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Singing on the "thin edges" of the vocal chords?

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miss pk
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Hi: Can someone explain the concept of singing on the "thin edges" of the vocal chords? I read about this on a site that's more focused on classical singing. I assume it refers to something more than just simply getting chord closure and eliminating "breathy singing"? I am wondering when you would use this coordination, and if it has application outside of classical singing? Does it help reduce "weight" on your chords? Thanks!

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I understand the concept of singing on the thin edges, and think I can feel it when I concentrate. Just like whistling or blowing a note on across a bottle neck, the better you are at blowing air just on the very edges of your lips or bottle neck, the clearer, easier and more correct the sound becomes. Just making the very thinnest edges of the vocal chords vibrate, the edges closest to each other, makes a crisper, clearer and easier note, instead of clumsily blowing air all over the thicker parts of the vocal chords to make them hum too. In general, it seems to me that concentrating on keeping the note in the very dead center of your throat, the very center of the opening between your chords, which would be on the edges of the chords, is beneficial.

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Yeah, the way Matt describes it is kind of what i thought it was - but Centre, are you saying it's the same as falsetto? for some reason, i thought falsetto was when they were not really touching and that was why falsetto sounds kind of airy.

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I understand the concept of singing on the thin edges, and think I can feel it when I concentrate. Just like whistling or blowing a note on across a bottle neck, the better you are at blowing air just on the very edges of your lips or bottle neck, the clearer, easier and more correct the sound becomes. Just making the very thinnest edges of the vocal chords vibrate, the edges closest to each other, makes a crisper, clearer and easier note, instead of clumsily blowing air all over the thicker parts of the vocal chords to make them hum too. In general, it seems to me that concentrating on keeping the note in the very dead center of your throat, the very center of the opening between your chords, which would be on the edges of the chords, is beneficial.

Matt: David Jones is advocating registration that uses the lightest possible TA action that can still produce the firm tone quality. The 'singing on the edges' is a metaphor... imagery. It is _not_ what happens really, unless the phonation is falsetto, or high full voice above the passaggio in female voices. For those, the vibration can be limited to just the 'cord' part of the vocal process, and in the case of falsetto, the 'cover' of the 'cord'. Full modal voice uses a complex motion (called the glottal wave) that involves the deeper tissues of the vocal bands

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I see. Thanks. Would you agree about my center of the throat imagery?

Matt: IMO, the phrase on its own does not contain enough information for the singer. It requires pre-existing shared understanding of vocal band motion during adduction, for example.

That does not reduce the utility of the image. It just means that there is some context to be understood beforhand.

That said, you can use musical/tonal concepts (soft and clear coordinated onsets) to get at some of the same desired muscular and phonation characteristics, without using imagery at all. Its my preference to use direct musical and vocal concepts whenever they are workable. Imagery has some uses, but also takes time that IMO is better spent in other ways.

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One of the challenges that awaits us in building "The #1 Community for Singers on the Web" is going to be bringing into our fold each of the millions of singers who have very little, mythical, or even incorrect understanding of how the voice works. This challenge will continue to confront us, as each of those millions joins on for the first time, and we should talk about how to best deal with it.

Steven is beginning an approach to this, by starting his Vocal Terminology discussion. We need to be friendly, patient and welcoming each time the same question is asked, and we need to develop an ongoing 'reference room' where folks can go and build their knowledge by visiting on their own time.

For q quick example, the so called "vocal cords" were named that way because years ago when a doctor looked down your throat with a mirror and asked you to say "AHHHH," the doctor saw (and still sees today) two thin white lines that vibrate together. See <http://www.bluetreepublishing.com/vPartsV38.cfm>

Now that we have scalpels and MRI equipment, we can cut a cross-section -- literally or figuratively -- through these things, and we discover -- what? -- that they are actually not "cords" at all (and certainly not "chords"), but rather folds of flesh. See <http://www.bluetreepublishing.com/vParts.cfm>

Hence, today we universally refer to them as "vocal folds." This is because they are floppy masses of flesh rather than tensely drawn violin strings. Their behavior is completely unlike that of "cords."

Virtually all the answers to this wealth of truly excellent questions can be found in the world-standard textbook on the subject by Johan Sundberg called "The Science of the Singing Voice." This book is inexpensive, not long, easy (and engaging) to read, and you will be simply amazed at what you learn. It's not "science" in the way you dreaded it in high school. : )

I'd highly recommend it to anyone who uses their voice for singing, because of the excellent and friendly way Dr. Sundberg explains every detail and fills out the picture of what is truly going on.

Pete

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Its interesting though Steven, because I've experienced the *sensation* of singing on the edges, and it felt like an increase in comfort and ease. I suspect the feeling I experienced was similiar to the twanging sensation.

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Its interesting though Steven, because I've experienced the *sensation* of singing on the edges, and it felt like an increase in comfort and ease. I suspect the feeling I experienced was similiar to the twanging sensation.

