Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Section VI: The Attack and Vocal Instincts –

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1. All voices beginning on D4 and in structure (review Enrico Caruso, Section II, Fig.1), take-in a mint in-breath and tap out five staccatos, but hold the fifth for a whole note. Therein lie the genius in the staccato; the attack of the whole note is flawless—if attacked as a staccato—because the staccato is an instinct. No one mentioned the mechanics. But in paragraph 5 of the previous section—Section V: [a] Vowel Preparation—we stated that to initiate voice, “blow" down onto to the vocal cords an [a] vowel. The staccato that initiated the whole note attack is what we had in mind with blow down the [a] vowel. Repeat the exercise and become thoroughly acquainted with the workings—in that split-second—of the staccato: the attack, the hint of a vowel and, above all, the release (yes, there is a release) and apply them, particularly the attack and release (the vowel/voice is a given) consciously to the attack and release of the whole note.

2. (Note: A conscious attack will be easily recognized as a valuable tool in sculpting the void. But to release the vowel in a whole note as the vowel is released in a staccato is High Art, and not easily accomplished; but the benefits are untold. We mention three: (1) the release of a whole note with the touch in the release of a staccato will bring vowel and release to a firm consciousness--a major tool for this work. (2) The release of a whole note as a staccato will introduce the student to a pure [straight] vowel—a foreign concept in English. [For a vowel to be pure or identified as such, it must end as it begins—one—and the staccato allows that to occur.] And most important for Anglo-American singers (3): A straight vowel development is a must to begin the elimination of a major vocal impediment to the development of the voice, built into the American throat and mind, because inherent in Anglo-American English: The diphthong.

3. (The Diphthong: A gliding monosyllabic speech sound--as the vowel combination at the end of high--that starts at or near the position for one vowel and moves to or toward the position of another. And most insidious when the two vowel sounds and the glide between them are represented by a single vowel character—as in high—and the vowel character gives no indication of the primary vowel. Where in the glide [diphthong] is the singer to carry the vowel, and what vowel is that? What vowel is he thinking in high? The primary vowel in high is [a], as in ah and if high is to be held for four counts, 9/10ths of the four-counts is a straight [a]. That is foreign to the American singer’s psyche.

4. (The Problem: When English speaking singers SEE the word high and words like it—cry, shine, buy, time, night, why, climb, mine, and so on—in song, the word cements the diphthong with a muscular response, a curve, really, a hook within the back of the throat—it is not straight: an imprint ingrained from earliest childhood through our native Anglo-American speech patterns/sounds and worked into the muscles that line throat—all of which disallows a pure vowel. The singer may think he is singing [a] in such words, but not sense the diphthong-hook—sub-conscious, as it is—because he has no other point of reference for the word; he knows no other [a], if he knows it is an [a] at all. If the [a] vowel were in our alphabet as such, we may have had a better chance of employing it.

5. (In English [a] is a diphthong, two vowels sounds—neither of which is ah—connected with a glide found in words such as hey, pay, wait, take, obey, lake, blame, and so on; [i] (as in high) is a diphthong of which the first and primary vowel is ah. It is necessary for English speaking singers to understand a pure vowel if only to release the hook. Once that is accomplished—vowel straight from beginning to end without hesitation—the singer is in control of the product and can insert as much or as little of the glide as he chooses. Listen to the [a] vowel in English sung by an Italian, Ezio Pinza, who knows not the diphthong as Americans do. Because he has to consciously insert it when required, his [a] stands out in even greater relief. In this recording of “Bali Ha’i,”* listen to his [a] vowel in the diphthongs: Island, Ha’i, night, I, hillside, shine, try, sky, and flying; and the [a] in Bali and heart, and the [a] to [o] in cloud. The [a] vowel is native to Mr. Pinza, our neuro-linguistic model of [a] vowel perfection; [a], pure and simple; that is not native to Americans. In order to learn to sing [a], we have to learn to think [a] while we sing [a]. That is the major challenge in the slow scale.


6. (Although we work primarily [a], what applies to [a] as a straight vowel applies to all vowels, and once the [a] is pure, the work is easily transferable to all vowels. But there is more to a straight vowel than relieving the pharyngeal constraint triggered by a diphthong, and that is the pure vowel itself. And why we include this lengthy note on vowel: to emphasize a conscious vowel release on the basis demonstrated in a staccato, for that straightens a vowel as no other technical principle can. And the cementing influence is in the follow-through.

