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Slow Start

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Hey everyone!

Just wanted to check in with some interesting reflections that I had recently with the folks who could benefit. So for background, I recently started med school and we have to take a pretty detailed course in gross anatomy that covers the entire body head to toe. I found that as a singing student, learning gross anatomy in lab and lecture has been extremely beneficial. There are so many things that we talk about and try to cue ourselves and others to do in order to achieve certain qualities in vocal production that now seem so much less mysterious, mystical, and/or unclear to me.


1. Twang - quacking, pharyngeal voice, narrowing of ari-epiglottic funnel/space/whatever people want to call it.
I have seen SO many thread about "what is twang, how do we do it"... seriously, cutting into the back of the pharynx and looking at the picture like this taught a very real lesson of how close the muscular back of the tongue is to the epiglottis, which creates the necessary twang to help us negotiate pressure to adduct our vocal folds for good singing. This explains why the cue of "raise back of tongue to molars" can help get the epiglottis to move if the student does not know what it means to "twang". There are three muscles attached to the pharynx called "superior, middle and inferior pharyngeal constrictors", the infrahyoid muscles, and some of the tongue (more on that later) muscles... some of the enemies of beginning singers.

2. Support - If anyone wants any cool pictures of support muscles, please let me know and then tell me how real you want the pictures to look haha I have a better understanding now of... what muscles are used in support, how to use them, do I tighten/tense them or not?! how proper support is almost as easy as learning a few things about what proper "bracing" for daily activities and athletics is from a physical therapist. How you can squeeze your glutes to "set" the spinal alignment before you work on the breath so you KNOW 100% that you are straight. How the pelvic floor contributes. How scapular stability relates to consistent support and expansion. How pulling in from the stomach is invariably requires strength and command of the transverse abdominal muscle, so telling students to "just relax and breathe and pull in but stay relaxed" can be counter-productive because they don't realize they're engaging one muscle while keeping the other muscles in check. Also, Phil is totally right about the "fist into the gut" feeling, and Marnell is def talking about the transversus abdominis when he talks about the  sensations of support (vomiting, etc) in that 1 hour long video.

3. Soft palate, the nasopharynx, sinuses - After seeing the sinuses in real life and finding them myself, I can definitely say I have a new appreciation for how vibrations and sound and fluid all interact with the sinuses in the nasopharynx. Also a new appreciation for how bad head colds with sinus problems can be.

4. Ken Tamplin's tongue - that's right, I said it. So many questions are asked every year about "wtf his tongue is doing" and if it is okay or not. My personal verdict on the topic is now out: what I learned suggests that it is indeed okay to change the shape of the tongue in the mouth while singing if you want - to a certain extent. The genioglossus (the largest tongue protruding muscle) and some other tongue muscles are attached to a bone can cause unintentional larynx raising (as larynx is also connected to said bone lol) if the tongue is protruded too far out, but where and how to shape the tongue otherwise is rather individual and totally cool if you can still form your vowels and consonants the way you want (I admit some of Ken's vowels are not how I personally would sing my vowels but I know he likes em and that's cool): this is because the muscles that do that part of tongue shaping "making concave U's or fat lizard tongues or flat tongues" are NOT attached to any bones, making them totally cool to do what you want with them, including help you form consonants.


Stopping myself from going on forever now.

tl;dr: Med school anatomy has confirmed to me and taught me even more about many things in vocal pedagogy that I was not sure about before, feel free to discuss how you guys might have already known this stuff or whatever or ask for cool pictures. 

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    I sometimes feel that the muscular mechanics are overlooked or not given enough thought. Setting certain muscles in place or giving enough tension to be engaged without over using them can be of help to a beginner. But having said that they are much easier to control by the sound produced once you experience the sound and muscles used to produce it.

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you had me at infrahyoid. I think of the tongue as a valve, like on a horn or other wind instrument. Height determineds tunability.

I see what you mean. I personally view the epiglottis as the valve and the tongue as a tool for forming shapes that should try to not impede the valve by getting tense in the wrong ways (or encouraging other constrictions). This has convinced me of the merits of using laryngeal massage and tactile response as a method to gain awareness of what is going on. It was worth learning, so now I can feel when my larynx is too high for a certain note in a much more precise manner. It is cool that now I feel I have a more concrete idea of what to strengthen and how to strengthen the voice in a logical and consistent way that is tailored to my individual needs.

    I sometimes feel that the muscular mechanics are overlooked or not given enough thought. Setting certain muscles in place or giving enough tension to be engaged without over using them can be of help to a beginner. But having said that they are much easier to control by the sound produced once you experience the sound and muscles used to produce it.

I think they are sometimes taught but the lesson does not always "click" properly. The CVT book does teach that for many beginners while they have not developed adequate coordination, some constrictor muscles can get used sometimes to try to muscle the vocalizing a little (maybe to some small benefit) and that should decrease as they grow the voice.

Just remember you still have to practise basic exercises every day.:).

Of course, Bob. Basic exercises make so much more sense now and I have a better idea of what I'm doing right and wrong. And your ideas about how support is a very muscular activity - hey man. I now completely agree and can give you straight of proof of how it functions. Perhaps some of those past disagreements with Daniel were all just over y'alls subjective characterizations of the exact same fundamental sensations that make you guys good singers - describing how it "feels" when muscles in support lead to compression.

I try to get an hour or so of practice in daily, even though many days I am limited to vocalizing in the car because my apartment has rather thin walls and I'm busy all day long many days. I try to do quiet sirens, hums, and support coordinating exercises at night without disturbing those around me, and it seems to be improving my coordination in weaker parts of my voice. I feel like I'm now back to being a beginner who is extra-aware of the road ahead. 

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