The Illusory Nature of Direct Control

The larynx, tongue, lower jaw, soft palate and lips are all movable parts of the singing instrument. In a correct technique their movements occur reflexively, in response to the singer’s expressive intent and in accord with his aesthetic image. The character and parameters of these movements are defined by the singer’s perception of the emotional, linguistic and musical elements of the intended tone, and also by his grasp of the process through which tonal concepts arrive at actualization. However, because the singer can exert a degree of direct control over some of the movement of these parts, and because direct control appears to offer a “hands on,””quick fix” solution to some vocal problems, the idea of directly controlling the movement of these parts has become a prominent feature of twentieth century mechanistic pedagogy. Certainly it is true that as a corrective measure for some faults, the conscious, direct alteration of the positions of these parts of the instrument may prove partially beneficial. For example, the singer who constantly sings with his head raised and his jaw jutted out, or with his head lowered and his jaw pushed back and down upon his larynx, may be helped somewhat by the directive to position his head in a more median position and to relax his jaw. But this directive will only be beneficial within a limited range of pitch and volume, unless the more fundamental issue of “operational disbalance” is addressed and resolved. Why is the head raised and the jaw jutted out, or alternatively, why is the head tilted forward with the jaw drawn back and down, depressing the larynx? These position are the results of typical reflex movements of parts at and above the level of the larynx, as the system struggles to regain balance – a balance lost due to excessive driving force, and one that, under these circumstances, can only be reestablished though equally excessive, incorrect patterns of resistance.


Foster, Walter Charles. Singing redefined: a conceptual approach to singing that includes a study of the emotional process and the imaginative capacity, linguistic awareness and musical awareness, singing concepts based on the responsive nature of the instrument, and exercises designed to promote a technically correct, artistically expressive singing tone. Recital Pubns, 1998.

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