Resonance sensations

Blue Yonder asked the following question in reference to the last installment on Phonation and mask sensations: “If mask sensations are indeed associated with phonation rather than resonance adjustment, then what ARE the physical sensations associated with correct resonance adjustment?”

I believe that we get sidetracked by what we perceive to be resonance sensations. As addressed in the previous post, I believe that the wonderful vibrations that we cherish are sensations associated with excellent phonation supported by good resonance adjustments. A better way of saying it is that greater intensity in the sensations we feel are a direct result of proper resonance adjustments. The manner by which the air is propagated through the glottal oscillation has a direct influence on how we sense the sound. How the sound hits our hearing mechanism also has an effect on our sensations. How our bones response to the glottal vibration, rather supraglottal or subglottal will have an effect on the vibrations that we sense. Our primary concern is therefore to identify the physical action that produces these vibrations, rather than concentrate on the vibrations themselves, because the sensations are influenced by various sources (e.g. hearing, bone conduction, mode of phonation, etc).

This is the reason why I concentrate on onset so much. Beginning the sound lightly is key. When the sound is then compressed (i.e. more breath pressure is added to create a supported tone), the onset mechanism must be maintained. Singers tend to accept a degree of tension when singing a supported tone. There is indeed a certain necessity of tension in the mechanism when the tone is “supported”, but it is not any kind of tension. Many singers do not distinguish between the subglottic pressure that comes when fully approximated folds interact with the moving breath, and the supraglottal squeeze that often results and is detrimental.

As for resonance, rather than concentrate on vibratory sensations, I find it more productive to go to the source of the issue. We know that we are dealing basically with two modes of resonance that have to do with the way the vocal tract is partitioned by the tongue. Simply put, we have two spaces in the vocal tract: 1) the space below the tongue, which I call pharyngeal space and 2) the space above the tongue, which I call palatal space. The pharyngeal space is what is scientifically referred to as “first formant”, the palatal space is referred to as “second formant.” One of these two spaces will be primarily responsible for the resonance of the sung pitch. Consider that the tongue is shaped differently for each vowel. This means that the vocal tract is partitioned differently for each vowel. Therefore, the resonance of different vowels can differ drastically.

To identify the two different resonance sensations, it is necessary to chose a single pitch and sing two vowels that have opposite resonance strategies. It is also important to assure that phonation is correct to begin with. I recommend the following exercise:

Sing C4 (middle C) softly on [i] as in feel, crescendo enough to feel that the tone is supported, then switch to [a] as in father and diminuendo. Naturally, the [i] will feel higher, headier. The [a] will feel lower, speakier. The key is that while the resonance changes, there should be no glitch in the phonation, and one should be able to diminuendo without problem. From [i] to [a], the change is from second formant (i.e. palatal space, head resonance) to first formant (i.e. pharyngeal resonance, chest resonance [not the same as chest voice. This is what is referred to as a mix]). Women might find the exercise more remarkable on D4, one step higher. This exercise is based on the first passaggio for women (the only passaggio for the traditional male voice. It should be said that men who sing in their high falsetto, like countertenors do experience a second passaggio if they sing above F5)

Women may also experiment in the second passaggio. Do the same exercise on F5 (one octave and a fourth above middle C). Again, the [i] vowel will maintain a second formant (palatal mode) resonance mode and the [a] will switch to a first formant (pharyngeal mode) resonance.

The success of these exercises depend on relative freedom in the mechanism. the larynx and soft palate should be in their naturally released positions. That is why the exercise begins softly. This is to assure that no excessive tension is involved. If there is tension relative to muscular memory of old habits, the exercise may not be smooth. This would be a sign that there is work to be done in releasing of extraneous tensions.

Finally, relative to Blue Yonder’s question, the exercise should give a clear sensory difference as to how the two resonance strategies differ in sensation, while hopefully maintaining a constant phonation mode.

© 03/17/2008

3 thoughts on “Resonance sensations

Add yours

  1. TS, thanks for following up on my question. The reason I asked was because I spent most of last year not really understanding what resonance adjustment and overtones were, in terms of what I as the singer should hear and feel. I’m happy to report that I’ve had significant breakthroughs over the past couple of months. Part of it was due to different pieces finally falling into place, like a more balanced phonation and onset as well as the painstaking elimination of various areas of tension. I do feel like the physical feedback and sensations were important for me during this process because when I started getting better resonance adjustments, the sensation and sound was so dramatically different from whatever I was doing before that it was like a light bulb turning on.I tried your exercise today and I can see that I have lots of room for improvement 🙂


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