Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kashu-do (歌手道): Second Formant, The Foreign Resonance

Vowel recognition is determined by two acoustic energy bands we call 1st and 2nd formants (i.e. F1 and F2). We can identify three other formants that cluster to form what we refer to as the Singer's Formant. The subject of this particular post is the 2nd Formant or F2 for short.

The following vowel formant chart below gives the center values for the formants of the most common vowels.


A slight alteration of these values, +/- 20 Hz will not change the vowel drastically in terms of recognition. However such a modification may help tune the vowel more precisely to the relevant harmonics of the sung pitch (which are fixed, i.e. unalterable).  As pitch rises or falls, it becomes easier to tune one formant more easily than the other. Sometimes fundamental frequency will rise above F1 and so, F1 can no longer coincide with any of the harmonics of the sung pitch. In such a case, F2 becomes the more viable formant. Such is the case in the female middle voice and in the traditional male upper voice (counter-tenors voices behave similarly to female voices). It is no coincidence that the female middle voice and the male upper voice are the most challenging areas for the average singer.

The primary reason is the following: singers, like everyone else feel a strong attachment to their speaking voices, which is F1 dominant for both males and females. F2 resonance simply feels foreign relative to the speaking voice.

When the F2 area is reached, singers are aware that something must be altered in order for the voice to feel coordinated. There are fundamentally four choices in descending order of efficiency:

1) *Covered tone: Maintain balanced phonation (i.e. excellent closure/weight balance) and slightly modify the vowel to encourage F2. This is the best choice. But the new resonance will feel a little strange at first, as if the singer were abandoning natural speech. In fact, the singer would be abandoning the acoustic pattern of daily speech. However, if the modification is done well (particularly if phonation balance is maintained), the singer does not feel a great difference from F1 dominance to F2 dominance.

*The term covered is deceptive. It is more appropriate to the area of C#4 to E4 and C5 to E5 in male and female voices respectively. The rounding of the lips that define the term, covered, lowers both formants, a strategy that works in the lower passaggio. This is not efficient in that the desired effect at the higher points of the acoustic passaggi, around F4 and F5, is to lower one formant and raise the other. In such a situation, I recommend a smiled schwa as in the inhale before a sneeze.

2) Open tone: Maintain balanced phonation and modify the vowel considerably to follow F1 (maintaining the speaking voice). This may sound slightly awkward because the vowel modification might sound too extreme.  This is however not altogether bad. In this particular case, to maintain F1 dominance beyond the F1 threshold has the bad result of causing the larynx to raise, robbing the singer of natural warmth. The resulting sound will be at best, one-sided (chiaro without enough scuro), and at the extreme, shrill! Still, the resonance adjustment would be viable and would give presence to the voice.

3) Spread tone:  Losing the phonation balance because the resonance adjustment causes the formants to fall between harmonics. In such a case, the acoustics of the vocal tract go against the needs for glottal closure. An  inappropriate acoustic adjustment interferes with efficient glottal oscillation just as appropriate acoustic adjustments encourage efficiency.

4) Loose phonation: There are many singers who produce a slightly breathy tone at the acoustic passaggi, thinking that they are producing a covered tone. When the tone becomes slightly breathy, it takes on a mellow quality that sounds somewhat like a covered tone. The difference is that in a properly covered tone, the glottal efficiency is maintained, while in loose phonation the glottal efficiency is compromised in order to produce a rounder tone. This glotta adjustment is heard frequently in the top of the male voice and in the middle of the female voice.  This inefficient sound has become idiosyncratic among singers today, to the point of being confused for the proper covered tone. This sound does not work well with an orchestra.

I will post example videos and acoustic analysis in the next few days.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Kashu-do (歌手道): Lost Fundamentals and the Deterioration of the Classical School of Singing

The last three weeks I have been intensely training in the basics of the Art of Kung Fu.  My teacher is one of the most accomplished Kung Fu masters in the world. Interestingly enough he is also born in Haiti. I practice Kung Fu with the same intensity I do singing. In truth Kung Fu complements singing perfectly. As I begin my black sash training, I am not yet surprised.  Sifu (Master) pushes us hard. But I expected no less. I must have done over 150 push-ups today, hundreds of crunches, hundreds of jumping jacks and that was only the beginning. Then there were punching drills and basic stances and blocks, etc.  These exercises are done routinely in every class. Beginners like me and black sashes do the same fundamental exercises daily.  All good Kung Fu studios do the same fundamentals.  This original martial art, which is thousands of years, is in no danger of being lost. Not as long as Sifu Karl Romain continues to teach these wonderful values.

