Volitional Movement

You can make yourself take a breath, but you cannot stop breathing volitionally. That’s because the Central Nervous System is hardwired to get oxygen in and carbon dioxide out. In fact, it is it’s overriding charge. You cannot decide to digest your food faster or slower, or to digest only some things and not others. You cannot decide to sleep, close your eyes, and do it, in a few seconds. You cannot decide to beat your own heart. You cannot decide not to urinate, even though you can develop a good deal of control about when, but ultimately your body will overpower your mind. If you gotta go, you gotta go.

The idea that you are never ever supposed to move anything in the throat if you are to sing well is an old one. The idea behind this makes sense. If your throat is comfortable, you do not feel anything happening in the throat, you just make sound. You might be able to sense the vibration of the sound as you make it, but that’s not always the case. Soft sounds don’t make much vibration, and are therefore harder to feel or perceive as vibration or movement.

You cannot decide to vibrate the bones in your face as a direct thing. You have to make a specific kind of sound, in a specific way, and hope that that sound will make the bones in your face vibrate. You can try to get that sound by thinking of the vibration before you make it, but if you do not have a long history of this type of sound-making, it might be quite hard to imagine what kind of a sound would do that. Then, you are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Currently, because more is known about how sound is produced, a few key people have decided to go the other way, and teach deliberate movement of the muscles deep within the throat, including the larynx itself, as well as other structures near or around the larynx, as a part of their vocal technique method. This could make sense, if you observed, as some have, that the vocal folds or the larynx do certain things under some circumstances, but assuming you can replicate those things deliberately in a volitional manner is very dangerous and incorrect assumption.

The way we control the musculature in the throat is through control of the sound itself. The way we control the sound, is by understanding the components of vocal sound and learning how to expand those components without sacrificing freedom and spontaneity. Teaching someone to maneuver the larynx into various positions, as if the larynx was an arm or a foot, is foolhardy. Teaching someone to squeeze the throat or pull the larynx down is just about the same. Bad ideas.

Generally, you begin vocal training by learning to control the things on the outside of the body that you can touch and see. That would include the jaw, the face, the mouth/lips, the head and neck, and the upper chest/ribs and the abdominals. These are areas that have an effect upon a vocal sound and getting them to do specific things oriented towards singing is a learned behavior, but it is one of the simplest and most accessible ones. After a time, through aural stimulation, as well as cultivation of various types of sounds (textures and vowels on various pitches at various volumes), it is sometimes possible to provoke responses in the muscles in the back of the mouth and the back of the tongue. These changes show up, not so much as “feelings” or “sensations” in the face, but in the sound itself. Done well, there is not much to feel in terms of kinesthetics.

Over many years, it becomes often possible to gain control over the deep musculature of the back of the mouth, the tongue and the throat itself, but the “feedback system” that would track such control would, in most cases, be vague at best. You really can’t open your throat, actively, unless you are quite unusual, by thinking “I want to open my throat”, as it isn’t the same as telling yourself “I want to open my mouth”. That, of course, you can do.

One of the biggest problems with singing training is that people teaching it just do not understand what is deliberate, what can become deliberate through training, and what was meant to be left alone and works best when it is free to function without any kind of intervention or interface. More singing students have been tied into knots trying to do things that are not doable than those who have been set free.

You must understand the difference between “I am singing a warm dark tone”. “I am singing with my larynx down low in my throat”. and “I am moving my larynx into a low position and deliberately holding it there while I sing, so I can feel my face vibrating”. Don’t get them confused!!!

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