Q: How does your teaching differ from modern training?
A: Modern training emphasizes physical manipulation. My teaching emphasizes vocal coordination.
Singers are often told to "sing from the diaphragm," "squeeze the abdominal muscles," "place the voice well forward," "open the throat," "raise the soft palate," "lift the cheeks," "pout the lips," "raise the corners of the mouth," "spread the rib cage" - or any number of physical manipulations that pass for "technique."
Modern training is deliberately ambiguous. If a voice teacher has effective solutions, he can be clear and simple; if not, his only recourse is to bluff.
Q: I'm told to "raise my soft palate" and "sing with a held yawn." Is this correct?
A: No. That is low larynx singing, which undermines correct laryngeal adjustments. Its practice will frustrate your efforts to acquire a beautiful tone, a spinning vibrato, breath control, resonance and good diction.
The best position for your larynx is the floating position, which occurs when you sing on the speaking level. Most voice teachers advocate a low larynx - the most widely practiced error among singers today, and the chief cause behind the steep decline in the quality of singing since the 1950s.
Q: What is speech-level singing?
A: Speech-level singing is an approach to vocal production based on the manner in which a singer forms vowels - a manner resembling refined declamation.
For classical singing, speech-level singing includes the necessary roundness and intensity required by the art form. For non-classical singing, speech-level singing may include a more conversational approach to vocal production.
Q: How do you sing on the speaking level if your speaking voice is pinched, scratchy or nasal?
A: The common objection to speech-level singing is that most people speak poorly, and therefore speech-level singing is inherently faulty. Yet speech-level singing has nothing to do with using poor, or casual, speech as a basis for singing.
As originally conceived by the Bel Canto masters, "Si canta come si parla," or "One sings as one speaks," means that a singer is to use refined declamation as a basis for good singing.
The beauty of speech-level singing, properly understood, is its simplicity and its power to secure correct laryngeal adjustments - the heart and soul of good vocal technique.
Q: If low larynx singing is incorrect, why has it overtaken the art form?
- There is a justifiable fear and loathing of high larynx singing.
- Classical singers love to satisfy their ears instead of their sensations.
- Classical singers feel compelled to distinguish themselves from pop singers.
- It is widely believed that raising the soft palate enhances vocal beauty.
- It is widely believed that lowering the larynx enhances vocal alignment.
- It is widely believed that lowering the larynx constitutes passagio management.
Q: How do I determine my style?
A: Your style is the overall result of your natural tone production, your innate vocal behavior, the kind of song material towards which you gravitate, your musicianship, personality, physical talent, intellectual talent and emotional talent.
Q: How do I prepare for a vocal audition?
A: Preparation means maximizing all talents prior to the audition. What you bring to an audition is the sum total of your vocal, intellectual, physical and emotional talent. You should have a ready repertoire of songs in all styles that communicate you at your best.
Q: How do women learn how to belt?
A: By learning how to perform two skills simultaneously: resonance management and thinning process.
Most women belt chest voice wide open as high as possible. Yet there are two simple techniques by which a woman can take pressure off her chest voice. These techniques, coupled with thinning process, enable women to belt easily over a wide range.
Q: Why do I have trouble singing high notes?
A: Your larynx may be rising, your vowel shaping is incorrect, you may be singing too thick - or all of the above.
Q: What exactly is breath support?
A: Contrary to popular belief, breath support is not contracting the abdominal muscles, pushing out the abdominal wall, expanding the rib cage, breathing into the back, manipulating the diaphragm, filling the lungs to maximum capacity, or blowing air.
The true Bel Canto definition of breath support begins with natural breathing: (1) let the upper abdominal wall go out during inhalation, and let the upper abdominal wall go in gradually during the act of singing.
Most singers believe that inhaling as much breath as possible is breath support, but a singer can fill his lungs to maximum capacity and still run out of breath quickly if the vocal cords do not approximate efficiently. The vocal cords, which act like a valve, determine how much breath is spent. Any effort to control the breath with willful physical manipulation is futile, for (2) laryngeal coordination governs the breath.
