Singing Bones

Go back to go forward!" That's what Margaret Harshaw - the doyenne of voice teachers - would tell her students. She would also give them a 'visual' by talking about how 'going back to go forward' was like the action of a bow and arrow. The idea, of course, was to obtain a clear vowel, one that was perceived as being highly placed at the level of the eyes/middle of head and projected forward. It sounds all mucky-muck doesn't it? Well....

This makes sense if you understand one basic fact about the how we perceive sound. And what is that?  We hear ourselves in two ways, via bone and air conduction. The former leads the latter. It's pretty simple really. What does bone conduction sound like? The easiest way to get an idea of it is to sing a very clear and resonant [i]. The buzzy business that you 'hear' in your head, back of neck and upper sternum is bone conduction. What you 'hear' outside your head is air conduction. Two sides of the same coin (another metaphor!), they can't live without each other. The trick, of course, is to listen in two places at once. 

Inexperienced students are often shocked when I put their hand on the back of my neck and sing an operatic phrase or two. "How to you do that?" They ask me. I tell them their bones have to sing before anyone can hear them. This applies to operatic singers as well as Broadway Babies. Without an unremitting experience of bone conduction the vowel will never be clear, and in the case of the Bel Canto Baby, fully resonant or far-carrying.