Mechanics of the Falsetto

Whether a quality is perceived as being false or legitimate is dependent upon the way in which the configuration of the glottis is regulated by tension assumed by the arytenoid system.  When the response of the arytenoids is of such a kind that they are incapable of thickening the vocal folds as intensity is increased, the tonal product will express itself in terms of a variety of different types of false tone qualities.

The essential mechanical difference among the numerous types of falsetto is that each reflects a substantial difference in the balance of tension distributed between the openers and the closers of the vocal folds.  As cricothyroid (stretchers) tension is countered exclusively by the posterior cricoarytenoids (openers) the falsetto will be pure. When tension shifts to the lateral cricoarytenoids (closers), the result will be an occlusion of the vocal folds, the falsetto will gradually lose its falseness as the tone quality  becomes more full-bodied and complete.

A Teacher’s Obligation

It is a teacher’s obligation to release a singer’s instinct.  By definition, any overt control or manipulative effort can do nothing but hinder that process.  A singer studies singing so as to remove all impediments to his innate sense of singing.  The approach to releasing the singer’s instinct is to discover the faults and remove them one by one.  When all faults are removed the voice indeed sounds as if it is an instinctual utterance. 

Laryngeal Musculature

In an ideal technique of singing there is always a fixed relationship between the amount of tension assumed by the cricothyroids and the physical dimensions of the vocal folds.  However, more frequently than not their tension is disproportional to the pitch, in which case the arytenoid system must react not ideally but in such a way as to compensate for the faulty tensing capability of the cricothyroids.  As a result, the interaction between these two tensor mechanisms of the vocal folds creates interfering tensions which invite wrong tensions among peripheral areas of function, to a greater or lessor degree, throughout the entire vocal tract.  As a consequence, singing becomes effortful with evidence of malfunction exhibited by tongue and jaw tension, poor breath management, etc.

Functional Vocal Training

Functional vocal training is founded on the belief that a correct technique must be an extension of free organic movement; that such movement is the expression of a life process subject to nature’s laws; and that training procedures adopted must be based upon principles which conform to those laws.  This premise is not widely accepted, most training methods preferring to concentrate on functional effects, rather than functional causes.  This error has led to another misjudgment, even more serious: confusing the process of learning to sing with the art of singing.  Procedures designed to restructure a faulty vocal technique, therefore, cannot have validity until a clear distinction is made between art, aesthetics and function.

Preface, Voice: Psyche and Soma

Listening Functionally

With so many different quality characteristics associated with the same name, it is evident that the most critical factor in technical development is not the terminology itself, but an ability to make a proper distinction between the tonal product, its name, and the probable mechanical processes that result in its appearance.  The vocal mechanism functions under an incredible variety of states and conditions.  Some of these sounds represent progressive steps on route to register integration, still others have no redeemable qualities and merit attention only because they are faults to be eliminated. 

Discovering how to sort out the differences in treatment necessary to advance from one stage of technical development to another requires a special kind of listening.  This places a heavy reliance on an ability to hear functionally, which is quite different from training programs based purely on aesthetic judgment.

Breath Support 2

That which is perceived as ‘voice’ is merely a perception of moving air, and it is impossible to support either a column of air or the vibrations activated by the vocal folds which have caused that motion.  Neither the abdominals nor the diaphragm create, control, or determine the quality of those vibratory patterns.  The intrinsic muscles of the larynx, whose role during phonation is to maintain vocal fold tension proportional to the frequency of the vibrations (pitch) being sung, are unaffected by either abdominal or diaphragmatic activity (which is not to deny, however, that such activity should take place reflexively).

Both the abdominals and the diaphragm interact with the larynx, but the abdominals, which can be controlled independently, should hold firmly as a response to a correct technique of singing (i.e., the ability of the laryngeal musculature to coordinate effectively), and not considered a causative factor necessary to the development of vocal skills or something to be acted upon.  Moreover, the diaphragm responds reflexively under all conditions and cannot be controlled directly – as is demonstrated when attempts are made to pacify its fluttering movement when under nervous tension.

Efforts made to support the voice and to steady it have neither a positive nor a negative effect on the adjustments made by the supra- and infrahyoids and their ability to stabilize the larynx, preventing it from rising too high or descending into too low a position.

Breath Support

For whatever reason there is an unshakable belief that all will be well technically if the tonal emission is being properly supported, particularly by the work of the diaphragm.  While it is undeniable that a vocal mechanism being well used is in a state of equilibrium, and this is an ideal training objective, the fact is Barry Wyke, a British neurologist, has proven this concept  of support to be impossible for the following reason:  As reported in a lecture delivered during the Eight Symposium Care of the Professional Voice presented by The Voice Foundation (June 1979) Wyke pointed out to the voice professionals present, “In this regard, singing teachers particularly should note that the diaphragm remains relaxed throughout phonation – – and hence does not provide ‘support for the voice’, as is often said.”

Separate and apart from this disclaimer, it is further evident that acoustically, since ‘voice’ is in reality no more than the rhythmic movement of air, attempts made to regulate and overtly control moving air particles to enhance their quality is bound to fail of its purpose.