7. (When one understands voice, one sees the ditch our language has left us in. Native speaking Italians, because of their language, begin between seventy-five and eighty percent of the possible one hundred percent vocal perfection inherent within the human voice. Americans, and for the same reason, begin between forty and forty-five percent of that potential. This, one will come to know.) Incidentally, Mr. Pinza does not take advantage of the Caruso smile when he sings. Ezio is Ezio.

8. When working in English, we strongly suggest taking white-out tape and applying it to all words comprised of the diphthong in high; then write in the primary vowel with the consonant that launches the word/vowel. For example: high, hah; night, nah; thine, thah; climb, clah; and so on. Remember, an [a] is an [a] is an [a]: one structure.

9. To make conscious the attack and release of a vowel, the staccato is an excellent tool. Once the concept is understood and established, the staccato may be dropped from all exercises. (Incidentally, a clean, clear-cut and vibrant staccato is not developed by working it. The good staccato comes with developing the voice, and nothing serves the voice better than a state of dynamic tension, as applied when working the slow scale.) The staccato merely serves the mechanics of an attack and release of a vowel better than any words could. It is an instinct. But when voice is understood, a whole note can be nothing but a long staccato.

10. The attack and release are the bookends to a vowel in structure, and until they are practically an automatism through conscious application, there is nothing else to think about. They help to keep structure in line. Paying attention to vowel release is analogous to paying attention to follow-through for a Major League Baseball player when he swings at and drives a pitch. After the vowel is released, hold structure for a count—follow-through.

Exercise 2

11. In Exercise 2, after the release of the first whole note as a staccato and on the fourth count, take-in a mint in-breath, and come back in with the same structure in the release, same vowel thought, same resonance, same staccato (pin-point) attack, and all of it on the next beat. Prepare then to repeat the process over again for the third and fourth measure, and after the final release--follow-through. That is a lot of thinking to be worked-in, but after the logistics are out of the way, there is something to hone in this exercise. Work it in comfortable keys until the attack and release can be applied with some authority on the beat. The beat gives us a point of focus, a conscious direction—critical. Remember, we are planting seeds. There are other attacks more conducive to expressive singing, such as gliding-in and talking-in the vowel; but for developing the voice and the mind, a conscious pin-point vowel attack and vowel release on a beat serves best.

12. Now that we are totally familiar with the staccato, the mechanism within the instinct--which we did not explain--is in its initiation and in its termination: an inaudible aspirate: [h], as in hah but without the aitches. In effect, we turn some of the initial in-take breath into an arrow or a stick of breath and, tipped with a vowel, blow it down the pharyngeal conduit onto the cords, not to pierce, but to kiss—the kiss of breath: a most exquisite touch: pure (vowel), inaudible, initiation of voice. That is an art and that is what it can be. And these concepts don't happen as concepts; they happen in work. Also, built into the instinct of the staccato is the blowing-down-mechanism; we are always attacking pitches, no matter high or low, from above--eventually to obviate all fear of coming down (attacking) on a high note.

13. The aitch in Hallelujah, on the other hand, is to be aspirated and so, too, all words like it: how, heaven, have, heard, and so on. Whether the aspirate is audible or inaudible—as far as the well-keeping of the voice or vocal technique is concerned—is not an issue; both are correct. The situation in which they occur dictates the aitch to use. But it is the inaudible aspirate, front and rear, built into the staccato that makes the attack and the release of a vowel flawless--perfect. Nature is at her best. What happens between the two is our voice, and that we do not have to consider, if we have considered structure. Structure will take care of the voice. Concentrate on the attack and release within structure and follow-through.

14. (Note: If the voice were reduced to its irreducible, that irreducible is a staccato. The information about voice within that incredible irreducible is analogous to the information about the universe within the Big Bang. That may be hyperbole; nevertheless, all the information about voice is in the staccato. And that information is buried in a pure vowel, which can be revealed absolutely through the staccato. There isn’t time for the hook, the diphthong, to manifest. That is a beautiful discovery; it leads us to a pure vowel. That said, the staccato is not apart of our studio regimen. We use it as a tool to introduce concepts, just as we do here. But when it comes to introducing a pure, straight [e], [i], [o], and [u] vowel, we use the staccato.)

