Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Controls 1: - It's all in the vowel!

The term 'vowel' refers to a vocal sound which is not restricted or stopped in any way. In other words a vowel is a vocalisation which flows freely out of the mouth and can be sustained.

We learned in my last post about the need to make exactly the right shape inside the vocal tract to get a strong sound. It is difficult to express just how powerful (and how subtle) this effect is. In reality it is nothing short of a totally different sensation during singing. It is as tricky as whistling or playing the flute. When we first start to "get" the vowels, we hear a new sound we have never heard before... it kind of jumps out much louder and stronger without any more effort. In other words we have turned on ('enabled') an efficient amplifier which makes the voice stronger and better sounding.

(Note that for this to happen we need the vocal cords to be operating effectively... see next post!)

So hey this sound like "free stuff!" Well in many ways it is... we get a lot more sound for no more "push," just more precision. Next question of course is how to get some.

The good news is that it is neither magic, miracle or mystery. Just takes time to get it right and some guidance from someone who knows.

Lets go back to the beginnings: Remember that the function of the vocal tract is a result of human evolution. The making of sound predates symbolic speech by millenia. It is seldom that the process of evolution gets something really wrong... and this is true of the vocalisation process. It is certain that the vocal tract is "designed" to make the strongest possible sounds for the minimum possible effort. So just like a runner has to work to uncover the designed function of the running body, so a singer needs to dig away the covering layers of socially acquired speech patterns and mental presumptions which overlay natural vocal tract function.


Although there is no way you can learn this stuff from a blog, I will give you a few pointers in the right direction:


It all starts with neutrality. Remember the dented saxophone we met in the previous post? Well the way nearly all of us speak and/or sing is yer classic dented saxophone. All twisted out of shape, barely able to resonate.

So do this: Stand up straight. Do that little thing of pulling a "string" at the top of your head to get the posture really good. Then let your jaw float just naturally, a bit open. Stroke your fingers lightly down the sides of your face and then let your hans drop to your sides. Without changing a thing, take a small breath and make a small but strong pre-speech type sound like "huuh." Not a big woofy bark, nor a hard or nasty "hah," just a calm and unaffected sound made from a totally relaxed vocal tract.



So that sound (if you got it ... you may need a treacher's help, or refer to the reference sound on the website) is the core of how the singing voice works. Imagine a saxophone with lips and teeth on the front. It makes a continuous big stream of sound from the sax part, and the articulators on the front make the words.

The throat with the "uh"sound is like the sax, leaving the lips, tongue & teeth to make the words. So we need to say all the vowels with that uh throat. Try it. Re-find that relaxed place, get back to the "huuh" an then say huh-ah, huh-oo, huh-ee, huh-eh, all without leaving that open-throat huuh sound.

OK, again, not something you can really expect to learn from a description, but if you can understand the principle the you are already a long way towards getting in.

Watch out for the accompanying video examples.

Next time: - something about cord closure.

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