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SEMI-OCCLUDED VOCAL TRACT EXERCISES.

the_vocal_tract The vocal tract comprises of the nose, mouth, pharynx and larynx. It is used for breathing, phonation and eating. Air is drawn into and out of the lungs, food passes from the mouth into the esophagus and stomach. The vocal tract is distensible and flexible; the way that we hold it and use it significantly influences our vocal tone and range.

In order to avoid an approach that is overly technical, I will simply state that good singing depends on good posture, good breathing and excellent diction. The baritone John Noble, with whom I studied in London, had a very simple approach and taught his pupils to concentrate on good posture, good breathing and excellent diction. In retrospect I can see that he got a lot of good vocal technique in through the back door. Many vocal pedagogies use semi-occluded vocal tract exercises and these are valuable provided the basics (posture, breathing and diction are in place.

Singers who do not have a good support technique or who suffer from asthma or chronic obstrucive disorders, should be very cautious about using semi-occcluded vocal tract exercises, because they may make problems related to muscular constriction worse and not better. Constriction plus effort equals gross constriction. A constricted vocal tract must first be completely relaxed before effort becomes a positive force.

APPOGGIO

The Italian bel canto school teaches 'appogiarsi' technique, whereby the posture and breathing work together creating good breath control. The tone is placed in the singer's mask achieving a balanced and beautiful tone. ('Impostazione della voce')

THE PROUD POSTURE

The singer needs a proud posture with correct alignment of the body: head, neck and spine. Correct posture reduces muscular tension and improves diaphragmatic and intercostal breathing. Tilting the head up to read the words from a screen is not helpful to the singer. It locks the larynx into a belt posture and prevents the production of comfortable, lyrical tone.

BREATHING EXERCISES

Breathing exercises are essential in order to open up the voice and reduce the chaos which afflicts the voice. When you warm-up you will encounter vocal chaos and poor tone control, but this diminishes as the voice is properly used.

DICTION EXERCISES

Good diction places and projects the voice. A natural way of placing the voice is to 'put the voice where the words are made'. Words are not made in the throat. What the throat produces is a raw tone which is transformed by articulation of mouth, tongue, teeth and lips into words. Words consist of vowels, semi-vowels and consonants. Most consonants are made by the tip of the tongue, the teeth and the lips: at the front of the mouth. Vowels are made by precise shaping of the pharynx and the tongue. Placing the voice in the mask, naturally achieves 'voce chiare e voce chiusa'. (A clear voice and well-balanced resonance.) It demands much greater effort than we might think necessary or decent. John Noble often said, "Use your words like machine-gun bullets." He knew from practical experience, that good singing required extra-ordinary diction. The pedagogue William Vennard measured the intensity and duration of consonants in his own voice and the results he obtained indicate that far greater effort is required when singing. Practise your songs reading the words out loud clearly. Then practise saying them with the teeth touching each other. Do not clench the jaw!

GOLA APERTA

Gola aperta means an open throat. It creates a pleasant vocal tone and resonance. Poor posture, shallow breathing and poor diction inhibit good singing. The mouth and throat are not only used for breathing and diction, but also for eating. There are three muscles responsible for swallowing: the superior, inferior and middle pharangeal constrictors, which together with the tongue enable us to swallow food. If they are not released, they will interfere with the quality of tone produced. These muscles are disengaged through good posture, deep breathing and good diction. The latter action releases the middle pharangeal constrictor which is responsible for a hollow 'honky' tone, endemic in pop an rock music, which is mistaken by the audience for nasality. Curiously the singer will not be aware how honky their tone is. Again the Italians recognised that good tone was created by placing the tone in the mask. ('Impostazione della voce.')

The tongue must be medialised, that is brought forward, in order to release pharangeal and emotional tension in the larynx. The tongue is a much larger muscle than we realise. It has a tendancy to drop back, sitting on the larynx, which affects vocal tone, vocal range and vocal colour.

BASIC WARM-UP EXERCISES

Many singing lessons start with semi-occluded vocal tract exercises. These exercises by creating a barrier to the voice encourage the singer to apply more support, open up the vocal tract, create better focus and develop greater resonance. These exercises are found by following this link.

THE STRAW EXERCISES

If you practise scales, arpeggios and vocal repertoire with a drinking straw between your lips, the back pressure of breath relaxes and stretches the vocal folds. It is a wonderful exercise and very good for tired voices. Google 'Ingo Titze - Straw Exercise' to find a demonstration and explanation.

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