Further up, further down…

As a continuation of the OO based laryngeal set up, I want to mention this “further up, further down” issue.  You can read about this from a variety of singers claiming that as they ascended to higher notes they would feel a further descent of the larynx, or even monitor it with their fingers.

This is where the whole idea of “boyish sound” or “alleggerimento” and OO tube combine.  When you ascend to higher pitches the vocal folds need to stretch.  How is this accomplished? By the contraction of the muscular action linking Cricoid and Thyroid cartilage, the CT.  The tilt forward is also a tilt downward.  So in reality the tilt of the larynx is also a descent of part of it as it pivots on its hinge.

The deep OO tube already sets up the voice so that you can have squillo.  The larynx is low, but not spread.  Many singers spread the larynx along with the pharynx.  They think yawn to open the pharynx as they lower the larynx, but they open the larynx along with it.  This is because they don’t understand this concept of OO tube.  La vocale OO predispone l’imposto vocale corretto per l’acuto – the OO vowel sets up the conditions (physical conditions) for the correct high note.  This doesn’t mean that you have to sing necessarily an OO vowel, but you will sing from an “OO throat.”  The tube formed by the OO throat should not be spread laterally along with the pharynx as your larynx descends.

What happens when you sing with too much chest as you ascend, as many do?  The stretch of the vocal folds is impeded.  Either the tilt in the larynx doesn’t occur, or even perhaps the back of the larynx (arytenoid cartilages) is pulled forward along with the front.  Essentially the bunching of the cords overpowers everything.  Think of making a fist.  The vocal folds bunch together like a fist, getting shorter and thicker.  So as you ascend to the higher notes, if you have too much of that going on, the only way to go up is to crack into a thinner mechanism that only allows a certain portion of the cords (a shorter portion) to vibrate… basically you crack into a reduced phonation, almost like voce finta.

Once the cord is allowed to actually lengthen because the chest is decreased, the voice immediately gets darker and fuller on top (well not immediately… you still have quite a few things to do).

So away from my physiological explanations, which I believe are correct according to my research, the point is as follows: as we ascend the old school concept that “il passaggio va alleggerito” the passaggio is lightened, is extremely important.  What this means is that the sense of weight given by the chest mechanism… the sense that you couldn’t possibly go higher, is overcome by letting go of excessive chest and allowing the cords to stretch.  The stretch is the same as what you would have if you were singing a deep OO falsetto.  You don’t sing in falsetto, but you can create the physical conditions of that kind of physiological stretching of the cords.

When this happens the voice actually gets darker and richer.  It is very counter-intuitive.  Some associate darker and richer with more chest.  That is because they don’t understand.  When you get darker and fuller you are actually going into head tone (if you do it correctly and not just get woofy, or try to mix registers), and the voice loses its weight.  It also gets darker because of what my father would call the foghorn effect – the first layer of the vowel, the dark core right at the cords that doesn’t allow you to over-compress… you are basically in a lengthened cord position and the squillo now feels like it is around a dark core rather than being deeply into the “meat of the cords”… suono di fibbra.  Now you have “suono sul fiato”… or on the breath, where the dark core connects deeply with the power of the breath beneath it.

Now, problems really start when a correctly produced voice wants to push volumes beyond natural boundaries.  In order to push volume you have to increase pressure.  Simply put, this is wrong.  The singer should resist at all costs those who tell them “more voice, more voice, more voice.”  While in the studio the teacher may say this to actually train the voice, and this has its cautious place; however,  when the voice is already a beautifully working instrument, the idea of increasing its volume at all costs becomes all about learning how to deal with increased negative and destructive pressure.  This shifts the mechanism toward aberrations that will bring great cost.  Si canta con l’interesse, non col capitale… you sing with the interests not with the capital… a wise axiom all singers should follow.  You shouldn’t at any given time be thinking more than 80-90% of your voice.  To do so often means letting ego get in the way.  If conductors can’t bring their orchestras down, and your voice isn’t big enough, then sing operas that have lighter orchestration, or work with conductors who actually have love for this art form and are respectful of singers. I know… you sing where you can… this is the problem.  Then listen to what I say… listen carefully… sing well with your volume, and let them figure it out.  Don’t sing louder to please anyone, because when you sing well and they can’t do their job, they will eventually get the heat, but when you bust your voice everyone will drop you in the blink of an eye and move on to the next best singer.  That is the reality of financial gain, and the love for power and money that rules the artistic market place.  You have to look out for your voice.  That is your responsibility.

Having said that, if you are a student, and you have no idea what you are doing, don’t assume you know what 80% of your voice is.  This gets discovered over time with the teacher as you unveil the true potential of your voice.

