Appoggio and Low Larynx

One issue that has emerged from Maestro Fisichella’s interview relates to the concept of appoggio.  Fisichella stated:

To find the exact spot in the larynx you just need to do a gentle cough pronouncing HA, HE, HI, etc…  The sensation is as though I were leaning in a supple way on the muscles of the neck as I lower the larynx. (

Fisichella associates his sensation of leaning the sound and the lowering of the larynx – two aspects of the traditional Italian technique that work hand in hand, but are not the same. I know Fisichella knows this, it is clear from the context of his interview, but I needed to point this out.

Lowering the larynx is the fruit of correct diaphragmatic support.  As we take in an energetic breath, the larynx will feel like it is being tugged down. Think of what happens to your voice when you yawn.  The voice gets airy, doesn’t it?  Woofy and dark…  This is because the lowering of the larynx tends to open the cords and reduce medial compression, or the energy with which your vocal folds close. 

On the other hand, appoggio is the technique that gets your vocal folds to close perfectly.  Lauri Volpi explains this feeling very well.

Those who while singing stiffen the veins of their neck and become red in the face, continuously forcing the emission of every note, demonstrate that they don’t know how to breathe, measure the emission of breath, nor harmonize the various parts of the organism cooperating in the phenomenon of sung phonation.  That is, they do not know how to insert in the moment of emission, the pneumatic tube onto the resonance tube.  These, remaining separate impede the propagation of the air flow and the sound rays produced by the vibrator, and do not allow an enrichment of the harmonics.

(Giacomo Lauri Volpi – Voci Parallele page 200-201)

It’s interesting to note that Lauri Volpi clearly spells out that air flow must continue,  and that connecting resonance and pressurized air produces “sound rays” and “enrichment of the harmonics.”   This feeling of “sound rays” is significant.  A ray needs both an origination point and a direction.  In this case a sound ray is an apt description of the proprioceptive sensation that arises from the feeling of the voice originating in the larynx and then “striking” the mask in specific places.  It also aptly describes the sense of the sound being focused and not wide and overblown.  The propelling energy behind the ray is the diaphragm which pressurizing the air causes the ray to explode forward into the mask sinuses.

Personally, I like describing the sensation as a cloud of resonance.  The connection between resonance and air at the larynx causes a cloud of resonance to fill and vibrate the mask in specific areas.  When this cloud appears, the feelings of strain are gone.  The air moves gently and slowly through the larynx, almost like it were suspended. So there is no sense of blockage.  But the pressure of the this vibrating cloud in the mask is intense.  But it is also to  a certain extent in the chest and pharynx.  Depending on the range, the feeling of vibratory presence climbs upward.

As Lauri Volpi states, the singer should know how to insert the pneumatic and resonance tubes one onto the other.  I would like you to ponder that instruction for a moment.  Think of the sensations linked to resonance going from the larynx upwards (the resonance tube).  Then think of the sensations that come to mind when you think of the tube that goes from the larynx downward into the lungs when you take a breath and pressurize that breath through support (pneumatic tube).  I would like you to envision the connection of these two tubes right in the larynx.  These two tubes meet right at the cords.  Appoggio means leaning the resonance right on the air pressure beneath the cords. 

Lauri Volpi and Gigli both studied with Cotogni.  What does Gigli have to say on the subject?

As soon as I commence to sing I forget all about the diaphragm and ribs, all about the breathing machinery and its action, and sing on the air accumulated right underneath the larynx.

YOU CANNOT DO THIS SIMPLY BY LOWERING THE LARYNX.  Lowering the larynx is no guarantee of having appoggio; in fact, it tends to impede it.  Like I said previously, lowering the larynx tends to reduce medial compression.  Appoggio tends to strengthen it.  One can sing with a low larynx and not have appoggio.  The result is a dark sound caused by both an elongated resonator tube, and a lack of vowel compression.  It is the appoggio that allows a laser-like sound to emerge from a low larynx “impostazione,” or vocal set up.

 Enough talking!  Let me show you.

 Low Larynx and Open Cords for blog

The laryngeal position between the two versions of my voice you heard was the same – relaxed low.  The difference was that without appoggio, the voice got over-darkened because the larynx was low and the cords relaxed.  Ironically, this lack of appoggio conveys a sense of lack of work and of great relaxation.  It is MUCH EASIER and relaxed to sing without appoggio.  This is the great risk of thinking only of relaxation.  Singing with appoggio is also phonating with relative ease, but not with total relaxation.