Meanwhile the classical school of singing has all but lost its roots. The traditional language of singing still exists but not many know how to translate it. Singing fundamentals have become subjective. In past times teachers had different methods of achieving the fundamentals, but they generally agreed on what was good technique. The acoustic signature necessary to sing with a large orchestra was recognized by all experienced teachers. But now there is debate even about what a viable sound is.

By the time I graduate from white sash, I will have done thousands of push-ups and jumping-jacks and crunches, and will have practiced my series of stances and punches and blocks hundreds of times with intensity.  A good deep stance is fundamental and is practiced for a life-time by the greatest masters.

1) How many times must the correct scales be done until the muscles of the throat and the body coordinate to produce an efficient, powerfully resonant tone consistently? Thousands of times! And thousands more to upkeep! I love it when after basic scales the student says: "wow! That was a workout!" Not because there is tension in the throat, but rather because there is balanced tension throughout the body--that often the quadruceps (yes in the legs) contract to support the proper production of a strong tone.

2) What are the fundamentals? Like every instrument, vibration (vocal folds for singers), actuation (breathstream for singers) and resonance (vocal tract for singers)

  • Vibration: There is an axiom that says "sing with your body and not your throat!" Like everything in singing, this also is a paradox. The sensation of a passive throat requires proper function of the throat muscles that set up the vocal folds for vibration. The flexible balance of CT/TA determine the depth of the vocal folds and has a direct influence on the medial pressure (IA) that will result in a specific length of time for the vibration cycle, which in turn determines a specific frequency (pitch). The percentage of the cycle length that the folds are in the close phase (close quotient or CQ) determine how much breath pressure is build up. Then the length of the open phase must be long enough to allow the pressure to be released into sound pressure into the vocal tract. Too short a close quotient does not allow enough time to build appropriate pressure and the tone will sound weak and will lack intensity. This is fundamentally a breathy tone, although it may not sound particularly breathy. If the close quotient is too high, there will be intensity but there will not be enough time for the air to be released adequately. The sound pressure will be weak because not enough air will be released. The sub-glottal pressure would rise with every cycle and cause great strain on the larynx. The appropriate pressure/flow balance is what the old school teachers call "singing on the breath!" When the fold cover (the upper layers of the fold structure) close completely, there is a sensation that the tone is concentrated in front of the face.

  • Actuation, the breath: Actuation simply refers to the mechanism that causes the vibration, whether the hammers of a piano striking the strings or the breath of a singer causing the vibration of the folds.  The availability of the air that is to be pressurized beneath the folds is set up firstly by the muscles of respiration, including the diaphragm, the most inervated muscle in the body. The function of the diaphragm is unconscious. It responds to our need to do specific work. However, the diaphragm and the other respiratory muscles must work in balance with the correctly set-up vocal folds to create the adequate pressure that is felt at the sternum. This sensation of pressure in the torso (chest voice) is the regulating tool of glottal closure.  It the sensation of pressure in the chest is extremely high, it is a sign that fold closure is too tight, which means that fold depth is shallow, and that the vocalis muscle (internal TA) is not working enough to create the necessary fold depth. Too little pressure constitutes a loose phonation. Weak medial pressure (fold closure) results from the IA not contracting enough. But this is a result of a fold posture that is too deep. The interdepence of fold depth and closure is fundamental. Balanced air pressure is therefore a result of the diaphram's subtle function on the one hand, the fold posture in the other. In addition, the core musculature must provide a support system directly beneath the diaphragm such that air pressure is not lost at the lower side of the structure. This complex system creates the pressure beneath the folds that is called "appoggio" or "breath support". This second paradox of pressure/flow is of paramount importance to good singing. It is unfortunate when teachers say, there must be no pressure, only flow, advocating what is tantamount to a breathy sound; or when on the opposite side of the argument some say that pressure is necessary and there must be no loss of air, often advocating a pressed sound. Both arguments "sound" plausible, but each alone is inadequate. Both are necessary for balance.

