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Opening the Pharynx

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Mr.stevenbradley
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Hey everyone,

I wanted to quickly discuss a problem I've been having.

It seems that when I get near my passagio, IE Bb4, C5 area, not only does my tongue buckle up, but the back sides of my throat press in towards eachother, like they were trying to touch or something.

Imagine the vertical tendon-esque areas immediately behind the tonsils trying to come together, almost in the same fashion that the vocal folds come together.

This leaves the uvula crammed in between them both.

I'm learning how to deal with my tongue, but how do I deal with this?

Massaging? Stretching?

-Steven-

(I can provide a photo if the description is not enough)

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Hey everyone,

I wanted to quickly discuss a problem I've been having.

It seems that when I get near my passagio, IE Bb4, C5 area, not only does my tongue buckle up, but the back sides of my throat press in towards eachother, like they were trying to touch or something.

Imagine the vertical tendon-esque areas immediately behind the tonsils trying to come together, almost in the same fashion that the vocal folds come together.

Steven: I got your note. I have an idea of the motion you are describing. Its a closing off of the throat from the bottom and the sides. IMO you are right not to want this happening.

I think the issue is tension in the tongue and throat muscles accumulating as pitch rises. Its a very common problem, practiced to the point of ingrained habit, and will take some time to resolve. Here is the manner I suggest to address it, based on my own experience with very similar problems when I was a younger singer, and beginning wiith the reasons that the issues exist.

The closing of the throat is a protective reflex, as a response to too-heavy registration as you approach the passaggio. This too-heavy registration is itself a compensation for too much breath energy (exhalation force) applied during phonation. The issue starts with the too-intense exhalation force, so that is the place to start in remediation. The second aspect to be addressed is the reflexive (& habitual) too-heavy registration.

In concept, breath management is twofold: 1) to avoid motions on inhalation that accumulate energy that, when inhalation stops, push air from the body, and 2) applying a little resistance to the (desirable & gentle) forces of exhalation which remain.

On #1, the key to watch for is the raising of the breastbone on inhale, and the falling of it during phonation. Rather, make the position of the breastbone high, without stiffness or undue tension, as a part of posture, and leave it high. Nor should you raise the shoulders on inhale.

If a high breastbone is uncomfortable, just be sure that you do not allow it to fall as you start to phonate.

On item #2, the key is to sing on the balance of the forces of inhalation and exhalation. To discover this, while standing, take an easy breath with your throat relaxed, and about halfway through the inhalation slow down the inhale until it stops while your throat is still open. From this balance, you can slowly exhale, or continue inhaling, just by desiring one or the other. After you have found this balance, begin some medium-volume notes at this balance, and try to keep the balance feeling.

Moving on from this start, the next task is to discover phonation with balanced musculature... correct registration. For this, I think the most direct approach is the use of sirens on medium-soft V and Z consonants. Establish your inhalation balance (as above,) start a Z, and then slide the pitch of it around. As you go up, it will feel pretty small, but that is OK. Play around with it, and as you slide up, you will likely notice the point at which you formerly had to tense up. With this new approach, you should be able to slide past that point without your throat closing.

To address habitual tongue tension, the best exercises I know are to get the tongue in motion... to get it properly moving to the places where it needs to be to form vowels. A very good one is to sing the vowel series EE, AY, Ah, Oh, OO with a big smile in the middle register at a comfortable volume. The smile encourages the tongue to take its proper role as the principal determinant of the vowel. For any vowels in which you sense constricting tension interfering with the tongue's motion, be gentle as you work toward the vowel. Lip trills and buzzes also help.

Above all, be patient. These habits take awhile to respond fully, but you should have an increasing sense of ease in your upple middle as you progress.

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Thanks again! I'll let you know how it goes...

Steven: One other thing I would like to add. On the breath balance aspect, as you begin the attempt to phonate with the balance, the amount of breath energy involved is quite small, no more than what you would use to fog glasses held in front of your mouth. If you put the cup of your hand about 1 inch in front of your mouth, and exhale very slowly on the balance, the air will feel warm and moist. That's about the same sensation as you will have phonating as well, at least during this exercise.

This 'fog the glasses' exercise, which I first learned from professor Lloyd Hanson, is one of the most directly accessible ways to get at balanced breath energy when remediating breath overpressure situations such as yours.

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So I've been trying the balanced breath exercise, and it's really interesting.

