Taking Your Performance By The Throat

The book “Full-Throated Ease,” by James Terry Lawson, M.D., has some interesting explorations about singing that I thought I’d pass along, pre-Karaoke Fest. The good doctor is also a singer, so he is intimately acquainted with the particular mechanisms involved in singing well. He also discusses how difficult the communication regarding “sensations” can be, when a teacher is conveying information about your instrument. (We’ve mentioned this pitfall before—feeling is all important and words may just cloud the issue). He notes that all movement by muscles in the body is either voluntary or involuntary. Of special importance to us singers is the fact that muscles used in singing can be both voluntary and involuntary. Great! So that’s why your tongue volunteers to help with pitch (when you specifically told it to just lie there!)

“The human voice is an instrument marvelously and intimately related to the surge and flow of thought and feeling which is the singer’s being. Nothing reveals so surely how things are going with him in the private enterprise which is his life.” (As his voice). “A product of living tissue, the voice has possibilities that far surpass those of any inanimate instrument.”

Here are some insights from the singing physician: “The diaphragm is a large dome-shaped structure that completely divides the chest cavity (containing the heart and lungs) from the abdominal cavity (containing the liver, stomach and bowels). It can be likened to a two story house— it forms the ceiling of the living room above and the floor of the bedroom below. Who can feel the diaphragm? Neither you nor I; but when the hollow between the ribs from the breast bone down to the navel bulges firmly (and this you CAN
feel), the diaphragm is working well).”

Dr. Lawson goes on with some additional information: “The vocal cords open and close to produce tone–when it’s rapid, the pitch is high; slow, the pitch is low. Thought is what controls pitch. The tiny muscles that do this job in response to the will must be left entirely fee to do only this job. Fix this in your mind: Tough Strong Breathing Mechanism; Tiny Delicate Vocal Mechanism. ”

Here are some of Dr. Lawson’s paradoxes of singing that also can really help you sound better, if you take the time to work with them:

Paradox #1: “To breathe the breath out under control, the sensation must of necessity be that of breathing IN, not OUT.”

Paradox #2: “As you go down the scale, you must mentally pitch the voice higher and higher to keep it well-placed, forward, rich and resonant. Ordinarily we do the opposite—as you go down you push your thinking down with it and drive the tone deeper and deeper and farther back, till it literally ‘growls in your throat’.”

Paradox #3: “It seems logical that higher notes would take more breath. Under no circumstances try to push the high notes up by forcing out the breath. Do the opposite. Pull hard on the ribs and diaphragm as you sound the top note, as in the action of breathing IN. ”

I also like his analogy here: “Tone is like a stream from a garden hose—push the top notes out under pressure and a thin stream of sound squeals out. Hold on tight to the breath and the tone opens up in a resonant spreading volume that fills the performance area with glorious sound.

Still another observation: “I like to compare the human voice as a musical instrument with the violin. The flow of controlled breath to actuate the steady line of unbroken tone is like the sure steady movement of the bow across the strings. ” (OK, he’s not talking about rock and roll here, he’s talking about long, flowing passages.)

I hope some of these insights will help you in your constant quest to improve. The singing voice requires a good eight years of study to begin to master the nuances, coordination, and strength—and the greatest singers remain students of the art for their entire lives. But, as the Queen of the Quick Fix, I offer you Paradox #4: “Getting better doesn’t have to take a long time.” So go forth and improve quickly and win!

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