Monday, November 23, 2009
Kashudo (歌手道): Breath management as a direct means of balancing phonation
The term breath management has emerged over the past half century as a non-committal attempt at avoiding the controversies that exist between different schools of vocal pedagogy. In this particular post, I am using the term to mean precisely what it suggests in the literal sense. How does a singer manage the use of the breath during phonation. I hope by now that a clear thread can be found through the many posts here. I will often relate to techniques discussed here before to illustrate how a specific function can be approached from different angles.
I have repeated here that the voice is pitch-driven and that there are three modes of phonation that represent point on a continuum: 1) Loose (relatively breathy) phonation: excessive air flow, which lowers the close quotient below ideal and require deeper fold posture to make up for the needs of the pitch (frequency). 2) Balanced phonation: fold depth is ideal and therefore so is fold closure. No air is wasted. There is a balance between pressure and flow. 3) Pressed phonation: the folds are brought tightly together slowing down the vibration cycle. To maintain pitch, fold depth is reduced and fold vibration is quickened.
If we consider the interaction between fold posture and breath, it is not only plausible but necessary to utilize the breath as the driving element of the mechanism. But first, we must have a means of sensing breath flow/closure. There are two sensations that have come down to us from traditional schools that are usually used separately to undesirable ends. One is the sensation of vibration in the lower chest. I have had two teachers who used to put their palm to their sternum as a directive to "connect to the chest". In my experience, this vibratory connection to the chest has the effect of releasing the air. The second is the concept of mask resonance, which in my experience has a direct influence on fold closure. Balancing these two sensations is a very logical and tension-free manner of achieving balance phonation. Pressed phonation (when air is not released enough) is felt directly in the throat. When air is released too much (loose phonation) the sensation of flow goes further down in the chest. Combining this sense of deep flow with the sensation of brilliance in the mask, yields a sensation of an unbroken column of air from sternum to mask, as if by-passing the throat entirely.
The sensation of deeper air flow can be simulated using [ha-ha] on a comfortable pitch (low is easier). The sensation of fold closure can be simulated using the [i] vowel. Once the sensation of balance is achieved, it becomes a single sensation as opposed to two.
It has always been my desire to scientifically back-up the proprioceptive concepts passed down by the great schools of singing of the past. It is crucial that the sensations be understood fully and not partially. A one-sided approach is what usually leads to disaster. There is wisdom to be found in the many catch phrases associated with traditional schools of singing. The wisdom is found by investigating in order to understand the complete meaning behind the catch phrases rather than the simplistic superficiality that they might suggest.
In short breath management in terms of these sensations constitute air flow as represented by the deep chest sensation and efficient release of air as controlled by the fold closure, represented by the mask sensation. For pitch to be maintained when breath flow is efficient, fold posture must be correct.