Leaning on the Hard Palate

I have noticed recently with many singers I work with that as they seek to keep the voice very precisely tuned (laser sounds) they also tend to sing in a way that places the voice too high.  Some have described the voice having a floor at the hard palate and the whole sound is above that floor.  Others haven’t even realized they were doing this until told and corrected.

I want to go back to a few things I have spoken of in the past that I feel need reiterating.  A few months ago I spoke about my experience with Arrigo Pola, Luciano Pavarotti’s first teacher.  His method consisted of having the tenor sing right up against the hard palate from about a C to an F, and then once the passaggio was turned, the voice would go over the palate into the sinuses.

Franco Corelli said in his interview with Jerome Hines that in the first few years of his career, as a Melocchi-type singer, he sang with an inflated sound in the mouth throughout the range, which made his voice dark, loud, and wild.  After meeting with Lauri Volpi he found what he called a “sweeter” voice that was not as inflated in the mouth but rather found its way over the hard palate.

First of all, let me say this: the voice is a concentric wave of vibrating air molecules that move away from a source.  Your vocal folds are the source, and you can’t place a concentric wave anywhere, it just moves.  However, there is a difference between the objective facts and the subjective experience of the singer.  Specific technical approaches produce a recognizable pattern of sensations.  They kind of act as a sort of bio-feedback to us.  The objective of the method is to keep training the singer to develop certain coordinations, and to eliminate bad interferences, and to witness how these traditionally described sensations, or variations on a theme of them, tend to emerge in the singer’s experience.

Singing against the hard palate is one of these experiences, one of these sensations.  I like to think of the mouth as the dome of the Pantheon in Rome.

Pantheon

I think of the hard palate as a sort of cupola, or dome.  Like in the Pantheon I think of a little opening at the top of the dome, at the center of the dome of the hard palate.  When, and only when, the sound is very efficiently tuned, and the singer has sufficient appoggio (sound resisting the air escaping at the larynx) there is an emergence of sound at the larynx that moves like a beam toward that hole at the top of the dome.  If the sound is “beam-like” it makes it through and there is a ringing quality that emerges in the voice; a forward ringing sound.  This is particularly evident between C and F.  Now, the sound beam originates at the low larynx and goes to the palate.  It is not stuck in the larynx or throat.  There is a very vivid sensation of the voice actually leaning against the hard palate in the top of the dome.  If the voice is not tuned well, the sound gets fat, breathy, and moves like a spray rather than a beam.  It can’t concentrate onto that hole, and so it doesn’t ring exactly.

Most singers think of their voices in terms of “room voice” when they get “boyish”, or when they start the cry.  Granted, this is a first step, but eventually we must connect this upward pressure of voice leaning against the hard palate to the action of the diaphragm.  The diaphragm propels the voice which then bypasses the throat.  If we are too precious or gentle about the sound we will significantly lighten our fach and the voice will tend to get smaller in the passaggio and top because we are tuning sounds that are not fully connected to the power of the diaphragm.

So, it is important to find the “lean”.  Some traditionally called this “appoggio in maschera”, or the leaning into the mask.  This is what Pola and Corelli were talking about.  It is a sensation that emerges because you are singing VERY EXACTLY in terms of resonance, and this sound is powered up by the strength of the diaphragm.  The sound therefore, has a pressure upward.  You can think of a megaphone going from the larynx and emitting its sound onto your hard palate.  If you put your hand in front of a speaker you will feel air vibrations.  Think of it that way in terms of your hard palate.  The vibrations move from your low larynx (the source) to the cupola of the hard palate.  If the sound is tuned well enough in its resonance, it will be like a powered up beam, and lean against the hard palate.

Now remember, I am talking about the region of the voice between C and F.  This increases the level of chest voice participation in your sound.  Sometimes, in an attempt to bring the voice into a cry mechanism, tenors get what Gianni Raimondi called “gna gna” (done with a nasal twang) – bright and whiney.  That is not a correctly produced voce magra, and is not hooked up to the diaphragm correctly.  This type of voice is like singing above the passaggio while still in the middle voice.  The voice nestles up into the nasal area and sounds pinched off and whiney to the listener.