Appoggio is the sound gently connecting with the air right below the cords.  The air is not blocked, but rather more like suspended.  There is no sense of muscular blockage.  The sound flows like oil from that spot to the resonators.  Like Lauri Volpi said, when the resonator and air tube connect, sound rays are produced, and these go and strike the mask.  As Fisichella said, it is the strength of the diaphragm, or the breath pressure, that propels the sound ray into the mask.

This is the kind of thing you need some guidance with – a teacher that understands the process.  It is easy to overdo. Remember, there is never a sense of blockage, but rather a sense of suspension that causes intense sounds to project into the mask.  This is the basis of the concept of drinking the sound.


3 responses to “Appoggio and Low Larynx

  1. Question: why would correct diaphragmatic support equal correct positioning of the instrument? I can see how they might effect each other, but cause it exclusively? I don’t understand this and would really like to. In my experience, larry lowering is directly related to yawn sensations, more than diaphragmatic involvement. It IS possible to drop the throat without the intake of air, so why would support matter?

    Is not what you are referring to more important semantically rather than scientifically? A pedagogue will certainly want balance in things and tying breath intake and resonance-making a good way to maintain that balance. If the balance is not kept then the singer introduces more and more tension into the apparatus. A good safeguard is to create resonance by breathing a certain way. But, in my mind, I don’t understand why diaphragmatic support effects things to the degree you are saying. I CAN “drop the throat” without breathing in air. Please explain why I OUGHT to.

    Esplain, Lucy. Por favor.

    On the reverse side, the more intercostal breathing I do (ribs out, chest expanded, rather than tummy pooching out and chest in stasis) I very much notice that the vacuum created in so doing brings down the larry. As if there is a direct and immediate relation to the energy out in the lungs, with the healthy, non shoved depth to the larry. So maybe this is what you are referring to. I first encountered this mandate in a masterclass with Dame Joan. She faulted us young singers for “breathing into your bellies. For the life of me, I don’t understand the propensity to breath into your gut. Air goes in the lungs, and when I breath, my stomach goes in, not out.*” I begin to see that for me personally, if I breath too low, it moves my center of gravity too low. I release low, but I don’t “put breath there.” Ribs for me stay out. Look carefully at how ‘out’ Fisichella is in his YouTube clips. The Verona Boheme being the easiest to see. Chest stays nearly still at all times, but perfectly expanded. This expansion, imo, really IS creating a specific TYPE of sound and energy. Hmmmm, I seem to be answering my own questions, don’t I? :-b

    A side note: the more dedicated to Fisichella’s prescription of chest expansion, I notice the diaphragm effecting the rapidity of vibrato. With it fully engaged on the onset of emission, there is more vibrancy, and less languor. E.g. the vibrato is slightly faster and the sound more intense. How true this intensity does not happen due to “relaxation.” Relaxation and Efficiency (for me) easily translate into vanilla and un-supported, white singing if I’m not careful to remember all of this is in relationship to the FACT operatic singing is based on compression, not simply release.

    Finally, I have a love/hate relationship to resonance-making. The more I make, the further away from the classic naturalistic Pavarotti-esque sound I move. It takes a bit of a leap of faith for me to continue to pursue this “cloud of resonance.” But as I do so, I see the sound becomes more compact, more focussed, and most importantly, stable. Too often, I still over-do it and weight very quickly creeps in. My own personal safeguard? A bright Lauri Volpi-esque AH vowel. Within that framework the tongue stays within an turned orientation thru the passaggio, but the ‘scuro’ remains abundant. I encourage others to listen to his words here. I can also hear Jack using this particular vocal set up in his speaking voice on the above clip. While his speaking voice is “stilted” to my ear, it is a classic example of a tenor bringing resonance into his speaking voice, calling in height and depth at all times. I wonder if people understand WHY he is doing it, as Lauri Volpi does the same thing with his speaking voice. It might sound slightly silly to hear him speaking this way, but it is crucial for him to do around examples of singing. It’s also a good reminder for me to do so while doing say, dialog in Carmen.

    Resonance balanced with deep emission. Uh and Ay simultaneously occurring.

    *The final comment from Dame Joan on this particular breathing set-up was “Luciano ALMOST learned this secret fully, but not quite. Had he listened to me and Richard he could have TRULY mastered his voice.”

    • I think you are right that physically its not just the breath support that does the job. I sense that the support does cause the larynx to get tugged downward, and that other muscles contribute slightly. The muscles in the throat contribute much more if there is no support. I think your thoughts are fantastic. Thanks for contributing.

  2. Pingback: The Feeling of Giro di Fiato – Response to Miles | Tenor Talk Blog

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