Making peace with the S word

Breathing with an idea of maximum vocal tract expansion got me into trouble when I was studying the flute long ago, and messed up singing even more. My throat was distended and stiff as I overdid everything. I don’t play the flute much anymore, but I eventually learned to keep a soft throat and not manipulate it, which improved my playing a lot. A similar approach to singing got me to a relaxed, flexible “crooning” type of singing. Getting back to classical, with a more acoustically maximized, resonant sound, took a bit more study.

Now, when I am singing, there is expansion in the soft palate and pharynx, but in a horizontal feeling, not a vertical one. In my body there is enough vertical height in my vocal tract without making more of that happen on purpose. Trying to make vertical height interferes with my laryngeal function. With a feeling of wide rather than tall internal expansion, my larynx is free to do what it needs to do. Breathing through and around my ideal inside space without adding interfering throat tension has been the big somatic re-education for me. David Jones has been the teacher who has helped me enormously to get these things into my body. As the singing sounds and feels better, it becomes more “natural”.

As my singing made radical improvements, I could see how David’s practical steps and exercises encourage the singer to find the “inspanning” of Husler and Rodd-Marling, which could be defined as the network or hammock of muscles that suspend and hold the larynx in the ideal place for free singing. I have observed David working with many singers, and am quite clear on the results he gets. Husler and Rodd-Marling described the what in dense detail, but David gets to the “how” in his actual work with singers.

In my classical singing, the traditional concepts of inner smile, inhaling the sound, feelings of joy and uplift, along with more mechanical experiments such as the wide stretch of the soft palate, plus concepts of “cry” and “thin edges of the folds”, plus a manner of breathing that does not disturb the larynx, all work together to support the singing. I always hated the word “support” because it did not make sense. Now it makes sense in my own body, and I feel better equipped each passing year to help other people to make sense of it. Singers need personal tutoring in this to find their own way. I wasn’t about to teach any of the canned concepts or platitudes about support without understanding my own personal experience of it, and seeing it successfully taught.

“Support” still rarely makes sense in online discussions, and I have found that jumping into those discussions is usually futile. To sing well, you have to actually sing, not read all about it and expect your body to know what to do.

If you enjoy this blog, consider grabbing a copy of Sane Singing: A Guide to Vocal Progress, available in print and ebook!

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