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Steven Fraser

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    Steven Fraser got a reaction from Robert Lunte for a article, Approach to vocal technique   
    Hi, TMV-ers!
    I thought it would be useful today to write a bit about how I approach and talk about vocal technique, in the hope that by putting these ideas out there, you can pick and choose some of them that make sense to you, and that you will hopefully find useful.
    As a starting point for this, I am inspired to recall an idea I read in Cornelius Reid's book, 'Voice - Psyche and Soma'. I cannot remember the exact quote, but the gist of it is that the mind and the body are acting together to produce the singing voice. I think this means for vocal technique that singing is simultaneously psychological and physical.
    A survey of books written on singing over the last 200 years shows that every teacher has a different approach to working with singers, a different mix of the psychological and physical. Some favor emphasis of the physical aspects, and talk about doing things with body parts, muscle groups, tendons, nasal cavities, lower jaw, the tongue, etc. Others emphasize the sensations of the singer, i.e., 'sing so that you feel such and such a sensation in such and such location in your body'. Still others rely on metaphors and imagery, i.e., 'sing out the top of your head', or 'imagine that you are projecting the tone toward a target on the wall', or 'think of a happy memory'.
    I don't do any of these alone. Perhaps better stated, I do them all, cherry-picking ideas and approaches from these authors that have these characteristics:
    1) are based on anatomical fact, acoustical principles, and physiologically healthy bodily action.
    2) are easily expressed and understood using in common language
    3) can be practiced beneficially by the student without the teacher's constant supervision
    4) help the singer build their ability to sing what they desire to sing - whatever genre or style that is.
    When it comes to teaching, I am also an optimist. :-) I believe that most people, with very few exceptions, can learn to sing for their own & others' enjoyment if they approach it with patience.
    In my next posts, I will be writing about the basics of how the voice works - 'what happens where' in the mind and body to produce healthy vocal tone. Along the way, I will address some common misconceptions I've encountered, and clarify some terms that are often used by singers and teachers, but not well understood.
    I have no illusions that the way I approach this is the only way, or even the best way. I am very interested to hear other ways of doing it as well, as that is how I learn myself.
    If you have a particular area you'd like to discuss, send me an e-mail or comment to my blog, and I will pull that text forward in a response.
    Best Regards,
    Steve

     
     
  2. Like
    Steven Fraser got a reaction from Robert Lunte for a article, Male Voice Passaggio 101 - Where Is It and Why   
    Introduction
    In the male voice lower and mid ranges, (what has been traditionally called the "chest voice"), the harmonic structure of the sung tone contains many partials - harmonics, which fit nicely into the pattern of resonances for any particular vowel chosen. Throughout this range, the strong, lower harmonics are reinforced by the first vowel resonance corresponding with Formant 1, (F1), midrange harmonics are reinforced by the second vowel resonance from Formant 2 (F2), and higher harmonics are emphasized by the higher "twang" or "singer's" formant resonances. The combination of multiple, powerful low, midrange, and high harmonics present in all vowels is a distinctive characteristic of this section of the male voice.
    In contrast with this, in the male high range, (what has been traditionally called the 'head voice'), the harmonics produced by the voice are higher in frequency and more widely spaced. Here, few of the harmonics fit into the vowel resonance pattern. For one particular span of notes in the head voice, there is no significant resonance available to amplify the lowest two harmonics produced.
    To achieve vocal power and consistency of tone in the high voice, the male singer uses what he has available, "twang" (singer's formant) and the resonance from F2 strengthening harmonic 3 or 4, depending on vowel.
    Between these two resonance strategies is a region of transition, too high for the 'chest voice' strategy, and too low for the F2 alignments of the 'head voice' strategy. This transition region is the passaggio.
     
