Manipulation – Amended

What, in a voice, is manipulation?

It’s moving things around in your throat deliberately. It’s doing things with your throat on purpose that don’t normally occur.

Why would that be bad? Isn’t that, in fact, what most voice teachers are seeking? After all, how can you create a different kind of sound if you don’t move your throat muscles in some kind of straight-forward manner?

And what about the people who used to say “don’t ever think about your throat”, “never do anything in your throat that you can feel” or “forget you have a throat and just make the bones in your head vibrate”, were they all wrong or crazy?

How can you “leave your throat alone” and get any kind of long lasting difference in the sound? Aren’t these two things the opposite of each other? If so, which one is correct, which one is wrong?

The only way to get things in the throat (vocal production) to change is to change them indirectly and gently over a long period of time, with the idea that all movements done in a deliberate fashion are temporary tools that will be discarded as soon as the effects they are designed to promote take hold and become habitual. The throat should, in essence, take care of itself. The singer should be able to “just sing” leaving the throat alone enough to not think much about it while in a song. If the exercises done by the vocalist during a lesson or practice session are doing their job, the muscles will respond in a new and better way and that response will become the replacement for previous vocal behavior.

That this be understood is crucial because not understanding it makes it easy to encourage manipulation as an end product and to tie a throat and a vocalist in knots that are difficult to eliminate, especially after a long period of time. A student can push on something to make it “go further” in terms of range or volume, but that doesn’t make the result better. Sometimes it is considerably worse, in terms of response.

A free throat is responsive. It allows for movement, change, adjustment, and flexibility. It is also consistent, dependable, steady and easy to control. There is never any need to “do anything” in the throat but the vocalist can be very aware of what’s going on inside as it takes care of itself.

Holding the larynx down or in a “low position” is a manipulation, usually of the back of the tongue, pressing it down. It is a bad idea and will cause a vocalist to loose the ability to sing high notes easily or to sing softly easily. Pulling the larynx up deliberately is a bad idea, too, as it will make the sound tight and shallow and make movement difficult as well. Either response (different laryngeal height positions) is fine as long as it is indirect and takes place as a natural response to changes in pitch, vowel quality and volume, and not ends in themselves. The people who teach “retract the false folds”, “constrict the ari-epiglottic sphincter”, or “Larynx Position 1, 2, 3, and 4” are not helping anyone. These kinds of ideas cause as many problems as do phrases like “lift your soft palate”, “open your throat” and “release the sound into your masque”. They have nothing to do with the way the vocal apparatus is wired into the brain. Maybe the ideas or experiences were meaningful to the people who found them, but that does not mean that they are valid approaches to teach other human beings as if they were “real”, directly doable vocal behaviors.

Language is very important here. It is the primary reason why in Somatic Voicework™ we are very careful in how we speak about vocal technique. We always use the third person(“The voice is heavy today”, not “You are pushing your tongue down in the back”), and we ask the student to do something to see what it does. We do not tell the student to make something happen. No.

It is the teacher’s job to get the desired sound, not the student’s. It is the teacher who must uncover new vocal behaviors through exercises and then, when they arise, point them out and label them so the student can track the experience. I often hear, “My student can’t find mix,” or “doesn’t know how to use mix”. No, again. You, the teacher, have not taught the student to discover mix, therefore, the student correctly has no clue how to use what he or she doesn’t yet experience.

If you feel “stuck” when you sing, or you feel like your sound isn’t easy and you just put up with it, you need to know that this isn’t good. You can learn to sing freely but you have to know how. Just generally, if anyone asks you to do something with your tongue, face, mouth, jaw or head, and it’s not explained as being functionally necessary, be suspicious. Anything done deliberately, as an exercise, can be very helpful, but when it becomes an end in itself, and therefore a way to sing, it has become a trap. The idea of “changing the default” (meaning changing the place that one sings from with no conscious thought or effort) comes only after a good deal of time and practice.

If you are a student, and you struggle to make sense of what is being asked of you in a lesson, either you don’t understand what it is or you are being asked to do something that you should not do. You do not have to be confused just because you cannot yet accomplish the task you seek to master. Don’t be afraid to ask about it.

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