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Air Columns, Forward Focus & The Principle of Moving Sound

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We were all born with the ability to change the acoustical shape of our oral cavities and throats, thus influencing the timbre of our voices. However, we must remember that each of these changes are muscular and that whatever happens at the oral level must be mirrored at the laryngeal level, or level of the vibrator. Any change in resonator shape or laryngeal position has a direct influence on the amount of muscle recruited, as well as the height of the larynx.

It is little acknowledged that air is one of our most important amplifiers of sound and considering that air columns are established in our resonating cavities at the onset of sound, it can be useful to take into consideration the principle of Refraction and Diffraction. Sound waves spiral and travel along our air column and reflect off of the surface of our resonating cavities resulting in the reverberated phenomenon. This brings to light the idea of achieving a 'forward focus' through manipulation. Can it be done?

When taking into consideration the idea of forward focus, tonal manipulation must be achieved mentally in order to avoid overdoing the process and overburdening the fragile vocal folds. There is no tonal manipulation that can not occur without a slight redirection of the flow of air, as wherever there is air and space, there will be sound. Air is one of the most neglected amplifiers of sound. For example, if the vowel AH resonates against the soft and fleshy surfaces of the soft palate, it can not be redirected forward against the surface of the hard-palate without a redirecting of air. To the untrained ear, this redirection often occurs with a slight change in vowel shaping as well, moving to 'AGH' as in splat.

An example of moving air and sound can be found in humming the consonants 'TH' and 'N.' First starting on 'TH,' hum a note in your comfortable range and you will notice the sound and air redirected against the teeth and hard palate. However, the 'N' consonant redirects a flow of air above the velum and into the nose. It is most probable to believe that this same principle applies to vowel sounds as well when we attempt to thrust them from their respective place. This is a prime example of sound, vowel and consonant sounds each having their own vibrating home.'TH' can never become an 'N,' just as 'AH' will never have the same characteristics of 'AGH.'

Bear in mind that directing the tone comes at a price of altering the position of the larynx slightly, not just the acoustical environment. Why am I acknowledging the larynx's repositioning? It is because if sound moves, it must also be understood that there are muscles mirroring this action which are in motion as well. In my opinion, when an individual note is thrust out of its originally placed spot, it is with great effort and often results in a distortion of tone due to an increased recruitment of muscle fibre at the cord level and even a hyperextended repositioning of the larynx (Which needs a free range of motion). Upsetting one, in turn, has the chance of disbalancing registration in equal degree.

As long as we leave the sound to move on it's own, we're generally in good hands. With leaving the sound to move on its own, we avoid the risk of attempting to place the moving tone in a cavity other than it's respective resonating home. Many coaches and teachers alike have tried to teach placement and tonal focus as highly guarded pillars of singing as a result of replicating sensations of sound as it is mobile. I am not knocking the "placement" schools, it is just my personal opinion that 'placement' is simply the physical sensation which is a result of refracted and diffracted sound waves. Singers often are lost in sensation, and direction to students often suffers as a result of that.

It is in my opinion that through this holistic understanding that a more gentle approach exists: Ask the body what you want, and will the voice, rather than exerting. As speech is subconscious, singing must be also. We lose the subconscious action when we view singing as an activity. Though we are involved, we must not over involve ourselves.

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