    Acoustics of the rising fundamental
    Throughout the voice, as the fundamental frequency moves, the alignment of harmonics and resonances for a vowel changes. On an upward-moving scale or leap, the fundamental and all the overtones rise in frequency. Since the harmonics are spaced at multiples of the fundamental, the harmonics also get farther apart, too. For most of the chest voice range, this is not an issue, as the resonance from F1 covers a wide frequency range, and midrange harmonics are close enough together for at least 2 or 3 of them to get some benefit from F2. These conditions apply to all the vowels. However, in an upward pitch pattern, as the voice passes middle C (C-F, depending on voice type) eventually the scale reaches a region in the voice where the alignment of harmonics to formants is no longer advantageous. Overall vocal power and tone quality will be lost if an adjustment is not made. The particular point in the male voice where this occurs is as the 2nd harmonic passes F1.
     
    Visualizing harmonics and the /e/ vowel in a spectragraph
    As illustration of this, what follows is a series of spectragraphs made with different fundamentals sung to the vowel /e/ (ay), made using my own, baritone, voice. As representative of a lower chest voice tone, the first is of the A natural just a bit more than an octave below middle C , also known as A2. Each vertical blue line represents the intensity of a particular harmonic, where 'up' = louder. Low frequency harmonics start on the left side. The leftmost peak is from the fundamental, and if you look at each peak to the right of that (increasing frequency of harmonic), you can see that the 4th harmonic is the very tallest, and then the peaks become successively shorter.
    This peak volume for the 4th harmonic, and the emphasis of those surrounding it, is the result of Formant 1, F1 in its position for /e/ in my voice. Harmonics to the 'left' of the formant center get progressively louder as they get nearer to it, and those to the 'right' of the formant center get softer.
    Proceeding to the right is a section of quite harmonics, not so tall in the display, and then there is another build up to the 13th harmonic. This is the area amplified as a result of the location of Formant 2, F2. The spacing of F1 and F2 is what makes this vowel sound like 'ay' to the listener.
    After another gap, there are two more areas of emphasis, which are the result of F3 and F4, clustered together. These formants move very little vowel-to-vowel, and form the high frequency 'brightness' resonances of the singer's formant.
    The reason we start with this: for any given vowel pronunciation, (like /e/) the formants stay at the same locations even while the fundamental (and the associated harmonics) are moved during the production of different notes. Especially important in the understanding of the male passaggio is the relationship of F1, F2 and how the harmonics align with them.
    A2 on /e/ vowel.
     
    Harmonic spacing
    As mentioned earlier, for any given sung note, harmonics are always the same frequency distance apart. That frequency spacing is the same frequency as the fundamental... the note being sung. So, if a fundamental is 110 cycles per second (like that A2,) all the harmonics will be 110 cycles apart from their neighboring harmonics. You can see this equal spacing in the picture above. Because of the closeness of the harmonic spacing, you are able to see pretty well the 'shape' of the formant regions.
    Up an Octave
    The next picture is of the same /e/ vowel, but singing the A up one octave, the A just below middle C, A3, which is 220 cycles per second. Notice that the peaks are farther from each other than in the prior picture... now they are 220 cycles per second apart.
    Looking at the peaks for a moment, you can see that the amplification effects of F1 and F2 are still in the same place (left to right), but now different numbered harmonics are boosted, and fewer harmonics are affected by each individual formant. In the case of F1, the 3rd harmonic is now the most emphasized, with the 2nd harmonic also getting some help, while F2 is emphasizing the 7th harmonic tremendously, but not much else. This excellent alignment of F2 with a harmonic makes it really ring distinctively, and is an example of 2nd-formant tuning, which will get discussed later.
    Finding the exact location of F1 for /e/
    Are you curious about the exact location of F1? Look at the bottom of this next picture, right beween harmonics 2 and 3. See the blips? All voices have some soft, non-harmonic noise. When that noise falls under a formant, it gets amplified enough to measure. These low blips on the spectragraph are the giveaway to the location of the formant.
    A3 on /e/ vowel
    Continuing the scale upward
    As I continue up the scale from A3, three things happen due to the musical intervals represented by the harmonics:
    1) My 2nd harmonic gets closer and closer to F1, strengthing that harmonic. This makes the warmth of the voice 'bloom' in this region, and the resonance makes it possible to oversing some and still get away with it.
    2) My 3rd harmonic gets higher above F1, and so it gets progressively softer. In combination with #1, this changes the tone quality somewhat.
    3) F2 tunes to successively lower harmonics.
    These three trends are very important in understanding the male passaggio.
     
