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A Brief Defense of SLS and Seth Riggs

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John Henny
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I’ve been spending some time here reading and learning (and becoming a huge fan of Steven Fraser). I’ve noticed some discussions of SLS and criticisms of the technique. Since I taught SLS for many years, and rose to the highest levels in the organization, I thought I would address some of the issues raised. Please know that as January 2011, I have left the organization (for business reasons) and have no stake in promoting SLS whatsoever.

Support Not Taught

This is probably the biggest criticism raised against SLS. The fact is Seth has always taught support, but doesn’t over-emphasize it in the beginning since many students are struggling with too much air. Some come away from a brief time with SLS thinking support is not taught at all.

Cords Zipping

This would be the second biggest criticism. Actually the concept of cords zipping up has been dropped from SLS training materials for a few years now. SLS instead speaks of a gradual reduction of the vibrating element (or vocal fold mass).

A High Larynx is Always Wrong

What SLS advocates is a relaxed, stable larynx. More importantly: one that does not rise involuntarily. The problem with a high larynx is when it has come about due to chest resonance taken too high (F1/H2) or other constrictions in the voice. If the singer wishes to elevate the larynx slightly for tone color (and there are no constrictions in the voice) this would be perfectly acceptable.

Lack of Science

This is an area that SLS has begun to pursue more and more. In recent years SLS has invited such researchers as Dr. Hubert Noe and Dr. Donald Miller (co-creator of Voce Vista) to speak at teacher training events.

Although Seth has no interest in studying spectragraphs or formant/harmonic relationships, his ear can tune these like a machine. Seth intuitively understood and heard these relationships over 40 years ago.

Poor Speaking Voice of Top Teachers

I’ve seen the criticism raised about the poor speaking voices of some top SLS teachers. Seth has battled severe reflux for years. As far as some of the other teachers are concerned, many people are hearing them on teaching tours. I have done quite a few of these and I can tell you the schedule of master classes and private lessons is intense. Combined with jet-lag, fatigue and over-work, yes, our voices can get a bit tired.

Everyone Else is Wrong

This attitude does come up here and there and it is something I never agreed with. Truth be told, there is still some lousy voice teaching out there and many people found SLS after having their voices ruined by bad teaching. This tends to foster an attitude. It is also something you will also find in followers of other methods, including CVT and Estill. Such is the nature of singers and their beliefs.

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A long and engaging discussion took place about a year ago about somewhat similar program whose foundations are based in SLS, the infamous Bret Manning Programs. I was the starter of that thread.

Here is the discussion link: http://www.punbb-hosting.com/forums/themodernvocalist/viewtopic.php?id=886

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Hi John, thanks for the great post and great to have you here on TMV. Great to have a top level SLS (former) person here on the board as I have gotten the impression that it's taken a bit of a beating in the past here. I have gotten a lot out of SLS ans SS but I do have a few questions/criticisms:

I am curious what SLS teaches about laryngeal tilt. I don't recall seeing anything about it in Seth's Singing For the Stars book and I've also worked with Singing Success and they would mention it in passing but I never really saw it actually taught or described well in either method. For me that was a huge missing piece that I later found information on elsewhere and is probably my main criticism. Upon looking back, the sensation I feel when I tilt does vaguely resemble the feelings described by the cord zipping sensation descriptions and now wonder whether cord zipping was actually an early way of describing what is now known as laryngeal/thyroid tilt? You mention that cord zipping was replaced with the idea of reducing vocal fold mass. Does/has SLS taught anything about how tilting the larynx stretches the vocal folds which in effect thins them?

I ask because I was really confused and frustrated for months reading and being told I need to 'thin' and 'use less of the cord' which made as much sense to me as telling me 'thin your bicep', especially when nothing about laryngeal tilt was taught. In other words, it would be confusing to tell someone "reduce the mass of your bicep", if they didn't know their elbow can bend and there's a tricep muscle that does the actual bending and thus stretches the bicep. You can't just shrink a body part. Do you see what I mean? Not knowing your elbow can bend is of course ridiculous, but most people don't know the larynx can tilt. If I ever tilted naturally before training, I suppressed it because I thought it was going against the stable larynx idea because the ability to tilt was not mentioned. After finally learning how the cricothyroid tilt influences pitch in one of Steven's posts then everything else I learned fell into place.

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Great post John, thanks! I think thats the most insightful post Ive seen on SLS since I can remember. It helps to put things in perspective. Hey folks, John Henny knows his stuff... he is a world-class pro, been doing this a long time. More posting John!

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I am curious what SLS teaches about laryngeal tilt. I don't recall seeing anything about it in Seth's Singing For the Stars book and I've also worked with Singing Success and they would mention it in passing but I never really saw it actually taught or described well in either method. For me that was a huge missing piece that I later found information on elsewhere and is probably my main criticism. Upon looking back, the sensation I feel when I tilt does vaguely resemble the feelings described by the cord zipping sensation descriptions and now wonder whether cord zipping was actually an early way of describing what is now known as laryngeal/thyroid tilt? You mention that cord zipping was replaced with the idea of reducing vocal fold mass. Does/has SLS taught anything about how tilting the larynx stretches the vocal folds which in effect thins them?

