Squillo: eliminating the feeling of being blocked

The next point in developing squillo in the tenor voice was:

Unimpeded flow: in order to get squillo correctly, there must not be blockages in the flow of the voice.  (a) The tongue must not stick to the back of the throat, but rather move forward in the mouth, and forward in the throat as well. How much? The space of the EH vowel should be the guide. (b) The cords must not block the air. Anyone can clamp shut the glottis as if lifting weights; but to sing with squillo we must have a balance between open and closed cords.  The guide is the 1st layer.  The imbedded head tone helps protect against excessive compression, but must not jeopardize the squillo.  The balance is pretty narrow, but not blocked. The produced voice ray guides this balance. The diaphragm cannot be held in a fixed low position or the singer will be singing as though he were running out of breath. Flexibility in the ribs!

One thing that is clear to me is that tenors often equate singing with squillo with singing with blockages.  Why is that?  Simply put, things that block a relaxed flow of voice often pressurize the vocal folds leading to greater adduction and therefore greater brightness.  Don’t be fooled.  That is a type of brightness that does not contribute to nuanced communication needed for great singing.  That is a type of brightness that ruins the legato line because it diminishes true harmonic purity – meaning that even though there is brightness it is an inefficient type of sound.  All the harmonics are a bit veiled.  The voice in this situation may sound louder in a room, or even be extremely forward, but this is not the type of voice that carries well in the house.  But most importantly, this type of production diminishes the development of your control of the harmonics and the voice quickly becomes one-dimensional.

So what are these blockages?  I am not going to give any great scientific lecture here, but rather limit myself to practical observations.  Blockages are always the result of incorrect mental images of what you should sound like, and how to produce the sound.  You hear what tenors sound like and then you try to imitate that sound; but what you hear of your voice is often an incomplete version of your true sound.  You need a vocal pilot guiding you to discover the correct sound.  Students of truly good teachers will tell you that the teacher guides them into very minute changes in sound, at times barely discernible.

Main idea: blockage is a lack of flow.  Simple as that may sound, it tells you something important.  When the vocal set up is not correct, you will not reach a sense of flow.  The larynx will not enter into a passive state.

One major blockage is the tongue.  Now, I wrote about how the tongue needs to move away from the back of the throat into a forward “EH” position.  This is particularly true in the middle voice, and even more relevant if you’re looking to increase the level of chest-voice participation.  There are degrees in this movement. The degree determines the type of harmonic result.  It is crucial for the tenor seeking to become a master of harmonics to know the degrees of forward movement of the tongue in the throat.  To discover this art you need to train your ear to hear the harmonics you produce.  More about that in another post.  For the purpose of this post it is important to simply say that you can’t sing correctly if your tongue is approximating too closely the back pharyngeal wall.  Singing is not speaking.  The amplification of our harmonics requires the tongue to get away from the back. How far depends on your harmonic strategy. Are you in the middle voice seeking to enhance the 1st formant?  Are you in the passaggio trying to become 2nd formant dominant, or perhaps adopting an older way of addressing the passaggio with a more balanced acoustic result (bringing singer’s formant and 2nd formant into co-dominance)?  

Squillo singing in the top voice requires careful tuning.  Do not assume you will need to press the tongue forward all the way to get squillo in the top.  The compression of the sound will guide you – and a good teacher. This leads to our next blockage: the narrowing of the larynx.

My science resource and friend Jean-Ronald LaFond can and has given ample explanations about the importance of finding the 1:6 ratio between laryngeal aperture and surrounding pharyngeal cavity.  I believe this is about what I like to call “boy in the cave.”  You can have a cavernous sound, while also having a boyish sound.  Caruso, Bjoerling, Fleta, Bergonzi, and many others are great examples of this principle. When you sing the top tuning squillo you will sense that the area of the larynx has taken on what my dad would call “la OO in gola” – the OO in the throat.  This is a very difficult thing to verbalize – and I am no slouch at verbalizing sensations.  It is difficult because the level of nuance is so extreme, and the opportunity for error is so great, that it is basically insane to think it can be learned or taught through a blog.  This is a long process of tuning.

The path?  The path is learning how to sing with thin cords in the passaggio in a bright EE/EH position, and then incorporate that function into the other vowels.  The vowels morph into various degrees of schwa sounds in the passaggio, however there is a constant presence in all this:  the “OO in gola.”