    More on 'What happens when a harmonic rises above a formant'?
    As a particular harmonic rises above a formant center, it rapidly decreases in intensity. In this next picture, now singing Bb3 (up just one half step from the A), you can see the effect on the 3rd harmonic. It is quite softer now when compared to the 2nd harmonic. For this note, the principal power of the vowel is being carried by the 2nd harmonic. You may also note that the F2 tuning is emphasizing harmonics 6 and 7 more or less equally. That is because F2 is between them. Harmonic 7 is no longer in the 'ringing' position, and harmonic 6 is not yet high enough to be there.
    Bb3 /e/ vowel
     
    The male upper chest voice
    My voice is now in the 'fattest' part of the upper chest voice, where most of the vowel power is coming from the 2nd harmonic. This range is just about a perfect 5th wide, because that is the spacing of the 2nd and 3rd harmonics. The region begins as the 3rd harmonic passes F1, and ends as the 2nd harmonic passes F1, in other words, for my /e/ vowel, from the Ab below middle C, to the Eb above middle C. This is what makes my voice a 'low baritone' quality. (Note, you can still see the noise blip.. its getting closer to the 2nd harmonic the higher I sing)
    Now, the Db in the following picture. Notice that there are little noise blips on each side of the 2nd harmonic. This indicates optimum alignment of the harmonic with F1, the place where the 2nd harmonic is exactly aligned with F1.
    Db4 /e/ vowel
     
    The effects of strong resonance on ease-of-singing
    Through the entire compass of my voice, up to this point, lower harmonics have been boosted by F1, which has provided for some cushioning effect for the vocal bands. That situation is about to change significantly as the fundamental rises past this point. A very important challenge to the singer as this happens is to resist the temptation to maintain vocal power via pushing.
    And now to the Eb. The 2nd harmonic has just past F1. Its still very strong, but will lose ground very rapidly as I proceed upward. This is the beginning of the tricky section of the passaggio, where the resonance provided to the 2nd harmonic decreases rapidly, and I must, to retain vocal power and tone quality, find another way to shape the vowel.
    Eb4 /e/ vowel
    My next post, 'Male voice passaggio 102' will discuss the various strategies that can be used to retain resonance through the passaggio.
     

