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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Masterclasses

There are many teachers and I have seen many masterclasses where a performance is put on. Not by the singer who needs help, but by the "teacher'".

This happens especially with famous singers. They give masterclasses which is just another chance for them to perform. And not being able to give anything else that makes a difference for the student they must put on a performance. Their performances are convincing. So people believe what they say is true.

This is what has destroyed opera and great singing. Young aspiring singers look up to these people. And they are duped. They take everything these "teachers" say no matter how much the information is untrue. The pseudo science I hear come out of these famous singers mouths is astonishing. They just make things up. Things like, "the air spins in your nasal cavities" or "take the air all the way down to your feet." I have even heard, "...in this spot in your voice your vocal cords are at rest." Even though the singer is making a sound. Nonsense.

This ignorance gets passed down to young singers who are highly impressionable. And when they get to sing for a famous singer in a masterclass it makes an even deeper impression. Especially when these famous singers are great performers in the masterclass. I hope people become wise to these things and learn not to take everything a famous singer has to say as truth.



The Purpose of Science

The purpose of science in singing is no to understand how muscles work so that a great voice can be constructed. We cannot possibly do that. There are too many variables in the way muscles can work together.

What science should do is show us exactly how all the great singers were able to make the sounds they did. How did Del Monaco, Caruso, Ruffo, Ponselle, Tebaldi, Mardones, Merrill, Nilsson etc. sing the way they did? What made that singing possible? How were there so many artists able to sing that way?

Understanding how their voices functioned by understanding the science of singing tells us how the vocal apparatus and body should be work to make those sounds. The science should also tell us what we need to develop to make those sounds. Many people are potentially capable of singing that way, but when the proper understanding and guidance isn't available to them it is not possible to reach that level of singing.

Many people know all the muscles, cartilages and so on. However, like I said, there are many, many ways that all of these can coordinate together, but some are much more efficient than others. That efficiency is what will allow the voice to be free.

It is very easy for a singer to believe a free voice is a lightened voice; and that is what is taught today. If the voice is lightened it can feel easier, but only if trying to sing bigger and heavier is done with constriction. The constriction will make singing big very difficult. So the constriction is the problem. That is what must be eliminated so that singing big is possible without having to struggle. Singing lighter lacks power, harmonics, and is not as rich of a sound. It is not the sound required for opera at all.

The greatest singers did not sing with this idea of a light sound. They sang with a full, rich voice of power, range and dynamics. That is what we all should be striving for. That is what the greatest singers did and that is why we need science. To show us the path to getting there.

Edit to add:

Always remember that when scientists today hook up equipment to singers to see what is happening with the voice they can only go by what that singer is doing. They are not hooking equipment up to Tebaldi.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Balancing the Vocal Vectors

They key to singing great is efficiency. If our voices are not efficient we end up having all kinds of problems from "pushing the voice" to lack of power and range. We have to understand vocal registration and the vocal vectors.

Vocal registration includes things like falsetto and chest voice. And we must develop both fully. The Vocal Vectors are the up pull, down pull, back pull and forward pull of the larynx. Registration affects the vectors directly.

Since the Vocal Vectors have 4 different directional pulls it is important to balance those pulls properly. Too much pull from one vector throws the larynx out of proper position of the larynx when we sing. Depending on which vector is out of balance determines which result we get. For example, too much up pull can give us throat closure.

The technique is was taught is based on balancing the vocal vectors which absolutely involves developing the chest and falsetto registers. This balance is what every great singer has. No great singer was unable to sing in chest or falsetto. People wonder how great singers do what they do. And this is how; the balancing of the vectors.

Many people look back at all the great singers in history and do not understand that what made them great was that their voices were not blocked by constrictive tension. The idea of "singing with an open throat" is often thrown around in the singing world to describe what a great singers do. And you can read a million different articles on how to achieve it. Or have hundreds of voice teachers who tell you different ways to get it. The best way to understand it and to have a clear way of how to do it is through the balancing of the Vocal Vectors which includes proper vocal registration.

Nasality

Nasality is a quality that singers should remove from their singing. Unfortunately, the idea of "placing the sound in the mask" has caused many modern day singers to become nasal and constricted. This sound has become widely accepted today as it has been forced upon singers as being the "right sound". It isn't. For those who really want to know how to remove this nasality there is only one way to do so.
When someone sings with nasality there is quite often an excessive leakage of air coming through the nose. The sound can be "honky", squeezed, buzzy, noisy and so on. However, if a singer correctly sings "dark" it will eliminate this nasality. It is not possible to sing dark and nasally.
I say "properly dark" because there are ways that people sing darkly that is incorrect. Singing with a dark quality means that there is an elongation of the vocal tract which makes a deeper sound, but there must also be intense core/squillo in the sound. Some people equate darkness in the sound to depth in the sound. 
I often use the example of non classical singers who go between singing nasally and then darker. You can hear a stark difference between the nasal sounds - when it is not dark - and then a riddance of nasality when they sing dark/deep. I will post and example below and also some classical examples. And always try to remember that if there is any such thing as a "mask" -which there isn't - then it is in the pharynx, not in the front  part of the face.
Below we can hear in the first minute of the song it is generally nasal except on the words "rush", "love", and "stay". On all of these words she sings much more darkly. The darkness (depth) rids of the voice of nasality:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbV7SDevw9k


