A Variation on a Cord Closure Theme

If you haven’t made time to read Jack LiVigni’s fantastic blog on cord closure, please do yourself a favor and read it. The link is here.

LiVigni’s article distilled my feelings on the training of the Old Masters, especially on the issue of Garcia’s vexing coup de glotte. My work on this blog has (hopefully) served to hold up LiVigni’s assertions from an historical perspective. The historical record on the singers and the pedagogy could not be more clear: the vocal core of the sound is the larynx itself. In voice training, we are (or should) be TRAINING THE LARYNX.

Everything else in teaching singing is a ‘supportive’ element, but is not the main issue of true voice training. Breath fetishization is a recent trend, unknown for the first 450 years of vocal training from the Renaissance. The sources on this are beyond dispute, and in agreement. 

In our current pedagogical climate we advocate an idea of flow phonation. It is my experience that these sounds are all gentle, relaxed, mostly breathy, and largely theatrically undramatic. The sounds tend not to ‘rock the boat.’  Many singers are taught to ignore the throat entirely, or told that the throat should always be relaxed and free. So getting more sound from the source becomes a vicious death spiral. Singers work all around the instrument (lips, tongue, jaw, resonance, breath) to solve the problem of inadequate cord closure.

In my experience, cord closure solves many problems with a minimum of fuss, and lays the ground for a successful healthy technique.

One of the adduction exercises I use is something I call “the squeaky door.” I learned this exercise from Seth Riggs, the Los Angeles voice teacher.  The maneuver has several other names: friendly compression, stingy hum. When used, I encourage singers to monitor the digastric muscles under the chin for any stiffness or grab. The exercise can be performed in chest, head, and then in chest into head and vice versa.

I start this low in the range, on three or five tone scales, with a slight staccato glottal on each note (the mouth is closed). My understanding is that this mirrors Garcia’s intention when describing the coup de glotte. I also admonish my singers not to practice this for more than five minutes at a time (I’ve also taken that advice from Garcia). They can break up the five minutes, but it should not EXCEED five minutes at a time. Set a timer. This is extended over time, but gradually. We’re dealing with very small muscle movements here.

For women, adduction can be rather telling, especially if they have been trained by a classical voice teacher to avoid the chest register entirely. Getting fold closure in women makes dramatic changes in the voice, regardless of the genre of music sung. A woman without a chest register can quickly develop one with firm cord closure. 

Once the singer has a sense of the stingy/squeaky sound – and therefore the correct feeling – I take them on a longer scale into the top of the voice – (the folds will or won’t stay together). The goal is to keep the folds firmly adducted. When the singer goes through the passaggio the folds may come apart as the registrational event is reached. Work must be done over time to eliminate this abductory event.

This longer scale – usually an octave and a half (Hi, Rossini!) – is first performed with slight glottal/creaky reiterating on every third note in a quasi gallop.

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Once that is working well, I work to extend the stingy humming throughout the same scale, but this time less reiteration of staccato.

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The third step is translate the stinginess into a legato hum throughout the entire scale.

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Once that is holding together very well, I have the singer vocalise the EXACT same scale on a well-defined “AH” or “EH” vowel, while maintaining their memory of the adduction.

The results of this work are immediate and startling to the student. As LiVigni so brilliantly assures, the ‘sense’ of height in the top of the voice is totally lost. High notes NO LONGER feel high. The breath needed is minimal. The sound is legitimate and complete. The tone is exceptionally bright. The sound is resonant. The singer has a sense of strong vibration with minimal physical ‘work,’ especially in the area of breathing. 

The sound of the exercise IS WITCHY and creaky. It has a small, stingy feeling. Little air is needed to sing when the cords are firmly adducted. This matches up with the Old Masters – who never mentioned breath in any of their writings. Perhaps they instinctively KNEW this cord closure was integral to singing operatic material. They prepared singers for large spaces, not small chamber salons.

Daniela Bloem-Hubatka, in her book, The Old Italian School of Singing, states:

The historical art of singing is founded on the mechanical action of the larynx or vibrator that brings forth the vocal sound completely independent of the articulator and resonator.

[…]

A soft or voiced attack of the singing voice as it is practiced nowadays will invariably produce a voice without a proper focus, the reason being that a soft attack goes hand in hand with “expiratory singing” (with the breath flowing out). As a consequence of the soft attack, the remedy is then sought in forcing the voice into places of resonance where it would have traveled and come to rest (focus) of its own accord after a firm laryngeal attack. Expiratory singing is the result of singing in the direction of the sound and is always accompanied by breathiness. The voice sounds as if it has a veil placed in front of it, which can be of varying degrees of thickness: a hooting voice or the voice can be likened to the sound of the chainsaw as a result of strong nasal resonance, to mention some common aberrations.

It is my conviction after years of reading, teaching, singing, and listening to singers, that firm laryngeal cord adduction solves a litany of problems.

Teachers trying to solve:

  • breath issues
  • tongue tension
  • jaw tension
  • throat tension
  • breathiness
  • lack of ring/resonance
  • register imbalances
  • lack of high notes

should aim their sights first and foremost ON THE FOLDS.

What are they doing? How firmly are they adducting?

Jeannette LoVetri wisely states that the folds are the Godfather, the “Capo di tutti capi.”

She is absolutely right. Those working on those aforementioned external manifestations are working effects instead of causes.

Get the FOLD BEHAVIOR right, and you are halfway there.

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