Creating “space” in the vocal tract

Is “creating space” something you need? If so, how and how much?

Let’s say you think you do need more “space”. The Holy Grail for years has been “lowered larynx”, but that is only one way to play with “space”. Two ways of lowering the larynx:

  • Letting the larynx lower reflexively on the inhale. It will automatically go down a little, but do not help it with the base of the tongue. Ever.
  • Consciously lowering the larynx independently of vowel or breathing. Bad idea.
  • Focusing on the concept of a big, dark sound. Also a slippery slope.

An alternative – High space in the back of the mouth/pharynx, related to the position of the back of the tongue:

  • Not letting the base of the tongue go down from /i/ to /u/, for instance, will result in a possibly higher larynx position but a better resonance. Hazy area here – a mix of reality and “what it feels like” (which is probably factually wrong) is often the best result. The sound should be the guide. Your ears + trusted listener’s ears will help to find it. This way of finding the right space usually frees things up. The actual result in an x-ray might be no more space, but simply a shape that can be maintained without undue tension, creating more optimal resonance, yet it feels like “more upper back space”.
  • Doing the sequence /e/, /a/, /e/, /o/, /e/, /u/ can help with keeping the high soft back of tongue of the /e/ when you change vowels. Some people also like /i/ as the pilot vowel in addition to /e/.
  • This way should make more sound feel easier.
  • Although the larynx might not be lowered, the distance from the folds to the arch of the tongue may increase.

Another alternative – Wide space rather than vertical:

  • a feeling of stretch side to side at the back of the soft palate
  • feeling a width in the base of the neck
  • the gasp of pleasant surprise

How do you know if you are overdoing it? This is important because many people overdo it in some way. They may be forcing the wrong kind of space-making for their bodies, or have a lack of kinesthetic awareness of the tensions they are creating, or just have unconscious habits. Warning signs:

  • If you can’t do coloratura/riffs as easily as before
  • If it cuts down any of your high range
  • If it makes it harder to sing softly
  • If you get a boost in fundamental only, and fewer overtones
  • If you feel stiffness or muscular tightness

As with anything, you may need to experience overdoing it to know how much is just right. There is a chance that if there are no interfering tensions, you don’t need to “make” anything at all, or you have already “made it”.

The Bel Canto texts don’t mention “space”. Therefore, we should probably not call it a “Bel Canto” thing. It seems to be a relatively modern way to “sound more classical”.


4 Replies to “Creating “space” in the vocal tract”

  1. Pre-20th century texts absolutely do mention space. LaBlache and Lamperti both indicate that the tongue is to be placed in a manner that leaves the largest possible space in the mouth. I believe that LaBlache’s book was 1860 and Lamperti Sr. was 1899, although Lamperti wrote his text at the end of his teaching career.

    1. Hello. David Clerget! Thank you for your comment. Lamperti mentions space in the mouth one time in The Art of Singing, and that is when explaining how the tongue should lie in the mouth, as you say. That is a very specific part of the whole vocal tract, but a good point.

      I see that Lablache (1873) talks about the tongue in virtually the same way, and has one other passage referring to “space”: “…and thus form a space sufficiently large to allow the sound to pass through quite freely, and with a capability of expansion.”

      I am going to correct my anachronistic third-to-last sentence, replacing “the pre-20th century texts” with “the Bel Canto era texts” as I was referring to the latter, which extended only to the early decades of the 19th century – not the period after Garcia’s Traité of the 1840s. Thank you for your contribution which helps me correct my error.

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