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Vowels mods and narrowing the pharynx

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Another quick question for you folks; I used the search bar, but didn't have much luck. If you go through the vowel mod sequence ah, aw, uh, obviously there's a narrowing sensation in the back of the mouth. Is that the pharynx narrowing? And are vowel mods kinda done TO narrow the pharynx, because that's what allows the change in resonance? I never really thought about it until Ken's post today, where there was a brief excerpt of him saying that a singer needs to know when to narrow the pharynx.

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raphaels, it helped me greatly when i began to view vowels divorced from language or elements of speech and started viewing them as simply throat shapes.....pure sounds....it helped with keeping the throat open and resonance/ping....so i stopped thinking for example i'm singing a word in a lyric, but more i need to make a great tone or sound per a pitch.

consonants i view as breath stoppers, vowels as breath enablers...hey, whatever works right?

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Another quick question for you folks; I used the search bar, but didn't have much luck. If you go through the vowel mod sequence ah, aw, uh, obviously there's a narrowing sensation in the back of the mouth. Is that the pharynx narrowing? And are vowel mods kinda done TO narrow the pharynx, because that's what allows the change in resonance? I never really thought about it until Ken's post today, where there was a brief excerpt of him saying that a singer needs to know when to narrow the pharynx.

raphaels: When you write: 'obviously there's a narrowing sensation in the back of the mouth.' - that maybe the sensation you have, with the vowel shapes you use, but not necessarily what others feel when they do their own pronunciations of those vowels.

Narrowing the pharynx changes the vowel - any vowel - by moving the resonances. Whether or not a singer wants to narrow the pharynx for the resulting vowel color is entirely a personal choice, based on the desired tone quality.

I hope this is helpful.

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Oh wow, this is very interesting. Just for kicks let me ask this; if someone were to say a perfect italian "AH" and then narrow the pharynx with no other changes (this may not be possible, but let's just say it is), would the resulting vowel sound a more like "AW" to the listener than it did before the narrowing?

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raphaels, it helped me greatly when i began to view vowels divorced from language or elements of speech and started viewing them as simply throat shapes.....pure sounds....it helped with keeping the throat open and resonance/ping....so i stopped thinking for example i'm singing a word in a lyric, but more i need to make a great tone or sound per a pitch.

consonants i view as breath stoppers, vowels as breath enablers...hey, whatever works right?

I kinda think the same thing. The singing voice is more a musical instrument than a speaking instrument. Another way of saying that we should not sing like we speak. I know plenty of people think that singing is just a speaking note extended. Really? And how many people carry on a casual conversation about, say A4?

Singing is different than speaking and should be thought of as a musical instrument. Where the pitch is more important than one's local accent.

But I could be wrong.

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Bob & Ron, I recently had kind of a vowel mod revelation when I started thinking about it more like the way you're describing. In the past I've always overthought it and messed myself up, but now I just kind of think of the throat/mouth as a cup that tips forward as the vowels get narrower. My grip on it will probably get firmer as I practice it more consciously, but for now that's doing the trick.

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Bob & Ron, I recently had kind of a vowel mod revelation when I started thinking about it more like the way you're describing. In the past I've always overthought it and messed myself up, but now I just kind of think of the throat/mouth as a cup that tips forward as the vowels get narrower. My grip on it will probably get firmer as I practice it more consciously, but for now that's doing the trick.

I had not gone that far with the imagery. I just feel that the better I adhere to the italian vowels, the easier things are for me. And I'm not even italian.

:D

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Felipe - I just wanted to know if this pocket that I'm narrowing/tipping as I ascend (and narrow the vowel) is the pharynx, basically. And if the reason for vowel mods was to narrow/tip that thing - like if your pocket was naturally in an "uh" position, higher notes would come more naturally than low notes. It seems not though; I didn't even realize that this wasn't a sensation we all have, so I might just be talking gibberish here.

Rachsing - I'm kind of an idiot when it comes to formants, even though I've read some brilliant posts on the subject here. I'd love to bombard you with questions right now, but maybe I'll do a little more research before I ask you something redundant.

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Raphaels it depends on what you are doing. Correctly executed, when you reach the passaggio, using a high vowel such as ih or uh release tension on the pharynx and raises the tongue. As the tongue raises if you keep everything relaxed the nasal/oral proportion will change and you will need to lift the soft palate to "counter" it.

If you dont, you will have tensions in the tongue from trying to go up and at the same time trying to open the airway to avoid nasality.

A yawn produces both on most people, if used well can be helpfull. Play around with it.

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Ohhh thanks Felipe... maybe that thing I feel "tipping" is the tongue rising, and the perceived narrowing is just the space between the tongue and palate moving upward? I'll play with that yawn thing and think twice before I start slinging around five-dollar words like pharynx ;).

