Singing involves who we are as a human being – our mind, our heart and soul, our physical body. As singers, we yearn to express our ideas and deep emotions. The healthy functioning of our vocal muscles allows for authentic expression. When the muscles do not function well, our freedom of expression is inhibited. When the muscles function well, we are able to sing what is in our hearts and minds and souls.
Functional voice training is our pathway to all working well. A journey of exploration filled with ups and downs and twists and turns – so much good learning! Now, this journey is not easy for it involves work. The correct work must be done consistently over a sufficient amount of time.
Hmmm. What exactly is this correct work?
The correct work of singing involves mind synced with matter.
Mind. We sing what we think. It is of vital importance that our thinking matches real reality. If our thoughts and any accompanying mental images are reflective of actual physical reality, then all is well. If our thoughts and mental images are confused, then our vocal muscles also become confused. We might even end up forcing the muscles to behave in ways that are unhealthy and harmful. Thus, our mind must come to a knowing: 1. to intellectually know how the voice functions, and 2. to physically know what it feels like when all is functioning well – according to the laws of nature.
Muscles. Our vocal cords create sound. For each and every pitch we sing, the vocal cords are of a certain size – more length/width/depth for lower notes and less length/width/depth for higher notes. There are two main muscle systems that adjust the size of the vocal cords. The arytenoid muscle system closes the cords. The crico-thyroid muscle system stretches the cords. These muscle systems must develop and coordinate well so that the vocal cords are properly adjusted – and then we sing right on pitch!
Breath. Thankfully, there is no need to attempt to voluntarily control inhalation or exhalation. Breathing is a natural process, and our body does it automatically. We breathe in and sing out; trusting our body. Any attempts at forced control will create unnecessary tension and inhibit the flow of air. No worries! Airflow is regulated by properly adjusted vocal cords. The cords act as a valve; letting out how much breath needs to go out for the pitch and volume and vowel.
Vowel. The vowel originates in the mind. We think of the vowel we want to sing. Then, an electrical signal goes zoom to the cords. The vocal cords adjust their shape for that vowel. Next, the cords send that info to the mouth-pharynx (and all physical parts therein). The mouth-pharynx adjusts its shape for that vowel. Finally, there are finishing touches from the lips as the vowelled tone makes its way into the world. The voice is heard, and hopefully intelligible. Yay!
Everything else. Much goes into creating and releasing voice. Yes, mind and muscles and breath and vowel. Also, energy and emotion and posture and consonants. All the things.
Okay. How do we get it done?
The correct work of singing is accomplished through vocal exercises.
Workout. Vocal exercises consist of pitch, volume, and vowel. If we sing a lower pitch with increased volume on an [ah] vowel, then the closer muscle springs into action. If we sing a higher pitch with decreased volume on an [oo] vowel, then the stretcher muscle springs into action. Our vocal muscles reflexively respond to certain musical stimuli – pitch, volume, and vowel. Thus, an exercise can be sung that causes these muscles to react in a predictable manner according to discoverable scientific principles.
What about the breath? The exercise is sung according to rhythm. This continuous rhythmic swing – breathe and sing and breathe and sing – helps to encourage a spontaneous free flow of air. Let it go. The body knows.
What about the vowel? As the vocal cords become more properly adjusted for the given pitch and volume, then the vowel will begin to shape itself accordingly. An exercise sung from one vowel to another or with the help of a certain consonant can structure our vowel so that its size and shape corresponds to the size and shape of the vocal cords.
Moving muscles and moving air sync up with correct vowel formation. We experience a resounding of tone with automatic projection. Voila!
Through the use of specifically constructed vocal exercises tailored to fit the needs of the student, the voice emerges unfettered. As the muscles function better, we feel the good sensations. As we feel the good sensations, the mind understands and remembers. Many “Aha!” moments later, and we arrive at more and more knowing. Knowing brings confidence. We trust our thoughts and actions. We sing the songs of heart and mind and body and soul.
In these words – a bit of an intro to intellectual knowing. Let us now further explore knowing through lived experience. Let us embark upon a fun and challenging adventure. Let us sing!
*Vocal technique shared is from Dr. Joel Ewing. His knowledge was gained from studies with E. Herbert-Caesari, Cornelius Reid, and William Vennard.