Matt: Oh, yes! I agree with you entirely about the 'sensation' of 'singing on the edges'. That is why the metaphor is relevant and useful. It can be used to help a student discover balanced phonation, and (once discovered) to recognize when it is is occuring.

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i too have felt the sensation of singing on what feels like an edge - i'm glad to hear that that's a good thing. and is it just me, or is does it seem easier to move between head and chest voice when you feel like your singing on the 'edges'? when i do that it feels like i've dropped some of the baggage/weight off my voice, and it feels more fluid, but not airy?

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i too have felt the sensation of singing on what feels like an edge - i'm glad to hear that that's a good thing. and is it just me, or is does it seem easier to move between head and chest voice when you feel like your singing on the 'edges'? when i do that it feels like i've dropped some of the baggage/weight off my voice, and it feels more fluid, but not airy?

miss pk: You got it. The sensation of 'singing on the edge' is an experience that some have when the registration and adduction are matched with the breath energy, in a perfect balance for that note: not too little nor too much vocal weight. The description of 'fluid, but not airy' is right on as well.

When that balance occurs (whether the sensation does or not... varies by person) then the voice is as free as it can be to transition between ranges of the voice.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Spot on - Steven nails it - when you are adducting correctly it should feel "weightless", "bright" and "free" - NO STRAIN. There should be no feeling of "pulling or pushing" the notes forward in pitch. I don't use the term "up" when referring to pitches as that is misleading and psychologically discouraging. Always think of singing notes out in front of you - not "up" or "down" - just closer or farther away from you on a straight line.

A good way to know if you're adducting correctly is try to sing a song like "Communication Breakdown" from Led Zeppelin exactly as recorded - match Robert Plant's pitches. If you can sing "I'm having a nervous breakdown, drive me insane" at the end of the choruses without ANY strain or "push", then you're adducting correctly. That song requires proper adducting to replicate Plant's high notes without strain.

Adducting is applicable for virtually any kind of music. Even if you're a SLS follower - adducting can really help achieve a super high "mix".

Kevin Richards

www.rockthestagenyc.com

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what are some different sensations to look for "when the registration and adduction are matched with the breath energy" (as Steven puts it). what's frustrating is that i feel like i get it one day and then try to do it the next with a marker or some imagery to get me there - but it doesn't work. at one point, i did feel an edgy sensation in the center of my throat (as matt mentioned) that seemed to work for me one day, but then when i used that imagery the next day, it definitely did not work as i experienced some hoarseness and needed to clear my throat a lot. in general, i usually try to get my voice "out" of my throat as i tend use a lot muscles there, but if anyone has any other helpful imagery that i can use to tell "when the registration and adduction are matched with the breath energy", that would be great.

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To keep my voice in the center, it actually helps me to "roll" up the back of my neck when going higher - that seems to keep my voice from slipping forward. I imagine my voice is a wheel rolling up and down the back of my throat when doing sirens. Another trick I have, which sounds contradictory but isnt, is to creak/cackle up to the higher notes, and hence feel quite distinctly that all notes actually come from the same "height" in your throat, e.g. from the chords. You should probably never listen to me though, unless one of the more trained agrees...

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what are some different sensations to look for "when the registration and adduction are matched with the breath energy" (as Steven puts it). what's frustrating is that i feel like i get it one day and then try to do it the next with a marker or some imagery to get me there - but it doesn't work. at one point, i did feel an edgy sensation in the center of my throat (as matt mentioned) that seemed to work for me one day, but then when i used that imagery the next day, it definitely did not work as i experienced some hoarseness and needed to clear my throat a lot. in general, i usually try to get my voice "out" of my throat as i tend use a lot muscles there, but if anyone has any other helpful imagery that i can use to tell "when the registration and adduction are matched with the breath energy", that would be great.

Miss pk: I will write you more thoroughly this evening, but for now, I'd like to suggest that the path to this is not one of imagery, but of using a specific set of exercises in the day that help you get to this coordinated vocalism repeatably. Essentially, I am recommending that you develop your own personal 'warm-up series' that works well for your particular voice.

According to Richard Miller, Professor Emeritus of Voice from Oberlin, the character of the phonation is best determined by the way a note is begun, the onset. His recommendation, which I follow myself in my own singing, is to begin the warm-up with easy, clear, separated notes on a single pitch in the middle or middle-low range. He suggests that /e/ (ay) is reasonable for beginning this exercise. The notes are not sustained. Rather, the exercise focuses the attention of the singer on the quality of the beginning of the note.

