Evan Bortnick http://musa-vocalis.de/
Professional singers and voice students alike often hear the terms “Forward Placement” and “Brightness”. Some of these students, ESPECIALLY when in dynamic rapport with their teachers, tacitly understand what is meant. Is this a guarantee? In my experience it is not! If the communication rapport is not such that the student understands exactly what is meant by terms like “Forward Placement” and all it implicitly entails, then both teacher and student are treading on dangerous ground. The danger is that the student will establish habits that will take years to undo. The reason why it’s so easy for students confuse a term like “Brightness” is because the term is an incompletely specified process word disguised as a nominalization. In other words, it could refer to more than one factor which is incompletely specified and is being presented as a “Thing”, but in reality is a process.
There is a most important distinction for singers here, which is seldom mentioned, seldom understood and which leads to ENORMOUS misunderstanding in the young student:
Vowel color and Voice Color are two separate and distinguishable qualities!
“Bright”, “Dark”, “Light”, “Color” and many of the terms we use are visual words attempting to describe auditory and kinesthetic phenomenon. Nothing wrong with that *IF* (a big if!), the student understands what is meant. There is a reciprocal relationship between Vowel Color and Voice Color. The ‘brighter’ the vocal color, the ‘darker’ the vowel color needs to be. In a scale from the lowest notes to the highest notes of the range, through what is called the passaggio, through what is called the ‘first lift’ and ‘second lift’, through what is called “Teil-Register”, this law of reciprocity prevails.
The “uh” vowel, the “Singers Schwa”, in fact all vowels can be formed correctly and incorrectly. “Bright”, “Ring”, “Squillando” all refer to a brightness of the voice quality, which results from an audible and palpable ‘darkness’ in the vowel formation. This ‘darkening’ of the vowel quality proceeds along a smoothly variable scale, depending on the felt sound column AND the heard formant balance. Vowels formed dominantly in the front of the mouth become unstable as the singer passes through a so-called ‘register’ transition. If they are not formed and modified in critical areas of the vocal tract, singers are forced to use excessive sub-glottal air pressure to compensate for the instability.
The felt air column and pressure wave within the vocal tract mirrors the length and positive tension in the vocalis as we sing higher. This occurs logically in the three dimensions: length, depth and breadth. Length-up and down, depth- front and back, breadth- right and left. The vocal tract increases in length and depth and decreases in breadth (hence the beloved “Schlanker Ton”).These refer to structures within the vocal tract and mouth. Length-up (soft palate, sphenoid bone, frontal sinus) and down (Larynx, root of the Tongue, passively stretched, Epiglottis)–, Depth—front (obicularis oris, risorius, buccinator), back- (3 constrictors, superior, medialis, inferior). Each one of these structures has tension chains both triggered AND mirrored by specific muscles of the face. So obviously, in seeking length, the larynx will drop and tilt and the soft palate-sphenoid bone will rise and tilt. In seeking depth, the constrictors will round (and go back) and the lips (obicularis oris) and cheeks (risorius-buccinator) will stretch and move forward.
This entire phenomenon of flexibly modifying the vocal tract to mirror an activity in the vocalis muscle itself is, in turn, mirrored in the diaphragm, spine and pelvis. If these structures do not ‘feel into’ and support what’s going on above, the tension chains become overly rigid and fail to support and calibrate the subtle vocal tuning activities. This is great news for teachers, because we can use the entire body as a referencing experience for subtle activities of the vocalis and the structures of the vocal tract! Of course we can turn these exercises into a mere procedure, but if they are implemented with the thinking-feeling-hearing-knowing-seeing senses of an experienced teacher, the student can integrate into muscle memory MUCH faster and more effectively!
This is something that is heard, but even more importantly; this is something which is felt and anticipated by the singer. It sounds complicated and it is, (especially in a ‘linear’ description like this) but when executed holistically, it’s a feeling of the greatest ease and simplicity. Hard to imagine sometimes by non-singers, but ecstatically felt by great singers constantly. In addition, this ecstatic experience is transferable to the listener through the quality of the sound. This is one reason why good singers receive extraordinary monetary compensation for doing what they love; the feelings of ecstasy, flow, passion and joy are deliciously infectious!
Evan Bortnick http://musa-vocalis.de/