Trust Your Ears

Weekly Teaching Tip – April 8, 2013 – Sonia Lachowolska

During last year’s conference in Kraków, dr. Daniela Stieff Tostes, stressed the necessity of working on the voice with a team composed of a voice teacher ENT and speech therapist (pathologist). Once again I realized its importance.

One of my vocal students, Dominika, finally went to an ENT after two years of asking her to do it. It did not concern any specific problem. There was something in her voice that bothered me, so I wanted to check her vocal cords. Dominika sings in a high vocal range. She seemed to be a high and clear soprano with a small problem in the lower range. At the beginning she could reach the “g” sound in a small octave. I need to confess that I was deceived by that soprano sound. Nevertheless, my intuition told me to work on opening her lower range. At the beginning I struggled mainly with the psychological resistance. As soon as we got rid of that, she started singing from “d” sometimes even to “c” in the small octave. I considered that a success until she went to the phoniatrist. She decided to make an appointment because of a sore throat. Her vocal cords were clear. What is more, even dr Marta Szałapata told me, she hasn’t seen such a beautiful and clear MEZZO-SOPRANO vocal cords in a long time.
A “d” or even a “c” in a small octave is not such a big deal from the new perspective. Just look how such a medical examination can deepen our knowledge. Now I am going to work hard with her until I hear her bass voice 🙂 I also need to mention that it happened to me a few times when after a stroboscopic examination, the doctor defined the voice as an alto when the singer had a mezzo or even a soprano bridge. Sometimes, it just does not go together. As dr. Marta told me, it is not about the length of vocal chords but about its total weight.
So here one could ask, what should we do when such a discrepancy occurs? Should we trust the stroboscopy or our ears? Should I work with Dominika as with mezzo because that is how her vocal cords are?

NO! As teachers we must use our own tools, which are in this case our empathic ears. To me, Dominika sounds like a soprano and her bridge is on “B” just as in a soprano voice, still the medical examination is a necessary complement, that shows me possibilities of her voice in the lower range!

To sum up, ears are most important but the knowledge concerning vocal cords can give us a green light to work on those voice regions, we are not able to hear. That can be caused by, for example, vocalists resistance towards the low sounds. It is important for each of our students to have their stroboscopy done when their vocal cords are in a good shape. Daniela already told us about this, but on the example of Dominika I realized its importance again. Some may say that it is an additional cost but in such case I suggest them to skip one lesson with me and use the money on the examination. I can confirm that it works 🙂

Please find attached Dominika’s examination. I have her permission to present her case and to send you her stroboscopy report. (You can use this picture on your workshops as well. I am sending you the report because it is representative. It shows a beautiful healthy vocal chords of a talented vocalist. Every vocalist should have such beautiful vocal chords! J (I attached also a short piece of Dominika’s performance).
P.S. The last notice, my student, using vocal fry, is able to “end” the piano with the low notes…

Note: To view a video of the student Sonia is referring to go to &theater

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