This is a troublesome word in vocal pedagogy and technique. Try to get several voice teachers or singers to agree what “placement” is and you will invoke semantic chaos. As I understand it, “placement” refers to the feeling of sympathetic vibration in one’s body when the voice is resonating as it should. We all know that the sound of our singing comes out of the mouth, but we may feel like it is “coming out” of our eyes or the back of our heads or that it “comes from” way down deep in the body, or the chest, or the head, among dozens of other places.
I think the feeling of placement is personal to the singer and is something the singer has to recognize himself when he is singing optimally. People cannot communicate kinesthetic feelings and sympathetic vibrations from one body to the next. Do I feel a placement when I sing? Yes! Can I tell other singers to feel the same thing? Not in good conscience! However, I can help them sing better, which should lead to them experiencing helpful guiding sensations for themselves. Some singers monitor kinesthetic sensations, others seem to be guided by a particular type of sound, but who really knows exactly how others think and feel? One reading of “Great Singers on Great Singing” will show you how differently people perceive their own singing.
So how do we get singers to sing better if we aren’t going for a “placement”? We work with patterns of vowel, pitch, and intensity, delivered with an intentional rhythm, to which the singer’s body-mind-spirit responds. When the voice functions better (wider pitch and dynamic range, reduced interfering tensions, easy movement and flexibility, clear vowels), THEN we encourage the student to track the sensations that accompany the better functioning.