Monday, November 21, 2011

PUSHING THE VOICE: What exactly does that mean? Part II

In my last article I ended by saying that great singing requires a clean approximation of the vocal folds. This is not damaging, but it is something that takes time to achieve. So how does a singer achieve a big, free, dynamic, beautiful sound?

There are several things that need to be developed:

1) Building the instrument; i.e., Muscular strength - the muscles that need to be engaged must be strong to sustain the sound throughout an entire song and/or opera. This includes the muscles of the laryx, breathing muscles, tongue etc.

2) Developing the singer's aural image to the correct sound. This includes vowel, pitch, vibrato, chiaroscuro and registration. It also *must* include getting the singer to recognize a sound that is "constricted" and how to overcome it.

3) Developing a singer's skill of how to "play" the instrument once it is built. This includes things like trills, control of vibrato intensity/speed, fioratura, onsets, how to maneuver consonants, how to sing phrases legato, crescendo, decrescendo, mezza voce and pianissimo singing.

Numbers 2 and 3 above *cannot* happen without number 1 being completed. If a singer is physically incapable of making the sounds because of lack of development then they *CANNOT* proceed to 2 and 3. I cannot emphasize this enough because it is at the root cause of the problem with the singing institutions and what is taught today. It is not possible to build a singer's vocal instrument with one 30 minute lesson once a week. No way, no how.

In developing or building the singer's instrument a teacher must be able to first and foremost correctly analyze the sound a singer is making and also understand what the correct sounds for chest, falsetto, headvoice, constriction, chiaroscuro, "core", vibrato, "covered chest", coordinated chest, mezza voce, pianissimi, coordinated falsetto are. If a teacher does not know what the correct sounds are and if they are not able to correctly analyze what a singer needs and/or is doing right or wrong, NOTHING ELSE IS OF ANY USE! All the physiological knowledge in the world is completely and utterly meaningless if a teacher does not know what the right sounds are.

Now what I am going to say next is going to be just plainly honest and factual. There are some teachers out there who really are trying their best, but they just don't know what the right sounds are and have been misinformed. These teachers generally love the older singers like Tebaldi and genuinely want their singers to sound that way, but just don't know how to get them there. ON THE OTHER HAND, there are teachers now days, who unfortunately *KNOW*, *WITHOUT A DOUBT*, that what they are teaching is wrong and that they cannot get the singers to a great sound. So instead these teachers are the ones who tend to be the most psychologically and emotionally abusive of all teachers. They blame the singers, they tell the singers that the old way of singing is dead and that there is a new way, or they tell them that very few singers can sound the way the old singers did. And that is very, very sad. However, singers must remember that these kinds of teachers only flourish if you continue to go to them. So stop going to them. You owe it to yourself and to your art. But I digress.....

One of the main reasons why it is important to recognize the right sounds is because as a teacher you must know what a student is lacking. With vocal development whatever muscles are weak need to be immediately strengthened in order to be brought into balance with those that are strong. Generally we are speaking of the registration muscles; falsetto and chest. Additionally, most student's breathing muscles and coordination are weak and wrong when they start lessons. And that is something that is crucial to address in order to overcome constriction, and therefore "pushing"/"forcing".

Muscular development is dependent on, quite factually, working a muscle until there are tiny tears in it and then letting it rest so blood comes in and repairs it, thus building it strong. Now I am not saying that there should be bloodshed! LOL! But what I am saying is that if a singer is not engaging the muscles enough to tax them in order for them to rest and rebuild stronger, they really are not doing anything. And anyone who goes to the gym knows that building muscle takes *WORK*. Lots of intense work. It is the same with the voice. The breathing muscles alone have to be strong enough to overcome the constriction. The muscles in the larynx also have to be strong to keep it in a lower position, to stretch for the high notes, vibrato etc. So you *SHOULD* be getting vocally tired in your lessons. YES, you read it correctly. A SINGER SHOULD GET VOCALLY TIRED IN THEIR LESSONS WHEN BUILDING THEIR VOICE! Anyone who tells you differently is factually incorrect.

However, once the instrument is built (the muscles are developed and constriction is out of the way) then it is only a matter of maintenance. And that is much easier. It does not take as much energy to only maintain the voice. It is an unfortunate fact that we hear the great singers when they are in their "maintenance" phase, when they are at their prime development and skill. We don't hear what it took to get there. How many bad sounds, botched notes, blasted sounds, fatigue, and downright ugly sounds it took to reach their maintenance phase.

It is important to understand that I am not telling students they should be so fatigued that they cannot talk. Absolutely not. One of the keys to building the instrument, or even in physical fitness in sports, is knowing *WHEN TO REST*. In fact, the rest is as important as the singing lesson. And you can only fatigue the voice so much. Then the singer must rest, but with that rest the voice becomes stronger. This is problematic for the collegiate singer. When is there time to be fatigued and rest when they have classes or choir that they have to sing for constantly? So instead the teachers do not develop the voices this way. This accounts for the severe lack of great opera voices today. This system MUST be changed for great singing to survive.


  1. I understand you oppose the Valsalva sp? close the cords doesn't it take a firm diaphragm, epigastrium pushing out? How is the close vocal cord arrangement accomplished if not with the diaphragm??
    Thank you.

    1. The inspiratory tension; i.e."pushing out"; holds the throat open so that the air doesn't get stuck because of throat closure. So the throat is held open and then the proper muscles work to bering the vocal folds together. We should not squeeze the throat closed to bring the vocal folds together. I describe the breathing expansion as holding out rather than pushing out. Keep the expansion going as you sing.

  2. Mr. Silver, Does a person who is learning to sing needs to "get it" i.e - I mean what you are saying before any training begins? If so, how does one train?