This is a combination of:  (a) the OO head tone embedded in your full voice – the first layer,  (b) the OO depth of the larynx which positions your larynx in a low range, and (c) the EE’s narrowness envelopes the OO head tone, compressing the sound inward in the larynx, effectively narrowing the sound (do not think of narrowing physically… think of the sound as your guide or you will fail and pay a price!  However, this is a narrowing of the opening of the larynx).

Try this: slightly contract the abs beneath the navel, you don’t have to pull in, just don’t allow them to go out.  Then breathe in as though you were pushing down against those abs that will not move out.  You should sense the bottom ribs expanding.  Envision in your mind how with the breath going down, the larynx is following and how suspending your breath somewhere around the solar plexus also causes your larynx to be suspended in a low range… then forget about the larynx and just keep the breath suspended.  In this set up, think of a small head tone OO, a pure first layer sound, largely fundamental sound.  Do not push the air, suspend it.  You will feel great relaxation in the laryngeal area.

NOW, I am going to ask you to think really hard….  you have to think of  pronouncing  (a)  “WEU” (it is like saying “word” but without the R) in your throat; and (b) “WEE” in the mask in the space right behind the nose AND right between your eyes.  So, yes, you need to think in your mind as though your voice is made up of multiple voices.  I CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH HOW IMPORTANT IT IS FOR YOU TO CONCEIVE IN YOUR MIND THAT YOUR VOICE IS MADE UP OF MULTIPLE VOICES.

As you proceed in a rudimentary attempt at this,  you will fail.  You should expect to fail.  However, you will probably sense something important. You will sense that as you pass from the relaxed laryngeal feeling of the initial OO to the adding of the vocal compression, something will get narrower in the larynx.

EVERYONE knows how to narrow the larynx.  You may not know that you do, and this is in fact the point: you have to know this in order to dominate this.  Even women can and do narrow the larynx. Women who sing with this position have very bright voices.  Even though women cannot sing an EE vowel above a G or Aflat because the vowel formant will not allow them to, they can still insert EE component into their voices and make the voice squillante. This is laryngeal narrowing in the widened pharynx.  But this is a tenor blog… sorry ladies (notice what I am saying here applies directly to you too).

So, in the passaggio, you are pronouncing EU, but the mental intention is also EE.  You are diversifying vocal formants and vowel formants deliberately and with mastery.

Now to the blockage…  If you have no clue what it means to narrow the larynx, that doesn’t mean you don’t do it.   You have to learn how to narrow the sound.  As you narrow the sound you will undoubtedly start off by “crushing the sound” – a blockage.  When I had my lessons with Arrigo Pola he complained about this to me often.  I was crushing the passaggio because I was thinking of “punta” (point in the voice)… forwardness.  The voice does strike forward in the passaggio when you sing bright.  Finding flow in this means allowing the first layer to not be crushed.

Here we are again… back to the first layer.  I am telling you my friends… learn how to sing with multiple voices in one.  The voice is made of multiple voices.  A unitary sound is just an illusion.  The master of vocal technique is aware of having various voices wrapped up in one.  In this case, the head tone – the first layer – embedded in your full voice is the salvation of your technique.  It allows you to cushion the excessive squeezing of the sound.  The EE will want to crush inward at the laryngeal level.  The OO component of the first layer will cushion that compression allowing you to not crush the sound.  In the top note it will feel like a sort of whistle in the larynx.    The squillo shoots out of this low range larynx in an OO-narrowed position and strikes the mask right behind the nose (above the “cupola” of the hard palate), and between the eyes.  The voice pressure suddenly feels like it is up in the mask rather than stuck in the larynx and/or in the mouth or pharynx.  Fail to find the right “vocal ray” and your voice suddenly jams.  Darn!  I got stuck!  This is one reason Cotogni spoke of vocal rays… the sensation of having found the right target connecting larynx and mask is spot on.  When you get stuck it is like the voice sprays all over the mask, mouth, and throat.  You missed your target.  The vocal ray failed.  The squillo is so precise and so acute, it literally feels like a beam of sound.  Dismiss this if you’d like and tell me that sounds are concentric waves all you want, but you probably can’t do this:

Lauri Volpi O Muto Bflat 5th Harmonic

or this

Squillo High C 

Finding correct squillo means not letting the tongue, excessive narrowing of the larynx, or hyper-adduction of the vocal folds impede flow.

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