  • Resonance: The vocal tract must be set up specifically for resonance. Issues include, laryngeal depth, jaw release and quality of vowels (tongue and lip migrations).  These articulators must coordinate to create the specific vocal tract set-up for each sung pitch. For a given pitch, the vocal tract must assume a specific shape (vowel) that will effect a complex series of sound waves in such a way as to produce the greatest sound pressure. The [a] sung on a Bb5 is a different shape than the one that is sung on the neighboring A5. In essence there is necessary vowel modification from one pitch to the next. Yet the axiom "sing pure vowels" is correct when understood. The singer must be able to concentrate on the desired vowel. The modification will be automatic if the fold posture is correct. When phonation is balanced it will require the vowel to conform to its needs.  Hence the vowel will be changed even though the singer conceives of the vowel in its most recognizable (i.e. pure) form. This paradox of pure concept and modification induced by a balanced fold posture is of paramount importance to proper resonance management. Phonation (coordination of breath and folds) is interdependent with resonance (vocal tract adjustments).
In the martial arts, fundamental stances become habit and are not abandoned when complex attack and defense patterns are added unto them. Good stances remain as the fundamental set-up for every movement.  Likewise, balanced phonation must remain the basic stance for singing. Vowels must not alter that set up, and emotion must go through it.  A balanced phonation pattern is what the audience perceives as a sound that is present in the company of an orchestra of any size.  If the set-up (the stance) is weak, it could be easily altered by a vowel change, or by the intensity of emotion, which is usually converted to changes in sub-glottal pressure via subtle or extreme adjustments in the diaphragm and supporting respiratory musculature.

Like a martial artist must do thousands of push-ups and the like to build up strength and flexibility, so must the vocal artist develop strength and flexibility, particularly in the laryngeal musculature. There must be a long training process that teaches proper basics, which must be practiced throughout the singer's life, especially as advanced repertoire is learned. Difficult songs are so-called because they challenge the phonational balance of the singer in question. So are complex forms in the martial arts.

These are the fundamental obstacles. But there are advanced obstacles like foreign languages, musicianship, stage craft, health, looks, and personal charm. A conscious weakness in the fundamentals or any of these skills will cause the singer apprehension. In such a case, the singer cannot be free to express his/her unique personal charisma, which is the one thing that should distinguish him/her from another singer. That unique signature of self, that "it factor" cannot come through when the singer's thoughts are occupied with weaknesses in his package.

To become a special singer, one must be free to express that unique personal signature (charisma), which can only be done when the singer has no concerns about any aspect of his art. Therefore, the fundamental rule of singing is that the singer should excel in every aspect of the art form. Confidence, which yields charisma, comes from an awareness of achievement. Today in class, my sparing partner for Chinese Kickboxing, who is much more advanced than me, asked me if I had been boxing for a long time.  I told him that the only boxing I ever did was one single session with Sifu (Master) who taught me the fundamentals.  He had a hard time believing me. This gave me the confidence that I had learned the fundamentals relatively well from Sifu (but certainly not that I have mastered anything yet.  I should add that my very skilled sparing partner also reminded me of errors during the session. I appreciated this very much).  Likewise, after two years and two months of training to achieve balance as a true tenor as opposed to the false baritone I was for 25 years, I have achieved efficient phonation and I can see the response in the eyes of my students when I demonstrate for them. This gives me confidence as a singer and as a teacher, because I can recognize immediately when another singer lacks the fundamentals I struggled with for two years.

Many singers think they are business-minded because they can accomplish what is superficially impressive such as singing loud high notes or moving comfortably on stage or even paying for breast implants. These things are not necessarily bad if they complement a package strong in fundamentals.  What is wrong is when these superficial aspects become what the singer concentrates on primarily.  What is wrong is when impressarios and agents do not understand the difference. An artist sells art. A great painter sells a painting and a great singer sells an unforgettable performance. Singers and actors especially whose instrument is their very body and soul often misunderstand, and think they have to sell their bodies and souls rather than the artistic product that can come from their bodies and souls. Because of this we are in a time when the business of opera has turned into a meat market rather than an art market. For that reason, it is high time that we singers change this. We have to give the unimaginative impressario something to sell. Art!  The times of great operatic impressarios like Rudolf Bing is gone. Mr. Bing was a rare impressario who understood the art of singing and opera better than the singers themselves. He understood voices and he understood developed talent. Such costudians of the art exist no more. We singers are the only ones who can safeguard our art form. The only way to do that is to be the most perfectly developed artists we can be. This takes a lifetime commitment.

I dedicate this post to my Kung Fu master, Sifu Karl Romain. He and his school embody these principles and inspire me daily to continue to pursue a disciplined, philosophical and excellent approach to the art form to which I have dedicated my life.  Kung Fu will remain an essential complement to my pursuit of excellence in singing and in life.