The cords need to be long when we are in this mode. Go back to the post with Bergonzi demonstrating Celeste Aida, that I recently posted.  If the sound is too bright, we lose that “stretch” in the voice that allows us to 1) stay connected to the sound (the larynx), and 2) stay connected fully to the breath.  We can’t really power up the voice if it is excessively bright like this.

One image I use with my singers is to think of the voice in this pitch region (c-f) as inflating a balloon right below the palate.  Also the idea of “masticare la voce” chewing the voice, is useful.  If you think of the vowels initiated with a more close mouth on an OO, and then opening the jaw to a more open vowel, with the intention of “slowness” you might sense the voice being stretched, a taffy-like stretching.  This OOOOUUAAWWWW sensation is useful to not EXPLODE the air upwards.  Remember, it is not air that you are pushing upward, it is sound emerging and leaning upward on the palate.

When you go over the passaggio things change.  That is another issue entirely.  But it is interesting to note that when this middle range is not well executed it has a significant impact on what happens above the passaggio.

If we are too precious and “Frenchy” about our AH vowels in this middle range, singing somewhat delicately and diffused, not engaging the resonance of the voice, you can pretty much rest assured that your passaggio will not be stable if you try to sing out.  The top will likely thin out as well.  We have to sing dark and bright, but most of all very very concentrated in resonance in this range; so much so that we can actually lean the voice on to the palate, which won’t happen if we are artsy with our voice.

The idea of “boyish” and “flow” are NOT a contradiction to these ideas.  Quite the contrary.  The tendency for “concentrated” singers is to over-compress.  We always have to think that the voice cannot be stopped at the throat.  If we power up the voice while it is still stuck in the larynx, then we are toast.

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17 responses to “Leaning on the Hard Palate

  1. Hello maestro! I want to ask you one question…My name is Ino Klasan and I am student on first year singing at Conservatorio di Santa Cecilia at Rome. My professoresa Damiana Mizzi wants from us that we make three things before start making a sound…First is to have a good position of maschera,second appoggio and third to breathe in the air with a sensation off yawn which if it is correct will allow an open throat and the laryngs will go low, also she is talking about a slight opening space in neck. muscles and area of throat…Machera is one small point where the laser beam goes and in the area off throat and neck there is sensation off largo,largo..After all that she wants that air goes freely through the troat and hit the maschera without blocking the air in the throat..this is her idea off making the correct sound .Also she is talking about reaprire di gola for high tones in the scales..All the scales we are doing on wowel i,which is by her opinion good base for all other wowels…If I a blocked we make a scale on A wowel, also doing scales on bocca chiusa to feel the position where the air properly hits a good position off the maschera…
    Maestro, I really like your blog and any information from you is like a gold for me,student off singing…
    I hope for your commentar,
    Sincerely, Ino Klasan

  2. inflating a balloon… yes … but not a balloon that pushes your tongue back; a balloon just behind the bulk of the tongue that inflates and pushes the tongue forward (along with the other expansion). Agree?

    • Ah! Very interesting observation! I definitely feel that without the tongue being forward in the very back of the throat that the travelling path for the sound would absolutely be obstructed. But also for me it is the same sensation with the low larynx. If it is not low, the path feels somehow unavailable. This was a very valuable observation. Thanks!

  3. Again a great post! Here we can see again what happens if students just run with one particular idea that a teacher promotes, but then forget about all the other aspects that have been clearly explained in earlier blogs and lessons. Often we are prone to adhere to one overarching idea and run with it, in an attempt to not over think and over analyze, which in itself can be rather stifling. There are just many different sensations we have to monitor, and sometimes we will go too far with one idea in order to counter something that was out of balance before, only to have to counter balance again. Our journey to becoming great singers will be always that: a continuous reevaluation of what we have learned before and the awareness that we will never be perfect singers, but we strife toward that goal while we fine tune that radio dial on every step of our way.

  4. First, Gioacchino, maestro, all your posts are so well-articulated.

    Next, a shout-out to Oliver Sohngen. I am the singer he is talking about. Each concept that improves my voice a little is “the one” that I’ve been missing and now must slavishly follow. I am trying to teach myself that they somehow all must blend.

