October 6, 2014

Why you hate your voice (and what to do about it)

You've seen the information floating around on social media, haven't you? The stuff about why we hate our own voices, like this YouTube video entitled "Does My Voice Really Sound Like That?" 

The trouble with this stuff is that it only gives the viewer and listener (ha) half the story. 

Yes, it's true that the bones and muscles of the head attenuate higher frequencies of the voice and boost lower ones. So what is one supposed to do with this knowledge? Stop listening? Hope for the best? Avoid the whole business? 

This is not the way of the singer. 

It is possible to hear one's voice objectively, that is, to know if the sound one is making is "good" or not—despite the horror one feels after hearing it on a recording. However, for this self-knowledge to become a reality, the singer (and speaker for that matter) must undergo a fundamental shift in awareness, that is, a reeducation of the listening faculty which is made possible through the audition of higher frequencies. What sounds carry these frequencies? Two vowels principally: /e/ and /i/. 

The Old Italian School was well-acquanited with this matter, insofar as teaching their students to take every sound from the aural and kinesthetic awareness of these two vowels, /i/ being perceived as more "forward" than /e/. In fact, the García School taught their students that every vowel must be taken from /i/. There was no getting around this. No personal preference, no kinda sorta maybe lip-trilling nonsense. You either learned to do it, or you didn't. And you didn't get anywhere if you didn't. 

What happens when the student starts to hear a ringing, open-throated /i/? Placement—that dreaded word which many modern pedagogues love to hate. Be it a buzzy business in the middle of the head, a very clear sound at the front of the hard palate and "mask," or 18 inches in front of the face, the singer experiences a real acoustical phenomena. 

For its part, the Lamperti School cultivated awareness of the middle of the head (which was acquired during during mezza voce singing), while the García School talked about forward placement. (That's the major difference between the schools if you want to get picky about it.) However, if you know anything about the ear (and have read this blog), you will know that what both schools were alluding to can be understood as the audition of bone and air conduction. Two sides of the same coin, both are necessary, and cannot exist without the other. 

Learning to sing, that is, learning to listen, entails a heightened awareness of the feel, sound and touch of tone, rather than a willful dulling of the senses, which is akin to closing one's eyes when shooting a basketball into a hoop. Now that's real smart, isn't it? 

The ear—like the eye—can focus, and must be trained to do so, inasmuch as the painter must learn to see.

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