© 06/17/2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

Kashu-do (歌手道): Head and Chest Voice Experiences: Fold Vibration and Muscular Dynamics

In response to the last post, Klaus says the following:
This actually brings up a key point that I've been meaning to blog about for a while. I think many people (I'm not suggesting you are one of them) conflate two different ideas which both are related to our experience of head vs. chest.

One is the vibratory pattern of the folds, which voice science tells us is different for chest and head. (There are also distinct patterns for fry and whistle.) These vibratory patterns cannot be blended--they simply switch from one to the other, though the switch can be acoustically masked.

Dear Klaus,
Thank you for bringing up this wonderful point.  Relative to fold vibration patterns, what you say above used to be the common understanding but Titze and others have proven otherwise. The vibration patterns are not as diametrical as we once believed. Indeed in a head voice driven pattern (i.e. a pattern driven dominantly by the fold cover) also shows activity in deeper parts of the folds. A simple discussion of this can be found here at the website of the Nationcal Center for Voice and Speech. 

The second is the action of the vocalis vs. the CT muscle groups. These can achieve many different balances or mixes within the different vibration patterns. Traditional male singing is in the "chest" mode, while women and countertenors sing in the "head" mode.
I think this is also a misundestaning based on literature that is now outdated.  When acoustic studies made clear the presence of two acoustic (i.e. vocal tract adjustment) events in the female voice (i.e. F1 dominance to F2 dominance around F4 and F2 dominance to F1 dominance around F5), the first and second passagi in the female voice, voice teachers sought to make a parallel muscular/fold vibration event.  Indeed, many sought to move to a "sensory" head voice. In the last generation of female opera singers, it is common to hear a middle voice lacking in thrust because the fundamental muscular balance had been compromised. Fundamentally there is no difference in the female folds when compared to male folds other than relative size. The octave differential has an acoustic significance relative to the nature of vowels.

Thus "chesty" in the sense I see you mean it above refers to muscle activity, not vibration pattern. The big question of course is does training a muscle in the "wrong" vibration mode help its strength in the right one? Ie: women singing in belty chest to "strengthen the chest" and men singing in falsetto to "strengthen the head." I don't pretend to know the answer, though I have some guesses. Are you doing exercises with her in this vein or are you sticking to a "correct" (aesthetically viable) mode of production?
What I have tried to propogate through the discussion here is a correlation between CT/TA dynamics and fold closure and by extension the vibration pattern.  Pressed voice will tend to yield a relatively )thick pattern bringing the deeper layers of the folds into the vibration in a more dominant way then would be ideal. Likewise a loose phonation induces a cover dominated pattern. Paradoxically a pressed pattern is too much CT dominant (i.e. too thin a production) while a loose phonation is TA dominant. The balance of the modal voice changes from pitch to pitch. My belief, which I believe is confirmed by the Titze studies is that the vibratory patterns are completely related to the nature of the CT/TA balance, since that balance determines fold depth and therefore the complimentary fold closure posture that determine the exact frequency of vibratory cycles.

The question you ask is the crucial one.  Relative to the recent clip in which I sing a high C, I explained that this was based on a voice that began in falsetto mode (i.e. virtually devoid of TA [vocalis] activity) three months ago.  I should specify that I mean full-closure falsetto. Although the fold posture begins totally without TA participation, as soon as the folds come together fully, the breath pressure/flow will induced vocalis activity. The increase flow will reduce medial pressure/fold contact mildly. This would be enough to speed up the vibratory cycle. Where frenquency is a constant, there has to be an adjustment in fold depth (greather fold depth) to maintain pitch, which can only occur with an increase in vocalis activity.

So I am answering affirmatively. Most voices are in an unbalanced state relative to the complex balance between all the lanryngial muscles. Changing either TA/CT activity or the medial pressure of the IAs will have a direct impact on frequency, which then requires an adjustment from the other muscles to maintain that frequency. The voice is driven by pitch in that sense.  It is not always necessary to work on one side or the other.  The crucial place to balance is the middle of the voice, around the place where dominance shifts from TA to CT, around C4 for the average male voice and C5 for the average female. If the lower voice had been produced too heavily, as we know there will be a tendency to flip to a very light production in the upper voice. In such a case, my strategy would be to induce better closure in the lower voice, which would reduce TA activity by extension. This then would prevent the sudden switch if the low is brought to balance.  There are extreme cases:

