I instruct them about what they need to do with their body. Most of the time the action of the body needs to be stimulated by an emotional feeling. So that is what gets emphasized. But I never tell them they need to do this or that with the sound. That is my point about pronunciation being an act of the body that results in a sound quality. And naturally the sound quality tells us what action the body has taken. If we understand the relationship.
That is what we “do”, we pronounce. We don’t “make a sound”. If we try to make a sound there is too much unknown. It is too uncertain. Plus when we sing we aren’t singing sounds. We are expressing emotion through words and melody. These come through as sound but “sound” is not what we should be “doing”. If we do sing “sound” then the singing will be lacking. As a lot of what we hear is.
Much of what I was saying is describing things from the singer’s perspective, not the teacher’s. The instructions I gave are what I tell people to think. You may believe that these things are not possible, but they are. I prove it every day. Everything starts in the mind. We use our imagination to create, or conceptualize, our intention. This intention informs the body of what to do to create the result we want. It is true that we can’t see with our eyes what is happening. But we can “see” it through our imagination combined with our sensations. It is called body awareness or sensory awareness. This is what other athletes and dancers use to learn to know what their body is doing.
They can’t use their eyes either. Sometimes a dancer might use a mirror, but when you’re going full speed you can’t even do that. That would be like us trying to listen to ourselves. What you see would be after you did it and would distract you from taking complete action. When we listen as we sing we are waiting to hear our voice. While we wait we are distracted from the action of expressing words and melody. You can’t improve something that has already happened. And on top of that we don’t hear ourselves accurately. So we have to learn to sense what we are doing.
Even if we can’t feel things obviously, we can sense them. Maybe you haven’t had that experience and that is why you disagree. But I have, and people I guide discover that experience as well. So it is possible.
I didn’t say that the vowels are formed by the larynx. I said they are created by the larynx. There are two components to a vowel. The form, which is the pharynx, and the articulation, which is the larynx. Without the larynx there will be no vowel. The larynx creates the vibration that is amplified in the form to complete the vowel. The vowel originates in the larynx.
So we should “think” the vowel at the larynx. I’m not making this up. This is what I have learned from my research. Allan Lindquest learned this from Joseph Hislop who learned it from Gillis Bratt. They used that specific wording that I do, “think the vowel at the larynx”. The reason for this, as I have described in other posts, is this though/command travels through the nervous system to stimulate the larynx into action. That is what is wrong with so many of the singers we hear. People are trying to produce vowels without the use of the larynx. Of course the larynx does something, but it is incomplete and ineffective. It is the difference between an active larynx and a passive larynx. No muscle group performs a skill effectively in a passive state.
Now, I might have said that it is helpful to think that the vowel is inside the larynx. This is a mental concept that can help to stimulate the larynx and keep balance in the phonation. The breath has a tendency of going where we think. So if we are thinking in the pharynx some might have a problem of the breath going into the pharynx. If this happens it means the breath has gone past where it is needed. Breath has the responsibility of feeding the vibration of the vocal cords. If it goes past that point without doing that job it is wasted. So to help keep that from happening I suggest to some people to think of the vowel inside the larynx. This helps create a sufficient coordination of the larynx to meet the breath in the proper relationship.
You stated: “That is why people get more interested in the resulting sound than whether all the little muscles are working in balance: they can hear the sound and know if the result is good, they cannot see anything happening in the pharynx, or the larynx, or any other resonating chamber.”
Exactly. That is why people fall into the trap. And I am trying to warn them against that. I don’t see where the problem is. I don’t understand why you are taking your frustrations of all of the wrong things you have heard all your career and this experience with this teacher at the competition out on me. I didn’t do those things.
Like I said, I am trying to explain what to think. That is the HOW that you ask for. We think conceptually to stimulate the body to act reflexively and spontaneously. Making little adjustments here and there tend not to be helpful because they disrupt the natural balance. You mention citing exercises like David does and I don’t. That is because an exercise needs to be performed correctly to have benefit. I talk about what constitutes correct action. This can be applied to any exercise or song.
You say I am stressing theory. I absolutely disagree. I am stressing the action we take. There is no theory at all. It is a combination of physiological mechanics and mental-emotional stimulus. You ask how would a student know where to start. Well they probably won’t and aren’t going to be able to figure this out on their own. They probably will need to call me. (I’m only half joking)
Nobody knows what they are doing when they start out. That is the difficulty. The “how” of singing is actually pretty simple. We just do it. Yes, we will probably need to figure out how to coordinate things better as we go along. But the root of it all is still the simple act of pronouncing a vowel and a pitch. Do we ask how to cry, to laugh? How to run or jump? We can’t really explain any more than what is obvious.
And how do we determine if we have been successful? Who decides if a tone is good? I think there are two levels that can be assessed. The basic level could be the “craft” of singing and the higher level is the “art” of singing. Compare this to athletics. How do we determine if a basketball shot is good? Or a football pass? Or even more simple, running? The basic level of determination is “do we get the job done?” Does the shot go in the basket? Do we move faster than walking?
For a singer this would equate to is the pitch accurate? Is the vowel accurate? Is there enough intensity in the tone to be heard. Yes, we will probably need some one else to tell us these things. But with modern technology it is easy to have a recorder so we can review these things on our own, as well.
Now this higher level I refer to, this is a little more based on aesthetics. There is a little more potential for opinion. But there is also this “something” that we can recognize as a good tone. Just like when we watch a highly skilled athlete. There is an aesthetic element to their performance. A “pretty” shot or pass. The natural beauty of a sprinter exceeding assumed human physical limitations with efficiency and grace. A moment when everything just “falls into place”.
A tone can have a “special” quality when the conditions are right. It is that “something” that we can’t really define but we know it when we hear it. It happens when everything just works right and hits the “sweet spot”. I don’t think we can control this aspect. It happens when we do all of the other things just right. But if we focus on trying to create this result we will risk distracting ourselves from the basic fundamentals of pitch and vowel. Which is what we hear quite often. And the results range from mediocre to horrible.
I don’t know how many times I have to say there is very little likelihood of someone learning to sing by reading my blog. I get the feeling you think that is what I’m trying to do. From what you say you seem to think this should be easy, even with correct information. Which is ironic because you probably have the most experience of anyone who reads this. You also seem to think I have more control over things than I do. I believe that you don’t really think this way, but your words imply it. And I just don’t understand your motivation. You should know better. Somehow holding me responsible for these things that you have experienced is completely illogical. So please stop criticizing me for things that have nothing to do with my objectives.
This post was an answer to someones question. It is how I would answer that question in person. The only difference is I would be able to give examples of what I mean for illustration. Please stop thinking I am doing more than just giving the information I have observed. If you don’t think what I say is possible, then fine. I know it is possible because I am guiding people to doing it. It is not theory, it is reality. If someone is repeating what I say but they have never had any contact with me, is that my responsibility? I don’t even know this person exists. Is it my fault? I keep telling you and everyone that what I am talking about is not really well communicated through words. We can only describe. For someone to understand they have to experience what I’m talking about. Just like they have to experience what it feels like to laugh or cry, or shoot a ball or ride a bike. Reading about it won’t cut it.
And if the result is off-pitch with poor vowels but the teacher says that it sounds like a great tone, how difficult is that to recognize? Let’s first worry about the basics. Then once we have that we can start to look at sounding good. The funny thing is if we get the basics down we start to sound good without trying. That’s what I am talking about.