Support and Deep OO First Layer


Recently two of my students asked me questions around the same topic, so I figured I would post here my response to one of them, that maybe it will start a dialogue.  Also, I want to announce that soon I will be changing the set up of this site so as to introduce a social network/forum aspect to it, so as to allow for discussions and questions to be fleshed out by participants.

So here is my response to a soprano I am currently helping with the development of her voice.  Particularly we are focusing on keeping a deep OO, as we hear in Ponselle, Callas, Muzio, and many other “old school” great sopranos – which is developed fundamentally by keeping the chords closed (or the EE position embedded within the vowel).  Here I will talk about how this thing edge is linked to breath support.  So here is the communication.


Yes this is correct.  Developing the deep OO is essential because it is an indicator of the connection between your voice and breath, and also of the depth of the larynx, all essential elements for your developing a full sound.  What you need to always keep in mind is that even though the deep OO requires a deep larynx and a widened lower pharynx, it is not those.  The deep OO is A SOUND.  It is the result of absolutely beautiful closure of the chords.  So when you have the right closure, as you seek the edge, you will also consequently have the right OO.  You cannot get the right OO by creating physical space in the throat.  It is only through the correct working of the chords within the context of the widened throat.
It is REALLy important to keep the tongue forward because you want to make sure the larynx is never lowered  by the tongue, but solely through the power of the breath connection with the muscles that engage in lowering the larynx.  Basically, a good image would be to think of a region right behind the sternum that acts as a fulcrum, a place where 10-20 elastic bands are attached.  Then these little elastic bands are each attached to the lowest of your ribs, all around, forming a sort of cone in your torso.  Nothing is rigid, just elastic.  When you breathe in, these elastics are stretched and the ribs expand.  As you sing, these elastics want to pull those bottom ribs (diaphragm) upwards, but they can’t do it that simply… there is a balance and a resistance.  The diaphragm says “ok, I will ascend, but you are going to have to wait because I will come up very very slowly” – but up it should go, and this elastic strength is not insignificant.  At the same time, the area of the abdomen around the navel and below did not move out upon breathing in.  That is actually how the ribs expand because the lower abs wont release outward upon inhalation.  In a way, the feeling is that they too (the abs) are being tugged upward by the sternum, but it is kind of like they are being tugged up from a point right at the center of your gut… so instead of pulling the outside abs up, it is as though the outside were connected to this point at the center of your abdomen, and when this central point is tugged upwards by the elastic force linking it to the sternum, the external abs receive an elastic tension.  The lower abs actually feel tugged in, and the upped abs feel somewhat elastically compressed and somewhat tugged upwards as though they are following the path of this central abdominal node connected to the sternum.
Why all this reference to support?  Because keeping the tongue forward means that it is the support action that will trigger the lowering of the larynx.  As long as that elastic tension continues, so does the set up of your phonation.  So, keeping the deep and tall OO is fundamentally not possible without this support.  So, my invitation to keep the tongue forward is also an invitation to not depress the larynx with the root of the tongue.
The Callas position of the tongue should not rigid.  The tongue should be very very flexible.  Only in this scenario will the harmonics become velvety, which is what the OO is supposed to confer in the first place.
Listen to the great master of harmonics – Maria Callas:
This is the type of OO with embedded EE sound.  You can hear two distinct sounds very often – the deep and tall OO, and the forward, young girl EE sound striking forward.  It is such a complex sound that it almost feels alien.  You will see that as she ascend higher, up until about a Bflat, the EE sound carries in a totally light way, the voice… the depth of the OO is NEVER weight. Then above the Bflat, the voice takes on more of an open AH/EH position (kind of the like the word CAT but not that shallow) and heads toward the back of the head with no weight.
All these things are accomplished primarily by just tuning harmonics and keeping constant this sense of connection to the breath and the deep OO.  The deep OO flows, it is never pushed.  Sure it can get louder or softer, but its integrity is the same always.  That is why Callas sounded the same loud or piano, the essential composition of the sound remained unchanged.
You are right on track, just remember that the perfection of the deep and tall OO is not given by lessening the chords closure but by keeping it, because it is a sound.
Let me know if this triggers questions.


4 responses to “Support and Deep OO First Layer

  1. In my practice today I finally am hearing the 1st layer (quiet “oo”) imbedded in my tone. I’ve been working on really closed “ee” and “eh” vowels, but now if I concentrate and make sure I’m breathing with the intention outlined above, I can pick out that oo. Really exciting! 🙂

    • Now I guess the question is… how much is too much? In the post about the pillars of squillo and fundamental, both are to remain in place for a honest sound. How do we know if we’ve over-done one of those two pillars/layers?

  2. I have that question, too. Actually, I know from experience that overdoing the EE (squillo) results in pressing and thus swollen cords, so it is definitely possible to go too far with that component, but the good news is it’s pretty clear when you have gone too far. So, that part is clear to me. But is it possible to go too far with the OO component (of course, while still keeping an edge)? Hmmm, as I think about it, I don’t see how, but then I’m still fighting to get deeper, so maybe I just don’t know yet.