Personally, when I do this exercise early in the morning, I find it takes me a few minutes to get into the right frame of mind once I have begun it. If I have not talked at all prior to doing this exercise, then before the onsets, I do some simple, soft phonation slides on a semi-occluded consonant, such as V or Z, without trying to 'place' it anywhere. Rather, I just think of 'clear & soft', rather like I would say the consonant in speech (like beginning the word Zoo softly). If I do this exercise a few minutes, sliding the pitch around, I find a gentler phonation coordination than if I go directly to full-voice phonation, and helps clear the morning gunk, too. :-)

As I said, I will post more completely later today, and point you to some other resources from voice professionals that you can use on a regular basis to construct your personal, 'get me to my zone' vocalise series.

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miss pk: Now that its evening, I've a bit more time to give you a more thorough response.

Returning to a core concept, I think its worth mentioning again that the 'singing on the edges' sensation/metaphor represents phonation that has the right amount of laryngeal musculature activity to provide clear, easily-made tone. The tone is not breathy, nor is it overly muscular ....it is efficient phonation.

This kind of phonation feels like less work, less engagement of laryngeal muscles, especially to the singer who has habitually used too much engagement previously. I am speaking here of many lower male voices, and female voices with powerful speaking ranges. Simply by familiarity, such singers expect their entire range should feel the same in the throat as their lower voices do, so as the notes rise, the effort increases as they try to maintain the status quo.

As the muscular effort increases, the vocal process stiffens, reducing flexibility of pitch change. Essentially, letting the muscle action get too involved prevents the subtle muscle balance changes that should occur note to note.

With that in mind, lets reconsider the image of 'singing on the edges'.

The desired muscular balance is one that seems less involved than previously occurred. One way to stimulate that level of muscular action is to think of it as not involving the entire vocal band mass, but rather just the parts of the vocal bands which form the edge of the glottis, a comparatively small amount of tissue. This mental model/approach/image is designed to provoke less intense registration and adduction responses. When combined with a softer dynamic concept, the resulting muscular response tends much closer to the actions which are minimally needed to produce the soft, clear tone. This desirable effect is furthered by adopting postures or positions which reduce the liklihood of too much exhalation energy, and by using exercises that tend to prevent over-registration and adduction.

Now, to the specific exercises.

At the National Center for Voice and Speech are Dr. Titze's 5 favorite vocal warm-up exercises. Follow this link:

http://www.ncvs.org/e-learning/warmup.html

These exercises are not imagery-based. They are instead based on fundamentals of vocal mechanics and acoustics, as well as musical concepts. The vocal responses they stimulate, though, are identical to those the user of the 'edges' metaphor hopes to

achieve... correct balance of vocal action which leads to ease of production, clarity of tone, and flexibility of range.

As an FYI, when Dr. Titze refers to a 'semi-occluded' sound, he means one that creates a little pressure in the mouth, like what happens with the consonants V and Z and voiced Th that I mentioned in this morning's post. You can accomplish this by singing through a soda straw, if you want, or cupping your hand over your mouth, or singing into a handkerchief wrapped around a finger, or singing through a small lip opening.

If you combine one of these sounds with the image that you are singing just on the edges of the cords, especially if you are also thinking of a soft sound, you will find the level of muscle action that gives you the pitch freedom (glides, arpeggios, etc) that you desire.

These are exercises that I use myself, every day. Please let me know if you have any questions about how one or another of them is performed, and I will expand on the descriptions provided by Dr. Titze.

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This kind of phonation feels like less work, less engagement of laryngeal muscles, especially to the singer who has habitually used too much engagement previously. I am speaking here of many lower male voices, and female voices with powerful speaking ranges. Simply by familiarity, such singers expect their entire range should feel the same in the throat as their lower voices do, so as the notes rise, the effort increases as they try to maintain the status quo.

Hi Steven: thanks for a really great response to my inquiry! what you wrote above - this is the most accurate articulation that i've ever seen of what i feel is my biggest problem in singing (although don't get me wrong, i have many). it also seems like the hardest of my problems to shake. i'm so used to speaking in a low, louder voice at work and in everyday life. i have also ONLY sung in my chest voice for most of my life. it's the only singing voice i thought i had available to me and whenever i would hit my passagio, i would struggle and muscle my way to try and continue the same chest feeling into the upper ranges. I had no idea i even had a "head" voice until last August when i started taking lessons - i just assumed that i had a very small range. :/ needless to say, singing with a lighter mechanism is still foreign to me although i'm really practicing. i am excited to try out dr. titze's exercises over the next few weeks - along with that "thin edge" imagery - as i would really love to be able to eventually produce a clear, EASILY-made tone, and get rid of some of that luggage that i often feel like my folds are dragging around!

thanks again and i'll let you know how it goes!

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really what it is is vocal fry on the bottom and the sound of a squeaky door on top, it is totally different than say pharyngeal or head or chest or anything, it is actually the fundamental foundation of vocal coordination, it's also like a groggy sound that you'd talk in if you just woke up in the morning, if you click on one of my videos i'm pretty sure i demonstrate it, if not email me at frankpetrucci@yahoo.com and i can personally help you

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