Academic journal article Journal of Singing

One More Small Step in Solving the Mystery of the Benefits of Semioccluded Vocal Tract Exercises

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

One More Small Step in Solving the Mystery of the Benefits of Semioccluded Vocal Tract Exercises

Article excerpt

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THERE IS HARDLY A SINGING TEACHER or a vocologist remaining who has not discovered the efficacy of using exercises that semiocclude the vocal tract. Everyone's arsenal for attacking adduction, register, voice quality, or pitch problems includes a selection from the large inventory of voiced consonants, lip or tongue buzzes, or phonation into narrow tubes or straws. In an often dramatic way, vocalization becomes easier to produce, more resonant, and more centrally placed in terms of adduction and registration with these exercises.

The scientific explanations supporting the use of these exercises have been slowly emerging. Two basic questions are asked by everyone who doesn't blindly accept hand-me-down clinical or studio recipes: (1) why isn't an open mouth with a vowel like /a/ the best vocal tract shape on which to practice; and (2) what's the point of practicing exercises with vocal tract shapes that either never occur, or occur only briefly, in normal speaking and singing?

As we have developed in detail in our new book, Vocology: The Science and Practice of Voice Habilitation, there are at least two major effects of a downstream semiocclusion that can benefit vocal fold vibration.1 The first beneficial effect, which I have also described in previous writings in this journal, is an acoustic one. Simply stated, a vocal tract air column that vibrates (up and down) above the vocal folds can create a reactive push and a pull on the tissue surfaces so that vocal fold vibration is reinforced. But not all air columns react the same way, and the effect is different at different frequencies. In general, however, a vocal tract that is narrow (semioccluded) in some region along its length (e.g., at the lips or the epiglottis) helps to produce this favorable push-pull.

A second effect, so far less described, is aerodynamic rather than acoustic, meaning that back-and-forth movement of air is not a requirement. A steady back pressure in the vocal tract can help to stabilize vocal fold adduction. As the vocal tract is semioccluded, a steady pressure is maintained behind the semiocclusion. …

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