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raphaels, i agree with steve....it has a lot to do with how you wish to sound..

it's very coincidental....i found this video of lou and i want you to listen to his "of" at 23 seconds. do you here the shade to "uh?

do you hear the tone that results from that choice? another singer might of sang it totally diffrently. this is a good thing to understand...

how one singer can differ from another with vowels...it's something you have to pretty much figure out for yourself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UK10ooON0So

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Felipe - I just wanted to know if this pocket that I'm narrowing/tipping as I ascend (and narrow the vowel) is the pharynx, basically. And if the reason for vowel mods was to narrow/tip that thing - like if your pocket was naturally in an "uh" position, higher notes would come more naturally than low notes. It seems not though; I didn't even realize that this wasn't a sensation we all have, so I might just be talking gibberish here.

Rachsing - I'm kind of an idiot when it comes to formants, even though I've read some brilliant posts on the subject here. I'd love to bombard you with questions right now, but maybe I'll do a little more research before I ask you something redundant.

raphaels: I think I can pull together a nontechnical article on how the dimensions of the sections of the vocal tract combine to influence F1 and F2 locations.

I'll get it out over the week-end, and I hope its helpful to you.

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I saw a stroboscopic video of a lady singer singing something. And when not singing or speaking, the walls of the pharynx were relaxed. While singing, they did close a smidge. But I wonder if that is from extrinsic elevators engaging. And if that is the real "twang." Which you could also call clang, or goosenfrabe, for that matter.

Not strain, mind you, but a proper tension of surface to rebound a note well enough to resonate.

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Following up on my promise of yesterday evening.

First, a picture! A researcher at the University of Arizona had side-view Xray images made of his vocal tract (what we would call saggital sections in the medical world) while he sustained the vowel of a variety of words. He produced graphical images to represent the locations of the bodily parts, and associated those vowels with the first three formants.

Here is the graphic.

I suggest you zoom in a bit with your browser to get the full effect. With this pic, you can get an idea of the relative positions of the tongue and pharyngeal walls, the amount of jaw drop, and, the shape and location of the narrow place in the vocal tract, formed by the location of the tongue and the surrounding tissues as he sustains these vowels.

The vowels are indicated by the syllables beside each picture, and the formants in the wavy chart. Frequency scale is linear, low-to-high is left to right, and intensity is in the vertical dimension.

If such things are interesting to you, you can find the entire powerpoint at the following URL to the pdf:

http://www.u.arizona.edu/~ohalad/Phonetics/notes/Formants%20Spectrograms%20and%20Vowels.PDF

Of particular interest is this Formant-to-vowel chart, indicating the locations of F1 and F2 and their frequency locations. The format of this chart is arranged so that frequencies rise downward for F1, and to the left for F2. The effect of this display roughly corresponds with what we would call the Front, Mid and Rear vowels, when viewd from left-to-right. Additionally, the location of each vowel on the chart roughly corresponds with the the location of the hump of the tongue to produce that vowel.

With this in mind, there are some additional items to mention.

The 'neutral' vowel formant locations are mostly determined by the vocal tract length, and vary higher as the tract is shortened, and lower as it is lengthened. We can influence tract length by larynx position, and by lip extension.

The frequency of F1 varies by two things: amount of jaw drop (raising F1 as dropped) and pharyngeal section volume (lowering as that volume grows). Those two factors combine to give us an F1 frequency.

F2 varies a little by jaw drop, but rises substantially based on the volume of the pharyngeal section, and the connection of the pharyngeal section to the mouth section. Put another way, as the pharyngeal section gets larger (the part 'behind' the tongue hump) the part 'in front' of the tongue hump gets smaller.

If you go back to the first graphic, you can see that in action for the /i/ (ee) vowel, a high/front vowel. The tongue is quite high in the mouth, with a long and wide pharyngeal section, and a very small mouth section. Compare that to the /u/ (oo) (almost as long, but not as much volume) which is a high/back vowel, with the hump of the tongue giving a bit less space in the pharynx, but quite a bit more in front than the /i/ did.

BTW, prior to the time when these sorts of pictures became available, there was great chaos among voice teachers about how the vowels were produced.

I hope this is helpful.

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Wow, thanks! It's very helpful, and I'm looking forward to reading that PDF you linked.

I have a question that I'm kind of afraid to ask, because it's guaranteed to expose how little I actually understand about this stuff, but here goes...

If you sang a vowel - let's say "AH" - and then lowered F1 and raised F2, the resulting sound would be a modified vowel, right? And a layman might say that it was the same vowel as before, but that it sounded "headier", though technically speaking the thing that makes it sound headier is the fact that it's a slightly different vowel?

In other words, is it safe to say that at given pitch and intensity there isn't a "chesty" pure AH and a "heady" pure AH; that any one pronunciation of AH comes imbued with its own balance of heady/chestiness, and if you influence it in either direction what you're actually doing is changing the vowel?

EDIT: By the way, you've all already been very generous with your time, so if I'm way off here and you don't feel like typing out a big explanation, feel free to just tell me to hit the books ;)

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Wow, thanks! It's very helpful, and I'm looking forward to reading that PDF you linked.