When you sing with a deep OO tube, the voice will have squillo, and as you ascend to the high notes, you will sense perhaps, or even feel with your fingers, that the larynx suddenly drops a little more.  For example if you sing the end of Recondita, or the end of Ah Leve Toi, you will sense this drop.  Now what if you are pulling the larynx to the lowest already on the onset of the low note?  Then you won’t feel that drop.  You are basically singing the lower note with tilt already.  Sometimes you can’t do that.  For example you may have a long phrase before the high note, like “Ou se divine la presence”… if you sing the whole thing in head voice that is bad.  It will sound wrong, and you will increase pressure because you are now singing in head tone in a range that is foreign to that register, so in order to keep the volume you have to give more pressure.  This will jeopardize the high note because of pressure.  You can sing instead with a relaxed low larynx, an OO tube that is built on relaxation, and then when you get to the high note, there will be a gentle shift down, which is the tilt.

If you think of gunning the high note you won’t get the tilt right, because the cords, like a fist, will bunch and stop the tilt, and the immediate sensation will be that the OO tube shrunk… the deep connection to the sternum and the voice extending in a long tube up to the mask is crushed and the sound tube gets short.

I like to think of it this way… there is a physical tube extending from the sternum to various parts of the mask within which vocal laser beams can travel.  When the tube is in place, then the sound can lean on the breath at the larynx and produce a vocal ray that travels through this tube to the right destination in the mask, as well as downward to the sternum (some may like the image of the voice emerging from the sternum… personally I like the idea of the voice ray going both up and down the tube because it keeps my mind on the fact that the voice is born in the larynx).  When I do this I tune the right harmonics and the voice flows.  If I disrupt this whole balance by singing too loud, pushing, taking up too much chest in order to “fill the hall”, stretch my throat laterally and take the larynx along with it… etc., etc., you name the problem… then all of the sudden the structure of this tube collapses and the vocal beams have no tube to travel in.  They start going crazy and strike anywhere…  The vocal beam might still be produced but now it is just bouncing around like a ball in a pinball game (do those still exist???).  You have destroyed the path for your vocal beam because you disrupted one of the pillars holding the tubes in place.  Of course this is just imagery, but it is helpful I believe to give a sense of ownership and control to the very few things we can control… like not thinking too loud, or not spreading the larynx with the pharynx, etc.


7 responses to “Further up, further down…

  1. Is it possible that a singer, who has been “singing” for a very long time may have not developed a coordination whereby the breath taken to sing in the lower part range (b-flat down) in not “deep and high enough” to establish a stable position? I am thinking in particular the vocalizing of the Amarilli in the Italian Art Songs…everything is fine up on the E; but keeping the lower sections up and moving is quite the challenge.

    • Well James the issue is that a tenor is a tenor. The lower range should not be expected to be as powerful as the high, but it should be audible and focused. So yes, there should be a consistency in the output. What you describe of the weakness of the lower part often occurs when people don’t sing with enough chest to focus the voice in the low. Building the voice top down often means that teachers bring down so much head tone into the middle and low range as to significantly reduce the potential of the voice. Its a balancing act that is difficult. Lauri Volpi warned to not inflate the middle like a baritone, because this would hinder the ease of the top. So the concern of teachers is often legitimate, but should not go too far.

  2. Brilliant blog!!!!!!
    “It will sound wrong, and you will increase pressure because you are now singing in head tone in a range that is foreign to that register, so in order to keep the volume you have to give more pressure. This will jeopardize the high note because of pressure.”

    The kind of information you will NEVER get in college or anywhere else for that matter!

  3. Just a curiosity question:

    What is different in voices that have resonance but not squillo; in other words what is or isn’t the singing doing to get a pleasant sound but not necessarily a ringing vibrant sound?

    What about singers that don’t have much resonance and just plain aren’t pleasant to listen to? Just stems from various manifestations of poor technique?

    Thank You!

  4. Hi Mr. Li Vigni, First I want to thank you a million times, you’ve gave us so much useful advice, i passed from singing literally nothing to being able to tune 2nd formant and squillo on high notes (still trying to make it also old school). I’m a light tenor, or at least that is what my former teacher told me.
    but they tried to make me sing very heady low notes like this other tenor also from Monterrey Mexico:

    I refused and followed your advice so i have more of a chest, full tone on the low notes without compromising my high notes (I can hit a high Eb flat with high 3rd and 5th harmonic power), but i also adore having the “noble” notes in the passagio that you and also i remember Pavarotti telling about that. (2nd Formant passagio).

    Do you think the technique of that tenor from the youtube link is bad, or maybe i should try sounding more lighter like him? I certainly like lyric roles than lighter ones.




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