    Last, I have this pretty big voice and am absolutely miserable that I can’t bring the sound up. When I sing small so that I can hit the notes, I know and my teacher tells me, that it is not connected. When I try to connect and lower the larynx, I lose the notes. It’s either hit the notes with a high larynx or lower the larynx and sound like a baritone who can’t go above and F. (Okay, F#, but you get the idea.) If you can refer me to any prior posts on this (anyone who is reading this) I would appreciate it. The high notes aren’t so hard with a high larynx. If I stumble on a low larynx high note, any of the many teachers I’ve had always say, “Now how does that feel? Easy right?” NO! the high larynx feels better.

    • This is most likely because when you change laryngeal position you must also change the way you think of your voice. Your vocal identity remains high larynx, and so lowering it only creates heightened antagonisms. You have to change the way you think of your voice.

  5. Yes. It’s all mental ultimately — I mean, past a certain point. Vocal identity is a cool concept. Every type of high-note production is self-censored so that I don’t allow any vocal identity at all, except as someone who can’t sing high. Of course that is crazy because I can vocalize to an Eb — it’s sustaining where it all falls apart.

    Somewhere I read that no one ever thinks of Da Vinci on the day he first picked up a brush. We think he stumbled out of the crib and painted Mona Lisa. It’s that way with singing (for me). Any note I sing is not Caruso, so the production must be wrong. If it were right, I’d sound better. Aargh! Thanks again. Your posts are amazing.

  6. Thank you for this post. I recently experience an epiphany related to what you are talking about. Keeping my AH focused as a lazer through my passagio into my upper range has allowed me recently to sing a full D with ease (relative of course LOL), and touch upon Eflat. I have learned more from my reading of your blog than from my current teacher, who constantly exclaims “you’ve climbed another mountain” all thanks to you. Maybe I should be paying you … LOL

  7. Thank you again for imparting your wisdom. I can very much relate to this post in many ways. I am understanding more and more about what it is that happens to my voice when it is correct and what was lacking in my approach prior to beginning to follow your blog and our first lesson together last saturday. I find that trying to be “artsy” has been one of my biggest deterents to singing freely and into to the top. I was singing too much off the breath in creating word colors in the middle of the voice so that the top has been extremely difficult to produce. I am the beggining to enjoy and loving the sounds and the ease with which I am singing again. Thank you.

  8. Hy maestro! One question….You are talking about this region off the tenor voice from c to f before passagio…This blog I read everyday and helps me so much, especially helps me to inflating a balloon right below the palate…everything works for me good until e…on e I feel I have to change something,the voice is inviting me to do something and i do not know what exactly….I try everything,to find more space and try to think did I lost my mask but I am not shure, where is a catch.. I read that you write that on note e begins a turning off the tenor voice…What i have to think on note e and that specific region…

  9. Just want to say one thought that I have a feeling that on e I am loosing this oo tube that you writing all the time…or I start to push or I feel that I am going to falsetto and loosing my full voice… What is the catch for the rigt balance sound off the voice…When I am thinking I have a balanced sound on e and f I feel that it is compressed too much…like I loose freedom and morbidezza in my voice that I have under e note…

    • Right. Yes. You have to think of the EE as similar to the OO. It originates deep, but it does not stay stuck in the throat. This is difficult to explain. The vowel can originate deep, but not get stuck in the throat.

  10. Hello! Thanks for all of this great information! I have a question! For the last four years I have worked with a vocal teacher at my college who has really helped me improve my tone and resonance but sometimes I wondered if I was singing too heavy?? The funny thing is now that I have graduated and gone back to my former vocal teacher, my voice has gotten lighter but I’m not sure if there is the same amount of resonance there. However, my voice moves around easier with this lighter sound and it’s easier to trill. Could it be possible that I was “leaning” too much or too hard on my hard palate or is that my true sound and I need to go back to it and get used to that feeling?? The heavier sound realllyyyy gives me that mask feeling but the lighter sound feels like it gives me a little more freedom. I’M REALLY CONFUSEDDD!! Please help! 😦

    • Getting higher resonance doesn’t need to come with increasing “weight” in the voice. I would stay with what feels easy on the throat. Strain is not good. You have to find bright sound without fatigue.

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