A while back, I wrote a blog-post on phonation in response to a question on the coup de glotte as interpreted by Miller, Stark and others. The original question had to do with finding a happy medium between a glottal onset and a breathy one and that the middle ground as suggested by Vennard and Miller and others was often not satisfactory. In the post I brought up supra-glottal inertia as a possible explanation for why a smooth onset did not have to be breathy.
Recently in a voice lesson a student seemed confused about my request for both air flow and focus (let’s call this glottal closure). In her mind the two were difficult to reconcile because when she tries to achieve good glottal closure, she felt she could not release her breath well and vice versa. Sometimes a simple mental picture based on facts can free the singer to allow the incomprehensible.
My suggestion was the following: Imagine that there are two part to vocal fold vibration namely an open phase and a close phase. During the close phase the folds come together completely (we may also interpret completely as almost touching and having closure completed by inertial reactance of the vocal track) and produce what we experience as clarity or focus because complete separation of the each glottal pulse makes for a clearer definition of the tone. That focus may be experienced as a distinct clear point on the hard palate or the bridge of the nose (many other possibilities). During the open phase the breath is released and this may be felt as a vibrant, flowing sensation in the chest. The interesting part is that these open and close phases are occurring hundreds of times every second. Our conscious thought cannot perceive the open and close phases as separate events because they occur simply too quickly. Therefore, we experience them as though they were occurring simultaneously.
Suddenly my student was able to conceive of a tone with more than one dimension to it. In my years of study, I also struggled with finding a happy medium between closure and flow. That did not work very well. In the end conceiving of the two extremes as necessary to each other and that like a good tug-o-war, balance is achieved when both ends of the rope are being pulled with equal force providing a kind of isometric stasis.
Instead of a compromise the coexistence of opposites seems to yield a better balance. In truth, the vibration cycle alternates between full closure and full opening allowing each, focus and breath flow, to dominate in turn.