15. If the gods of the Divine Art allowed this singer one sensation to communicate to his reader, through the printed word, it would be the sensation of an open throat--structure--or Caruso's "original position." But if we were allowed to share two, the second would be the sensation of the vowel sitting on the vocal cords, spinning there, analogous to a drop of water sitting on a hot skillet, buzzing there.* The Italian masters referred to the quality rendered as the velluto: the velvet quality of voice, and the quality first to disappear if the voice is misused and abused. First we need to identify it, and the staccato taps act as pointers indicating the velvet. Each tap says: “sing me here, sing me here.” That is, a normal-volume whole-note is initiated by, and goes through the resonance (touch) found in the staccato—in the kiss of breath.

16. These sensations are not what we shoot for in working our voice in structure, particularyly the slow scale; they are the product of working the voice in structure, and easily recognizable once the voice begins to come into its own. We are merely planting seeds. Do not attempt to make our words work. Work the voice and our words will work.

Exercise 3

17. All voices in Structure run Exercise 3 just as written (tempos may vary). Once the logistics are learned (releasing the vowel on the staccato eighth-note in the first two runs is a challenge for some students) and structure can be maintained throughout the exercise, what the vowel did the first time up (original position) is mirrored in the second and third attempt. Correct repetition is how the throat is molded. We must find the mold, our best [a] for each scale we sing, and work it every day until we know it by heart. And then singers instinctively know this is what they do for the rest of their lives.

18. (Note: We apologies to the heavier categories of voice for beginning in a key that, for some, may be high. But the [a] vowel in scale work from low C up is basically [a], pure and unadulterated, until the scale of C4 is reached. Ascending this scale the pitches along the way are high enough that, for their own survival or to remain acoustically and harmonically correct, the vowel must go through a modification. This is true for all categories of voice, male and female. Work the voice in structure from the bottom, but when approaching C4, be on the look out; things begin to happen. Approach it consciously.)

19. In Exercise 3, take just the last scale up and drop the metronomic reading to around seventy (we will call it Exercise 3a) and observe: listen to the [a]. Run Exercise 3a several times to make its acquaintance, and note what happens and where? (Remember, this is what one checks out once structure is established.) In the key of C, the [a] vowel sound, or character goes through a change before it reaches the top C, or C5. It modifies, narrows, or rounds slightly toward the direction of the [)] (aw) vowel. What counts is not what we say the vowel does, but what it does, and only the singer can identify that and only after he, himself, is thoroughly familiar with it. And that takes a good deal of correct repetition and thought for this modification to fully imprint and develop to capacity. For now, monitor structure, listen, and observe; in structure the voice is valid. But do identify where along the scale the modification occurs. And where does it occur in the key of D4?

20. In the C4 scale the vowel modifies over A and B, the sixth and seventh pitches, and continues up to and through the tonic—C5. In the D4 scale the modification occurs over A and B and continues up to and through the tonic, also; only A and B in D4 is the fifth and sixth pitches. The vowel modification over these two pitches is a constant—and this is true for all voices, male and female—the position in the scales in which they occur varies with the key. In the E4 scale, A and B is the forth and fifth pitches; in the G4 scale, A and B is the second and third pitches; in the A4 scale, the transition is in effect by the second pitch. But it makes no difference in what key A4-B4 occurs, they occur, and the experience, the sensation is one. That knowledge is power.

21. It is obvious the singer must know the notes of every scale he sings, not just to assist Nature at this point in the scale, but to learn the instrument. But that will come with working the voice. We now have our first point of reference for that education. In the flat keys, D-flat, E-flat, G-flat, and A-flat, expect the modification to begin at A-flat. In the key of F4, the modification may begin over A and B-flat and finish at C. All of this work is subtle, the heavier voices modifying sooner than the lighter voices. We single out A4-B4 to identify the modification for, as a point of reference, it is most obvious here.

22. As we have said, it is not advisable to think about tracking vowels nor anything else until structure is established—out of the way, so to speak. In the beginning, one has enough to do with head up alla Caruso and jaw down and back alla Caruso and Sutherland while singing [a] and monitoring the works in a mirror. When the voice/vowel is consistent, one, up and down the scale and the singer knows it, demonstrating authority and confidence in every repetition, the singer is ready to track vowel and learn there from. Until then, the only thing to do is to monitor structure. The reality, nevertheless, remains: the [a] vowel modifies, orbs, rounds, or narrows in the neighborhood of A4.