  3. Like
    Steven Fraser got a reaction from Robert Lunte for a article, Male Voice Passaggio 102 - Resonance Strategies   
    This article is 2nd in a series on the Male Voice Passaggio.
    Introduction
    In the first article in this series, I explained the acoustic basis of the male voice passaggio experience. In short, the passaggio is a place in the range where the resonance characteristics of the voice are 'between' those of the so-called 'chest voice', and 'head voice'. Of particular interest is the relationship of the first hamonic of the sung tone with the lower vowel resonance.
    In this article, we will examine some of the resonance strategies available to the male singer in this range, and how those strategies help consistency of vocal tone, power and ease-of-singing.
    'Chest voice' power... to a point
    As mentioned in the prior article, a great deal of the power of the voice, and the sensation that the voice is 'in the chest' comes from the strength of the lower harmonics. This situation continues during the upward scale until the the 2nd harmonic passes F1, the location of which varies by voice type and vowel. Singing upward from there, the 2nd harmonic rapidly loses power halfstep-by-halfstep, and since the fundamental is an octave below it, there is now no strong resonance in either of them from the lower vowel resonance. The 'bottom' (powerful low resonance) has fallen out of the tone quality, and the sensations of that resonance in the chest and other tissues, becomes rapidly much less. The sensation for many is that the voice has 'left the chest'. Also, since the middle harmonics are farther apart in frequency now, F2 has not yet been of an advantage to make up for the missing power of the lower harmonics. In another way of putting it, the singer is no longer in the chest voice, but not yet in the 'head' voice.
    Passaggio effects
    This change in resonance character and power does two things to the singer, one at the laryrngeal level, and the other in tone quality: 1) it removes the cushioning provided the vocal bands by the inertive vocal tract, and 2) it causes a tone quality change which favors the brightness (singers formant component) of the tone. Item 1 makes the voice less stable (sensitive to disruption, for example, cracking, blips, etc), and item 2 makes it brighter by comparision to the notes immediately below it, without having any satisfying vowel resonance.
    Arriving in head voice
    Continuing the scale, the male singer reaches a point where F2 finally aligns with the 4th or 3rd harmonic (depending on vowel) and F2 greatly strengthens this harmonic, to the point that it is the most prominent in the entire voice. Very often, this circumstance is accompanied by pronounced sensations in the bones of the front of the front of the face, and very often elsewhere. For the singer, the voice is now fully 'in the head'.
    In effect, the passaggio is the section of the voice between these two distinct areas of resonance characteristics, above the area where F1 helps the 2nd harmonic, and below the area where F2 helps the 4th and 3rd. When the word 'passaggio' is used to mean an active technique, it means whatever is done to keep the vocal quality consistent in this area, and also keeping it from becoming unstable. In other words, to connect the secure, powerful lower and upper voices in a manner that makes the voice as consistent as is possible.
    Passaggio resonance strategies
    A) Principal among these is the use of epilaryngeal resonance, in either the form of twang orsingers formant, which we might describe as twang with classical vowels. This has several desirable effects.
    1) The use of this resonance boosts vocal power by ~20dB (that is, greater than 8 times as loud to a listener,) particularly by increasing the volume of harmonics in the 2500 to 3500 Hz region, the most sensitive range of human hearing. With this resonance, the singer gets much more sound, and much more audible sound, from the same amount of effort, and can thereby be heard effectively without having to push vocally. More sound, more apparent volume, less work. Sounds like a winner to me.
