Outside/Inside

Some singers never learn that the intrinsic muscles of the throat are the ones that must do most of the work in a good singer. That means that the muscles on the surface of the body should be relatively quiet. In someone with good technique, often the amount of movement in the face, mouth, jaw, and tongue is minimal until a very loud or very high note is sung, and even then, all that is usually necessary is a widely open mouth. (Any style of singing).

The bind here is that the inner muscles are not deliberately movable, so how does one learn to make them the muscles “in charge”? How do you strengthen the vocal folds when you can’t feel them and the larynx itself, when you don’t feel it either (unless something is really wrong).

Beginners are rightfully taught to work from the outside in. “Open your mouth”, “drop your jaw”, “move your lips”, “keep your head level”, etc., are correct instructions to give a novice, as are admonitions such as tighten your belly muscles (support the tone). Other kinds of guidance might apply, but this is where teachers having little or no information can get into trouble. I have had students tell me that teachers have told them to: “add some more cord”, “press the tongue forward”, and “vibrate the tone in the masque” (huh?). This means the teacher has some grasp of what the mechanism must do to make sound but doesn’t know how to get that to occur.

The voice is reflective (see The Free Voice by Cornelius Reid). This means that we, as singing teachers, are looking to elicit a response from the mechanism, not cause a direct manipulation of the intrinsic musculature. This is more than just semantics. It is possible to configure the vocal muscles in a number of adjustments, not all of which will be natural or easy at the beginning of training. If the concept of freedom is not re-enforced by the teacher, the student can get the impression that sound has to be making deliberate , instead of allowing sound to happen and guiding the changes to arise over time. I truly believe there are people teaching singing who have never experienced free interior movement of the vocal organ, and don’t understand this in any way, consequently they teach manipulation as a goal.

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