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Using less air - Thoughts?

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I was playing around various sounds this weekend, particularly on my mid/higher notes and I realized that I could consciously use less air and produce the same pitch, perhaps have it sound "tighter", and hold the note for what felt like a VERY long time.  It used to be that singing a bunch of notes up there would get me a bit winded, and I couldn't hold them for really long durations.  One of the reasons I sang this way was because it felt like I could keep my throat very relaxed.  If I held back the air, almost to the point where it "felt" like I was breathing in, I could hold a note for 45 secs or a minute.  (Ken Tamplin does a demo of something like this when he is talking about global compression, but to be honest, I didn't understand what he was actually doing.)

 

Can't say for certain, but I don't believe I was altering my throat configuration when using less air.  But it did feel like something different was happening in my larynx.  It felt like, either, by using less air, my cords were going to a lighter mass config, since it no longer felt "pushy", OR, the muscles holding the cords closed were working harder.

 

The reason for bringing this up is: Is this a more appropriate way to sing (reduced air), or am I actually straining / working the muscles harder and I should relax?  Perhaps none of this makes sense.

 

Thoughts?

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You need surprisingly little (amount wise) air to sing. If your folds have too much air passing through them the air acts like a blow dryer and dries out your vocal folds making them less able to absorb friction and they become more susceptible to damage.

 

This can lead to vocal issues such as nodules and polyps and you don't want to go down that road. You can use breathiness for a stylistic effect, but you don't want to habitually phonate this way.

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Yes, and Sundberg has been theorizing on this. With properly managed air speed and pressure and, for some, actually reducing the amount of air spent, you cause less bowing of the folds, and less raising of the larynx in response to air pressure. That is, it is easier to maintain a stable larynx when it is not getting blown upward by a ton of air. I don't know how accurate that is but it has a certain logic to it.

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On one extreme you can get John Mayer (repeated vocal surgeries) and on another you can get a highly pressed phonation which can increase tension or strain.

 

When I first began singing, I tended to overshoot (sounds a bit howling in my voice). I could sing that way for hours, and didn't go hoarse or anything, but could feel a bit of muscular activation. Then read it was dangerous to sound like a 'bellowing wolf' overcompensated and undershot (sounded a bit strained in my voice) trying to protect my voice. It was less comfortable for me than the howl. I've now found something in between that seems pretty good which can get a lot of 'meat' in the sound without muscles feeling any different. I am pretty sure it's healthier long term as my muscles feel the same as prior to singinging, and there isn't strain.

 

I don't have enough expertise to fully advise you and if you want the best advice you should look towards professionals, but I suspect either direction towards the extreme is probably not the best idea. Speech therapists have words for both: breathy voice, and pressed phonation. Without an expert to guide you, if it were me, the right frame of mind that works for me is  'find balance, stop thinking in extremes.' I know when I think in extremes, I just floor gas pedal, or floor the brake pedal. Both cause car accidents, right?

 

Only other thing I can say, is I find it more comfortable if there is a visualization/sensation of air going up and out a bit. Kind of a column of air riding smoothly along the roof of my mouth and somewhat out my nose. I have no idea what physiologically changes, but if the visualization is closer to the bottom of my mouth or top of my head, even the same amount of air feels different. It again feels most 'balanced' when it flows out like that.

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So Killer, do I understand you right: is pressed phonation the act of singing with too little air?

 

It's kind of a squeezing of too much fold/cord closure to get the sound .For me pressed phonation was a 'consequence' of using too little air, rather than 'the same thing.' If you want to picture it, you have on one extreme: a whisper where the folds are very open (H sound), then on the other extreme: you can have the folds pressed very tightly.

 

For me I found more pressing when I tried to restrict air flow too much to reduce the 'bellow' thing. It was basically like slamming the breaks on a car for going 5 miles above speed limit. Yeah, slowing down is wise, but in moderation.