    2) Epilaryngeal resonance, which occurs in the small space immediately above the larynx, before it continues on to the upper parts of the pharyx, provides a cushioning acoustic feed-back to the vocal bands, so they do not take so much stress as they go through their motions. For the techies out there, it can be thought of an impedance-matching layer between the vocal bands and the pharynx.
    In common parlance, 'riding the vocal ring' across the weak area. For the classical singer, its often the region where vowel darkening (via modification, discussed later) is done to counteract the brightness of the rising-voice tone quality, a technique which to some extent increases the intertive character of the vocal tract, providing some helpful cushioning.
    An epilaryngeal resonance strategy is not only helpful in the passaggio, it has these effects in the lower and upper voices as well. However, in the passaggio, it provides much-needed tone quality consistency while the vowel resonances are 'between gears' so to speak.
    Vowel Modification can be used to advantage. There are two approaches here to be mentioned.
    1) Because the passaggio starts and ends at different notes for different vowels, the singer can benefit from shading a vowel which has become unresonant toward a related vowel that is not.
    For example, the first vowel resonance for /i/ (ee) is lower than it is for /I/ (ih). The passaggio for /i/ starts lower than it does for /I/ in a given voice. If done gradually, the singer can shade the /i/ progressively toward /I/, which the listener will not notice because it sounds so well.
    Acoustically, the effect of this maneuver is to raise the first vowel resonance, and lower the 2nd vowel resonance, bringing them closer together. This technique can be used by singers who use low, medium or high-larynx approaches. The vocal tract retains most of its inertive quality because vowel resonance is being maintained with these alternate vowels.
    2) Vowels can also be modified by changing them to more 'closed' or 'darker' forms on the ascending scale, so that both the vowel resonances are lowered. In some circles,this technique is called 'covering', and if done well, is not noticable to the listener. If it is noticed, it was overdone :-)
    In this approach, vowels such as /a/ (ah) are modified to aw, and /o/ (oh) toward /u/ (oo) through the passaggio. Other vowels have their own series of similar modifications. The technique is generally usable with classical vowels, and with lower-larynx technique, without objection by a listener. If done by a mid-or high-larynx singer, the tone quality variation would likely be more obvious if not done very subtly.
    The effect of this type of vowel modification is twofold:
    ---to create a lower position for the first vowel resonance, and to bring the second vowel resonance downward so that it will align with harmonics 4 or 3 sooner than it would otherwise, and
    ---to increase the inertia the air in the vocal tract, making it more cushioning for the vocal bands
    Either, or both of these vowel modification techniques can be used by the singer to create the tone quality effects that suits their artistic expression.
    Passaggio Width and location
    As a practical matter, the passaggio region for any vowel is about a perfect fourth wide. The starting point will vary by voice type and vowel. /i/ (ee) and /u/ have the lowest passaggio entry points. /e/ (ay), /I/ (ih), /o/ (oh) and /E/ (eh) have the next lowest, and /a/ (ah) has the highest. Other vowels are spaced between these.
    Passaggio locations are a general indicator of voice type. Bass has the lowest passaggio point, baritone somewhat higher, and tenor highest.
    Conclusion, or the Benefits of Passaggio technique
    Why bother with all of this? It makes singing more consistent, powerful, enjoyable to do and pleasant to hear. It reduces vocal strain, and increases tone quality stability in a region of notes that can be fraught with problems for the male voice. There are several approaches from which to choose, and the singer can combine them in whatever way makes sense for their vocal endeavors.

