I recently had a young dramatic tenor come to my studio to begin voice lessons. His voice sounded straight, very tight and muscled, particularly from the B below middle C and higher, and his top above the passaggio was very short and required force simply to get the cords to phonate. However, his lower voice still retained some natural ease, though no vibrato. He complained of vocal fatigue and was aware that he simply muscled in order to sing. He had the ideal qualities of a voice student – he was open-minded, willing to change and did not judge himself harshly during the process. The following describes how I approached working with him for the first three lessons. There is no one way to approach teaching every student, so this approach might not work for you.
In order to take the excess weight off of his voice right away, we began with thin edge exercises. I had him do staccati notes before a 5-note scale, instructing him to make sure to barely sing the staccati. The goal is simply to bring the cords together briefly and then have them separate again to encourage the thin edge function. This worked well for him, helping drop the excess weight off of his chest voice. Even the area starting at B and going into the passiggio began to drop weight and become freer. Then, I taught him the cuperto, an octave exercise using a soft “u” at the top to bring about the thin edge function. This was a revelation to him, because he was able to get into his head voice for the first time without forcing – hurrah! Right away, his passaggio and upper voice freed and were much less strained and muscled.
I introduced the concept of a low breath for singing, because his normal breathing pattern was quite high and tight, causing a lot of sub-glottal pressure. He understood it theoretically, but it took him a few tries to get a more relaxed, lower breath and it wasn’t consistent. I told him to continue to work on it as homework.
After that, I began to work with him on his larynx and resonance. Monitoring his laryngeal position with his hand, I had him release his larynx downward when inhaling and then release it further on the upper note of a simple 1 – 3 – 1 vocalese. After a couple of tries, he was able to accomplish this, felt a tremendous sense of ease and openness in his throat and felt that singing in general was easier. I moved onto opening his resonance space. I had him do a “m” hum (with his tongue forward and sticking out of his mouth) staccato on a descending 5-note scale, while expanding the back and side walls of his oro-pharynx. Afterwards, he opened up to a 5-note scale on vowels, keeping the open oro-pharygeal position. Because he was able to keep some laryngeal relaxation during this exercise, the difference was drastic. Suddenly the wonderful darkness and warmth inherent in his voice was released and I could start to hear the true instrument. With more resonance space, his vocal production was much easier and felt more comfortable for him.
I reviewed the larynx exercise for reinforcement and introduced the “ng” exercise that includes popping the soft palate up. The combination of correct nasal resonance and a raised soft palate is the vocal protection, which takes stress off of the vocal cords themselves. The ng exercise was easy for him, because he already had a natural sense of ring in his voice. He was able to maintain some lowered laryngeal position and the vocal protection worked its wonders. Pressure was lifted off of the cords and vibrato began to come into the voice for the very first time!
I circled back to the cuperto, asking him to try it with the openness he had been experiencing in the other exercises. His top had changed drastically. All of a sudden, his voice began to function very differently in his top. Because it had more space in which to resonate, he was able to resist his old habit of grabbing in the throat. The resultant sound was freer and again, vibrato started to come into the voice very naturally.
Working in this way completely transformed this young man’s vocal production. Because he was able to make a number of changes in a short period of time, he could reap the rewards of experiencing a very different way of singing very quickly. Practicing the exercises at home reinforced the new, healthy habits. These three lessons set a firm groundwork for more openness, ease and freedom in his gorgeous voice in the future.
For more articles and information, visit my website, http://www.thebricelandstudio.com