Concern for how the vocal cords approximate is not something I learned as a young singer. It seemed completely foreign to the normal process of studying voice and was never discussed by my voice teachers. However, it is crucial to be able to ensure a healthy functioning of the cords. All of the different permutations that the cords have a huge impact on both tone quality and vocal health in the long-run.
The concept is much more accessible than most singers think. The thin edge function trains just the top part of the thickness of the cords to approximate during phonation, which takes excess vocal weight off of the voice. The coup de glotte, introduced by Manuel Garcia II, trains the healthy habit of having the vocal cords come together or close gently before phonation begins. This gives a balanced, healthy onset to the tone, as the cords can then gently begin to vibrate as air passes through.
This concept is extremely helpful for many singers, including for women in their middle voices. The mix of middle and head voice that begins around Eb4, E4 or F4 was coined the women’s “falsetto” several hundred years ago, because of its weakness compared to the naturally strong chest voice and resonant head voice. Many women have difficulty, especially young women, dealing with too much air escaping through the vocal cords in that part of the voice. The coup de glotte teaches the cords to approximate more closely. It also teaches a healthy relationship of the cords prior to singing, so that the onset is optimized. This creates a naturally firmer tone with more core and clarity to it, which is the foundation for a wonderful technique. Sometimes the coup de glotte is the missing piece for certain singers that holds them back from achieving their maximum vocal potential.
I have used the coup de glotte exercises with a number of students. I remember introducing it to one talented young soprano who had been taking her chest voice too high to compensate for her very weak lower middle voice. Once she was switching registers at the right place, her voice in the lower middle was revealed as very airy with no core, completely different from her chest voice and high head voice. It was as if another singer had suddenly walked into the room when she sang there. She was very embarrassed that it did not sound “right” and I had to assure her repeatedly that it would improve quickly with the right technical approach. She trusted me and continued to sing with this unfocused, airy middle voice while I worked with her on back support and the coup de glotte exercises. It took three lessons of learning and reinforcing the coordination taught by the exercises, but in the third lesson, the cords began to close much more consistently after her inhalation, giving her a bigger sound with core, ring and resonance. Soon her middle voice was matching up with both her chest and her head registers, giving her one consistent sound throughout her whole voice.
Another notable example of the effectiveness of these exercises was demonstrated when I worked with a young woman who had been singing as a soprano. Her middle was fuzzy and lacked clarity and color, which accounted for her previous classification as a soprano. With her first experience singing the coup de glotte exercises, her vocal cords began approximating more closely after inhalation and her tone changed drastically, darkening in color and gaining in clarity. At the next lesson, she added expanding in her lower back at the same time, which helped control the airflow through the cords during phonation. The tone became much more focused and clearly had the unique mezzo color inherent in it. She continued practicing these coup de glotte exercises with correct breath resistance, which helped her gain this wonderful color throughout her range. The coup de glotte helped her literally build the foundation of her instrument in her middle voice, which then was able to grow into the rest of the instrument.
The coup de glotte exercises require care and attention when executing them, in order to gain benefit from them, so working them first with an experienced teacher for a while is by far the best way of assuring that you are doing them correctly. The teacher well-versed in the exercises has the ability to monitor subtle differences and ensure that you are doing them without any extra effort. The exercises help you actually feel the vocal cords coming together, which is a novel and revelatory sensation for many singers. It needs to be said, however, that all work done more directly with the vocal cords has to be done extremely delicately and with good judgment. These exercises are no exception. Because the exercises are well-designed, simply doing the exercises correctly will bring about the right coordination! No extra work or effort has to be expended at all.
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