  4. Like
    Steven Fraser got a reaction from benny82 for a article, Male Voice Passaggio 102 - Resonance Strategies   
    This article is 2nd in a series on the Male Voice Passaggio.
    Introduction
    In the first article in this series, I explained the acoustic basis of the male voice passaggio experience. In short, the passaggio is a place in the range where the resonance characteristics of the voice are 'between' those of the so-called 'chest voice', and 'head voice'. Of particular interest is the relationship of the first hamonic of the sung tone with the lower vowel resonance.
    In this article, we will examine some of the resonance strategies available to the male singer in this range, and how those strategies help consistency of vocal tone, power and ease-of-singing.
    'Chest voice' power... to a point
    As mentioned in the prior article, a great deal of the power of the voice, and the sensation that the voice is 'in the chest' comes from the strength of the lower harmonics. This situation continues during the upward scale until the the 2nd harmonic passes F1, the location of which varies by voice type and vowel. Singing upward from there, the 2nd harmonic rapidly loses power halfstep-by-halfstep, and since the fundamental is an octave below it, there is now no strong resonance in either of them from the lower vowel resonance. The 'bottom' (powerful low resonance) has fallen out of the tone quality, and the sensations of that resonance in the chest and other tissues, becomes rapidly much less. The sensation for many is that the voice has 'left the chest'. Also, since the middle harmonics are farther apart in frequency now, F2 has not yet been of an advantage to make up for the missing power of the lower harmonics. In another way of putting it, the singer is no longer in the chest voice, but not yet in the 'head' voice.
    Passaggio effects
    This change in resonance character and power does two things to the singer, one at the laryrngeal level, and the other in tone quality: 1) it removes the cushioning provided the vocal bands by the inertive vocal tract, and 2) it causes a tone quality change which favors the brightness (singers formant component) of the tone. Item 1 makes the voice less stable (sensitive to disruption, for example, cracking, blips, etc), and item 2 makes it brighter by comparision to the notes immediately below it, without having any satisfying vowel resonance.
    Arriving in head voice
    Continuing the scale, the male singer reaches a point where F2 finally aligns with the 4th or 3rd harmonic (depending on vowel) and F2 greatly strengthens this harmonic, to the point that it is the most prominent in the entire voice. Very often, this circumstance is accompanied by pronounced sensations in the bones of the front of the front of the face, and very often elsewhere. For the singer, the voice is now fully 'in the head'.
    In effect, the passaggio is the section of the voice between these two distinct areas of resonance characteristics, above the area where F1 helps the 2nd harmonic, and below the area where F2 helps the 4th and 3rd. When the word 'passaggio' is used to mean an active technique, it means whatever is done to keep the vocal quality consistent in this area, and also keeping it from becoming unstable. In other words, to connect the secure, powerful lower and upper voices in a manner that makes the voice as consistent as is possible.
    Passaggio resonance strategies
    A) Principal among these is the use of epilaryngeal resonance, in either the form of twang orsingers formant, which we might describe as twang with classical vowels. This has several desirable effects.
    1) The use of this resonance boosts vocal power by ~20dB (that is, greater than 8 times as loud to a listener,) particularly by increasing the volume of harmonics in the 2500 to 3500 Hz region, the most sensitive range of human hearing. With this resonance, the singer gets much more sound, and much more audible sound, from the same amount of effort, and can thereby be heard effectively without having to push vocally. More sound, more apparent volume, less work. Sounds like a winner to me.
    2) Epilaryngeal resonance, which occurs in the small space immediately above the larynx, before it continues on to the upper parts of the pharyx, provides a cushioning acoustic feed-back to the vocal bands, so they do not take so much stress as they go through their motions. For the techies out there, it can be thought of an impedance-matching layer between the vocal bands and the pharynx.
    In common parlance, 'riding the vocal ring' across the weak area. For the classical singer, its often the region where vowel darkening (via modification, discussed later) is done to counteract the brightness of the rising-voice tone quality, a technique which to some extent increases the intertive character of the vocal tract, providing some helpful cushioning.
    An epilaryngeal resonance strategy is not only helpful in the passaggio, it has these effects in the lower and upper voices as well. However, in the passaggio, it provides much-needed tone quality consistency while the vowel resonances are 'between gears' so to speak.
    Vowel Modification can be used to advantage. There are two approaches here to be mentioned.
    1) Because the passaggio starts and ends at different notes for different vowels, the singer can benefit from shading a vowel which has become unresonant toward a related vowel that is not.
    For example, the first vowel resonance for /i/ (ee) is lower than it is for /I/ (ih). The passaggio for /i/ starts lower than it does for /I/ in a given voice. If done gradually, the singer can shade the /i/ progressively toward /I/, which the listener will not notice because it sounds so well.
    Acoustically, the effect of this maneuver is to raise the first vowel resonance, and lower the 2nd vowel resonance, bringing them closer together. This technique can be used by singers who use low, medium or high-larynx approaches. The vocal tract retains most of its inertive quality because vowel resonance is being maintained with these alternate vowels.
    2) Vowels can also be modified by changing them to more 'closed' or 'darker' forms on the ascending scale, so that both the vowel resonances are lowered. In some circles,this technique is called 'covering', and if done well, is not noticable to the listener. If it is noticed, it was overdone :-)
    In this approach, vowels such as /a/ (ah) are modified to aw, and /o/ (oh) toward /u/ (oo) through the passaggio. Other vowels have their own series of similar modifications. The technique is generally usable with classical vowels, and with lower-larynx technique, without objection by a listener. If done by a mid-or high-larynx singer, the tone quality variation would likely be more obvious if not done very subtly.
    The effect of this type of vowel modification is twofold:
    ---to create a lower position for the first vowel resonance, and to bring the second vowel resonance downward so that it will align with harmonics 4 or 3 sooner than it would otherwise, and
    ---to increase the inertia the air in the vocal tract, making it more cushioning for the vocal bands
    Either, or both of these vowel modification techniques can be used by the singer to create the tone quality effects that suits their artistic expression.
    Passaggio Width and location
    As a practical matter, the passaggio region for any vowel is about a perfect fourth wide. The starting point will vary by voice type and vowel. /i/ (ee) and /u/ have the lowest passaggio entry points. /e/ (ay), /I/ (ih), /o/ (oh) and /E/ (eh) have the next lowest, and /a/ (ah) has the highest. Other vowels are spaced between these.
    Passaggio locations are a general indicator of voice type. Bass has the lowest passaggio point, baritone somewhat higher, and tenor highest.
    Conclusion, or the Benefits of Passaggio technique
    Why bother with all of this? It makes singing more consistent, powerful, enjoyable to do and pleasant to hear. It reduces vocal strain, and increases tone quality stability in a region of notes that can be fraught with problems for the male voice. There are several approaches from which to choose, and the singer can combine them in whatever way makes sense for their vocal endeavors.

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