I am currently working with a singer whose voice was so vocalis dominant that at one point 8 years ago the voice dropped to the lower octave and she has not had access to the upper octave of her rangey. At her first lesson three weeks ago, her highest comfortable pitch was G4. By lessons end, after exercises to induce greater CT activity and reducing TA activity in the lower range, we coaxed her voice to Bb5, an octave and a third up.  I was not sure we would achieve that at the first lesson. When she returned the following week, it was obvious that she had practiced. But this time we achieved G5. In my estimation, the CT was fatigued from the exercises. This time however access to the middle range up to Eb5 was relatively easy. She is progressing.

Other voices are extremely CT dominant and have little low range. It is necessary in such cases to work on strengthening the vocalis. At the beginning of training, any exercise that induces strength ine the weakened muscle group is advisable. More balanced dynamics are possible once both muscle g.oups have been strengthened.

In any case, the right balance of vocalis and CT has to be found for different volumes, vowels, pitches, etc. which is clearly your goal with her as well as with every singer you blog about. Thanks for an interesting discussion
The goal is not only Vocalis//CT  balance but rather a global balance among all muscles involved. Achieving a balance between CT and Vocalis brings a balance to the nature of the closure mechanism as well (i.a interaytenoid muscles), which in turn influences breath flow, which influences fold vibration, laryngeal depth, and breathing.  What we are finding out is that vocal function constitutes a total system of interdependent muscles.

© 06/13/2010

Monday, June 7, 2010

Kashu-do (歌手道): The Paradox of the Zwischen-Fach: Dedication to a very gifted Singer

Fiorenza Cossotto was the Verdian mezzo of my generation of operatic fans. She was the Amneris par excellence of her time and equally known for the role of Lady Macbeth. She sang all of the great Verdian mezzo roles exhibiting equal ease in Ulrica's contralto depths as in Eboli's stratospheric heights. But is Lady Macbeth a mezzo role?

How would you Fach the following roles: Purcell's Dido, Lady Macbeth, Santuzza, Komponist, Leonore (Fidelio), Cherubino, Dorabella, Siebel, Stephano, Fenena, Adalgisa, Venus, Kundry, Ortrud?

Christa Ludwig, a modern legend in the German repertoire sang probably all of the above roles. They are all listed as soprano roles in the scores. These parts are made for a specific voice that is called mezzo-soprano only because the singer in question has a voice that lies just below the comfort zone for the traditional spinto parts. Such voices, including that of Grace Bumbry, Fiorenza Cossotto, Shirley Verrett, Giulietta Simionato, Margarete Klose, Tatyana Troyanos, to name a few, were not soprano voices in the spinto sense. Bumbry and Verrett who made forays as Tosca among other traditional spinto parts did not fare too well in those roles. 

I wrote this post specifically after having a difficult talk with a very talented student of mine. I have agreed with her from the beginning that her voice is that of a mezzo-soprano because I hear her as that type of voice that would not do well as Tosca or even the Forza Leonora. Yet when she brought in Santuzza the other day, a sparkle came into the voice that I had not experienced before. There was a kind of brilliance I had hoped to hear from her that did not come out so consistently until she sang that role. Her voice blooms higher than a classic mezzo and slightly lower than the average spinto.  As Komponist, she is extraordinary as well. The problem in this case is that the chest voice is not yet developed enough to bring out the power necessary in the lower mezzo, quasi contralto parts.  Roles like Carmen or the Favorita Leonora or Gluck's orfeo require such strength in the lower range that this singer does not yet possess. Even Charlotte in Werther requires a presence in the lower passaggio that is not native to this voice.  The power that this singer possesses in the top register is extraordinary, but she identifies so much with the label mezzo-soprano that any other title is unacceptable.

The problem is the following: How does such a singer audition? The voice is powerful and clear enough to handle the Santuzza aria with no problem. Would she have to work to gain the stamina necessary for an Ortrud or even Kundry? Certainly. Does it make more sense than attempting to develop the low? I think the low should be further developed, but the middle and upper are so much more ready. My instincts tell me that this singer should sing these zwischen-Fach roles, but would her strong identification with the mezzo label make it psychologically difficult to assume this tessitura, which she proves to handle strongly by way of Komponist and Santuzza?  When dealing with an advanced singer, we cannot dictate as teachers. I have to trust the singer to follow her own path, but at the same time I have to help the singer see her own reality from a different angle. 