Singers know that the vocal cords become firmer and breath compression increases with a rise in pitch. Therefore, (3) as you sing higher, never stop the breath despite an increase in vocal cord firmness and breath compression. Also, (4) when you ascend, let breath compression increase slightly; but when you descend, let breath compression decrease.
How much breath should a singer use? (5) For every vowel on every pitch, singing on the speaking level determines automatically the correct amount of breath to use and the correct amount of breath compression to feel. The correct amount for both is the minimum amount necessary to sustain any vowel on any pitch.
These rules are the very heart of what Golden Age voice teachers called "mastery of the breath."
Q: Why is there so much disagreement as to what breath support means?
A: Modern vocal pedagogy is a mass of confusion. Proof: the proliferation of absurd breath control techniques. During the Golden Age of Singing, there was great consensus among voice teachers as to what is vocal truth. Today, there is little consensus.
And yet, during the twentieth century a consensus did emerge centering on the invention of incorrect vocal concepts. Today, in virtually every voice studio in the world, the same platitudes are taught:
"Sing from the diaphragm," "Support the tone," "Feel nothing in your throat," "Raise the soft palate," "Lower the larynx," "Open the throat," "Feel a yawn," "Lift up in the back," "Create space in the head," "Place the voice well forward," "Place the voice in the mask," "Focus the voice on the bridge of your nose," "Cover the tone," "Raise the cheeks," "Form an inner smile," "Lift the corners of the mouth," "Groove the tongue," "Pout the lips," etc.
This is modern training. The platitudes that are offered as vocal technique have hardened into a universal vocal malpractice.
Q: If modern breathing methods are wrong, why are they universally taught?
A: Most voice teachers believe that over-compression and physical manipulation constitute breath support. By forcing the vocal cords together, over-compression can produce a seeming improvement in vocal efficiency, but it always leads to effort, thickness, heaviness, pitch problems and a wobble. Over time, the constant application of excessive breath pressure deteriorates the larynx.
Q: Why do I feel as though I never have enough breath?
A: The vocal cords act like a valve. If the valve leaks, if your vocal cords do not function properly, you will have poor breath control.
If you inhale too much breath, you will be tormented by a persistent sensation of suffocation. Whatever you inhale, you must exhale. Breath volume cannot improve your ability to sing long phrases, for the point is not how much breath you take, but how skillfully you manage the breath.
Excessive abdominal contraction always induces a sensation of suffocation. Take a breath. Let the breath escape from the body effortlessly. Take another breath, but squeeze your abdominal muscles while exhaling. The mere act of contraction induces a sensation of suffocation.
Q: Why is my voice breathy?
A: Your vocal cords do not function properly. To produce clear tone, the vocal cords must function efficiently. Breathy singing can be effective when stylizing, but it is disastrous if it is the basis of your technique.
Q: How do I eliminate the "break" in my voice?
A: By equalizing what are termed "registers" and developing vocal alignment. If your chest voice is sufficiently balanced, and if your middle voice is sufficiently firm, your voice will have no break.
It is often said that women have three registers: chest, middle, and head - as if three separate voices exist. In reality, the terms chest, middle, and head are arbitrary terms and refer simply to degrees of vocal cord depth. In the female voice, the so-called "break" between chest and middle is caused by an inequality of vocal firmness.
Among male singers, the so-called "break" is caused by an inability to shift vocal resonance behind the soft palate, coupled with a too thick laryngeal mechanism.
Q: Why does my voice become tired?
A: You are probably singing too high with too much vocal thickness - in which case, your larynx is overloaded. Or, you may be employing an unnatural breathing method. All modern breath support methods induce over-compression, which fatigues the voice.
Other causes of vocal fatigue include: (1) low larynx singing (the persistent act of yawning involves muscular antagonism), (2) high larynx singing (the involuntary rising of the larynx causes throat constriction), (3) vocal abuse caused by singing too long without rest, and (4) breathy singing, which causes the vocal cords to work harder in order to function.