Kashu-do (歌手道): The Paradox of the Passive Larynx

Our ultimate goal in vocal technique is to have the feeling of a “passive larynx” with maximum sound output. Indeed when phonation is balanced and breath pressure is adequate and constant, and resonant adjustments are exact, it feels as though the larynx is not involved.  The paradoxical part is that the larynx feels like it does not exist when it is actively doing what it is supposed to do.  The problem is that most singers come to training with some level of laryngeal imbalance and before we expect them to make ideal sounds, the imbalances must be remedied.

Along these lines, I often think of my first car, a used 1978 Honda Civic that I had bought from a Heldentenor named George Gray, a wonderful singer with a great heart.  The car was old and used back then and I got it for the more than fair price of $300.00 from this wonderfully generous man.  Among other benign problems, the wheels were misalligned.  To drive the car straight, I felt I had to compensate to the right. Before I got the wheels alligned, making a right turn was dangerous.

I think of the voice in similar ways.  We come to life with a perfectly balanced instrument.  The vocal folds begin vibrating towards the first trimester of the human gestation period. When babies are born, one of their first test is to cry. The all sound balanced.  If the voice were used in its primal, emotional and physically supported manner as babies do then we would grow with natural magnificent voices like lions and birds and dogs, etc. Few of us (maybe Jussi Björling) come into adolescence and adulthood with such balance. Thus, to expect a passive larynx from the average singer is the equivalent of releasing the steering wheel of a misaligned car and expect it to go straight.  As the car must be taken to the shop to be realigned, so must the singer be taken to a vocal mechanic to have his voice realigned.

The vocal folds must be aligned to make for balanced pressure flow.  Balance between CT and TA as well as adequate closure.  The breath must be calibrated between adequate pressure provided by the diaphragm and resistence provided by the external intercostals. When these elements have been mastered then appropriate vowel modifaction is necessary (laryngeal depth and vocal tract adjustment) to achieve ideal acoustic efficiency. The shaping of the vocal tract has a strong repercussion on the propagation of air, which is essentially what we experience as vocal sound..

Until all the elements are balanced separately and organized together, the larynx will not become passive. Appropriate activity creates the impression of passivity.

© 12/10/2010

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