Janet Baker as Dido (Purcell)

Giulietta Simionato as Santuzza

Margarete Klose as Ortrud

Troyanos as Komponist

Troyanos as Kundry

The main difference between my student and these fully-developed legends is that the legends had developed their chest voice considerably where as my student began with a very top-heavy approach. Although she has balanced the top and the middle beautifully, the low lags behind a bit, which inspires thoughts by agents and intendants that she might be a soprano.  I do not believe she is a soprano in terms of the standard soprano repertoire (i.e. lyric or spinto or even the hoch-dramatisch type that sings Turandot and so on).  The time it would take to develop the stamina to sing a Turandot or a Brünnhilde might be too much. But the time it would take to develop considerable strength in the low that would make Carmen or Dalilah viable is also long.
She is also afraid of singing repertoire that is too big, and her excellent coach cautioned her against roles like the Favorita Leonora. This is correct in that she lacks the strength in the low to make that part work well. But as Komponist or Santuzza she sounds very big because those parts lie in the "sweet spot" of her voice.

I write this post, such that my very talented student might read this in black and white rather than in the emotion-filled environment of the studio right after a lesson.  As I believe she is ridiculously talented I hope she will consider this approach with her usually logical mind. Personally, I believe it will make a difference in the coming audition season.

I am not a fan of labels, but sometimes it helps a singer to feel more secure.  I have heard singers throw the label zwischen-Fach around for specifically this voice type. It always seemed strange to me as the words mean simply "between categories". Indeed many of these labels like Bass-baritone or mezzo-soprano developed because certain voices lie between the standard categories. So my dear, I am not calling you a soprano, although all the roles above are listed as Soprano and are traditionally sung by mezzos.  As I said before, it does not matter to me what you call yourself, as your lengendary predecessors, like you, favored the calling-card "mezzo-soprano". I do think however, we need to come up with parts that make your voice sparkle like Komponist and Santuzza. The paradox is this: the label Zwischen-Fach at once defies categories but also gives a category to those who need one.  I hope we will come together on this rather important development.

© 06/07/2010

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Kashu-do (歌手道): Final Steps to Mastery: Facing Our Fears and Accepting Our Nature

Recently, a marvelous young operatic director, in whose talent I have a great deal of hope and faith decided to have lessons with me. Her initial reasoning was that she wanted to understand the singer's personal experience. The two lessons we had together were real. She is extremely musical, passionate about opera, and was among the most concentrated singers I have ever taught. She is indeed a singer, in the sense that something in her has a great desire to sing. It will be interesting to see where she goes with this.  Her natural instrument is one in a million--that kind of dramatic mezzo voice that has a huge low and high extension. From her slightly brighter speaking voice, at the first lesson I thought she might be some kind of undeveloped dramatic soprano. She was able to sing Eb6 in our first session. She did tell me before her lesson that she did not think she was a soprano, and when it comes to someone who is that intelligent and conscious, a teacher should listen. Before the second lesson it became clear to me that she was right.

Her voice made me think a lot of my own. The low voice was extraordinary and the top relatively nicely coordinated. It was the muscular passaggio, around G4 to D5 that was unbalanced. During the second lesson we were able to achieve some excellent sounds in that troubled area. If one listened to her low only, one might decide she was a contralto who needed to develop that middle area and some might consider it the beginning of her top. Others might listen to the slightly lighter top and think her a soprano as I did at the first lesson. It was however the uncoordinated middle that revealed the true sound. Such is the case with me at present.

I had an instinct many years ago that my voice would not be complete until I had total control of what I thought was my baritone top, D4-G4. Indeed that is my passaggio, a combination of the muscular change around D4 and the acoustic change around F4 to G4. At present I have developed a light voice that I refer to as my Rossini voice that I can now use from the lowest notes around F2, to the highest modal coordinations on F5. Then there is my fuller Verdi-Wagner voice that I can sing up to C5 but not consistently. The truth is in a combination of the two. The lean, efficient phonation of the Rossini voice and the support that gives me my dramatic sound. The problem is that the fuller voice is not quite as efficient as it should be. What I have not accomplished all these years until now is "bringing the top down".  Having been trained as a baritone, the little voice was always considered a "reinforced falsetto". Yet it has ring and it does not cease to impress my tenor students when I do it. What I have suspected and have written about here is that the little voice is indeed a modal (full voice) production that is not very loud, because in the early stages it cannot sustain great pressure. Over the months, it has grown and has extended below the passaggio. That strength has also leaned out my Verdi-Wagner voice. What I have come to understand is that I cannot avoid the little voice at all. It must grow to meet the fuller voice. In a sense it is the real voice and I will not be totally consistent until I grow it to its full potential.

