The Vocal Folds Are The Source Of Your Sound But…
How you sound has to do with all the muscles in your tongue, your jaw, your soft palate and the side walls of the throat itself (the constrictors) in the pharynx. In other words, it’s more than vocal folds that make the sound what it is once it’s outside of the singer.
Everyone thinks that the breath drives the sound. It’s true that the amount of air in your lungs as you begin to phonate (sound) matters, but the way the vocal folds close while they are vibrating determines how much air gets out as it passes through the folds and how quickly. This is called the “open/closed quotient” and can be measured through an EGG or an electroglottogram. Your ability to inhale efficiently has much to do with your stance (carriage) or how you carry yourself physically. The ribs must be comfortably lifted and open (using the intercostal muscles, the core abs, the back muscles, and muscles across the sternum (but not the clavicle)). Exhalation has to be learned deliberately and the rib cage stability must be balanced against abdominal contraction while sound is made. That gestalt is “breath support” and it depends on your physical coordination, practice and awareness. The various theories of belly in, belly out, breathe down and out, breathe forward and out, breathe in the back, etc., can all work, depending on the rest of the behavior involved. It varies by individual, over time, and it can change. It is definitely a developed behavior. Again, it’s more than vocal folds involved.
If you can get the muscles at the base of the tongue to relax and the muscles on the floor of the mouth to let go, the larynx can drop (not be pushed or held down) so that it dangles loosely in a relatively comfortable position and that facilitates easy inhalation and exhalation. Unfortunately, releasing those muscles deliberately is very difficult, as we do not need to do this for speech (although a warm pleasant speaking voice probably comes from someone whose muscles are already in this configuration or close). This makes the tone fuller, deeper and more pleasing. It does not, however, help intelligibility nor creation of a singer’s formant. That behavior comes from the “nastiness factor” sometimes called squillo (squeal) but related to a siren, a wail, a crying sob, a baby cry or a cat’s meow. Not pleasant sounds but ones we hear easily. Without them, we need to be really loud or use a microphone if we want to be heard in a large space.
Understanding Why It’s More Than Vocal Folds
All of the language classical singing teachers have made up over the centuries was meant to capture in words the description of what the sound should do and how it should behave. They have also tried to describe how to get the sound, but without really knowing how the muscles effecting it as it passes through the throat and mouth work. The inside muscles matter more than the ones on the outside of the body, but we don’t feel them very much, let alone move them deliberately. That leaves a classical singer stuck between a rock and a hard place. CCM singers don’t rely so much on the same behaviors, so this doesn’t always effect them.
You can absolutely get change in those inner muscles through exercise, but you need to know what muscles do what and what exercises do what and you need to know what the interim stages of sound are as you move toward a more long term goal. And none of that involves squeezing, pushing , forcing, holding, leaning, or positioning those inner muscles deliberately. How many singing teachers get all that? In over 40 years of teaching singing, I have met only a handful, maybe less. It sounds like magic but it is simply knowledge, applied, in one body and throat at a time.
This is part of what Somatic Voicework™ teaches. Curious? Come to City College in June for the Level I training. It’s the best way to learn why it is true that it’s more than vocal folds.