 

Some sounds can and are produced safely with less airflow. I know vocal fry is one of them, but if you're trying to get like a normal tone with a very, very tiny amount of amount of air, you can wind up 'pressing' for it, which means the vocal folds would be squeezing tighter to make up for the lack of airflow vibrating your vocal cords.

 

It's a wind instrument. Every wind instruments (saxophone, trumpet, etc) require different amounts of air. If you don't give a saxophone enough air, it just doesn't 'go.' The voice just has more control over the 'reed' (sound maker), sometimes a little too much control.

 

Imo, it's a sucky experience. I was more comfortable with my bovine bellow. ;)  Listen to your bodies guys. Try to be honest about how each sensation feels, but don't panic or slam a pedal down to the max if a sensation isn't 100 percent perfect yet. 10 percent not perfect is better than 100 percent strain. It probably won't send you off a cliff of doom. It's a learning experience, you got time to get there. I just doubt flooring it to either extreme without having some time to listen to your body for the areas between is the safest, or at least most comfortable way of getting there.

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As daniel has been teaching me how to quit looking at things in there is only one way(hey I am from the classical school, that is one of their flaws lol).. However I will say, some of the most powerfull singers (classical and contemporary), whom have stood the test of time. They really dont describe the feeling of flowing air(this is from the ones whom have answered questions on their technique when interviewed) nor do you hear it in their tone. Just really compression and the tone, less the air. Imagine the ballon letting the perfect amount of air throught the nozzle while you are holding it. There is constant compression though not too much, a nice solid clean noise, but you dont hear the air.

So firm, but not too firm, balance. I myself, when I am on fire, feel really nothing. I know I have firm closure, but not tension, I know there is air and a decent amount of compression but it just feels full and right. My mouth opens and sound comes out, no feeling of air, just sound. When I am thinking about things and not on fire. I have noticeable tension usually in the throat from either too much support or too much closure or not enough closure with too much support. The body loves balance and will find it if you just get the hell out of the way.

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sws1:

What you have done is to reduce the exhalation force to better match the laryngeal muscular action. There are a few results of this, some of which you already know:

1) The open phase of the glottal motion is shortened. You use less air as a result.

 

2) The CT has lessened its activity reflexively with the change in subglottic pressure, toward the 'lighter mass config' in response to your vocal concept.

These two things, happening together, are the expected readjustment to what you did with the breath. I think you will enjoy the results as you gain familiarity. For example, try some of your sirens...

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sws1:

What you have done is to reduce the exhalation force to better match the laryngeal muscular action. There are a few results of this, some of which you already know:

1) The open phase of the glottal motion is shortened. You use less air as a result

2) The CT has lessened its activity reflexively with the change in subglottic pressure, toward the 'lighter mass config' in response to your vocal concept.

These two things, happening together, are the expected readjustment to what you did with the breath. I think you will enjoy the results as you gain familiarity. For example, try some of your sirens...

 

Thanks.  I've been "accused" by several vocal teachers of "carrying too much weight up".  This, despite being able to get to high-C and a bit higher (sometimes).  Problem was I couldn't quite figure out exactly what that meant, and how to control. I knew when I was going for certain sounds, I could make that 'light-mass' sound on the high notes.  But I needed to find my way to do that much lower, particularly because in the passagio area, I was simply running out of breath and working harder than I knew I should for a non-belty song.  This definitely is a key revelation for me.

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  • 2 weeks later...

It really takes an amazingly small amount of air for the folds to function optimally. When there's too much, the false vocal folds automatically begin to constrict to counterbalance the excessive sub-glottal pressure so that the folds will be able to vibrate at the desired pitch.

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Respiration pressure is predicated on the sound color you want to create. Different sound colors, require different levels of respiration. I would focus on the sounds you want to make first and then let the required respiration for that sound color calibrate itself. Similar to what m.i.r. is saying, its a "feeling" and an intuition your body finds on its own, provided that your auditory imagery is focusing on the sound colors you want to make. Respiration will fall into place, where it needs to be, when you tune your sound color to what you want as an artist... but of course, provided that you are trained and have the strength and coordination to create the sound colors you want.

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