23. The instinctual rounding of the [a] vowel at this juncture is allowed because at this frequency, the voice works. (Note: Without a further thought, we know that if the voice could handle the second octave as well as it does the first, all true vocal instincts for that octave would be revealed, also, and the technique to extract and make conscious.) Consequently, singers, in general, pay little attention as to what goes on here and miss this transition, this instinct and the message therein: the top notes are coming. We, therefore, cannot capitalize on the change in vowel character or modification and the pharyngeal shaping (dome) that comes with it. It is here the voice begins to help effect a successful second octave. But rather than get hung-up here, what counts is this: because we can sing the first octave, we can learn to sing it, perfectly. And in structure, the marking of the vowel transition over A4-B4 is the first step in that process.

24. When we can sing the first octave and one-half, if not perfectly, with the concept in mind, we have earned the right to consider the second octave. If not, it is a waste of time and a waste of voice to do so. By marking the vowel modification over A4-B4, the first constant required for learning the voice has been designated. Knowing where the modifications occur within each scale and without doing anything, save observing, is how we break-in the throat. We monitor Nature where we can and the accompanying sensations will imprint. That is how we build the throat and learn to sing the scales—perfectly.

* * * * *

25. The second mnemonic device for learning the voice plays as an instinct, also. In Exercise 3a (p. 17), we begin in one zone of resonation and we end in another. How does that work? The first zone is commonly referred to as chest voice; the second zone, the mouth/pharynx zone, is commonly referred to as mid-voice, or mid-zone. Where did that switch take place? That is the point of reference (instinct) we seek. Where does this switch occur in the D4 scale? In order to make this switch in zones of resonation seamless—the goal—we must know the seam.

26. Whereas the [a] vowel begins to modify and narrow in the direction of the [)] (aw) vowel as pitch ascends in the neighborhood of A4, the transition from chest voice to mid-zone is not a neighborhood affair. It is to the point, spot on. In the key of C4, some may have experienced the transition between F and G (if it occurred higher than that, our vocalist is flirting with trouble, if not in trouble); some may have experienced it between E and F. Some may have experienced it not at all. Right now we just want to make the acquaintance of the transition, if one is not all ready thoroughly familiar with it.

27. Before reviewing Diagram 3: Zones of Resonation, take Exercise 3a in the key of C4 and D4 and document where in each scale the transition occurs. See if the transitions aline themselves with the zones scored in the following diagram. The zones of resonation are identified by their all-important (boarder) notes of transition. The fourth zone, the super head voice, is a true zone separate from head-zone, but worked in like manner.

Diagram 3: Zones of Resonation —

28. As depicted in Diagram 3, the transition from chest to mid-zone in the C4 scale occurs over the pitches that line the border: E and F, and one half-step separates the two zones. In the D4 scale, the transition occurs over E and F-sharp, a whole step. But this whole step lands one half-step into the next zone. The transition is easier to identify because of that half-step when comparing it to the transition in the C4 scale. In the D-flat and E-flat scales, the transition occurs over E-flat and F, a whole step, but a whole step that lands on a border note. There is detail to discern when negotiating with these pitch-vibrations.

29. Whereas the vowel modification/rounding in the neighborhood of A4 will vary, the heavier categories of voice beginning sooner than the others, the transition from chest voice to mid-voice is, or should be, concrete--and this for all voices, male and female. In song we do have some leeway for greater expression, but this is about developing the voice. And when in structure, nature is allowed to take over and leads the way: the shift is zones is more or less natural. But now we have two points, two mnemonic devices set along the academic scale, to help us learn the scale, our instrument and, in the process, develop it.

30. Given the inherent instrument, basic instincts begin with the most obvious: the ability to carry a tune. Note how we take that one for granted. The instincts we have brought up, however, are not as obvious and cannot be taken for granted. Quite the opposite; they must be observed and developed, particularly, the staccato (attack and release); the vowel rounding over A4-B4; and the shift in zones of resonation over E4-F4. We must know how the voice works before we can guide our instrument. And working it in structure teaches us how to guide it. That is our position. In time our words will trigger the sensations and thoughts about which we speak. We are planting seeds

31. When all the above can be applied to the slow scale, consciously, structure is established. Now we are free, free to observe and confident in our approach. The slow scale is the perfect medium for developing the mind as well as the voice. Built into the exercise is time: time to think. Work the voice in structure and monitor the process. That is the passage. We have one more instinct to investigate before we apply them to the slow scale.