February 12, 2013

Yawning

Shortly after I began researching the world of Manuel García and Pauline Viardot-García, I learned that  their student Anna E. Schoen-René (who taught Margaret Harshaw and many other successful students) was very much against the idea of yawning in the voice studio. Her observation was that yawning - in any denomination - stiffened the larynx. That's interesting, I thought.

Tucking this nugget of information away, I didn't think much about it, perhaps, because I never really warmed to the idea of yawning in the first place. There are many who do however, often taking pains to point out that it is the beginning of a yawn that is beneficial. They believe it opens the throat. 

But what about the ear? Is it open during a yawn? This is what I started thinking about when I found myself yawning and - momentarily - going deaf. Of course, you've undoubtedly experienced this, but probably weren't aware of it since the moment passes quickly. But it really does happen. We go deaf when we yawn big.  Here's why. 

  • The ear drum can only vibrate freely when the pressure on either side of it is similar. 
  • The eustachian tube regulates the pressure of the middle ear. 
  • During a yawn, the eustachian tube opens which stretches the muscle of the eardrum - the tensor tympani. This stretching prevents the eardrum from vibrating freely.
  • Between the slight change in air pressure and the tensor tympani muscle being stretched, vibration is not able to enter the middle and inner ear. 
  • Voila! The yawning person is deaf! 

In light of this information, I posit that yawning while singing is like driving a car with the brakes on, which compromises the singer's audio-vocal control. Perhaps Madam Schoen-René was on to something after all, since the larynx is neurologically connected to the ear via the vagus nerve. Now, ain't that something? 

6 comments:

  1. I also have rejected yawning. I had a teacher who insisted on the "yawn-sigh" as a warmup. "The beginning of a yawn" doesn't work for me either, as the first step in my yawn is a stiffening as the base of my tongue pushes down. Given that yawning is a reflexive action, if we try to tinker with that we get into all kinds of complicated muscular interferences.

    I just touched on this problem of possible stiffening at inhalation a couple of days ago in my blog. Good to see the yawn addressed.

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    1. Thank you for your comment, Brian. Great observation re the yawn being a reflective action.

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  2. Glad to read this post! People are finally beginning to question this practice. People say yawn is 'contageous' - indeed, one in a room yawns, everyone does the same. How should a tone which comes out in a yawned manner influence the listener, other than by making him yawn too? Ever noticed how many people in the audience yawn during opera performances? (Happened to me as well, and I love opera!) I seriously wonder if that is because of the endless yawns present on the operatic stage of today. And I don't know how someone plans on moving people by singing about love, hate, jelousy, fear, happines etc. - through a yawn!!! Just the thought of it is ridiculous at best. Doesn't matter what kind of musical interpretation you add to it, or how you deforme the tone - a yawned tone stays exactly that, a yawned tone. And you can't influence how that will influence the listener subconciously...It WILL make them yawn. Just like your laughter will make them laugh. And your cry make them cry. Not to even mentioned that in the yawning position, the vowels practically don't exist, they all sound the same because of the over streched, tensed everything - relaxation is an illusion, flexibility and precision nonexistent. (The closed ear you just mentioned obviously helps there too or is perhaps a direct cause of it.) And the body is getting into a sleep mode - not a good idea if you plan on singing in an engaged energetic forte for 2 hours...And then people wonder why they weren't seriously understood as singers! Well, try talking with people through a yawn. You won't get far on the social ladder! Singing is the same. Yawning defies communication, it defies listening (the most important part of communication), it defies engagement, it defies diction, it defies singing itself. And no amount of so called "benefit" (allegedly open throat - which goes from an idea you can mechanically construct a tone somehow) will help with the fact that what you actually want to do - communicate through music, is gone. People seriously underestimate the fundamental emotion behind a tone and its effect on people in the audience, and the effect it has on the person producing the tone and what they are trying to do.

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    1. To yawn is to sleep, or to want to sleep. So true. Thank you for your comment, Dinko!

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  3. I'm deaf when I yawn? How glorious. I yawn a lot at cocktail parties.

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