This is nasal which causes a lack of proper darkness and constriction. The constriction causes the vibrato issues:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sE4EgIG0pew

This is a great example of singing nasally and then improperly dark. Through much of the beginning his voice is nasal in an attempt to get clarity. As he goes higher and wants to get a fuller sound it does go dark, but he loses all the core/squillo and gets depressed and woofy:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VS1WRddhsSE

Non nasal; he is older here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RMMTKdlX1Y

This is a depressed larynx sound. It affects the natural beauty of the voice, distorts the vowels, is thick and causes vibrato issues:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5pQ5mTb2fE

This is not with a depressed or nasal sound:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGBaEqB8-RI

My mentor's brother at 60 years old and in poor health. Still not nasal:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NApwbbEqRY


The Perception of a Singer

A student's perception of what they are doing and how they sound are often at odds with the reality of what they are doing and how they sound.  It is a teacher's job to retrain the inner ear of the student to the right sound which can seem wrong to the singer in their inner ear.

It is also the teacher's job to make the student aware of tensions that they are using that block the freedom of the sound.  In many instances a student is so used to engaging antagonistic tensions that they are not even aware that they are there. These wrong tensions seem OK because they give the singer something to hold onto'.

For example, while working in person I have often asked a student if they feel that they are locking their jaw while they are singing and they will say that they aren't.  Then, as I go up to them and try to move their jaw while they are singing it is so locked that it cannot even slightly change position.  The singer was completely unaware of this.  This shows a flawed perception.

Therefore, I very often hear from singers that they think they are singing well.  And that they are singing freely with a balanced sound.  Their perception has been skewed and it needs to be adjusted to the reality of what is happening and how they sound.  This is a process in which a student *must* trust the teacher.

In my opinion, I would never trust any teacher who cannot demonstrate the effectiveness of their approach with before and after results.  My teacher could do just that and so I trusted him no matter what my perception was at the time we were working.  And my voice vastly improved and freed up. That is the only way to work and that will produce great results.

My Mentor

My incredible teacher. Not only was he an amazing teacher he was one of the greatest singers in history he was one of the greatest teachers in history.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuNPJhxkpvs&feature=youtu.be

The Danger of Pulling the Abdomen In When Breathing

The correct breathing coordination for singing is absolutely essential in order to produce a free, ringing, beautiful sound. I had already explained in my other post on the breathing what the correct set up of those muscles is and how to do it properly. Now I would like to discuss one of the most destructive ideas about the breathing that I sometimes hear being taught to students; i.e., pulling in the stomach when singing.

Pulling in the abdomen when singing causes there to be a collapse of the inpiratory tension. As a consequence of the inspiratory (abdominal expansion) collapse, the singer is forced to lock the throat causing a valvular action - the Valsalva maneuver - whereby the glottis is closed too much and the singer is constricted. The singer is driving the air out against a closed throat. This happens when someone grunts, lifts something heavy, coughs etc. And you will notice when you cough that the stomach pulls in. It does this naturally so that the diaphragm is jolted by the abdominal muscles, thereby propelling the air out. We then momentarily close the glottis, building up pressure, only to release it explosively in the cough. This is how our bodies attempt to get something out of the throat.

Now, if we were to hold the abdomen out - engaging the inspratory muscles - while trying to cough we will notice that it is nearly impossible to initiate the action. This is due to the fact that the holding out does not allow the abdominal muscles to pull in too aggressively against the diaphragm - which is what is needed in a cough.

In singing we do not want the throat to close. That would only limit the vocal folds from vibrating freely. Instead, we want the vocal folds to vibrate completely unencumbered. So it is imperative to keep the abdomen expanding during singing so as to prevent the throat from closing. Thus, the holding out of the inspiratory tension (abdomen expansion) allows us to hold the throat open and vibrate the vocal folds freely.

Additionally, the balance of the inspiratory tension against the expiratory tension affects the vibrato action. Most of the singers who pull in the stomach when singing either already have a tremolo problem or soon develop it. That is due to the fact that the balance of the two tensions affects the vibrato action directly. There is a pulsing again that happens when you hold the inspiratory tension against the expiratory tension which directly affects the amplitude of the vibrato. And this is especially apparent on high notes or loud notes. Therefore, collapsing the expansion of the abdomen does not allow for this to happen naturally, how it should, but rather will cause the singer to develop a tremolo over time.

In closing, please never listen to any teacher who tells you to pull in the stomach or abdomen when singing. It will only cause constriction and/or tremolo issues with the vibrato. Proper appoggiare is the abdomen holding out.