Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Closing Your Mouth to "Open" Your Sound

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Closing Your Mouth to "Open" Your Sound

Article excerpt

THE AUTHOR HAS WRITTEN ABOUT VARIOUS types of semioccluded vocal tract postures (SOVT) in two previous articles in the Journal of Singing. In the first article, acoustic and physiologic reasons were provided for why teachers of singing and choral directors might consider using the nasals more sparingly, and several benefits of using the lip buzz and raspberry were given.1 In the second article, the authors performed an experiment using flexible endoscopy where each type of SOVT was used alone and as a lead-in to three different vowels.2 A video link of the experiment was posted on the Internet, and the link was made available for readers to view as they read the article. The focus of this article will be more practical in nature. After a brief recap of the different types of SOVTs and the science behind why they work, specific explanations of how to employ each posture in the studio or practice room will be provided, including sample exercises.

To begin, SOVTs can be divided into three categories. Table 1 (adapted from the second article cited above) provides detail on each of the categories and includes examples commonly used by singing teachers. Scientifically, a number of benefits accrue to using SOVTs. First, the singer produces a relatively high vocal output, but does so with low vocal fold vibration amplitude. These postures encourage the vocal folds to cut off the air flow very quickly each vibration cycle.3 This rapid turning off of the flow helps produce strong higher frequencies in the spectrum of sung tone.4 Having these strong high frequencies present in the spectrum (where the ear is more sensitive) is a key element in developing a sound that can be heard in a large hall or over an orchestra. Additionally, the SOVTs help singers turn off the flow rapidly without a lot of vocal fold vibration amplitude.5 The result is more sound, especially in a key area acoustically, with less risk of tissue damage. Second, some SOVTs may encourage a narrowing of the outlet of the larynx, which may help the generation of the singer's formant cluster when strong high frequencies are already present in the voice source spectrum.6 SOVTs have also been cited as a means for a singer to match his or her impedance at the glottis with the input impedance of the vocal tract.7 Third, better breath management may result; a singer can use more thoracic and abdominal "support" without using a pressed phonation, as will be discussed in greater detail immediately below.8 Fourth, reduced phonation threshold pressure is required; the higher pressures above the glottis reduce the pressure needed to start and maintain phonation.9 Fifth, sensations of "head voice" are encouraged. This is a result not only of the sympathetic vibration of oro-facial tissues and sinuses of the face and skull, but also to an acoustic coupling of the vibration of the superior surface of the vocal folds with above-glottal pressures.10 Finally, research shows a greater ratio of activity by the thyroarytenoid muscle relative to the activity of the cricothyroid muscle occurs during and after using the SOVTs.11 This is like what has also been found when "covered" singing is compared with "open" singing.12

The following positive attributes of SOVTs may have more practical application for teachers of singing.

1. The downstream resistance (flow resistance beyond the glottis itself) gives the singer's respiratory system something to work against without resorting to a pressed, hyperadducted production (as might occur when singing while lifting or pulling or pushing a heavy object).13 One method that has been effective in the author's studio is to have the student stand, inhale comfortably, and phonate on a middle voice pitch on a /v/, /m/, or lip buzz. This can then be coupled with the student placing one hand upon the abdominal wall and one hand on the side to feel the balance of muscular forces-ideally, the feeling is neither excessively "up and in" nor "down and out," but rather some balance (i. …

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