Overblown singers

One thing I have noticed over the years is what I call the “flat tire syndrome”… A singer will develop great strength in the support function but will incorrectly link this support to an opening of the larynx ALONG WITH the pharynx.  When we support well the larynx tends to drop easily to a low place and the pharynx also tends to widen, just like in the beginning of a yawn. 

Sometimes singers will associate the opening of the pharynx with a loss of the narrow position of the larynx that is absolutely essential to tune the higher harmonics.  Some associate darkening the voice with the opening of the pharynx.  Let me ask you a simple one word question:  why?

There is absolutely no reason to assume that a widening of the pharynx and a lowering of the larynx would make the sound dark, back, and diffused.  I have seen this a lot in singers who sang as baritones when they were in fact tenors, or baritones who sang as basses.   Often, the path to finding your true, honest voice is a frightening path because it is hard to think that the voice can be produced in the context of such a narrow position.

I really like Jonas Kauffman.  I think he is an EXCELLENT singer.  My students will notice how his high notes are always “EH” based.  The AH has an EH embedded within it, conferring an incredibly ringing voice.  The same in his passaggio, for example at minute 1.58 of Mamma Quel Vino recently, or when he sings “S’io non tornassi” where he lets the EE vowel lead the AH into the ringing quality and leaves the EE function within the AH vowel at 2.45, and then again the strong EE function  when singing “da madre a Santaaaaaa” at 3.28.  Notice how the back of the tongue is down, and the front is further up, like in the EH.  The tuning of the 2nd formant confers a dark roundness which brings the AH out, but the singer ANCHORS himself to the higher harmonics of the EE function – the squillo or singers formant.  You combine vowel components, you don’t modify vowels.

Many critical tenors often claim Kauffman is too dark.  Listen carefully… within the wide pharynx, and notwithstanding the low larynx, the laryngeal mechanism is NOT wide.  He does not allow the open throat to diminish the ability to sing with focused ring because he doesn’t associate support with opening of the larynx, just with lowering of the  larynx and opening of the pharynx.  The boyish quality remains intact within the manly pharynx.  That is right!

If you let the support link to the opening of the pharynx and you pull along with it the laryngeal opening and the glottal firmness, effectively loosening up the whole mechanism, then you get a “flat tire” sound… OOOOHHHHMMMMPPPPHHH… flat, back, over-darkened, and totally uninteresting.  The sound within the open throat should always be bright, and the space from which the voice is coming out NARROW, not widened by the support.  Let the sound expand in the open throat, don’t let the open throat expand the sound.  Do you expand your throat to fill an opera house?  Ridiculous right… well why would you expand your larynx to fill the pharyngeal space (seemingly).  Keep the larynx narrow within the open throat.  You do this correctly NOT mechanically but by fine tuning the sound correctly.  Good luck!


6 responses to “Overblown singers

  1. Something I got out of this is that we must lower the larynx without widening it. Can you confirm that?

    • Correct. It is very intuitive to widen everything when we open the pharynx and lower the larynx. It is kind of counterintuitive to think of a narrow larynx. Personally, and with my students I would induce this non-mechanically by focusing on a focused boyish sound and not to do this mechanically. If you try to narrow the larynx mechanically you are pretty much hurting yourself. Do it through sound and sense of morbidezza (ease – softness)…

  2. How does one get that narrow laryngeal function without getting tension in the throat? I’m a tenor without secure high note and a very unpredictable top. I just kind of cross my fingers and hope. However, my current teacher is always telling me to think about a coffee straws’ focus. I notice sometimes that I use my throat to ‘make’ it narrow. I’m trying to get out of that.

    • Yes, the key is to find the closure through the EE and EH vowel, and then transfer the qualities of closure to the other vowels. This is a cardinal tenet of my approach with the singers I help. The throat stays open, and the cords close.

  3. Thanks for your wonderful post! I wonder if you can write a post on determining bartione vs tenor? I have seen quite a lot of literature on the topic but still could not find the exact answer.

    Since I lowered down the larynx without depressing the touge and widening the pharynx as you said in the post, the sound suddenly becomes much more ringing and brighter (very counter-intuitive to me). I thought I was a baritone, but now there seems a probablity that I might be a tenor? In fact, I always feel more comfortable with high keys, but because I can hit low G, and can only go up to G#4 -A4, making my teachers assume that I am a baritone?

    Would you be able to advise or write a post on it? Thanks you in advance.

    All the best.
    Hieu Nguyen

    • You need to think of the voice and the shape of the throat as separate. Often singers associate muscular effort of lowering the larynx and widening the pharynx with the voice. You shouldn’t do that. Keep the two separate. You can sing with a low larynx in a head dominant or chest dominant way. The most important thing is to not have the voice get stuck in the throat. Send me a clip and I would be more than happy to give you my opinion as to whether you are a baritone, tenor – if in fact it is obvious.

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