Anatomy of a Question

Anatomy Of A Question by Linda Balliro
June 3, 2019

I received this question from a newish voice teacher:
Young teacher: “ I have a 13 year old student who says she wants to “work on her belt.” Is there a way to add more bass to the mix voice?”
Me: sigh
In real life, I didn’t make an audible sigh, so the teacher didn’t hear it.  But I am always a little sad when I hear the same questions over and over again because I keep dreaming that some information should be general knowledge.  Just shows we have to work much harder at promoting fundamental principles so they become common sense!
Such a question requires that you pause momentarily and think about the root issues.

1. 13-year old student.  The student is female, so my first question is  “How physically
mature is she?” Although girls can achieve glottal closure for a contemporary sound, they
won’t, and shouldn’t, sound like an adult. There are some 13 year old girls who won’t be
able to achieve full glottal closure because of the “glottal chink” By 13, she could be past
this issue, but I would want to find out more about her before I proceed.

2. “Work on her belt.”  Belting is the most natural vocalization humans can do.  We
shouldn’t have to “work” on it. Even though our cultivated vocalizations have come
along way from “natural” belting, the fact remains, that humans can naturally make
powerful sounds, (assuming there isn’t a medical or congenital condition impeding it.)
We just have to apply tools and strategies to cultivate the use of our voice, which is a
different mindset than “ working on it.”  We aren’t cutting firewood.

3. What exactly does she mean by “belt?”  I would have to ask for song examples to make
sure the student and I have the same ideas.

4. “ Add more bass to the mix.” Interesting concept.  This certainly seems to come from the
‘mix’ an engineer uses to balance a recording. At this point, I have to explain to the
teacher the difference between a mix in a recording and a mix in vocal production.

5. Next, I have to cover the topic of bass in the mix.  I think I need to fill the entire
newsletter to do that properly, but that would be probably be dull. But its worthwhile to
point out, that the acoustic properties of a tone doesn’t have elements that are below the
fundamental pitch.

6. Then, I have to “translate” for them.  The question shows that both of them have good
intuition, they just have ineffective framework to express themselves.  The student knows
she isn’t getting full glottal closure because she can feel and hear that her voice changes
at the bridge. The teacher knows the mix isn’t “right” because she hears that some
acoustic properties of the tone are not perceptible.  If the student and the teacher can

adopt this framework, it will be easy for them to choose a tool to apply to exercises or
songs to get a more efficient vocal function – and have more fun.

I’ve found that taking apart questions and exposing the root problems is much more effective than advising the teacher to use a particular scale,  sound or vowel/consonant combination. (although that may come up as the next question the teacher asks!)

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