I am writing about this topic in a series as there is so much to cover. This is the first article:
One of the *WORST* concepts ever to be used in singing is the concept of THE MASK otherwise known as VOCAL PLACEMENT. More destruction has been leveled on the singing world as a whole by these concepts than almost anything else. The idea of singing "in the mask" is that you control your voice by placing the sound in any number of places in your face, forehead, nose etc. That area is deemed the "mask" area. It is essential for singers, as well as singing teachers, to understand exactly what problems these concepts have caused, what they were trying to achieve, and how we can get better results if we understand their limitations.
The idea of "singing in the mask," and thus "vocal placement" was first used by Jean de Reszke. Jean de Reszke was a French tenor who lived from 1850 - 1925. When his voice declined he retired from performing and became a singing teacher. De Reszke came up with the phrase "singing in the mask" as a way to describe what he felt when he was singing well. He thought he could get his students to sing well by having them try to feel what he felt. What is clear is that all singers experience certain sensations when singing; and they also have a proprioceptive or kinesthetic awareness of the sound they are producing as well as how they are producing it. Some singers are better at this than others. That is usually a question of talent.
What is also clear is that an individual's experiences of sensations are very subjective. While they may experience similar "feelings" or sensations, they also will have many different feelings or different interpretations of those feelings. That makes the concept of "sensations" or "placement" very difficult to teach. If you think about it, we are all shaped differently. And the "sensations" a singer feels is due to the vocal folds making a sound that is then resonated in the singer's resonating cavities. The biggest resonator is the pharyngeal cavity which accounts for about 95%+ of total vocal resonance. Funnily enough the pharyngeal cavity is not "forward" or anywhere near the "mask" area even though it is the biggest resonator of the voice. There is also some mouth resonance as well as tracheal resonance. So the resonators cause the singer to feel sympathetic vibrations in different areas of their body - mainly in the facial area. However, everyone is shaped a bit differently so their experiences of vibration intensity in specific areas will differ. Also, some people are naturally more sensitive to certain vibrations. So to try and teach a singer to sing well by feeling sympathetic vibrations which are completely subjective is a shot in the dark. There are too many variables and things that can be misunderstood.
Furthermore, sensations are of no use if the sound isn't "correct". A singer could be feeling the exact sensations a teacher wants them to feel, but if the sound is wrong then there is no value to it. Instead, the sound should be right first, and then the sensations the singer feels are valid; and they are their sensations and feelings alone.
Moreover, there were many generations of fantastic singers before Jean de Reszke, during his life as a singer/teacher, as well as after he died that never used this phrase or idea of vocal placement. In fact, some of the greatest vocal pedagogues in history never used this idea at all, but they were definite about vocal registration; i.e., chest voice and falsetto/headvoice. Mancini writes about it clearly saying, ""The voice in its natural state is ordinarily divided into two registers, one of which is called the chest, the other the head or falsetto. I am speaking only of the voice in general divided into two registers, as commonly happens."
Also, if we just speak scientifically we know for a fact that it is impossible to grab a sound and place it anywhere. That is not how the laws of acoustics work. We also cannot "spin" it or send it through a specific spot in our head or body. It is outright impossible. So what actually happens when we try to apply these concepts to singing is that the singer has to manipulate their body/voice in some way to try and accommodate this "idea" which is a subjective interpretation of a scientific fallacy.