Achieving Tone Potential Using Balanced Onsets

Max: and Opera_L listers:

Just some thoughts about learning the process of closing the vocal folds (cords) as taught by Dr. Bratt. It is a process that all classical or operatic (that is acoustic) singers must achieve. And it is easily misunderstood because it implies an overly strong closing of the vocal folds and a consequently more extreme buildup of breath pressure to set the folds into oscillation. Nothing could be further from the actual action of the vocal mechanism when it achieves proper vocal fold closure and a balanced breath pressure.

The traditional method of achieving this balance is through the practice of singing accurate onsets of tone. Early Italian teachers used a word for this that is often translated as “attack” of tone. Present day vocal therapists have found “attack” to imply too firm a vocal closure and have replaced that word with “onset” of tone.

A balanced onset of tone is achieved when the tone starts immediately without a breathy beginning nor with a hard “glottal” attack. It is often taught by having the singer do onsets with both a breathy and then a glottal attack and then having them do an onset that is somewhere in
between these two extremes. It can be rather easily learned but, because it is basically a study in coordination of the vocal system, it requires a lot of practice until it become habitual

The tone achieved with a well achieved balanced onset is full and rich even if it is done softly. It is the singers native quality but it is natural for the singer to attempt to improve the tone through different kinds of manipulations. Instead the singer needs to accept the resultant tone and practice crescendos and diminuendos (messa di voce) on the tone to gain additional coordinated control of the vocal dynamic.

All of the above has been a part of traditional Italian voice teaching for centuries. But if a student who has the potential for more full voiced singing is encouraged to use less complete vocal fold closure the resultant tone is likely to be light and high. Although this seems to make the voice more even across its various registers it also hides the true potential of the voice. Only through the development of an easy balance between complete vocal fold closure and the just sufficient breathe pressure for phonation will the real voice appear. And the traditional method of learning this is through balanced onsets of tone.

Lloyd W. Hanson

On Jan 1, 2016, at 11:02 AM, Max Paley  wrote to Opera_L:
One that I’ve re-read several times, a rarity for me with singer autobiographies, is the “as told to” story of Kirsten Flagstad written by Louis Biancolli. It’s both fascinating to see Flagstad’s development and career through what appear to be very candid, unpretentious eyes, and frustrating for things hinted at or left out. Her narration of the process of changing her voice from a thin, high, light soprano to one of the most voluminous vocal organs ever heard is similarly fascinating and frustrating. She credits Dr. Gillis Bratt but also says ” you won’t find many around today to praise him.” The essence of it seems to be the way she learned from him to “close” her vocal chords and impede air from passing through. Boy, it would be nice to get more detail on that.

One Response to “Achieving Tone Potential Using Balanced Onsets”

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  1. Thank you very much, Lloyd,

    Yours sincerely,

    Michel Grillo-Hart

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