Voice Placement Sensations

Voice Placement Sensations

In a recent exchange on Opera-L the following was written.  It represents a commonly held understanding of vocal placement and prompted the following reply from me. Here is the quote from Opera-L.

“Are you suggesting that Corelli sang from his nose? Have you heard of placing the voice in the mask As much as I like Del Monaco his chest placement restricted his range to a comfortable B (B-Flat later on).”

I understand what both of you mean when you say Del Monaco had chest placement and Corelli had mask placement.

But, the facts are that it is not possible to place the voice in any part of the body.  The voice has vocal folds to produce the sound and the equivalence of a horn, that is the vocal tract, to modify the sound and make it louder.  The sound the vocal folds make is very similar to the sound the trumpet player makes when he buzzes his lips into his mouthpiece.  Not pretty, just buzzy.  Ah, but when he attaches his buzzing mouthpiece to his horn the sound is modified and amplified and becomes beautiful.

The vocal tract does that for the voice.  The vocal tract is all of the space in the throat and mouth above the vocal folds.  This includes the aryepiglottic space, the pharynx and the mouth itself.  Taken all together it becomes a tube from vocal folds to the lips and teeth.  However, it is a tube that can be adjusted; the pharynx can be widened, the mouth/jaw can be opened, the epiglottis can be adjusted and most importantly, the tongue can divide the space into two regions of different sizes or areas.  Each area will emphasize a different harmonic of the harmonic rich tone produced by the vocal folds (remember the buzzing mouthpiece?  That means a harmonic rich tone).  Each of the two areas produce highly emphasized harmonics and these two harmonics produce the vowel.  These emphasized harmonics are called formants because they form the vowel.

For example, to say or sing the vowel “ee” as in “feel” the edges of the middle portion of the tongue touches the upper back molars.  This divides the vocal tract into a large space behind the tongue and a very small space in front of the tongue.  The large space resonates a low harmonic and the small space resonates a high harmonic.  Thus the vowel “ee” has a low first formant and a high second formant.  That is the only vowel with this distance between the first formant and the second formant.  All other vowels have their own unique distances between their first formant and their second formant and their formant distance spacing is the result of the position of the tongue.

Del Monaco sang with a greatly lowered larynx.  This made his vocal tract longer and a longer vocal tract will resonate a lower harmonic.  Low harmonic emphasis will give the voice a darker quality.  Corelli, though at one time he attempted to use the low larynx taught by Del Monaco’s teacher, kept the larynx in a normal position and chose vowel adjustments that emphasized higher harmonics.

Chest placement and mask placement are only sensations that some singers feel.  They represent induced resonances but these resonances are infinitely small and only sensed by the singer.  They are not heard by anyone else, even those standing near the singer.  They are of great value to the singer because they indicate to him that he is producing the desired tone. But it is an error to say they are singing in the chest or mask or anywhere else.  It is a singer’s dear desire to sing with no sensation of throat in the singing and the lack of throat sensation can only occur when the singer is actually singing through the vocal tract and the vocal tract is feeling perfectly free and adjustable.

In short, a singer’s sensations, while most useful to him, is not where the voice is emanating.  It is emanating from the vocal tract at the mouth.

2 Responses to “Voice Placement Sensations”

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  1. Ashley says:

    “But, the facts are that it is not possible to place the voice in any part of the body.” I have been taught this fact throughout my training. Teaching through subjective sensation is considered by some as unscientific and hit-or-miss, though many teachers teach this way. I have found that fixating on a singular sensation throughout the voice creates tension and inefficient vocalism. Ashley Adams

  2. Deb Stasse says:

    I know what you are saying, voice is not really produced in the head, mask, chest, etc. and I know know one can hear what we sense. But the astute listening ear, can hear the result, or lack of. I can see the negative aspect of teaching subjective sensation. However, as long as the student understands the facts of voice production and the teacher specifies that this is what the singer senses, subjective teaching could be valuable to give the students signs that they are or are not producing as the teacher wishes. I believe teaching must not be accurate, be able to achieve a result that is long lasting, not dangerous to the voice, but also that is suitable to the learning style of each student.

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