Great voices often come to new studios in bad vocal shape, usually the result of poor training. That was true of an extremely talented mezzo who came to my studio about five months ago. Having been encouraged by her previous teacher to take chest voice up well beyond the first passagio, her voice was over-weighted, small and she had difficult accessing her top. The sound was detrimentally affected, leaving her with a pressed, strained, raspy quality that completely hid her true potential. Of course, her last teacher did not think very much of her talent, because he did not know how to help her develop her magnificent instrument appropriately. All of his technical instructions just drove her to press on her voice more and more.
Having learned that not all voice teachers are equal, this mezzo did a few trial lessons with various teachers prior to committing to her next teacher. At her trial with me, we worked specifically on releasing the excess weight and she was able to feel a positive difference in her voice immediately. When applying that concept to repertoire, her voice felt much healthier, to her great relief. Because of the drastic difference in how her voice worked in only one lesson, she chose me as her new voice teacher.
Motivated and bright, she was amazed right away the efficacy of the thin edge exercises in her first committed lesson. In fact, she stopped dead in the middle of doing the first exercise and said, “Why in the world does doing this make my voice feel so much better?” I explained to her the mechanics behind the concept, which was completely new to her, but understanding allowed her to grasp its importance. Her voice had a tiny bit of natural ring, but working on correct nasal resonance allowed her to release her need to press her voice, giving her sound more natural ease. We worked on applying both of those concepts to music in the first several lessons and as she said, they made her singing “feel better than it has in years”.
Practicing the exercises at home reinforced the changes made in her lessons. She was learning to release the excess weight and to sing based on resonance vs. breath pressure. Then we addressed her registration issues, working on transitioning to a mix of head and chest voice at the right point for her voice type. Her lower middle and middle were naturally a little weak, making her slightly reluctant to let go of her old approach. But she noticed after several weeks that her middle voice was filling out quickly and coming into balance with her already strong chest voice. Her high range also benefited greatly from less excess weight, making her high notes freer and easier.
Then it was time to address expanding the resonance spaces. She worked assiduously on teaching her soft palate to extend higher and wider when singing, which, combined with her correct nasal resonance, removed strain from her vocal cords. The higher soft palate freed her high notes. Relaxing and lowering her larynx automatically increased the dark color of her vocal instrument and allowed her entire instrument to function more effectively.
This mezzo was well-versed in abdominal breathing, but had never learned balance the work between the abdominals and rib cage. We worked on freeing her rib cage, so that it was able to expand and contract easily and reflexively. She worked to incorporate this new type of breathing into her practice sessions and lessons. Once she was able to use her breathing mechanism correctly, she was ready to learn about a support system that included expanding in the back and activating the pectorals. Implementing a reliable, suitable breath management system is now her next challenge.
With each of these steps forward, the mezzo’s voice grew in size and freedom. Soon her voice gained in clarity and beauty as well. The raspy quality, a result of too much vocal weight and sub-glottal air pressure, disappeared and her voice began to take on a healthy sheen. It had become apparent (even without the right type of support) that she had a very large, middle weight, lyric instrument, capable of taking on the wonderful French mezzo repertoire, along with the standard Mozart, Handel, Rossini and Strauss roles. With continued lessons, her voice will only keep on improving by leaps and bounds, allowing this impressive instrument the chance to be heard in the future at its very best.
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