Ingo Tize, Fascinations with the Human Voice
Remember the phrase “think before you act?” This applies specifically to musicians, too! I constantly remind students to “Think before you sing,” or “Think before you breathe.” There is a lot of thought/motivation involved in singing: how are you going to inhale and exhale, what is the starting pitch and how to approach it, what is the style of singing, how do you want to communicate the text, etc. As Ingo Tize states in the quote above, the brain and nervous system play an important role in how we sing.
Using the singing breath, here is an example of this interplay:
Breathing is a daily unconscious action, but singers and wind players must learn to control their inhalation and exhalation. Controlled breathing not only fuels our instrument but is used in a variety of ways. Conscious breathing has become a useful tool for reducing anxiety, in athletic activities, and many other facets of life. Focusing on taking the right breath before singing a phrase can set you up for success throughout a song. Sometimes we sabotage our singing and stop thinking about breath as we get deeper into a piece and the mind is overcome by other aspects of the music. You must tell yourself WHERE to breathe and HOW to breathe until it becomes more automatic.
3 SYSTEMS OF NERVE PATHWAYS THAT AFFECT THE VOCAL INSTRUMENT
This system is activated by emotions or environment; regulates autonomic responses such as breathing and heart rate, and primal sounds associated with fight or flight responses. What is the quickest way to tell how someone is feeling? By looking at their eyes or listening to their voice.
This system controls articulatory movement; how words are formed using the lips, tongue, jaw, soft palate; processes spoken language and coordinates the timing of lips, tongue, jaw, and laryngeal movement.
This system controls the rhythm of breath flow; singing disrupts the natural rate of breath inhalation and exhalation. Other disruptors of breath include coughing, swallowing, and yawning.
All musicians are affected by these three systems.
- Think of your major instrument and how each system is involved in playing. Do you get nervous? What are the signs? How do you respond to this?
- Communication through text may not be part of your playing, but the speech-motor system is involved with embouchure and articulation of tone on all instruments.
- Like singers, wind players control their breath differently from the normal rhythm of breathing. Even those who do not play a wind instrument may use breath as part of their technique.
Since the voice is part of your body, these three nerve pathways may affect your instrument more. You may also experience this when you play your major instrument. As you prepare for vocal performances in class, take note of how your singing is affected. Is it similar or different from your major instrument?
Below are examples of how the nerve pathways are involved in singing (and playing your major instrument).
- When we get nervous the voice or body may shake, breathing can become shallow and the mouth gets dry. We may not be able to make a loud, energized vocal sound. LIMBIC
- Coordination of the lips, tongue, jaw, and soft palate affects tone quality and text pronunciation. SPEECH-MOTOR
- Breath is the foundation of singing and learning to control something that is not controlled in daily life takes study and practice. SPINAL-REFLEX
ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING
Attitude affects your mind-body connection in singing. How you perceive singing and your own voice can affect how you approach learning to sing. Thinking back to the first assignment, if there are experiences that either hindered or encouraged your vocal study, how do these experiences affect your approach to singing? A positive attitude does wonders for learning a new skill. Singing text is telling a story, and you must be creative in how to bring that story to life.
Sing the vocal exercises from Appendix I, exercise 1. Sing each sentence with a specific emotion that you gain after reading the text. Experiment with different approaches to the text that bring out different emotions. How is your voice affected by the emotions?
FROM SPEECH TO SINGING
Speech and singing are functionally similar. In fact, simple folk and popular songs are similar to ordinary conversation regarding range, energy level, and vocal quality. However, dynamic singing that is energized and projected requires more energy and an outgoing manner. Full-voiced singing used in opera, oratorio, and art song has more power, and the tone is warmer and fuller sounding. In this text we focus on full-voiced singing.
Speak the sentence “Do I have to go? I don’t want to go!” (or another sentence that elicits an emotional reaction) and progressively move from conversational speaking to singing. Pay attention to how your breath is used and if there is unwanted tension anywhere. Experiment with different attitudes. What happens to the pitch as you put forth more energy?
- Conversational (mezzo-piano) – speaking to a friend
- Elevated (mezzo-forte) – speaking to a class
- Declamatory (forte) – stage speech
- Speech-singing (recitative) – experiment with varied dynamics and pitch
Learn more about how to use emotion when singing by visiting Voice Science Works