February 1, 2017

Vocal Control

How does vocal control take place? The answer to this question is through the ear—though I doubt you will find much about that in the current literature—even if you will find gobs of information about the anatomy of the ear itself. But that information can't help you sing any more than knowing the names of the muscles of the larynx. 

What to do? I love what Margaret Harshaw said about the matter:

You can't control the voice: you can only control what it wants. —Margaret Harshaw

I can think of several things that the voice wants, beginning with a good breath; the kind of breath that makes the ribcage expand, the spine elongate, and results in the muscles of the face feeling quite busy. This was taught by old Italian school teachers (the practice itself resulting in these feelings), beginning with inhaling through the nose (and the mouth shut) for up to 18 seconds. With practice, it slowly dawns on the student that the amount of air that is stuffed into the lungs isn't the main issue; but rather, what happens to the body when even the smallest amount is inhaled. It also helps the singer understand that breathing for singing is not merely a mechanical maneuver, but one that involves inspiration.

The voice also wants a stable singing position, a concept that was taught by the García School, and recorded by Manuel García's student Herman Klein (you can find Kein's book in the right hand column). A central aspect of my own studio teaching, singing position is the fulcrum around which the voice revolves—regardless of style and genre. Without it, the singer has no presence, cannot communicate with any real meaning, has little range, and sings out of tune. 

Once breath and singing position have been firmly established, the remaining requirements can be reduced to two: open throat and placement. While modern vocal pedagogues may argue the meaning of these terms, they carried real weight for old Italian school teachers, who used them to describe sensations that were both felt/heard. For them, singing took place through the sense of touch (feeling) and audition (listening). And now we have come full circle, if only because—don't you know—both these avenues of awareness involve the inner processes of the ear. 


  1. Wonderfully stated! I become more convinced of the dominance of the ear continually. Thanks for this!


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