Understanding and implementing the technique of vowel layers, or sounds layers, requires understanding the concept of the two constant anchors in the voice – as described in my previous post. Bottom line: no matter what you do, you should never sacrifice squillo and you should never sacrifice the released head tone or 1st layer (the fundamental harmonic – which is also a hooty falsetto on its own).
This is a real battle between polar opposites in a sense. The 1st layer is a relaxed chord position that requires very little breath pressure. The 1st layer, and first-layer-based mezza voce do not require the diaphragm (or significant breath pressure under the larynx). On the other hand, full-voiced squillo is compressed phonation (compressed sound, not muscles). It is a type of sound that is purely harmonic, and the adjustments required to produce it should never push the voice into inefficient sounds that become noisy and enharmonic.
This is where the two anchors actually complement each other. The first layer is a force that tends to undo the compression in the chords, while the squillo is a force that glues the chords together. When these two elements are in perfect balance, the sense of the chords working muscularly disappears and all we have is a sense of sound vibration in various regions from the larynx up to the mask, depending on pitch and vowel.
However, singing is not about producing sounds in the singer’s formant region or solely a fundamental sound. Much of the vowel definition of the sung word occurs because of what lies in between these two poles: the middle harmonics.
Think of the voice this way: there are two strong pillars 10 feet apart from each other (these are the anchors in your voice – 1st layer and 2nd layer, head tone and squillo). You attach a loose curtain draped over top or the two pillars so that it drapes in between the two pillars. The wind blows and the curtain lifts upwards. Depending on where and how the gust moves different parts of the curtain will climb higher than others. Similarly, you need to think of the strength of these two anchors as constant, while the harmonics in between the gap vary depending on vowel, pitch, and amount of chest.
You can’t sing just 1st and 2nd layer – fundamental and squillo. There would be no vowel definition at all. How we fill the gap between these two poles is the fruit of many years of training and tuning of the vocal functions so as to develop skill in pinpointing the exact functions that enhance one harmonic over another.
I have put together a clip of me singing a high C where I edit the sound so as to leave in just the 1st and 2nd layer (fundamental and dominant 5th harmonic squillo). You will notice that there is no vowel definition. Then as I FILL IN THE GAP, or add back in progressively the harmonics in between the anchors, the vowel takes shape.
How do we adjust those layers in between? It has much to do with the opening of the jaw, the position of the tongue, and the ability to balance the global harmonic structure of your voice so as to make the vowel pure and natural.
When we sing below the passaggio, the voice is more like speaking with a deep projected voice in terms of function (if you can sing with a relaxed low larynx and with your tongue out of the way), while above the passaggio, the voice becomes more like what we would imagine a child sounding like, but with intense squillo and eco sonora (or 2nd and singer’s formant sound). However, both modes of phonation, below and above the passaggio, MUST be completely natural. We don’t just manipulate the sound to get the high voice and expect the sound to be nice. We change modes of phonation but whatever mode we are in must be a very exact and natural sound; just different from each other.
Concluding, when we balance 1st and 2nd layer – fundamental and squillo, particularly 5th harmonic squillo, we also tend to create very pure harmonics in the gap, or the harmonics in between the poles. The voice takes on a velvety beauty, very complex, very expressive, and very honest.