The concept of reducing the vocal fold mass is generally taught to the student through exercises, in order to help them give up the dominant TA involvement of chest voice and to then allow the CT muscles to dominate in head. So yes, to that degree the singer will experience the CT muscles tilting the larynx forward in order to thin the cords, but their attention is generally not brought to that specific internal mechanic.

I'm glad that Steven's description of this really helped your voice. Back in the day, I found the "zipping" concept helped singers tremendously, until the criticism started and SLS dropped it. I like what one vocal researcher called it, "the lie that tells the truth."

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A High Larynx is Always Wrong

What SLS advocates is a relaxed, stable larynx. More importantly: one that does not rise involuntarily. The problem with a high larynx is when it has come about due to chest resonance taken too high (F1/H2) or other constrictions in the voice. If the singer wishes to elevate the larynx slightly for tone color (and there are no constrictions in the voice) this would be perfectly acceptable.

I'm very glad to hear the zipping of chords is dropped as a fact. :) Keep it up.

Regarding tone colour I'm still not a SLS fan though. Seeing as you clearly have a favored tone color. Constrictions and flawed technique is one thing, but there is no best or worst when it comes to harmonics because they are oh so subjective.

The students shouldn't have to actively tell the teachers they want to sing a certain way for the teachers to stray away from the true "SLS tone colour path". The teacher should ask the student at once what tone he is aiming for.

This is just my personal opinion of course! ;)

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Martin, here are the two threads with Steven's responses that have helped me the most. They're the best explanation of larynx tilt and TA/CT relationship I have come across on the internet.

http://www.punbb-hosting.com/forums/themodernvocalist/viewtopic.php?id=478

http://www.punbb-hosting.com/forums/themodernvocalist/viewtopic.php?id=1835

Also a good thread on the CVT forum

http://forum.completevocalinstitute.com/viewtopic.php?t=5675&postdays=0&postorder=asc&highlight=estill&start=0&sid=8e5e5c01c7895a9311c5483cd0e631f6

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Regarding tone colour I'm still not a SLS fan though. Seeing as you clearly have a favored tone color.

Hi Snorth,

No need to be a fan, and I'm certainly not looking to become an SLS advocate on this forum (as I no longer belong to the organization), just wanted to clear up some of the criticisms.

As far as a favored tone color, yes, you can say that, but the tone color(s) is a bit more varied than you might think. That said, Seth doesn't really teach the more extreme metallic modes or distortions, and that's fine, that's not what he or SLS does, and that's why you have other methods that can cover these areas. I do, however, believe that Seth and top SLS teachers are VERY good at what they do and that it works for a large number of singers.

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John - I've got some questions: Can you relate the SLS or your own "blended voice" to CVT terms and standard Bel Canto terms? I find these different aspects fascinating, but also confusing. Right now I'm working on connecting my chest to head (ok now I'm using standard bel canto terms) and doing it as lightly as I can sing. CVT would probably call this "neutral" but I can still feel TA activity to a certain point like A4 before it relaxes completely and CT takes over. Does the blended voice have this same kind of action where TA is used to a certain point before giving way to complete CT? What is the TA/CT relation in the "blended voice"?

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I'm the king of crappy, inaccurate mental imagery. I would imagine the "cords" contracting to a small diameter in the center. And I swear to God, or whatever you deem holy, that it helped me hit the high note in "Dream On" by Aerosmith so hard and piercing that a friend (I was borrowing his guitar after work in the parking lot) physically flinched from the sonic blast.

Ah, the good old days ....

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I'm curious how SLS teaches/describes the bright/brassy/quacky sound that CVT describes as Twang, and how it differs (if at all) from nasality. From what I understood, the "nay" exercise helps brighten up your sound by engaging more nasal resonance. But then there is also the separate brassy/quacky brightness (along with significant volume increase) from Twang which is done with the epiglotis and CVT describes it as a different mechanism and sound than nasality (and can be done with a completely pinched nose). "Pharyngeal voice" is probably the closest thing I've seen to twang (though I'm not sure if "Pharyngeal Voice" is just a singing success term or if it had its root in SLS) and I've heard pharyngeal voice described as a third resonator between head and chest and taught with sounds like "Ng". So is pharyngeal voice kind of the similar concept to twang for SLS? Or is the bright brassy sound just generally grouped under 'nasal resonance'? Thanks!

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I think I've seen some Singing Success clips on youtube where the teacher recommended doing nays if the student lacked high, bright overtones (twang). I'm sure that could work for many people, especially with the help of a good SLS instructor.

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