Functional Training

We have discussed functional training here previously. It’s a new subject in the world of voice, however, so it deserves a bit more time.

In functional training for singing we are isolating behaviors that occur in the larynx from those that occur in the pharynx. We are distinguishing behaviors that have to do with the muscles of the tongue versus those that have to do with the muscles of the pharynx. We are discussing sound for its own sake, separate from musical values as found in any particular style.

If we cannot get the vocal folds to do their job (making a pitch, resisting air from below, make a clear sound) then we wouldn’t be able to do much else, either, if we wanted to. We can’t make “resonance” and it’s hard to do “breath support”, and, for most of us, that’s all we think we have. There are still lots of people who “breathe from the diaphragm” and “resonate the masque” by “focusing the tone” in the “front” and allowing the “air” to “go up and over the back”. That certainly has not gone away but its usefulness as explanation is more and more suspect. I am SOOOOOOOOO thrilled.

Functional training rests on the idea that we are dealing with coordination of a system that is largely muscular. It implies that the person doing the functional training understands what does what. Breathiness has to do with what is going on in the vocal folds, not the breathing mechansim. Nasality has to do with the positioning of the soft palate. Tension has to do with some kind of squeezing of the side wall of the inside of the throat and the effect that the squeeze has on other structures like the tongue and the jaw. Freedom implies that you can get the muscles involved in sound-making to move easily and a lot, and this is something hardly anyone understands. Not too much of any of this has to do with “breath support” or “the diaphragm”.

Yes, some people get that the vocal folds are either vibrating in chest (thyro-arytenoid) or head (crico-thyroid) and giving you a pitch or frequency and a quality, and they understand that what we hear as a vowel has to do with the shape of the vocal tract (throat and mouth coupled together as a bent tube) and the position within that tube of the tongue, and the amount of open space in the mouth based upon where the jaw is vertically and what the soft palate is doing, and that volume has to do with air pressure. Yes, they get all that. What they do not get is how all the muscles involved can be stiff, unmoveable, stuck together, restricted, unresponsive, and under-developed, and how all of that has an effect on what a person who wants to sing can do, will feel, can move, will change and will ultimately become the new normal.

If you get the process right, if you make it more and more efficient, stronger, more moveable, more responsive, and more homogenized, then the result will come, as long as you know what kind of a result you want. The process of getting someone’s vocal function to change involves understanding what the person is doing, what they ought to be doing and knowing a path between the two.

Think about it.

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