Monday, February 1, 2010

Kashu-do (歌手道): Occlusion, a Simple Path To Voice-Building

I have often talked about "occluded" consonants here and have included [v], [z] and rolled [r] in my exercise regimen here on the blog in addition to lip trills. Occlusion can be defined as obstruction, or closure. In terms of voice, the specific mechanism involved with occluded consonants has logical and positive ramifications relative to vocal training. My work over the past couple of years has shown interesting results particularly with tenors who sang as baritones and dramatic coloraturas having to develop a strength in the top voice relative to the fullness of their middle voices. It is not that those voices are special relative to the subject at hand but rather that in both cases there are specific challenges relative to muscular retraining.

First the mechanism of occluded consonants. Let us take [v] for example! To produce a [v] that is both clear in tone and with enough air pressure to vibrate the lower-lip-upper-teeth juncture requires a near-perfect fold posture because a clear tone requires well-adducted vocal folds and the air pressure required in the buccal cavity (mouth) to vibrate the [v] formation at the lips-teeth juncture must be elevated. In order for the air pressure to be elevated, it must be able to flow enough through the firmly adducted glottis. These are the qualities  necessary for ideal flow phonation. Therefore, the ability to sing a perfectly clear and vibrant [v] is a confirmation of a near-perfect phonation mode. In short, the ability to produce a perfect [v] on every tone is the sign of a voice that is strong throughout. But it does not constitute ideal strength. Ideal strength would be the ability to produce the [v] without great muscular stress. To do this means that the [v] set-up must be so strong that it does not cause any effort.

For that reason, before the singer can produce a [v] that is clear and vibrant, the fold posture must be trained near enough to proper balance such that the [v] posture is near possibility. The [v] in particular is in my opinion a tool for the final phase of study. However, a full-voiced lip trill can bring the folds near enough to proper balance that the [v] can be achieved afterward. How long it takes to achieve near posture through lip trills depends on the singer's personal strength levels in the relevant muscles (particularly, CT,TA and IA).

Three things should be kept in mind relative to occluded consonants which include pretty much all voiced continuants (e.g. m. n, z, r, l, etc. Partial occlusion as in [l] is less effective, but rolled [r] is very helpful because of the air pressure required to maintain it): 1) Clarity of glottal tone and strong air flow through the occlusion is crucial. There fore 2) If done too early (i.e. before the muscles are ready to produce the correct coordination, exercises on occluded consonants can be frustrating for the singer. 3) On the positive side, when the singer has near precise coordination, occlusion can bring them to ideal balance.

Yet, every singer probably a part of his/her range that is relatively balanced. In that range, do a five-note scale on a strong vibrant, clear [v], then repeat the exact same exercise on [a]. The singer should feel an immediate precision and ease on the [a] scale after the occluded scale. The goal is to carry this coordination throughout the range. When the singer reaches an unbalanced area, it will become difficult to do the exercise. A full-voiced [v] is often not possible in the upper range with singers who sing very well. It is because we are prone to accept a high note that sounds secure even if it is out of balance. The high range even among top singers is often thinly produced and therefore pressed. Occlusion exercises would induce the air flow that would bring the folds to balance by reducing medial pressure by increased airflow, which logical will require a thickening of the fold mass to maintain pitch. This would change the balance of the antagonism between CT-TA. This is less immediate with the tendency for looseness in the lower range. Looseness in the lower range can be remedied by occlusion if the middle range is already balanced. A strong vibrant and clear [v] produced in the middle range can be gradually brought down to the loose lower range. The balance of the middle would encourage a similar balance in the lower range. It can be argues that the singer can simply do exercise that increase medial pressure in the loose range. This is true. However, occlusion maintains a level of airflow that would protect against pressed voice as would occur with exercises that deal with glottal closure alone.

© 02/01/2010


JPike1028 said...

It's like my lesson all over again. :)


bleetenor said...

Hi J-R,
I have used the lip trill with many students, and have noticed that it works much better for most females than for males. Perhaps it is because the males have bigger phonation issues to solve and they aren't ready yet? My teachers have encouraged lip trills for beginners, which it seems you do not agree with. For myself, I find the v to be a much better occluding device. I have never liked lip trills for myself even though for some of my students they are helpful. I think this is partly because I can do a v with a released, slightly open jaw, but I can only make a lip trill with my jaw very closed. This kills my ability to do it high (above C5) without blasting it and feeling tension.

Blue Yonder said...

A question - do you use these consonants such as [v] in the extremes of the vocal range? I feel like I would have a lot more difficulty vocalizing on [v] at the very top of my voice than in the middle or low. Is that to be expected, or is it a sign of sub-optimal function?

Jean-Ronald LaFond said...

Dear bleetenor,

I agree with your description. I use lip trills for different purposes. They can be a good device to to induce airflow when there is medial pressure, but that depends on the specific tensions of the singer. I find the [v] a much more precise exercise. It has the virtue of inducing good fold posture with less air pressure than lip trills. Therefore, the folds stay together better.

Dear Blue Yonder,

The [v] occlusion helps to set a very efficient vocal posture. But that depends in great part in the current balance of the vocal folds. The top range has a tendency of being thin (CT over-dominance), which yields a pressed tone. To accomplish the vocal posture induced by [v] would require in some cases an extreme change in the CT-TA-IA balance. That change would feel like extreme effort to the singer (because it would require such an effort to change the muscular balance in the case just described), but it would seem very efficient to the listener whose experience is based on the nature of the fold posture itself. The singer feels the muscle strain, while the listener hears the efficient fold posture.

I would not recommend for you to take the [v] to the extremes now, but rather a half step at a time in the direction of the top. You will find that with time, you can increase the range with which you do the [v]. At any rate, not being able to do the [v] in the extremes does reveal a muscular imbalance.