I studied voice for a number of years with different teachers, some good and some bad, never heard of the thin edge function of the vocal cords. How the cords themselves approximate when singing was never directly addressed in any of my lessons. There were some exercises that had an indirect effect on the cords, but they were only partially successful. Making changes that consistently had a positive effect on the cords seemed a futile hope.
With David Jones, I learned about this new concept of the thin edge function of the cords. Ironically, I had never before realized that the cords are not simply two-dimensional. They have not only length (the dimension from the front of the larynx to the back) and width (the dimension from side to side as the cords approximate together), but also depth (the thickness of the cords themselves from top to bottom. There are variations of how much this thickness of the cords is utilized when singing and too much thickness is detrimental for healthy vocal production. That is why learning the thin edge function of the vocal cords is extremely helpful for any singer.
Utilizing excessive thickness of the cords creates excess weight in the voice when singing. It is possible, though far from ideal, to sing with excess weight in the bottom of the range (chest voice), but as the voice goes upward in pitch, it needs to shed that weight in order to move into different registrations. Shedding weight when moving upward in pitch is a very difficult coordination to learn, as many singers have found out to their detriment. Usually, the weight remains, making high notes very hard to reach and causing an inefficient use of the cords that brings about premature fatigue. From the hearer’s point of view, excess vocal weight results in a dull, sometimes muddy sound without clarity. It is difficult for the higher overtones to come into play when too much vocal weight is present, so true ring is compromised in singers using excess thickness of the cords.
For the optimum vocal health and best, most beautiful sound, singers should strive to integrate the thin edges of the cords throughout the whole vocal range from bottom to top. When the thin edge function is achieved, the vocal cords can be trained from the top down to approximate easily throughout the entire range efficiently and effortlessly without any unnecessary, extra weight. Singing using the thin edges offers a feeling of freedom and ease to the singer, as well as the ability to sing for a longer period without fatigue or hoarseness. For the hearer, the sound is clearer, bigger, more vibrant, more flexible, more polished and definitely more lovely.
There are two excellent exercises that help train the thin edge function into the voice. It is, of course, better to do these with supervision, since exactly how the exercises are done determines their effectiveness. However, they can be done without supervision if very careful attention is paid to carrying them out as described below on a consistent basis.
The Thin Edge Exercise
1 1 1 1 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1
. . . .
i i i i i – o – i – o – i – o – i – o – i
E E E E E – a – E – a – E – a – E – a – E
The Thin Edge Exercise is a wonderful exercise that is effective for almost everyone. I have never had a student who did not benefit from this exercise in some way. The first four notes are staccati and need to be done extremely lightly and quickly. The idea is merely to bring the vocal cords barely together and then have them coyly separate again. I tell my students it is almost as if you are not singing those at all, but just trying to make a tiny sound on pitch. This is done four times on quarter notes and then a legato, five-note scale is done in comfortably full-voice on eighth notes. Once the staccati are mastered, the first note of the five-note scale should be begun with the exact same lightness as the staccati and then quickly crescendoed into full-voice. There are two options for vowels. The i – o option tends to work better for women and the E (open “eh”) – a option tends to work better for men, though there are many exceptions to that generalization and both vowel sets work well for a number of singers. Experiment to see what works best for you.
The staccati in this exercise bring about the thin edges and then transfer the thin edge function into the legato line of the scale. With consistent practice over time, you can train your vocal cords to default to this much healthier functioning. These very light, barely-phonated staccati can also be applied to practicing repertoire, when you have had success with the exercise. Sing the light staccati on a phrase several times to encourage the thin edge function and then sing it normally with or without the words. Try beginning the first note of the phrase with the same light function and crescendo to the appropriate dynamic level right away.
1 – 2 – 3 – 2 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 2 – 1 (hold) 15 (hold)
a – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – u
14 – 13 – 12 – 11 – 10 – 9 – 8 – 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
A historical exercise from the Swedish-Italian School, the cuperto (or cover) trains several different functions into the voice, including the high pianissimo, the thin edges of the cords, and color. The Cuperto brings about the important thin edge function through the use of the soft “u” vowel. The dynamic markings are extremely important here and this exercise should be done with the appoggio/body support engaged. Try a one octave version first, going up to 8 on the “u” and then singing the decending scale, before embarking on the more difficult two octave version.
All of the notes except the held ones are rapid eighth notes. The three-note repeated scales on “a” should be done comfortably full-voice, whereas the “u” is to be done very softly with support. The oo should feel less “sung” than normal, as did the staccati in the previous exercise. For beginners, it is often helpful to connect the “a” at the bottom with the “u” on the top. You can either (1) go straight from the 1 to the 15 with a slide up; (2) take a breath after the 1, sing it again and slide up to the 15; or (3) take a breath after the 1 and enter right on the pianississimo high note (the hardest option). The goal here is to get the healthy thin edge function of the cords with open space expanding behind it. Sing repertoire on a soft “u” is also an effective way to routine in the thin edges.
Training the thin edge function into the voice takes attention, time and patience, but is well-worth the effort. Your singing will not only be much, much healthier, but with the help of other good vocal habits, will be able to develop freedom, spin, flexibility, stamina and a more professional quality to the sound.
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