Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Dispelling Vocal Myths. Part 2: "Sing It off the Chords!"

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Dispelling Vocal Myths. Part 2: "Sing It off the Chords!"

Article excerpt

THIS IS THE SECOND IN A SERIES of articles aimed at clarifying misconceptions about vocal production that seem to be held in common by a wide variety of singers.1 I call these misconceptions "myths," because they seem so pervasive among singers (at least the singers I see in the clinic), and because they seem to have been learned implicitly rather than explicitly.

The process of dispelling these vocal myths seems similar to the process called "Body Mapping" (see, for example, an article by Malde in an earlier issue of this periodical).2 In my clinical practice, dispelling myths is part of the natural educational component of functional voice/speech therapy; for the studio teacher, this process is simply part of the singing lesson. Regardless of what it is called, it is helpful for teachers to recognize that a student may be operating under some misconception about vocal production, and that dispelling the myth may prevent the student from fighting against his or her own anatomy.

A caveat may be useful here. Dispelling vocal myths does not mean that every voice lesson is an anatomy lesson, or that development of vocal technique requires a conscious attempt to control the mucosa and intrinsic muscles of the larynx. The use of imagery is a time honored method of teaching singing, and many useful images are actually at odds with physiologic reality. The problem is that some singers will confuse imagery with reality, and base their technique on a concept that was useful as an image, but dangerous as a core belief. This seems especially true with concepts that are formed early in the development of singing, and then followed subconsciously throughout the development of the mature technique. It may behoove us, as singing teachers, to differentiate between images and physiologic reality, so that our students use their images more appropriately.


For this installment, let us explore myths having to do with the vibratory source of the voice, that is, the vocal folds. I hope you caught two myths in the title. The easy one to spot is the spelling of the word "chords." I'm surprised how many well educated singers e-mail me about their "vocal chords." This is easy to clarify with a little basic anatomy. (The other myth in the title is singing "off" the cords-more on that later.)

Truth #1: Vocal folds provide the vibratory source for singing

The larynx is the structure known in layman's terms as the voice box, and it really is like a little box of cartilage, sitting on top of the trachea (windpipe). The larynx is the housing for the vocal folds. When viewed from above, as with a laryngeal mirror or endoscope, the vocal folds appear to be two white bands. Long ago it was assumed they vibrated much like strings; hence the term vocal "cords," which is still in pervasive use today. ("Chords" is an understandable misspelling perpetrated by musicians.) However, we now know that the vocal folds are not free floating strings, but are multilayered structures that protrude from the sides of the thyroid cartilage. One of the layers, the vocal ligament, is continuous with the conus elasticus, a ligament that lines the upper airway. Thus, the folds are anchored on the sides, but extend into the airway so that they are free to vibrate. Simply stated, the vocal folds are composed of a muscle that runs the length of the folds from front to back, which is covered by a multilayered sheath of mucosa. For the most part, it is the mucosa that vibrates, in a fashion that is more complex than simple strings or cords, making vocal "folds" the more appropriate term. By the way, the space between the vocal folds is known as the glottis, so that anything having to do with vocal fold vibration may be referred to as "glottic" or "glottal."

Human vocal folds are so elegant, and so interesting. The purpose of this series of articles is to provide some simple ways of dispelling vocal myths within your studio, so I won't elaborate much here; but I do urge you to learn more about the vocal folds. …

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