Positive Resistance

A lot of voice training is involved with generating a sense of vocal freedom. It is good to know that such freedom exists and that it is involved with the ability to move the vocal mechanism in a variety of ways and configurations. Freedom, however, can sometimes be antithetical to strength. In order to have true vocal/physical strength, it is necessary to cultivate “positive resistance”. And, what, you may ask is that?

In order for the voice to work with good acoustic efficiency, the vocal folds have to be strong enough to close firmly and resist quite a bit of air pressure from below in a loud sound (assuming that the singer wants to occasionally make a loud sound). Since we don’t feel the vocal folds, how are we to know if they are closing “strongly enough”?

If you are breathing efficiently, your bellows (lungs) can hold a lot of air. When the vocal folds are closed but not moving, (as in holding your breath), and you have taken a deep breath in, the air pressure level in your lungs, called sub-glottic pressure, (which is the pressure below the glottis, or the space between the vocal folds) is high. One of the skills a beginning singing student has to learn is how to come in gently on a full tank of air, since the body will automatically make a loud sound at the outset when the lungs are full. If the person has a weak voice, is a beginner, or both, a lot of air blowing up from below can push the weak folds apart, causing the sound to become very breathy. That is why you do not want to correct breathiness by working on breath support most of the time.

In a more skilled singer, the ribs (intercostals) “hold” against the belly muscles during exhalation, during phonation. That means that they become strong enough to remain stable while air flows out, and this is, absolutely, a learned behavior for everyone. (Why would the ribs stay out on an exhalation on their own???) When they learn to do this it helps stabilize the contraction of the diaphragm inside, helping to keep it down longer and the positive resistance (in a chain reaction) between the closed folds, the taut diaphragm, the firm ribs and the tension on the abdominal muscles (which press against the viscera) creates a dynamic exchange of energy, allowing the sound to become louder without strain in the throat muscles. Whew! This string of linked events is “breath support” and it is a complicated set of behaviors to acquire.

Positive resistance means that the vocal folds, during sung or spoken sound, close firmly and resist air pressure from below, increased deliberately through action of the abdominal muscles, making the sound louder but not breathier. None of this has anything to do with squeezing the throat or tightening the throat deliberately nor does it involve “lifting the piano” to get more action out of the belly muscles. It requires that the person singing be able to make a clear sound in the first place. If the person has a relatively clear and vital speaking voice naturally, this set of vocal/breathing events might be relatively easy to achieve, but if she does not, then work needs to be done to develop laryngeal resistance before anything else can happen.

Therefore, using vocal exercises that help build resistance is necessary, but how many teachers of singing know what they are or how to apply them or to what degree the remedy should be used? How do you tell if there is too much resistance (blocking the muscles from natural movement) or too much pressure (causing voice strain)? You have to go back to the first question and you have to have the answers, and they have to be specific.

If you need them and don’t have them, please join us at one of the Somatic Voicework™ trainings.

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