Choices have consequences

Singing is about making choices. The singer must determine a number of things before making a sound. What quality of sound will best enable the story-song to be told? What dynamic level, as well as quality of phrasing, diction, and articulation, will achieve the goal? If you are a singer who lives singularly in one vocal quality, the choosing process goes quickly. You might say that the preferred voice quality resides as a default setting which makes access literally automatic.

For those who dabble in a variety of qualities, success may require a careful cognitive approach in order to achieve the desired quality every time. In Estill Voice, the various voice qualities are the result of mixing together multiple ingredients, i.e., vocal structures, much like following a recipe. This is why there is a distinguishable difference between the qualities widely associated with opera, Broadway, country-western, pop, and rock.

The concept of choice as it relates to choosing a voice quality—the result of choosing the appropriate structures of the voice to combine to make the quality—is easy enough to to grasp. But there is another level of choice to consider.

Because the vocal mechanism is so intricately connected, the choice of one structure can trigger or activate another. Sometime this is a welcome reaction. Other times, it is wholly unwanted. Let’s consider a few examples:

  • Raise your tongue to a high position. Say the word “email.” Say it again and hold the the first syllable. Notice how high your tongue lives in your mouth. Repeat and notice if your larynx rises.
  • Draw your tongue downward into a low position. Think you’re hiding you’re tongue behind your lower teeth. Repeat and notice if your larynx lowers.

These two examples were chosen because they focus on laryngeal positioning, which is a major influencer of vocal color. A higher larynx promotes a brighter sound while a lower laryngeal position fosters more warmth. It’s simply about adjusting the length of the vocal tract to garner the desired color.

Consider the two examples. For most singers, a high tongue position will encourage the larynx to sit higher. This is not to say one cannot sing an “ee” vowel while coaxing a lower larynx. You absolutely can. The point is a high tongue position naturally triggers the larynx to lift. In contrast, the second example shows that a low tongue dramatically drops the larynx. This is critical information for any singer who chronically fixates the tongue in a flat and retracted position—an ill-advised form of anchoring or supporting. What if, for example, a singer wants to sing with a high laryngeal sound but can’t let go of a low tongue position? Here is an example of how an understanding of potential vocal triggers can deliver relief to a frustrating situation.

The fact that these and other vocal triggers exist should not cause alarm. None of us are strangers to the concept that choices have consequences. We all learned this the first time we stuck a finger into a live flame. Experience is a great teacher—as is a Estill Voice trainer like me. If you would to know more about identifying vocal triggers, or any other aspect of singing, please contact me.

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