The Five Systems of the Human Voice
By John Daniel Scott
Every vocal technique has a strategic focus. Some break the voice down into modes, or types of sound production. Some focus on the mix of chest and head voice. Others work with ideas about support and resonance in order to improve tone production. I use an approach that focuses on the body, and helps the student understand their voice based on five different systems that affect the singing voice: Vocal Cords, Larynx, Air Control, Outer Muscle, and Pharynx. When you becomes aware of
these control elements, and learn how to exercise them properly, a remarkable improvement in vocal production can be achieved. Below is a brief outline of these five systems.
The Vocal Cords
The vocal cords are small bands of muscle inside your larynx that are similar to the string of a guitar: They are where the sound of your voice comes from, and they represent the central focus of the Balance Point. Singers who have healthy vocal cords are happy, and singers who have vocal cords that are tired, inflamed or swollen have a hard time singing. The health of the vocal cords depends on all the other systems of the voice functioning properly. Often, beginning singers load too much pressure and tension on these fragile muscles, and experience breaks, cracks and other issues associated with a voice out of balance. When the a singer masters their vocal technique, the vocal cords are capable of amazing feats: vibrating at a thousand times a second, creating extremely loud sounds, and enduring long periods of singing with minimal strain.
The Larynx is an amazing shell of cartilage that houses the vocal cords, opens and closes the windpipe, and controls the pitch and volume of the voice. There are many muscles inside the larynx that control the vocal cords, and many muscles outside the larynx that control the position of the larynx within the throat. The most important thing to know about your larynx is that it tends to rise and fall with pitch, which can cause a lack of control of the voice and tension leading to tired and scratchy vocal cords. Singers who reach the Balance Point understand that the larynx can float freely within the throat,without rising and falling with pitch. Once this freedom is of the larynx accomplished, the vocal cords can become fully activated without limitations of range or power.
There are many ways in which air is controlled by a singer, but the main muscle we're concerned with is the diaphragm. This sheet like muscle runs across your mid-section, and draws air into your lungs when it contracts. One of the most important keys to good singing is the coordinated control of the diapragm, so that the air that is sent to the vocal cords is in balance with the muscles controlling the vocal cords. Often in untrained singers, the air comes out in large gushes that overwhelm the vocal cords, and push up on the larynx. One of the central goals the JDSMethod of singing is to find the correct balance of air support to vocal cord tension. Most singers are surprised how little air is needed to create a very powerful sound once the Balance Point is reached.
The Outer Muscles
By outer muscles, we are referring to the muscles that are outside the larynx, primarily the neck, jaw, and tongue. Tension in these large muscle groups tend to cause constriction around the larynx, resulting in strain and a lack of power and range. The JDSMethod of singing has a series of unique exercises that reveal hidden reflexes in these critical muscle groups, allowing a singer to see the tensions that limit the voice and move past them. Often singers get stuck for years without realizing that tension in the jaw can significantly limit the freedom of the voice. I can't tell you how many singers come to tears of joy with the immediate benefits that result from the relaxation of these outer muscles.
I refer to the Pharynx as the space behind and above the mouth that leads to the resonant spaces of the head and into the nose. This powerful resonator can multiply the volume of the voice by three or five times when focused properly. Untrained singers often sing without the proper activation of this critical resonator, and suffer from sound that tends to leak out of the nose, resulting in a lack of breath, a nasal tone, and an inability to sing in their head voice. On the other hand, singers who have reached the balance point enjoy a great ease of singing high notes cleanly and evenly as a result of the subtle yet powerful effect of a coordinated nasopharynx.
The Balance Point
The Balance Point represents the place of perfect harmony between the five systems that control the voice. You can tell you're at the Balance Point because your voice feels easier and lighter, it has a full range and blend of chest voice and head voice, pitch is accurate and easy to control, your voice sustains for a long time on a little bit of air, and there is little or no strain or fatigue on the vocal cords. It's hard to express the joy that students have when they reach this state! Sometimes it comes as a surprise that you stumble upon, and sometimes it can be the fruit of years of diligent work. The Balance Point represents the state of the human voice where all the systems function at their full range of motion and in complete harmony. I hope you'll contact me to learn more about this technique.
John Daniel Scott