I have a question that I'm kind of afraid to ask, because it's guaranteed to expose how little I actually understand about this stuff, but here goes...

If you sang a vowel - let's say "AH" - and then lowered F1 and raised F2, the resulting sound would be a modified vowel, right? And a layman might say that it was the same vowel as before, but that it sounded "headier", though technically speaking the thing that makes it sound headier is the fact that it's a slightly different vowel?

In other words, is it safe to say that at given pitch and intensity there isn't a "chesty" pure AH and a "heady" pure AH; that any one pronunciation of AH comes imbued with its own balance of heady/chestiness, and if you influence it in either direction what you're actually doing is changing the vowel?

EDIT: By the way, you've all already been very generous with your time, so if I'm way off here and you don't feel like typing out a big explanation, feel free to just tell me to hit the books ;)

raphaels: Its no problem. We all are in the process of learning :-)

If you sang Ah, and then did as you mention, you get a different vowel. IMO, it would not be perceived as 'headier' by a layman, just different or shaded, depending on how far the formants were separated.

However, if (in this manoevre) you de-tune F1 from an harmonic, but happen to align F2 with one, there will be a perception (on the informed listener) that the tone quality has changed, and not just the vowel. This is somewhat range dependent, but is _exactly_ what an operatic tenor (and the occasional rock one) does when heading toward 2nd-formant tuning in the upper voice (say, from G4 to C4 or so) on certain vowels. In that region, we do not necessarily expect a strong F1 alignment, but it it is EXTRAORDINARILY RINGING if the tenor aligns F2 with the 3rd or 4th Harmonic, which is how some interpret (or expect) the sound of the full voice 'in the head' (voce piena in testa).

Keep the questions coming.

I hope this is helpful.

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If you really don't mind I'll sling one or two more at you before I turn to the cold depths of wikipedia haha. This is really great, thanks so much.

Are the proportions of F1/F2 alignment (within the confines for any given vowel) mostly range dependent, or is that kind of a variable that determines a singers overall vocal tone? I'm sure this isn't a legit example, but is it as though on a G3 bing crosby would be leaning towards the strong F2 side of things and john lee hooker would be leaning towards the strong F1 side of things?

Edit: I just realized that my example once again implies that higher F2=headier, but just ignore that haha. Basically I'm curious as to whether or not different proportions of F1/F2 alignment have different characteristic tones.

Edit 2: To further clarify, when I say proportions of F1/F2 alignment, I mean how tuned either or both are to the harmonics of a note. I'm not even sure if a formant can be partially tuned to a harmonic or if it's a binary thing, but I wonder how different a note would sound sung 4 times - once with well tuned F1 but bad F2, once with good F2 but bad F1, once with both tuned well and once with both tuned poorly.

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If you really don't mind I'll sling one or two more at you before I turn to the cold depths of wikipedia haha. This is really great, thanks so much.

Are the proportions of F1/F2 alignment (within the confines for any given vowel) mostly range dependent, or is that kind of a variable that determines a singers overall vocal tone? I'm sure this isn't a legit example, but is it as though on a G3 bing crosby would be leaning towards the strong F2 side of things and john lee hooker would be leaning towards the strong F1 side of things?

Edit: I just realized that my example once again implies that higher F2=headier, but just ignore that haha. Basically I'm curious as to whether or not different proportions of F1/F2 alignment have different characteristic tones.

Edit 2: To further clarify, when I say proportions of F1/F2 alignment, I mean how tuned either or both are to the harmonics of a note. I'm not even sure if a formant can be partially tuned to a harmonic or if it's a binary thing, but I wonder how different a note would sound sung 4 times - once with well tuned F1 but bad F2, once with good F2 but bad F1, once with both tuned well and once with both tuned poorly.

raphaels: Great questions. Its quite possible to do as you suggest in edit 2, and each scenario will sound different, and is ( as you surmise ) somewhat range dependent, because the location of harmonics move in relation to the fundamental.

A formant can be well, or poorly tuned to a harmonic. If neither F1 or F2 is handy to an harmonic, the voice is less resonant than when either (or both) are close by. According to prof Ingo Titze, a formant just above a harmonic is much better (more inertive) than one just below, and the closer, the better. Similar advice from Prof Berton Coffin, in 'Overtones of Bel Canto', and his work at the University of Colorado.

This alignment of harmonics and formants only works with certain vowels in the upper voice, which is why they are preferred by certain pedagogies for this range. Other vowels, with different formant tunings, do not work on these notes because of the (lack of) harmonic alignment. In general, for tenor, we head toward 'uh', at some point, because no better alignment is possible, and so its the best we can do.

I hope this is helpful.

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I'm just going to throw a new question in here rather than make a new thread.

Would it be right to call the soft, dark croony sound of Bing Crosby on White Christmas "covered"? Part of me wants to say yes, because it has that dopey quality but it also sounds kind of placed in the mask. The other part of me wants to say no though, because I tried to do some research just now and evidently some smart people say covering = curbing?

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