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The Sound That Resounds Part II

News of Note
The Sound that Resounds, Part II
This month’s issue concludes our trek through the basic elements of vocal production. It is a continuation of last month’s discussion on the intertwining functions of vocal resonance and articulation.
Part 1 introduced the concept of resonance and how the vocal tract (VT) acts as a filter to the influx of sound waves from the vocal folds. It included a brief discussion of how singers learn to inform the “resonant chamber”, the vocal tract, to produce not only a beautiful, colorful sound, but one that projects without the use of electronic amplification. In a sense, making use of our own built-in speaker system. Part 2 will focus on the effect of articulation on vocal resonance.

In everyday speech, we rarely think about what our tongue is doing as it quickly moves to form each word. In singing, however, the music oftentimes dictates a slower articu-latory pace, requiring us to spend more time phonating the vowel: zipping through the initial consonant(s) and then keeping the final one(s) at bay until the rhythmic duration of the pitch we are singing has been reached.
A major articulator, the tongue is made up of bundles of muscles and occupies a goodly portion of the VT. It consists of two basic areas, the base and the “hump” where the contraction occurs. Singers need to know how instrumental the size and position of this bulge is to the spatial distribution of the mouth and throat cavities and, consequently, its influence on the resonance frequencies of the VT. The tongue’s hump can move for-wards, backwards, arch, be neutral or “spoon”. The narrow areas created by these changing tongue positions alter the formants of the VT, affecting vowel recognition. It’s location also dictates the coupling config-uration between the throat and mouth areas.
Here are some important things to know about the ever useful, often problematic tongue. It connects indirectly to the larynx via the hyoid bone. Tensing the tongue will raise the larynx, which shortens the vocal tract, creating a shallow, bright tone. Some musical theatre singers use this technique to produce that characteristic Broadway sound. Pulling the tongue back towards the throat depresses the larynx, producing a “wolfy”, muddy quality. It also overworks the head and neck muscles. A curled tongue sends the sound waves backward.
As for the rest of the articulators, they lend no small weight to vocal resonance and efficient articulation. The jaw must remain relaxed and ready to move in response to the needs of the tongue as it quickly maneuvers through changing phonemes. A lowered jaw narrows the pharynx, increasing the size and opening of the oral cavity, impacting both vowel integrity and resonant tuning.
The lips shape the sound waves on their way out. They can extend (pucker), warming the sound or retract (spread), for a brighter tone. In other words, puckering lengthens the VT, while spreading the lips, shortens it. These seemingly small movements are essential to a singer’s formant tuning toolbox and to pro-ducing distinguishing tonal characteristics of various vocal styles.
In voice science, the VT is referred to as a non-linear source filter because of its ever changing profile. It must be capable of forming a large number of acoustical shapes to bulls-eye the “moving target” of optimal resonance. (Adams). Unlike consonants, vowels are tone and actually have pitch. Every vowels owes its identity to two strong resonance frequencies or formants. When these formants match up with the formants of the VT, they get an energy boost, clarifying the vowel. And since 99% of our singing is on vowels (Nix), this is an important concept to comprehend and know how to execute.
Vowels are categorized as front, back and central or neutral according to the location of the tongue’s bulge. Front vowels such as “ee” and “ay” are formed with the hump forward. The result, more throat vs. mouth space, enhances the upper harmonics.

Location of the tongue “hump” during the articulation of different vowels.
To form the “oh” and “oo” vowels, the bulge of the tongue moves to the back, establishing greater space in the mouth and less in the throat. This configuration tends to favor the lower harmonic frequencies. This is why front vowels tend to sound brighter than the darker, “hootier” back “oh” and “oo” vowels.
What is important to remember from all this is that because vowels are pitched based and have their own personal set of resonance frequencies, they must be manipulated to tune into the VT formants. For instance, as pitch rises, keeping the tongue hump forward maintains front vowel recognition (as in the “ee” vowel). However, to prevent undue brightness from the intensified higher harmonics (larger throat space), the jaw is lowered, enlarging the mouth cavity to capture the lower harmonics. The goal is a balance of bright and dark, silver and gold in the tone (chiaroscuro). An increase in pitch also results in fewer harmonics available for formant tuning. All vowels in the very high vocal range begin to sound alike, leaning more toward the universal “uh” vowel. Sopranos, when singing in the stratosphere, need to raise the jaw and create a more horizontal interior space to effect the most advanta-geous acoustical environment for the best possible tone, regardless of the vowel.
If the size and shaping of the VT are not optimal for the frequency input, harmonics are dampened, losing amplitude and vowel definition. Mismatched tuning can also result in unstable intonation. A major part of vocal training focuses on the exploration and awareness of the many possible acoustical shapes created by articulatory movement. Whether is it dropping the jaw, rounding the lips or moving your tongue a little this way or that, finding the perfect match for each vowel for each pitch not only takes advantage of our own stereo system, it also improves are chances of being clearly understood!
Chiaroscura: Optimal Resonance, Adams, K. JOS, Sept/Oct 2009. Bodymind and Voice: Foundations of Voice Education, Thurman, L. EdD & Welch, G, DMA, co-eds. VoiceCare Network, 2000. Your Voice: An Inside View, McCoy, S., DMA. InsideView Press. 2004. Vowel Modification, Nix, J. & Bozeman. Journal of Singing. National Association of Teachers of Singing, 2004, 2007.

Happy Holiday Singing
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A New “News of Note”
The New Year is always a great time to rethink and refresh! So……2013 will herald a new look for the News of Note monthly newsletter. The final format has not yet been determined so if you have any ideas or suggestions to offer on content or issues, please contact me with your thoughts and ideas!

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