Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Kashu-do (歌手道): Low Larynx and Fold Posture: A Symbiotic Inter-depence

Let me begin by rejoicing that my spiritual sister, Susan Eichorn Young (SEY) is now writing her blog weekly.  This means I return her blog title to her. Still, as she recovers heroically from a horrible automobile accident, that could have taken her from us (Thank God that she remains with us), she remains in my heart and in my prayers.  I urge you to send positive energy to our SEY, as I believe strongly in the power of collective meditation.  Let us concentrate on her complete recovery!

First, forgive my long silence on the blog.  As my studio expands, my teaching responsibilities become a major organizational issue.  And with the book, the Kashu-do Studio Website and some other offerings on the way (not to mention my voice doing exciting things now that I have found out that my ills stemmed from Gluten Intolerance), I needed a few weeks to catch up.

Now to the subject at hand!  Recent studies on the resonance of the singing voice suggest at least a 6:1 ratio between the size of the pharynx and that of the aryepiglottic fold (collar of the larynx) in order to achieve the singer's formant (ring in the voice).  Furthermore, it is suggested that this relationship necessitates a deeper laryngeal position in order to accomplish a pharynx that is at least 6 times the size of the aryepiglottic fold.  There is enough data to confirm the findings (Titze et al).

The question of applied vocal pedagogy is: How does one achieve the low larynx and the narrow aryepiglottic fold?  First the collar of the larynx!  The transverse Inter-arytenoids (IA) that narrow the collar are the same muscles (along with the lateral IAs) that contribute to fold closure.  Achieving excellent fold closure without pressing would be the measure of IA contraction.  Hence, the collar should not be narrowed too tightly as that would also contribute to pressing (if done to excess).  Therefore the greater measure of achieving the 6:1 ration rests with the size of the pharynx and by extension the depth of the larynx.

The question therefore is how to achieve a lower larynx without depressing with the root of the tongue.  I maintain that a vertical fold contact area that is too thin will reduce the length of the vibration cycle causing a raising of fundamental frequency (pitch, in simpler terms), which would be compensated for by pressing the folds together (lengthening the vibration cycle), as long as the singer insists on singing the given pitch.  Any kind of pressing prevents air flow, which would cause increase sub-glottal pressure and raise the larynx.  The necessities of the singer's formant (SF) are also the necessities of a balanced tone (i.e. a balance between the depth of the folds and closure of the same, yielding a balance between breath pressure and flow).

To that end, I devised an exercise that promotes the three fundamental elements of good phonation: 1) low larynx 2) efficient fold closure and most importantly 3) breath flow.  The exercise is done on [hwi], whereby the singer attempts to execute all three elements (h, u, i) in a quick, and immediate onset, as if all three elements where performed simultaneously as opposed to sequentially.  The speed of the onset and release of the [h], the depth of the [u], and the brilliance of the [i] are of paramount importance.
(see exercise below: second and third lines).

Although [hwi] is not an occlusive by definition (the vocal tract is not obstructed as it would be by a [v] or voiced th), I include it in the occlusion exercises because the shaping of mouth and tongue have partially occlusive properties.  I have not experienced an exercise, either in my teaching or singing that yields quicker and more balanced results.

There is a reason why the exercise sheet begins with lip-trills.  Lip-trills when done with the above three fundamentals in mind, yield a balanced posture of the vocal folds over time. Preceding the [hwi] exercises by lip-trills sets the mechanism up for better results.  A frequent reader has asked me to demonstrate how the lip-trills should be executed.  There is no one single way to do the lip-trills.  The lip-trills should be done with a goal of achieving balance between laryngeal depth, fold closure and air-flow.  When the balance has been achieved, the resultant tone is of substance and it is free. However before balance has been achieved, the lip-trills can be strenuous.  Since their purpose is to induce muscular balance, it will be strenuous when one begins with imbalances.  Additionally, the lip-trills require strong diaphragmatic and pan-costal muscular actions. In other words, they develop the core strength that is necessary for an efficient breath mechanism.  

Although there is not one single way to do the lip-trills, there are ways that do not promote growth. For that reason I will do a blog dealing specifically with this wonderful exercise. Patience! It will come soon!

What is of crucial importance scientifically is that certain vowels do not occur on a given pitch because the balance of overtones is skewed. More importantly, the strength of overtones depends centrally on the nature of the phonated tone. The [i] vowel for instance is often uncomfortable and imprecise in the low range (male low and lower middle range) when the fold mass is lacking. [i] has a very low first formant and requires strong low partials in order for the first formant (dominant in the low range) to have a strong effect.  Weak lower partials mean a weak and sometimes imprecise [i] vowel.  More to the point, the resonance of vowels depends first and foremost on a tone rich in overtones.  The mechanism of a low larynx often brings the vocal folds apart.  The coordination requires the paradoxical ability to have a fluid release of air during the open phase and the ability of the IAs to close the folds adequately during the close phase.  Being able to release breath, maintaining the depth of the [u] and the the brilliance of the [i] simultaneously is precisely the coordination necessary for the sought-out results.

© 08/23/2011


Mendel Markel, www.classicalvocals.com said...

Great post. Very heavy, I'll have to regurgitate it a little and then read it again. I love posts that make you think that much.

Susan is the greatest. I started reading her blog right after the accident (which is when I happened to find it, otherwise I would have followed earlier) and I was greatly moved not only by her amazing strength and courage, but by her knowledge and wisdom as well. She has a knack for writing exactly what we need to hear to help us take the next step.. or retrace the last one if needed. May her recovery be quick and complete.

Andrew Larin said...

Thank you for these wonderful exercises!