Ring in the Professional Singing Voice

 

Ring is also described as ping, point, squillo, “ng” and correct nasal resonance.  It is an essential quality of a professional voice.  Ring simultaneously provides protection to the voice and carrying power.  A small voice without ring simply won’t be heard over an orchestra at the back of a medium-sized opera house.  A small voice with ring will be able to be heard.   Correct nasal resonance adds brilliance to the voice by bringing in high overtones and opens the door to other important qualities like spin and sparkle.  The legendary Wagnerian soprano, Kirsten Flagstad, said that she sang on a silver ng thread, meaning that she sang easily with correct nasal resonance as her guide and allowed her resonators to do all of the work in amplifying the sound for her.   A singer with ring can trust that his/her voice will be heard without having to push.  It is also one half of the crucial quality of chiaroscuro (light/dark).

Different voices have different amounts of ring possibility in them, depending on the shape and size of resonantors themselves.   But all voices should contain an element of that brightness and brilliance.  “Round” voices devoid of ring do not have an important requirement for a professional sound and also are lacking the vocal protection provided by correct nasal resonance.  Those singers tend to “sing on their capital, instead of their principle”, which shortens careers.  The good news is that ring can be trained into the voice with the right teacher.

When I think of ring, the first singer who comes to mind is the late, great tenor, Richard Tucker.  His voice had a generous amount of ring, giving it a large presence without any effort.  His colleagues like Marilyn Horne described his voice as huge, warm and beautiful.   However, for voices like his with a lot of ring, that resonance tends to take over and become the dominant factor in recordings.  As a consequence, his voice sounds very bright in general on the recordings he left us.   One of his best recordings is the Madama Butterfly with Eleanor Steber.  There his natural warmth shines through and those us of who were not lucky enough to have heard him live can get a true sense of his fabulous voice.

Here are two YouTube recordings of Richard Tucker for you to listen to.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGKTKaddM5s

This is Tucker singing “Nessun dorma” from Turandot.  Listen for the small, continuous, nasal buzzing as he sings.  That is his ring.  Notice that it is always present in his voice and that his voice seems to ride on that ring effortlessly.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwcdiggveWg

Here is Tucker in a duet with soprano, Anna Moffo, “O soave fanciulla” from La Bohème.  This duet provides an interesting contrast between the bright, ringy voice of Tucker and the darker, rounder voice of Moffo.  Notice that Moffo lacks ring in her middle voice, but that it comes in at her top, whereas Tucker has ring consistently throughout his range.

 

During my years in college and graduate school, it was commonly accepted that certain colleagues of ours had “round” voices completely without ring.  It was believed to be a perfectly natural phenomenon and the inherent nature of those vocal instruments.  That is not the case.  Round voices simply have not been trained to have correct nasal resonance and rely instead merely on oro-pharyngeal or what people call “back” resonance.  Many teachers encourage students to “place” their voices in a forward position and feel the voice focused in the mask, the cheekbones and area surrounding the eyes, in order to train this important function of the classical voice.   While this type of placement of the voice might work for a lucky few, it usually results in a narrowing and collapse of the open oro-pharyngeal space (the throat, soft palate, and back of the mouth) and causes pressure at the base of the tongue, which then raises the larynx.  The coordination is the exact opposite of what needs to take place for healthy functioning and the resulting sound is pinched and closed.

I learned the healthy approach to bringing ring into the voice from my teacher, David Jones.   The approach he teaches, derived from both the Italian and Swedish-Italian Schools of singing, has the tongue released in an “ng” position, while a small amount of air is sent through the nasal port and the oro-pharyngeal space remains open.  The released “ng” tongue encourages freedom at the root of the tongue and a relaxed, slightly lowered laryngeal position.  Maintaining the open oro-pharyngeal space while training ring creates an ideal balance of resonance and overtones.  In my own singing and teaching, I have found the following exercises are extremely effective in training healthy ring into the voice.

Ng

1 – 3       rest          3 – 5       rest         5 – 8 (hold)

ng     cough off       ng      cough off      ng

 

8 (hold)  5 – 3 – 1

(pop)  ah –   –   –   –   –   –  –

 

This is a historical exercise from the Swedish-Italian School.  Above, the “ng” means a ng hum.  This raises the middle-back of the tongue into the correct position and can be vocalized with the mouth open.  Say the word, “sing” and keep holding the ng at the end.

The exercise consists of a broken arpeggio ascent, a reiteration of the 8 at the top and an arpeggio descent.  There is a rest between the two sets of thirds.  During that rest, Caruso’s cough off should be performed.  That is a quick exhalation of remaining air inside the lungs using a strong, sudden inward motion of the abdominal wall and ribs to push the air out in a second or so.  The abdominal wall should then release outward, as the back and ribs expand, so that the new breath simply falls into the body.

The pop indicated before the “ah” is a sudden excursion of the soft palate from its low position during the ng hum to an expanded, high position during the ah.  If done quickly, it results in a small popping sound and sensation.  The pop is important, because it allows the singer to momentarily feel the soft palate, which is normally difficult to do, and thereby have more control over its functioning.

Singing ng on repertoire is also a good way to practice and train ring into new pieces with difficult demands.

 

NyE- ri – tu – mi kya – nya – bE – la

  8    7     6      5     4        3       2     1

NyE – ri – tu – mi – kya – nya – bE – la

 

This historical exercise from the Swedish-Italian School is done on a descending eight-note scale.  IPA is used here.  The two syllables containing n + glide (y in IPA) – the same as the “ñ” in Spanish – bring ring into the voice.  The goal is to maintain that ring through the different consonant and vowel combinations.  It is interesting to note that the second, third and fourth vowels of the exercise are closed vowels, while the subsequent vowels are open.  This allows the singers to practice maintaining the ring first through the closed vowels, which is often easier, and then through open vowels.  The glides also release the tongue by bringing it forward, helping to open the oro-pharynx.  All in all, it is a brilliant combination of concepts and a very effective exercise.

NyE

“NyE” can also be used individually to train ring into the voice in scales and repertoire.  The n + glide with the open E works for many singers.  NyE can be used at the beginning of a phrase and the “E” sung throughout or it can be used at the beginning of every note of a phrase.  It is important to maintain an open oro-pharynx when using NyE.

Conclusion

I have seen over and over again that a functioning, healthy ring automatically gives more presence to the voice and more confidence to the singer.  Once consistent in a singer’s voice, the ring or “ng” can be utilized as a guide for the singer to follow, just like Flagstad sang on her “silver thread”.  The maintenance of that ring allows singers to back off from over-singing and trust that with the correct resonance, less is indeed more.

 

For more articles and information, visit my website, http://www.thebricelandstudio.com

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