The shapes of singing – Part 1

I’d like to define and use a term here: maximally resonant efficient singing (MRES).

Concise definition: Singing with the most dynamically varied, overtone-rich sound that still allows for flexibility, stamina, and delivery of text.

A voice that is loud but can’t sing soft isn’t there yet. A beautiful voice that is inaudible across the room is probably not either. Singing that seems to be all the same vowel with unintelligible lyrics definitely isn’t either. Almost always, a voice rich in harmonics is also capable of considerable volume. You will usually find volume and harmonics developing together. When dynamic range and harmonic richness become more and more easy, then text comes across better as well.

“Resonant” – what is that, exactly? It is a sound that has a good range of harmonics, which is sometimes called color, character, timbre, beauty, richness, even glory.

What is “efficient”? Harmonics and volume with minimal effort, loose air not present in the sound, singer can sing for a long time without getting tired, singing sounds and feels easy.

Whatever natural gifts we have as singers, we can usually benefit from working on MRES. For advancing singers who have freed themselves from severe interfering tensions, there is much value with experimenting with different shapes, feelings, attitudes, and emotions in their singing. Almost every experiment has both physical and psychological components. For each aspect of singing there are many variables that can be tested. Just a few of these aspects are listed below:

  • mouth opening
  • position of tongue
  • soft palate shaping
  • suspension of the larynx
  • feelings of muscular involvement or relaxation in every part of the body
  • feelings of vibration in many parts of the body
  • level of anxiety, excitement, calm, or other emotions while singing

What do I mean by variables? Let’s take “mouth opening” as one aspect. Here are some possible variables:

  • size of opening
  • shape of opening
  • mouth opening location relative to upper teeth (which will lead to variations in other parts of the face)
  • lips protruding or not

So far I have listed 7 aspects and 4 variables. Let’s say each aspect has 4 variables, which is a very low estimate. That’s 28 variables (7×4). To test each variable with every other variable is 784 (28×28) possible combinations. Fortunately, all of those combinations don’t have to be tried as we discover our personal dead-ends, but we often stop short of trying enough of them. If you want to get everything you can from your voice, you need to know what these different shapes, feelings, and psychological states can do.

Fortunately for your sanity, there will be some choices that you can rule out quickly and you won’t have to visit them again in the foreseeable future – maybe never. However, do revisit your variables after a breakthrough, a dry spell, recovery from an injury, or just the passing of the years, to see if they do the same thing as before, now that your voice is in a different condition. Sometimes a breakthrough has to happen in a certain area, e.g., freeing the base of the tongue, before a certain other thing, such as palate position, can be worked out.

When your voice goes through a change, your previous way of achieving your MRES may have to yield to a new way. That’s the way it goes when your instrument is part of a living organism!

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