  3. Hello Jack,

    first of all, let me thank You for this great blog of Yours. I am a student still, trying to manage and controll a rather capricious “monster” in my throat.
    I am reading Your blog for some time already, but today I found the courage to post a comment, especially because this last post is one of the most important to me, and if I may say so, it is one of the most important issues of singing correctly.

    Please pardon my bad English, but I am from Germany and not a native speaker, and writing about these things in English gives me some trouble. But I´ll do my best.

    I had a really hard time the last two years, because I often did not know how to find my voice. Especially in Germany there is often a different taste concerning the tenor sound.People seem to be afraid of dramatic voices or even of a fully supported lirico sound. I think it is because many teachers and often professionals working at the theatre don`t know how to handle big voices, how to teach them correctly, how to work with them on and off stage. That is why there is a sort of “light-voice-mania” in Germany. And that is why the quality of singers which were german-trained is often low levelled. For me, having a rather heavy voice, this meant almost ruin in my development. So I travelled in Europe from town to town to find teachers who knew about the old school technique and were able to teach it. Not every tenor has to start singing leggero repertoire, or Mozart and “easy” Lieder (they are the most difficult!), and then may be some day ending up with Puccini or Verdi at the age of 50. There is a fantastic interview with tenor Maestro Giuseppe Giacomini on Youtube, and every singer should learn these words by heart! I love all about him!

    Anyways, here comes my real question. I had to write down all the things above, so You can get a picture of the importance of that question for me.

    Could You bring some very clear definitons or/and examples of

    -head tone
    -voce finta

    Since You quote Maestro Lauri-Volpi with “falsetto beeing the leprosy of the voice”, I assumed You are against the use of it. I think it is because of the fact that producing the falsetto (and the question is, is that really falsetto?) we are not able to do so without leaving a litte gap in the cord closure. I know of tenors, who lost their falsetto and say that this is the best sign for a working technique and a sign of development. Sometime I even read that Björling said so.

    Others say that falsetto is the one and only basis to start from. I was shocked, when I first heard that from a female teacher I was working with some time ago. Then, years later, I met a bass, who was 63 by that time and had studied with Maestro Domenico Malatesta, who was one of the very last students of Maestro Rosati. He told me that tenors have to learn singing by learning the deep “OO” vowel, but it hast to be the long, deep and dark “oo”, and that we have to learn to make a difference between the falsetto and the “voce di faringe”, which was for him the most important! He always said: “Il “i” lungo è la madre della voce”. And he was also the one who told me that a singer should never listen to himself, but alway should try to learn what correctly singing feels like-he said, that squillo should be heard by the audience and felt like a foghorn (sorry i do not know the english word for it, in german it is “nebelhorn”) for the singer himself.Working with this maestro I always felt I was doing the exercises badly, because I felt it was always a bit to breathy, thinking of that foghorn sound I should expect. It was much later when I realized that I had a wrong approach to these exercises.

    So, the embedded head tone. How can one find the right sense for it.Are there exxercises You would recommand? Is the embedded head tone rather a hooty falsetto (which You said in the article about the two anchors and which irritated me a bit frankly, because I always thought that the head tone is something different from the falsetto), which then means it should have a rather breathy approach, or is it rather a boyish sound, like a tenor immitating a soprano (more of a contre-tenor sound). Is that then voce finta? You see, there is great confusion in my mind, but I have the feeling that is the missing link for me to make a really big step foreword.

    As You say, hat the embedded “OO” is just a sound, I am trying to think of it as a position. I try to keep a steady large column of air right up to the top of the hard palate, but than think of the vowel as a tiny thread upon, which means for me it is the position of the sensation that that head tone/falsetto/voce finta had (gosh, you will never understand what I mean with my lousy english! Sorry about that) That is why I find it difficult to manage the right amount of air, while trying to sing a head tone. When I think of feeding that tone with breath, I could risk it to “switch” to falsetto (which is breathy and relaxes the cords more, so they won`t close properly), when I think of “inhalare la voce” while doing the head tone, I may risk, that i cracks, gets too stuck in the throat and does not ” sit” behind the nose on the palate! Do I have to find the balance between these two, to find the right head tone?

    It would be just fantastic, if You can clear things up for me, please.
    Are there any “tricks”, tools or exercises to understand for my self whether i am doing a voce finta, falsetto or the “right” head tone?

    And one very last question: the action of inhaling described in Your last post is,in a word, fantastic! In order for the lower abs to not moving out while taking a deep breath for the lower ribs and the lower back muscels to expand, is it necessary to have a feeling of pulling oneself together a little bit? I mean it in terms of not beeing totally relaxed in the abdominal area, because I noticed that they do move out, when I relax too much before inhalation.Or is there even a tendency to pull slightly in the lower abs while taking a deep breath?

    Sorry for taking Your time that much. But any advice is welcome from the very bottom of my heart!


    PS: This is to ANDREW R.

    I simply love the way You sing and I love Your voice!
    When You sang Parsifal in Stuttgart, I was there, only one meter behind You, singing in the chorus. And even standing behind You, it was a pleasure hearing and feeling the sound which projected even from the back of Your head!

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