Answers to frequently asked questions about singing and the voice
1) What exercises or thoughts do you have for students overcoming jaw tension?Jaw tension is best alleviated by gentle stretching of the face and jaw, by manual massage and manipulation, by gentle small movements throughout the range of movement of the jaw joint and by release of tongue tension. It is also important to make sure there is no misalignment of the jaw which can cause TMJ syndrome including various other symptoms which inhibit movement and response. Diagnosis of TMJ can be done by a dentist with this specific expertise.
2) Also, tongue tension?I believe that tongue tension is primarily the result of two things: throat constriction due to emotional tension and physical stiffness due to lack of movement. If a student has not sung much or has been taught to restrict movement in the mouth in order to be more “focused” in the tone, the tongue can become quite immobilized. Also, heavy singing which keeps the tongue still, can eventually cause similar stiffness. Finally, over-opening the mouth restricts movement in the base of the tongue, and can contribute to tongue problems. The best way to alleviate this is through gentle massage, small and then exaggerated movements of the tongue, beginning with the front; and changes of mouth and jaw adjustment, as the jaw and tongue are intimately connected. Release of one usually effects release of the other.
3) Do you believe in holding the abdominal wall out during exhalation or pulling it in?I believe that the abdominal muscles can work effectively on exhale in a number of ways, in and up, down and out, and combinations thereof. Since there are four layers of muscles, and everyone has a different type of body structure, I think each person must experiment to find his or her own “best way”. As long as the intercostal muscles keep the rib cage in a steady, open position throughout exhale, the air pressure level can eventually be managed effectively.
4) Do you believe that in developing a voice for Broadway it is better to begin with a classical approach and then add the Broadway belt or work in combination or not at all?When developing a voice for Broadway it’s is important for the voice to have two healthy, well-developed register qualities. If the head quality isn’t there (and that’s the most common situation) I work to find and use it until it is strong enough to counter the chest register. However, conversation volume chest register isn’t enough for a Broadway quality, so that must be developed as well, and this can take time. The best end product is always one which utilizes both registers and a wide variety of resonance adjustments.
5) Do you use exercises for adding flexibility to the voice?I work to keep a balance between strength and flexibility in all voices, but it’s usually the flexibility that eludes most Broadway voices due to the above-mentioned use of chest register.
6) Discuss the problem of consonants in the belt voice and how one can overcome this issue.Generally, consonants should not be a problem in a belt sound. Belt is usually accompanied by forward production, as the larynx rides high in the throat. However, when the mouth is constantly open to the maximum and the jaw is also very dropped, consonants become impossible because the back of the tongue cannot move. That also drastically restricts the ability of the front of the tongue to articulate and the lips to meet.
7) How do you address intonation problems?Poor intonation is most often caused by register fluctuation. Flatting occurs at the outside edges of the chest register extension, and in the main passagio, or at any of the minor register adjustment zones, and is the result of too much pressure on the intrinsic musculature, which prevents the folds from re-coordinating and the larynx from moving. Sharping is always the result of too much air pressure. The vocal folds are not strong enough to resist the air pushing up from underneath and consequently overstretch (lengthen), causing the cords to bow a little like a sail, and raising the pitch.
8) What are some exercises that you use to increase a singer’s rangeIn order to increase the singer’s range upward, it is necessary to lighten the production and increase the pressure of the air while avoiding breathiness and to allow the jaw to drop and the tongue to move. To increase the voice downward, it is necessary to relax the throat, allow the jaw to drop and work to find first warmth in the tone and then volume at the lowest possible pitches. Both of these processes are slow.
9) What are some breath management exercises that you use in your teaching?I teach intercostal/abdominal breathing. I encourage control over the rib cage independently from control over the abdominals, and control over both as an integrated unit connected to, but separate from, phonation. I work to encourage a clear tone that is at least MF and find that the breath control develops over time as the tone quality becomes stronger and evens out. I believe that the TONE controls the air, and not the other way around, provided that the students can take a deep breath (inhale) easily in the first place, and that the ribs are strong enough to stay open during exhalation, and that the belly muscles can be deliberately controlled during exhale!!!!!(Whew!). It all works together but not all at once in a beginner. I use hissing and pulsed hissing to control breathing in the beginning student. I also work very hard on postural alignment. I call upon yoga positions, bodywork exercises from a number of disciplines, massage (I work on the students’ shoulders, upper back and necks if necessary), arm movements, and when desperate, I yell like the Italian I am….BREATHE!!!!!!!!!!!
10) What exercises or philosophy do you use in initiation or cut off difficultiesIf there is trouble cutting off at the end of a tone or phrase, there is too much pressure somewhere, usually on the laryngeal muscles, but sometimes on the belly muscles. Getting softer helps. In order to start cleanly, it is necessary for the student to have a clear mental picture of the mouth and throat shape needed to create the appropriate vowel sound quality, and the requested volume, on the designated pitch BEFORE the entrance. I don’t usually worry if the entrance is a little off, as I find this tends to correct as the rest of the vocal function becomes more sophisticated. I especially don’t worry about any entrance when near the passagio, as I expect these entrances to wander in all but the most experienced singers.
11) Do you believe in using the belt voice that the singer can have a high larynx? I don’t believe that the singer CAN have a high larynx in belting, I believe the singer has no choice, or it isn’t going to sound like “belting”. While it may be possible to lower the larynx to create this sound, the research seems to indicate that this isn’t generally how most singers throats respond to making that vocal quality. The issue isn’t how high the larynx is, but how comfortable it can be while there.
12) How do you blend in the belt voice with the modal?The belt voice IS the modal quality. Belting is chest register carried up beyond the traditional passagio at a loud volume. It is a high decibel, high frequency amplification sound that is energetic but not beautiful. It was originally used to allow the performer to be heard at the back of the theater before amplification. Remembering this makes the whole thing much simpler. HOWEVER, do not be fooled by the vowel…not all “brassy, nasal” vowels are belted. Register quality is INDEPENDENT of vowel sound quality and one must hear the difference, as well as understand what it is as a physical behavior in the throat and body.