Squillo and Morbidezza

Continuing the discussion on squillo takes us to points 6 and 7 on my list.

Morbidezza: a feeling of suppleness in the throat, elasticity rather than rigidity.  If we are not supple, even in the larynx, the edges of the cords will not be able to harness the breath and produce squillo. The sound may be vibrant, but will have a stiff quality.


Cry Phonation: using the edges of the cords.  You have to know how to sing with thin cords while resisting significant breath pressure without losing the flow of abundantly rich harmonics.

Morbidezza is the bread and butter of Italian vocal technique for the tenor, and also a very elusive achievement.  Often tenors confuse relaxation of the throat with complete passivity.  This is definitely not the case.  Listen to what I am about to say:  It is because of what you do that your larynx becomes passive in singing.  Getting out of your own way is an active process. 

Having said that, it is often the case that students do too many wrong things, and so they need to stop doing in order to get out of their own way in singing.  In any case, my point was that complete relaxation of the throat is not the path to success for the tenor, or for any voice in my opinion.

When we make the necessary muscular adjustments at any given pitch, register, vowel, etc., to trigger flow phonation, the larynx can become passive.  The idea of morbidezza is about learning how to make all the needed adjustments flexibly, with softness in the tissues of the throat.  As you discover a more perfect technique you will find that significant changes occur with the most subtle of adjustments.  Some of these adjustments are so incredibly subtle that they could almost go completely unnoticed.  Often the tenor doesn’t perceive the change in the sound consequent to these subtle changes unless pointed out by a careful teacher.  The intention of morbidezza is about slowing the thoughts and striving for incredibly elastic movements of the vocal tract.  You have to slow down the process in your head, and when you execute, though you may proceed at typical speed, you have to act as though you were physically moving slowly.  This is hard to explain and just has to be tried and experienced.

The voice is a resonant body at any given time.  The sound exists as a vibrating entity all around us and in us.  As this entity evolves from note to note, it morphs into a different being, characterized by different harmonics and characteristics.  That change has to occur first in your mind.  You have to know your voice so well that you know exactly what kind of harmonic entity is about to evolve and what keys open the door to its emergence.

Many tenors have focused greatly on morbidezza.  Corelli, for example, scoops so that he can slowly morph from a middle note to a high note vibrant voice.  He makes the throat elastic in the moment of the scoop and through the scoop.

When you sing with squillo rather than just a general resonance, things get a bit more complicated.  The voice must narrow, and this means learning how to be morbido, or supple, while being narrow in the larynx.  How can the larynx be muscularly involved (narrowing the opening of the larynx) and simultaneously achieve this suppleness?  Let me give you an image: think of holding the tender hand of a toddler.  You are not going to let go when you cross the street, but you are not going to crush his or her hand either.  Most tenors grab as though they were saving someone plummeting from a cliff.  That is totally unnecessary. Developing squillo requires gentleness.

I always invite my students to maintain the baseline of the 1st layer of their voice – the supple first layer.  It is a type of phonation that must be morbido, or it won’t phonate successfully. It will take on all kinds of higher harmonics.  To be true fundamental, you have to become extra soft in the larynx and in the cords.  While this cannot be the case when singing full voice – yet the mental intention of that kind of suppleness, along with the mental intention of never driving the voice beyond the flow of that first layer (even though the pressure is greater and so is the exertion when in full voice) helps maintain this suppleness.

These conditions aid us in achieving the cry phonation.  It is easy to compress the voice in the cry. I have already written about this.  Morbidezza helps achieve the cry because it helps us maintain our head tone embedded in the sound, which acts like a sort of cushion against excessive squeezing.  I like to think of support as supporting the head tone rather than the full voice.  If you think of your full voice in the top, don’t think of supporting all that sound, instead think of a little fog horn, almost straight tone, right in the middle of the tone – a dark core embedded smack center in your sound.  You support that tone instead of supporting the rest.  The rest of the voice just comes out easily.  If you support the overtones you will tend to over-compress and crush the 1st layer.  Instead support the head tone, and let the higher harmonics flow out on their own.

If you listen carefully, you will hear Caruso, Gigli, Lauri Volpi and many others do this very thing.  They often will start the high note close to a head tone for a split second, and then the voice engages powerfully in the maxillary and frontal sinuses.  The feeling is almost as though for that split second of piano singing the breath flew forward into those sinuses on a sort of sigh, but there was absolutely no breath movement into the nasal area.  It just feels that way because the morbidezza of a well supported 1st layer in your full voice is now controlling any excessive compression.


4 responses to “Squillo and Morbidezza

  1. “…the mental intention of never driving the voice beyond the flow of that first layer (even though the pressure is greater and so is the exertion when in full voice)”

    Can you elaborate on this? Could you describe the sensations of maintaining flow, while increasing breath pressure? I’m guessing the “flow” and “morbidezza” are felt in the throat. Where would the correct feeling of increased pressure be, so that it doesn’t compromise the sense of flow?

    • When you sing the first layer there is very little involvement of the diaphragm. The voice is completely “sul fiato senza sostegno” – or entirely on the breath with no pressure from the diaphragm. The level of energy required is minimal. As you expand the harmonics into full voice production, the breath pressure required increases substantially, as does the muscular activity in the vocal tract and larynx. The sense of flow however, should be maintained, as well as the sense of softness in the tissues. You will undoubtedly feel that there is more work involved but the idea of maintaining the flow guides the mind.

  2. marisolharmonie

    So, are you agree with the use of some devices like Vocevista software, wich add electroglotographies (EGG) non invasive, to monitoring the vocal cords behavior, to achieve morbidezza and/or any other particular vocal training goal?

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