Velvet – man, that chest mechanism!!

One thing I have noticed in my own singing and in others is that when we listen for squillo the mind somehow knows that thicker chords make greater buzz.  This is a natural thing from our middle and speaking voice.  For the tenor this is a big problem because as we ascend through the passaggio if we our mental image is built on intense squillo and we monitor from an auditory perspective, which, face it, is the most readily accessible to the mind, we may end up increasing the level of chest participation as we ascend in order to secure the ringing quality of the voice.

This, my tenor friends, is a serious problem.  Increasing chest to get resonance means that we will destabilize the top voice because we are basically creating a heightened antagonism with the muscles that would stretch the chords.

May I suggest something?  Let others listen for squillo in your top, and you focus A LOT on a sense of velvety dark flow (1st layer) in your voice in the top.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t listen for the squillo at all… we do need to tune the right harmonics, but what I am saying is that much of this is a mind game.

Those who don’t have experience singing with squillo in different acoustic spaces, and that pretty much sing in rehearsal rooms, and at home cannot really understand the depth and the importance of what I am talking about.  I am talking big stage here.  If you can’t hear your squillo enough, it will be almost immediate for you to increase the level of chest in order to thicken the chords and get more buzz.  You have to fight that urge!!  You must, or your voice will wiggle, the vibrato will become bad, or worse the mind will sense something wrong with this chest mechanism (though you may not actually perceive that consciously) so that mechanism will stop working and you will flip into falsetto on a high note… not good.

The solution here is that you should aim to perceive the buzz up front… a vibrator sensation or air spinning up front in the maxillary and frontal sinuses or even in front of your face outside… but as far as sound goes, think dark velvety as your main focus.  Even if you hear squillo, ABSOLUTELY CONVINCE YOURSELF to not listen to it except to recognize it is pitched correctly.  Listen for the velvet up top and you will be far better off.  The sense of flow will increase and the voice will actually stabilize and the squillo become more intense.

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3 responses to “Velvet – man, that chest mechanism!!

  1. Hello, Mr. La Vigni 🙂

    I have to say, as a person learning to sing – but not opera – I’m fascinated by your blog. Throughout the past few months I’ve become increasingly convinced that operatic technique provides longevity and quality for all kinds of singing styles. I’m personally a soul/blues-rock-oriented performer, and although I’m a rather thick baritone, the demands of these styles often call for a tenor-like ability to sing in a higher tessitura; that’s what I’ve been learning to do for almost three years now.

    Many of the things that you describe on your blog I seem to have caught on instinctively, but since a few months ago I started reading up on the specifics of tenor technique (and here your writings have been an immense help!) I seem to have improved much more rapidly than in the past almost two-and-a-half years. My usable range (not yet perfected though) now encompasses about three octaves – from F below low C to F above high C. (You can probably guess how my highest notes sound, rather unoperatic, but then again I’m not an opera singer.)

    The fact remains: I’m a baritone.

    You spoke in an earlier post about switching from light back to heavy mechanism early enough on a descending scale so as to avoid overcompression of the light mechanism (if I’ve understood correctly). I’ve been made to understand that in tenors the transition between heavy and light mechanism occurs fully somewhere around F above middle C.

    Understandably, if I try and keep singing predominantly in my heavy mechanism up to that tone, my voice would accumulate too much weight, as my voice type is lower, and my voice in particular is rather deep. So I started bringing my light mechanism down and now I’ve brought it to about A below middle C. If I try to sing anything above A# below middle C in my heavy mechanism I feel a strong temptation to start shouting. But now I have another problem – my range from A below middle C to about D# above middle C is crackly and poorly controlled much of the time. It may have to do with the fact that I still haven’t mastered active diaphragmatic support. (Although I do recognize the sensations and I’m able to do it, just not consistently yet.) But it may have to do with my carrying the light mechanism too low.

    I’m guessing that the point of switching between light and heavy mechanism for a baritone should be lower that F above middle C, but how lower? Could you suggest some guidelines as to that? Does bringing the light mechanism so far down provide any direct or indirect advantages to the voice? And would better diaphragmatic support fix the issue or should I abandon the notion of trying to carry a resonant, rich tone below and around middle C using light mechanism?

    I would be very grateful if you gave me some advice even though my concerns are somewhat outside your field of interests :)))

    • Do you watch English speaking movies? Have you ever heard an American teenager say something like “EWWWW that’s sick”!!!! That EEEWWWW sound… try using that sound up until about a B below middle C. Your issue is not about support, but rather too much head tone down below. Chest voice is not dark… its bright It doesn’t have to be big either.

  2. Of course I watch English-speaking movies, Mr. La Vigni; I’m an English Major 🙂

    So you suggest that from B below middle C onward I have to try and engage the light mechanism – but below that I should aim not so much for size but for resonance. Thank you for taking the time to answer. I hope I haven’t inconvenienced you 🙂

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