Recently, Ron LaFond posted a very interesting addition to his blog about the scientific aspect of tuning the upper strength of the voice to the 5th harmonic of the tenor upper voice.
Effective vocal tract tuning (including, vowel, laryngeal depth and aryepiglottic fold diameter, etc) would raise the 3rd formant and lower the fourth such that both energies would impact the fifth harmonic. Most of the vocal energy on the upper part of the spectrum would center on the fifth harmonic. The third formant of the [u] vowel falls just below 2300 and its fourth formant just above 2300. This would support a constant assertion by Gioacchino Livigni that the Old School tenors (before Corelli and Del Monaco) tended to pursue this strategy of clustering around the 5th harmonic on notes Bb and above. A similar strategy is possible on the 6th harmonic (c. 2760 Hz). This would require tuning the fourth and fifth formants of the back vowels ([u, o, a] respectively up and down to cluster around the 6th harmonic or the third and fourth formant of front vowels ([i, e, E].
There are a few things to say about this not from a scientific point of view, but from a singer’s proprioceptive point of view. What does this all feel like? What can you expect to sense and how do you actually get this to happen?
First of all, I can say that it will likely take years to tune properly. That is why in the old days singers studies for 4-7 years before EVER looking at an aria or a score. “How dare you pick up a piece of music to sing if you haven’t studied on pure scales, tuning your voice for at least 4 years!” – this would have been a typical reaction of a teacher before getting kicked out of the studio.
First of all, let me rectify what LaFond says about my ideas. I do not say the old school tenors tuned the 5th harmonic from the Bflat up. They tuned that area of the voice starting in the passaggio, as soon the voice turns. It became increasingly dominant as they ascended, but the conditions that produce the 5th harmonic tuning are initiated as soon as the voice turns, they just produce increasingly focused results as you ascend.
The area of harmonic strength is around 2300 Hz. That means that depending on the pitch you are singing, the actual harmonic being picked up might be the 5th or it might be the 6th. The passaggio harmonic would be the 6th, while the higher voice, from A natural up, would be the 5th.
Think of it this way… there is a microphone in your throat that can only pick up a certain pitch range around 2300 Hz. So when you sing, depending on the pitch you are singing , some of the overtones of your voice will fall into the range that this mic is able to pick up, thus amplifying them. This is what a formant in your voice does. It amplifies certain pitches selectively. Nothing mysterious. Its a natural amplifier built into your throat. A harmonic is simply a pitch. You sing a pitch, but there are many pitches that come out of your throat when you sing… you just don’t hear them as readily. Instead you hear “ring”, “space”, “darkness”, brightness”, and most of all “vowels”. The vowel is nothing more than a specific arrangement of all these pitches. Your brain puts the pitches it hears together to give you the impression of a vowel. Formants are nothing more than a natural amplification system for some of these pitches. Depending on the position of your tongue, your larynx, your soft palate, your jaw opening, your pharyngeal width, your laryngeal opening width, etc… all these are the electronic components of your built-in amplification system.
So in the passaggio, how do you tune the 2200-2300 Hz amplifier to catch the 6th harmonic? In the high notes, from A natural up, how do you tune so that you catch the 5th harmonic? I am going to call this formant area “old school formant.” Should I copyright that? The modern school passaggio and high note formant energy sits around 2800-3100 Hz. I will call that “New School Formant” – all rights reserved.
First and foremost, and it truly is the most important thing, your cords MUST BE CLOSED. Some will say, well aren’t the cords always closed when phonating? When the tenor voice is well phonated the tenor feels like the cords are closed. It is a feeling of adduction. Some will say “you can’t feel the cords because there are no nerve endings for you to feel them with.” They say this because they think objectively and not about what the tenor feels, and also because they don’t know how to do it, so they have no idea what you are talking about.
When you sing tuning the “old school formant” the cords feel adducted but not so much as they do in the new school way. They definitely don’t feel loose, but there is a sense that right at the center, right where you feel a gentle cough, there is a dark OO like when you sing a very very soft dark hooty falsetto (1st layer vowel). This dark OO is like a spring keeping the cords from over-compressing. if they too much, you can’t get the tuning right. I suspect the reason for this is that the larynx doesn’t relax and tilt low if your over-compress the cords. But the sense, the feeling is that without this small pea sized dark voice right at the center of the cords your voice gets TOO BRIGHT. The old school squillo is darker. Here is a clip to demonstrate this. It is Tucker Vs. Caruso on an A natural.
