Support and Diaphragm use

Weekly Teaching Tip – Jan/ 14, 2013

In her book “the functional unity of the singing voice”, which I highly recommend to everybody (although like every book it is not perfect), Barbara M. Doscher on page 24 quotes the paper “Semantics of the Voice” from 1967 (!) by Dr. Friedrich S. Brodnitz:
“Support” although a commonly used term for controlled expiration during singing, is also a semantic problem (problem of meaning) for singers: the term “support” suggests that the voice is a kind of a physical object which has to be lifted from below by a supporting force. The constant use of this term brings about abdominal muscular rigidity, one of the causes of many voice disorders. It has become the habit of considering the breath as the only cause for a bad or a good tone. This is the cause of the eternal breath pressure with which so many singers produce their tones and ruin their voices. (Through a suited vowel a singer gains 20 decibels more without increasing the breath pressure. For a doubling of the breath pressure for comparison the singer gains only 6 dB more with the danger to harm the vocal folds, remark of H. Noé)

Dr. Brodnitz mentions two other directives that are too frequently used by unmindful voice teachers. “Speak or sing from the diaphragm” is a physiologically unsound concept. The diaphragm can help to control the breath but it does not support the tone. An astounding amount of tension can be generated by asking it to do so. “Projecting the voice” sounds as if one is throwing a stone or a javelin as far as possible by the use of great force. The carrying power of a voice is the result of the coordination of breath control, vocal fold adjustment and free resonance.

Today we know how the voice is made powerful below, at and above the glottis (compare Titze: “What makes a voice acoustically strong”). In addition to Titze’s article also the correct tuning of the vowel feeds back energy contributing to a proper balance of the airflow in the glottis. And remember always: a good teacher does not teach power but balance of these three parts! The most effective control of the desired concentrated breath under the glottal valve can be achieved through the proper functioning of that valve and an efficient energy feed back from the vocal tract.

Exercises? Glottal stops or staccati (without the image of “driving” air which is a semantic disaster) and diphthongs crossing the vowel chart  (which all of us should know very well) in search of harmonics in order to create strong “standing waves” which feed back energy to our precious vocal folds. This helps them to withstand the nevertheless necessary measured and moderate airflow.

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