I've been trying it out and I'm pretty sure it's working. The support comes from maintaining that balance point, correct?

By working, I mean that when I ascend in pitch I can see very small signs of obedience in my throat staying open.

This will take alot of work though... bring it on!

Out of curiosity, how is the balance point implemented in higher volumes?

-Steven-

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So I've been trying the balanced breath exercise, and it's really interesting.

I've been trying it out and I'm pretty sure it's working. The support comes from maintaining that balance point, correct?

By working, I mean that when I ascend in pitch I can see very small signs of obedience in my throat staying open.

This will take alot of work though... bring it on!

Out of curiosity, how is the balance point implemented in higher volumes?

StevenBradley: Yes, support comes from establishing the balance, and sustaining the feelings of it during the course of a note.

As to work, if you mean 'focus of attention during practice', I would think that things would begin to get more automatic in a week or so, and every few days you will notice that your throat is less tense.

As to the balance point at higher volumes, its the same thing. You establish the balance, and then just desire to make a louder sound... and it gets louder :-) My teacher, Dale Moore, many years ago said it this way: 'The voice draws the air it needs'. The purpose of the balance is to set up the conditions so that the voice gets just the air it needs, and no more. The surprising thing is that so little air is needed to make a substantial sound.

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Steven Fraser, so true. I've only just begun to realise this. I've been working on tension for the past few days, made some noticeable improvement, and I've realised that the singing doesn't feel the way like it was before - it's so easy, so little air required compared to pushing and the sound I produce is much clearer, not as forceful. In the past I have frequent slight irritations to the throat even at low notes and I kept wondering why it was - that was when I was so used to tension that it didnt' feel like tension to me =p

What I did was to drop all the volume and all the weight and work my way up to a comfortable sustainable volume for my mid range notes, and I was surprised to find that even there I had some subconscious jaw/tongue tension! No wonder the high notes were so difficult because the tension already started at A3!!! amazing.

Now I'm just trying to make it muscle memory to get the tongue tension out of the way while working in comfortable range (up to F4) before I increase the volume. Will probably take weeks and months to arrive there but hope I can come back with good news! =]

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Now I'm just trying to make it muscle memory to get the tongue tension out of the way while working in comfortable range (up to F4) before I increase the volume. Will probably take weeks and months to arrive there but hope I can come back with good news! =]

Rhapsody: I think that's a very sensible plan. Here are two other freeing tongue positions and motions you can use in addition to the ones I mentioned for StevenBradley:

1) The frontal 'L'. In American English, we tend to put the L way back in the throat, with the tip of the tongue touching the hard palate midway. A completely different tongue shape results when putting the tongue tip right behind the upper teeth. With it in this position, try singing (on the balance) the vowels EE, AY, AH, OH, OO without moving your lips at all. Yes, its a bit funky-feeling, but its unfamiliarity will reveal previously undetected tongue tension.

2) Letting the tongue tip touch the lower lip. As relaxed as possible, stick the tongue out until you can feel the lower lip with the tip of your tongue. Sing the same vowel series as item #1. If you have constricting tension in the tongue, the OH and the OO will reveal it. Its also fairly challenging to sing the OO this way regardless, as the back of the tongue has to rise toward the rear roof of the mouth to form it correctly. With the tip of the tongue touching the lower lip, it may not be possible, depending on tongue dimensions.

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Steven, i saw many vids of Stevie Wonder doing things like second tips for the tongue while singing.

He litteraly stick out his tongue for some high notes. I saw that on many singer 'soul-oriented'.

Is it more a style trick, or is it a technical trick to help realease the tension?

thanxs again for your advice, they are so helpful!!!

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Steven, i saw many vids of Stevie Wonder doing things like second tips for the tongue while singing.

He litteraly stick out his tongue for some high notes. I saw that on many singer 'soul-oriented'.

Is it more a style trick, or is it a technical trick to help realease the tension?

thanxs again for your advice, they are so helpful!!!

Adam Lambert from American Idol did it this all the time, I think it helps to get the tongue out of the back of the throat?

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Adam Lambert from American Idol did it this all the time, I think it helps to get the tongue out of the back of the throat?

Mr Bounce, Joshual: Sometimes, things like this can be subconscious. I have no insight into whether that is the case with Stevie or Adam. That said, since small position changes in the tongue make a difference in the shading of the vowels produced, it may be that they want the vowels to sound in the manner that results.

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