The higher pitched squillo is the result of greater compression. You have to have more chest voice to get what Tucker had. His is a very exact tuning, but higher than the old school way, but very exact, to rival Filippeschi, Raimondi. You can’t get what Tucker had unless your larynx opening is narrow. You can feel that as a singer. It feels like within the wide throat there is a small space out of which the voice comes (my students will tell you that I will often say “boy inside the cave” to indicate the correct boyish phonation coming from a specific area around the cords almost isolated from the wide pharyngeal space surrounding it). If the sound, either modern or old school, fills the pharyngeal space around the larynx rather than press upwards into the mask, then you can NEVER get the tuning Tucker or Caruso had, old or new school. Notice how precise the pitch selection is. The singer FEELS THAT!! You sense that your squillo, the ring in your voice, has a specific pitch… like a laser striking the mask, the sense is both one of laser and of precise pitch. If you listen to that clip you can sense how precise the pitch of the ring is. Do you think the singer would not be aware of that? Of course. Because the pitch of this ring is so acute (acuto), or narrow, the more it feels like a laser sound moving out of the throat. This is why the old school would refer to these sounds as “raggi sonori” sound rays, being emitted by the larynx. Another reason is that, like a ray, there is an origin. The sound MUST originate in the larynx and move to the mask. If the sound does not originate in the larynx, the squillo cannot emerge correctly. I don’t know what the physiological reason behind the sensation is, but one thing is certain, the intense pitch of the high ring feels like a ray of sound striking the mask. I know because I can do it.
IF YOU PUSH, the cords will not word the breath correctly. If you push, you will push past this ring. For example, here is a clip from early on in my career.
I tuned effectively the more modern ring (around 2800 Hz.), but you can’t hear the isolation of the ring as much (for example compared to Tucker) because there is too much pressure.
If you looked at a graph you would see that for Caruso and Tucker there is a very signficant difference between the strength of their squillo and the strength of their fundamental. My adobe audition says 30 decibel difference…. I don’t know if that correct, but it is signficant. On my clip the difference between intensity of 6th harmonic and fundamental reads 12 decibels. My fundamental is too strong. Why is that? Because the 1st layer… the release… the air flow… is too strong. Breath is moving too fast out. I am pushing. The cords, even though they are producing ring correctly because of the shape of the vocal tract, are not producing the right sound because I am pushing. Though the sound, or pitch of the squillo is being produced, the totality of the sound is not efficient enough, or it is not a clean sound. I might have the strength of that ring on the paper, but the sound is wrong because I am pushing past the squillo.
How do I stop from doing that. The solution your teacher should give you is to find the right baseline. When you do a first layer sound correctly, your teacher should indicate to you that this is the right pressure… the right sense of flow. You shouldn’t push past that baseline when singing full voice. This is NOT INTUITIVE. How do you produce a big sound if the air is flowing that gently? Disconnect in your mind intensity of sound and movement of air. Do not assume that they are proportional. They are not. Increase in air flow is not proportional to increase in volume. Or better, it is not proportional to increase in an EFFICIENT SOUND’S volume. You can get louder, but it will sound somewhat muffled in a big hall. Some will hear this as darker too. For example, listen to Alfredo Kraus here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6Gd2EIt2Vg , the B natural has TONS of ring, however, the fundamental is just as strong if not stronger than the squillo. He pushed regularly in order to stabilize his voice in the mask. Ignorant “critics” in Italy often talk about Kraus as though he were a great master. No doubt he was a great tenor, but his way of singing high notes was not right. I don’t care what anyone says. This is a pushed mode that increases the air flow in order to increase volume. Listen to Fritz Wunderlich do the same thing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAdbrTZ7Wlk , his ring is more refined. Why? Because he is not pushing.
Here is the clincher ladies and gentlemen. Does the person feel different when pushing? Just slightly. The effort in the throat is almost the same. This is why it is so incredibly difficult. The sensation is not the same, but the effort is almost the same. In fact, the sense of narrowness of the correct position might feel initially more effortful because it is easy to get pressed; while opening up the cords in a less narrow position will feel like a more generous flow and easier. However, the correct way, when you get it, feels just as easy on the larynx as just opening up into a backward, dark, and flowing position. I can think of a modern tenor whom I LOVE, but he sings the top in this released backward position, and I wish I could sit down with him and help him fix this. If he did fix it, he would initially feel like he is squeezing the voice more… he would feel like the voice is smaller because the flow is less. Eventually however, the voice would feel like it is using the air efficiently and striking the mask forward rather than filling the back of the head. But… it doesn’t matter, he is making more money than I am singing the way he is. Why change?
Concluding, what does it feel like to tune the old school formant in the passaggio and top?
In the passaggio the larynx stays low. There is a deep OO position of the throat, but the tongue is forward as in an EH, while the back the tongue is down. Even though there is a deep OO in the voice, there is also a sharp EH sound right in the front of the mask. In a sense, the vowel result would be more like an EU, as in the French peu. To increase the Eco Sonora, the 2nd formant, you also can feel the back space of the EH vowel (the AYE sound) increase. The sound should be above the palate, never below it (see my previous post).
In the high notes the larynx has to be low and somewhat tilted forward. The OO component increases and the EH in the mask gets much more confined into a spot right behind the nose. You need to feel like the beam of sound is NOT wide, but narrow and forward in this narrow pouch behind the nose. The air cannot move rushing out of the larynx but rather moves just like it would when you sing in your 1st layer… the soft hooty falsetto. This baseline is important.
The vowel feels like a very deep originating OO, just like in the hooty 1st layer, but it also has this powerful forward ringing quality. The ring starts in the larynx but moves into this forward place behind the nose and strikes there. Working this through voce finta is a great way to discover the position.