I was very tempted to comment on Jack Livigni’s recent post, on appoggio and giro del fiato (turn of the breath), which generated a great deal of discussion. One of my most repeated statements here on Kashu-do (歌手道) is the following: Science is only the beginning! I make this statement because modern vocal research does not provide all the answers. The science-based voice teacher’s job is to take all the proven elements into account and then fill in what is missing. For this, we take advantage of the principles of the classical schools of singing. Science is there to clarify the principles of the traditional schools and help make corrections particularly when traditional language is equivocal or wrong.
Singing is paradoxical. I always speak of pressure and flow. The two are in fact interdependent.and related to the subject of this post.
First, can one support by leaning the breath behind the mask?
Scientifically, no! In proper singing, the breath does not arrive in the nasal cavity except when singing nasal vowels. However, the sensations of intense vibration felt in the sinuses are directly related to what the singer experiences as support.
The efficient propagation of sound waves in a resonant vocal tract is felt in the sinuses through bone conduction. A resonant vocal tract depends not only on adequate adjustment of the vocal tract but on the correct timing of the vocal fold opening. According to Donald Miller, the vocal folds must remain closed through the last maximum of the harmonic that dominates the spectrum of the sung tone. This means that a singer producing an Ab4 on the vowel [a] (F1=c. 800 Hz, F2= c. 1200 Hz). The common setting of F2 (second formant) on H3 (third harmonic) requires that the folds remain close in excess of 75% of the cycle.
The left side of the picture shows the third harmonic to be the carrier of most of the acoustic energy. The audio signal on the upper right lines up with the glottal signal below to show that acoustic energy is generated while the glottis is closed (the glottal signal peaks during glottal closure). The audio signal shows that the glottis remains closed for nearly three complete peaks. The glottal signal weakens during the drop-portion of the third peak. The graph shows a CQ (contact quotient or closure quotient) of 73% as measured by the EGG device.
The spectrum view shows the green cursor on the third harmonic at 1202 Hz (the second formant value of the vowel [a]). The strong peak between the orange lines is the singer’s formant. This is an ideal spectrum for G4
This long close cycle (completely appropriate) builds up appropriate subgottal pressure that the singer experiences as being connected with the body. In essence, the same pressure that gives a sense of support provides the conditions that produces the sensation of mask resonance.
If however the glottal closure quotient is too high, there will not be enough breath flow and therefore not enough sound pressure (i.e. resonance) to induce the intense bone conduction that is felt as mask resonance. In effect, a balance in glottal flow/pressure must accompany vocal tract adjustments as well as the part of breath compression controlled by volume of air in the lungs and the global activity of core muscles, intercostal resistance and diaphragmatic activity.
In actuality, there is no column of air that goes from the lungs through the glottis and up and around to the mask. Still, the path of the breath does take a 90° turn from the laryngeal pharynx to the buccal pharynx. Many singers do not generate enough subglottal pressure in their lower range to sense such strong resonance in that region. Often, the sudden intensity that is felt in the mask in the male passaggio and upper range, or in the female upper middle range may be experienced as a sudden turn into the area where the vibrations are felt, or a giro del fiato (turn of the breath).
In the end, the singer’s experience of the voice is based on sensory feedback and indeed sensory memory. The singer’s proprioceptive sense combines aural as well as vibratory feedback to complete the experience. Visualization and metaphors are important tools in the teacher’s kit. But they must not be the only ones. Teachers are sometimes frustrated when they are not able to pass on their sensations to the student. Most often, the student has not yet achieved the muscular dynamics that would make such sensations possible. This is just as frustrating to the student. When we have a scientific understanding of the conditions necessary to produce such sensory feedback, we can help the student develop these conditions over time. When the physical components are ready to produce the sensations, proprioception and metaphors become even more important. For that reason: Science is only the beginning! But I should add:
Without a beginning there is no end product!