If you find in a guitar dismantled, some piece unglued, some screw too tightly fastened, the strings not properly fixed do you expect it to sound well? do you think to play it? Are you surprised if it doesn’t sound properly? And if you have never played a violin do you find correct to judge your ear and musical capacity by playing it? Voices are like those two examples. Even when you don’t see anybody walking with his head in his hand or a leg round his neck, this doesn’t mean that his body is properly assembled to sing, or according to the second example he does naturally good and proper things to play his instrument. Some very lucky are yet properly settled and do some very right things just naturally, others not, sometimes due to simple injuries or bad habits.The worse is the judgement deaf-tone voices; I have experimented people who have submitted to, and the consequent shyness that render them more shy and uneasy in the regard of such a joyous instrument as voice is, and the consequent lack of the necessary energy and body attitude added to the problems that renders those voices out of pitch. Sometimes they also think having a bad ear and a bad musical brain. It is always possible but in my experience it had no relationship with a tone deaf voice. Tone deaf voices I have worked with, were mostly a bad shaping body, as the first example and when we properly set up they were no more tone-deaf voices, but only voices who had to learn how to sing. Some, very few in the second. To start with the ones of the first example I usually put them in a possible shape for singing (I explain that hereinafter) and I don’t ask them to match a pitch, but just to imitate me. If I put them in the condition of vibrating and I produce a good sound for them by passive attitude they will start vibrate according to one of the overtones in my sound, if possible to their body the easiest one, the correct pitch I wanted, if yet impossible something normally not that far in very little time. To make it possible there are many simple and less simple exercises to give the minimal elasticity and shape of a possible correct sound. I have to play them for the first period as the second range strings of a viola d’amore. The Viola d’amore was an ancient viola with a double range of strings, one under the other. The player played the upper range and the other vibrated according to the superior “per simpatia” was said, by sympathy. What is nice in that passive way is that the lack of tension to match a pitch will live the body smooth enough to simply let itself being changed and shaped by the teacher and vibrate. In that way they have the experience in the body of a sound less incorrect, a feeling to remember, a feeling to relate to look for sounds and pitches, a feeling and an experience that will feed body and brain and give a quiet and easy sense of comfort while producing sounds. The body and the brain will remember those feelings and will reproduce the same patterns while you will play less and less for what is acquired and as before to obtain more difficult and complex things. The teacher has the necessity to understand well the inside shaping of the student. What renders so difficult to understand what and how is badly set up is the fact that we don’t see the elements of our instrument, they are for the most part inside and very rarely we can feel it before having made a work on them, so how can a teacher know what to do? And how to do if the person doesn’t even feel the existence of he has to move and change? A good teacher and a good singer should be able to feel in himself what is happening in the student, but I think that on that subject the teaching world should think about developing proper methodic to deal with, and that’s why I talk about voice luthiery, a field to explore and develop. I can usually feel how they are shaping themselves, because I let my body being guided by their shape and opening the same communicative channel of musicians I can make them take the shape I am assuming. This shape I assume and want them to imitate must be not that far from the shape they have and at the same time they must have the elasticity to assume it. I mean that I have to assume me their shape and then to ameliorate it in a suitable way. To give them the elasticity I make them do some simple and less simple physical exercises. To maintain that elasticity and not make an intellectual control that will use movement pattern yet existing and not useful I ask them to lay together as children: I do they do, I do they imitate without thinking or analyzing my voice or sound or movement. When we think I experienced that some part of the body will get stiff and than it will be impossible to sing correctly without being yet nearly a singer. We can think before and after, not during.The exercises I give to the student will give the correct shape and strength or the necessary soft to all the body’s parties, and work on the coordination of the single parts. Singing is a complexe activity and we just have to render the brain and body in the possibility to execute that complexe coordination.
What is breathing for singing? What is correct breathing? Is it different from normal correct breathing? What are the muscles related? Which muscles have we to work to obtain a good singing breath?
The ancient methods talk about an appoggio (a sort of stand, of pillar) the voice find in a correct breath and of floating on the breath, of singing on the soffio (a gentle, very gentle blow) of the breathing. When we do sing well we lose the exact perception of the air going out and we just perceive a sound around us and a sort of lightness mixed to a sense of solidity and that’s what we call appoggio. How can we find appoggio? This is one of the most important questions of singing. It is normally the result of a good technique work, and it is essential to have the pressure without effort to make the vocal folds work properly. It is in some sort the way to make air become sound and energy, and not a rough blowing air. I tell my students to imagine that with appoggio air becomes water, a living water on which we surf. A sea or a lake or an ocean, it depends on the music we are singing, but not a geyser going out but something that become elastic on which we can float and jump and play surfing on the waves. It is a sort of pressure the air will have under the larynx that you will not feel as a pressure in a water gun for garden ready to be open, but just a freedom and a consistence in the body. This because we can augment the pressure by breathing out the air or by creating an opposition between the muscles of expiration and those which provoke inspiration. In the first case we will have not a good air for singing while in the second case all our air will become ready to become just sound and not to be rough to our larynx or vocal folds. I found very useful the osteopathic conception of breathing which is not that far from yoga conception (the true things relate all to the same, just the use or the path to join those is different). To osteopathy we have three horizontal structures involved in breathing: one under clavicular, the proper diaphragm and the pelvic diaphragm. Those horizontal structures in a good respiration move accorded one to the other. The clavicular for the voice is involved in the throat opening (also Jerzy Grotowski found that evidence in his acting technique), the proper diaphragm goes up and down in exhalation and inhalation, and it is just involuntary as the hearth. The pelvic one is composed by muscles that make lateral and backward-forward movement. A great part of singing technique is related to the possibility in controlling the diaphragm by the structures to which is anchored, and many are absolutely useful and good for many purposes. The new step I found in my experience is to control the effort and the wrong attack of sound by the training or retraining of pelvic diaphragm, which is directly related to the proper diaphragm. We can have easy pressure by opposing voluntarily the inspiratory muscles of pelvic diaphragm during phonation. I found very healthy to coordinate sound attack to a muscular inspiration through some studied movements that will have the result of an opposition of inspiratory and expiratory forces and a phonation with no effort. When this opposition is present the voice has the appoggio. With this simple appoggio and without a voluntary use of all the sustain muscles normally used in vocal technique in my experience I find an easy elastic voice that permits to work on faulty coordination of others part of the instrument voice. For a performing voice it will lack of some support sometimes, but it will be easy to add it when the fundamental defaults are extinguished and the gain in term of capacity of shaping new coordination is quite relevant. In a not so faulty voice I will add the necessary support by appropriate vocalisation and by appropriate repertoire. I usually wait the moment in which the attack of the sound has joined a good automatic coordination so to seem totally natural to teach the voluntary supports to obtain a voluntary work on sound more refined. The pelvic diaphragm often is not properly working and I have developed many exercises to work it and relate it to the voice, exercise anybody of any age can do. Results have been surprising also to me in profesional singers with or without problems, in some damaged vocal folds, in adolescents during the changing of the voice.