Canto di Posizione

Developing squillo requires that we develop the ability to manage the breath correctly.  My list of important factors in developing squillo had point# 3:

The breath should not be pushed out, but rather the singer should have as a baseline the sensation of the first layer – a suspension in the thorax.  The resulting air stream should be a warm mist, like when you try to fog up a mirror – slow and suspended.

One of the biggest temptations for tenors is to want to push the sound.  What exactly does it mean to push?  Some ask “what are you pushing against?”  I believe that question should be reframed.  It is probably the wrong question.  The right question would be more like “what are you pushing through?”  Pushing is exceeding the balance between breath pressure and sound. If you push, you have lost the “set up”  – l’impostazione.

One thing should be clear.  There is no squillo without energetic closure of the vocal folds and without narrowing in the larynx (though, I hesitate to even mention the narrowing because I know someone is bound to misunderstand what that means).  Notwithstanding the narrower passage for the air, we sense a feeling of flow in the voice when things are working correctly.  

The breath pressure accumulated beneath the cords powers up the voice when the vocal folds resist that pressure; and this process produces the harmonics we can then use to create squillo.  Finding the equilibrium between pressure and fine tuned sound is an endeavor that takes a long time.  Sometimes years… Sorry, but that is the truth.  

When we sing a bright, pure EE, the vocal folds close significantly.  Without that closure we couldn’t produce that bright EE because we wouldn’t have the right harmonics needed to actually produce it.  There is no bright EE vowel without higher harmonics.  There are no higher harmonics without the cords closing and resisting the air pressure beneath them.  This is why the EE vowel and the EH vowel are perfect vehicles for developing the closure needed to get squillo.

The bright EE also tends to narrow the larynx, which is also important.  If you pass from bright EE to OH you will have the tendency to open the vocal folds more.  You don’t have to.  You can modify the vowel without changing the cords at all. The intention is to slide from EE to OH without changing the cords, just the shape of the vowel.  Remember, this is the mental intention. The balance in this effort is dictated by the flow.  Keep the ring of the EE but do not jeopardize the flow.

Now, when we push breath through the closed cords, our diaphragm and voice are out of sync.  We do not know how to control the ascent of the diaphragm. That control should come through the sound.  When you push air through the correct closure, the sound falls back – meaning the sound of the harmonics loses efficiency and purity.  The voice becomes cloudy and loses carrying power.  We feel like we are pumping out more power, but in reality we are just working more for less.

To get the right squillo we need to increase potential breath pressure. This means that we have to have support in the torso – lotta vocale, the antagonism between diaphragm and support muscles.  If we don’t have that fight engaged, the larynx will not drop properly, and the voice will not be able to call on breath pressure when needed. I explained this a few months ago, but let me go over this again.  When we “support” – we are putting the contracting diaphragm (descending) against the muscles that would push it back up.  This does NOT create breath pressure.  Breath pressure occurs only when a container with gas in it decreases its volume without the gas being able to escape.  Proof of this is that you can squeeze the abs against the diaphragm and then open the cords and slightly breathe in.  This happens because the diaphragm descended a little more even though the muscles were opposing its descent.  There was negative pressure in the lungs because the descending diaphragm increased the volume of the container (lung cavity), so air went in.  If the diaphragm relaxes a little it is pushed up by the support musculature, and the lung cavity decreases volume.  The pressure increases and the air comes out.  If we close the cords energetically as we do when we sing a bright EE vowel, the air cannot escape much, and the conditions are set for an increase in breath pressure below the cords. To get squillo we have to know how to balance that pressure. We gauge this through the correctly tuned sound.

What are the problems here?  I have a student who sings with a powerful diaphragmatic action.  He does not let the diaphragm come up easily, and so he always sounds like he is running out of breath when he sings.  I also have a student whose diaphragm is always coming up too quickly.  He tends to get pressed and lifts the larynx.  To compensate he sings breathy.

We must find balance in these actions in order to get squillo.  The cords must be closed.  The larynx must stay low.  This means the fight between diaphragm and support musculature must be engaged, but still result in a slow upward movement of the diaphragm.  If you push down and out with the diaphragm you undoubtedly demonstrate to not have understood the Italian method of sostegno costo-diaframmatico.  The diaphragm does exert a downward energy, but it always loses that battle.  Of course, the loss is slow, but absolutely necessary.

The feeling in the torso and abs should not be rock solid, but rather suspension and elasticity.  How do we know when we have exceeded the limits of correctness?  Our guide is the MENTAL INTENTION of the 1st layer.  If you sing an efficient head tone (this is not a particularly loud sound), you can hold this tone for quite some time.  Little air pressure is needed.

Increasing to a full voice means that the cords will close more energetically and the breath pressure underneath them will also increase substantially to produce the correct flow and rich sound.  HOWEVER, the mental intention – the idea in your head – should be just like when you sing that head tone.  Yes, there will be more energy in your torso; yes, there will be significantly more sense of adducting cords; yes, there will be much more vibratory energy in the vocal tract – but in your head you still think “the first layer is my baseline… do not exceed that sense of flow..”

When you sing with that embedded head tone in your voice, you must never push through it.  No matter how loud or how resonant you get, that sense of calm flow right at the core is your guide.  This is CANTO DI POSIZIONE, instead of canto di forza.  The voice is like a solid block that never moves. It is right in the larynx, but the power of the voice – the resonance – shifts into various other places, so the weight of the voice doesn’t stay in the throat.  But the calm flow of that first layer stays intact.

When this happens, the breath moves slowly, like a mist. This is why the old timers spoke about the candle not flickering when you sing next to it.  The air is not rushing out.  But, listen, it serves no purpose to have a suspended air flow and to not have the candle flicker if your voice is not worth listening to!  All this should be controlled and regulated through THE SOUND.  Mechanical efforts are always wrong… always.  They never work to produce a refined voice.  Years of tuning of the sound delivers the right memory of how to produce the sound, and therefore, the correct mental intention.

Remember, canto di posizione, or establishing the right set up, means that you sing as though in a suspension; letting the harmonics expand without pushing them out.  When the voice strikes the mask we just do more of that… meaning, we intensify the function that is causing the voice to strike in the mask.  The diaphragm does that.  This is the tough part. In the top, the squillo leans into the mask because we think “more of the same” – intensify the function; but the position is not pushed out of balance in this process.

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2 responses to “Canto di Posizione

  1. I have a question concerning the narrowing of the larynx comment, upon inhalation especially I find that a small gap is created between my thyroid and hyoid bone, which I can feel(the tip of my index finger can fit more or less), I have noticed that when singing if I push that space tends to shrink, Im guessing that there should always be a gap there otherwise the base of the tongue would be pushing against the larynx. Im asking because I am not sure, and also due to the fact that on an “EE” I tend to pressurise there the most, is it wrong right??? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    With kind regards,

    Demetrios Tsinopoulos

    • My advice is to never train your voice by monitoring physical things. If you do physical things, like lowering the larynx, opening the throat, moving the tongue, etc., the monitor for these things must be the voice. A good teacher helps you understand when the voice is wrong and hopefully why it is wrong, and when physical adjustments are made the guide remains the sound.

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