Light high Cs.mp3

There was a time I could not grow it so far. Therefore I believe I can build it to grow to the fullest sound. What is remarkable is that the crescendo to say mezzo-forte with the little voice remains as easy as falsetto even though it gains substantial fullness. It is therefore conceivable that the fullest sound can maintain a flexibility of the type we hear in tenors like Lauri-Volpi, Fleta, Gedda, Björling, Gigli and others. At this point, that is my goal.


The acoustic analysis is promising. On the one hand, it is clear from the spectrogram that this is modal voice and not falsetto. The harmonics are very strong throughout. The second formant dominates the spectrum as would be expected for a high C.  This means that the fold posture is deep enough to induce second formant dominance on a high C. However there is also strength around 4000-5000 Hz.  This is a sign of pressed voice. In short, the voice is not so pressed because it shows a modal pattern. But on the other hand it is also not perfectly full because of the peaks at 4-5KHz. This is an in-between stage. Even on a high C, the second formant should not be so overwhelmingly dominant in my opinion. The first must balance it out or the voice sounds shrill, which in a sense it does (that is relative to my natural vocal color). Another important observation is the fact that the Eb at the end of the phrase thins out. The fuller weight could not come in smoothly. There was a time that anything below C5 in this production would be weak. But now there is substance even as low as that Eb. THIS IS ONLY A WORK IN PROGRESS.

Still this is a major move in the right direction. This is the beginning of a final product. Even though the high C is not of final quality, it points to a coordination of a high CT-dominant modal voice. There must be necessary modifications, but the basic coordination has now been set.

Now I work with enough wonderful singers not to think that what I share here is of any great quality, but that is precisely the point of this post. It is not my aim to impress here, otherwise I would record a high B in my fuller voice. The point is that we often bypass the true key to our progress because we are too much in a hurry to accomplish a final product.  In the short time I have consciously focused on the little voice again (I had lost it at the end of my baritone years. Another symptom of the falseness of that path), it seems to grow stronger by the day. I will probably post another such clip in a few days. I am convinced that my viability as a tenor is entirely based on developing this unimpressive little voice. It's coordination has greater glottal efficiency, albeit on the slightly pressed side. My fuller voice by contrast is a touch heavy and makes the approach to the top notes more difficult than it should be.  It is just unfortunate that I had overdeveloped the lower side of my voice.

Caveat: this is not an approach that every tenor should take. I caution against this because I know many tenors who have ruined their voices putting pressure on the little voice. At its extreme the little voice can be totally devoid of vocalis activity and become totally one-sided. Such a production will be extremely tension-filled if great volume is applied to it.  What I show here with the spectrogram are two things: 1) that this is a modal production and one that is full enough to induce a second formant dominance on the high C. 2) that the production is too light and therefore induces medial pressure and a slightly raised larynx. In my analysis the F-G-Ab where all dominated by the first formant. The G and Ab should have turned to F2 dominance. This is proof that the production is pressed, causing a high larynx which raises the first formant.  Indeed an appropriate balance must be found between CT and TA (vocalis). I have met many light tenors and sopranos who revel in their thin extremely high notes. This eventually cause problems. I usually work with them to fill out the top so it it is not so shrill. Indeed yesterday I cautioned a wonderful young Verdian baritone not too revel too much on his high Bs. He has a high C but somewhat along the lines of what I do here (except fuller naturally). As a tenor who has sung as a baritone, this production is indispensable to my further progress. BUT IT IS NOT A FINAL PRODUCT.

Mastery, as early apprenticeship, requires letting go of what has been stable for something that will become much more so. But it requires the courage to move forward, the patience to develop a seed into a full grown tree and the faith to trust the path. The surest way to disappointment is to hold on to something safe but incomplete.  True mastery is released into, not held onto. In my quest for true mastery, I have become an apprentice yet again. Going to a new humbling place every day until no place is so humbling. Yet even when crooked things have been made straight and rough places made plain, every day will still entail a quest to find balance. The voice, as life, is in a continuous state of flux. Ultimate mastery of both depends on how much conscious knowledge we have of ourselves.

© 06/02/2010