to this question is not one dimensional, but involves discussing several
aspects of vocal technique. Usually one problem causes a chain reaction,
resulting in a domino effect that makes for unattractive and often tense
singing. A nasal approach is actually a band-aid and does not address
the real vocal issues at hand. Unfortunately this leaves the singer is
performing under a high level ofnervousness due the resulting throat
tension. Reoccurring nasality is a large indicator that a singer’s
technique is either incomplete, or there are major technical problems
Defining the Difference between Nasal Resonance
Nasality: Unfortunately, as a young singer I was trained
as a tenor even though my true voice is a lyric baritone. It was
Dixie Neill who saved my throat by taking my down to the baritone fach.
My tonal quality as a tenor was almost totally nasal and it took a long
time for me to achieve true resonance in my voice without nasality. One
technical understanding that must be learned by any performing tenor
is that nasality is not a healthy approach to singing well.
Most often, nasality is a result of a few factors: (1) a low soft palate,
(2) the pushing of too much breath pressure through the larynx (resulting
in high-larynx singing or a closed throat), and as a result, (3) tremendous
tension at the root of the tongue accompanied by a forward jaw position.
The forward jaw position does not allow for the full adduction of the
Nasal Resonance or Squeeze? One major issue at hand
when studying may be whether or not the instructor hears the difference
between squeezed nasal sound and authentic nasal resonance. Nasal resonance
is the true ring in the voice RESULTING from an open throat or the three
primary open pharyngeal chambers. This factor serves the singer in many
ways. One of the major benefits of healthy nasal resonance is the release
of the root of the tongue, making healthy vocal fold adduction possible. In
order for the sound to filter through the nasal resonance, the tongue
and palate must be out of the way. The singer needs to achieve the ng
posture of the tongue, (using the middle of the tongue to approximate
the ng position), a small stream of air through the nasal port, three
open pharyngeal chambers (naso-pharynx, oro-pharynx and laryngeo-pharynx),
and a sense of sustaining resulting ring in the voice by involving
the lower body support system. When true resonance is achieved beyond
nasality, the singer can produce a pure legato line.
Remember that a voice should never be placed forward. Jussi
Bjoerling once said to my teacher Alan Lindquest when they were studying
in Stockholm together, “Ring reflects toward the nose and mask
area from an open back throat or pharynx, but the sensation is subtle.” This
statement infers that the true work is focused on the open throat and
getting the tongue and palate out of the way. Lamperti once said, “A
singer’s primary pronouncer is in the pharynx, NOT the mouth.” This
open pharynx approach or pharyngeal vowel approach assists in releasing
the root of the tongue, making it difficult to produce a nasal sound. The
laryngeal tilt is achieved through this open-throated approach (pharyngeal
vowels) as well, creating a healthier balance in registration. The need
to drive breath pressure is eliminated in the voice, even thought it
may take the singer time to stop the push of breath pressure. The resulting
tonal quality is warm and ringing, but NEVER nasal.
High Larynx: When any singer uses a high-larynx position
in singing, the root of the tongue becomes extremely tense in order to
try and hold the larynx down out of the way. This tension at
the root of the tongue tends to drive the voice forward. Along
with this tongue tension, there is usually a pushing of too much breath
pressure toward the nasal port, a technique that results in a brittle
or harsh sound. This high larynx position is due to a couple of factors:
(1) lack of support in the lower body muscles, which diminishes breath
pressure under the larynx, and (2) lack of pharyngeal vowel training,
which opens the back of the throat.
The Half-Moon Neck Shape: Recently I had the experience
of viewing an operatic performance of a very famous crossover tenor.
I must preface this with saying that when I first went to Dixie Neill
in 1983, my larynx was extremely high and my neck was collapsed, making
a nasal and strident sound. The sides of my neck shaped themselves similar
to the shape of a half moon on each side, creating a function where the
neck muscles curved inward. This is the largest red light; when I witness
a performer on stage with the sidewalls of the throat collapsing. It
means that the pharynx is collapsing during the performance. The tenor’s
neck took this exact shape and it saddens me to witness a singer with
a beautiful quality struggle so much to sing. The same scenario is present
in the singing of a young British Soprano. Because this flaw has not
been corrected in her singing, she cannot perform and keep a consistent
schedule. Basically both of these singers could have been saved from
vocal difficulties with the correct training.
False Ring from Tongue Tension: Imitating a Sound through Internal
Deceptive Hearing: As stated before, one major problem
for the nasal tenor is tongue tension due to high larynx singing. When
the larynx is high due to lack of throat space then the root of the
tongue becomes bunched and tense. The result is what many call
a ‘tonguey sound’ or a sound that is manufactured.
To the singer, this sound is good inside the head, but what the audience
hears is a knurdled sound. Why does a singer make this choice? Because
he is attached to an internal sound that he or she thinks is good or
the singer is just not getting what true resonance represents. Any
tenor singer (all singers for that matter) must learn to guide the
voice through physical sensations rather than listening. The resulting
tongue tension through listening tends to increase pressure under the
nasal port area making the voice placed in such a way that nasality
is almost unavoidable. Because I was a lyric baritone trained as a
tenor, I tried every way to sound like a tenor. By the time I
got to a good teacher, my tongue dipped like a spoon and shook rapidly.
In fact, it was impossible for me to release the tongue or even leave
it stationary. This was due to the tremendous constriction of the tongue
muscle. Usually when a singer has a history of a high larynxed singing,
then the root of the tongue is extremely tense. This is a problem no
matter what the vocal fach.
Locking of the Airflow: One issue that is rarely
discussed is the ability to lock the airflow with the back of the tongue.
I have never taught a nasal singer that did not lock the breath flow
with the root of the tongue. This usually is a factor because the
singer is subconsciously creating an internal sound that sounds good
to him and has a characteristic timbre of the ‘tenor sound’. However
this sound does not translate to the audience. The listener simply
hears how held the vocal sound is and experiences the uncomfortable feeling
of hearing a singer struggle to get into the upper voice.
Registration problems: We established earlier that
nasal singing is reflective of a closed throat. The result of singing
on a closed throat is imbalance of registration. Usually the singer whitens the
sound to imitate true head voice when in actuality the chest register
is taken too high and the upper register becomes more and more harsh
and strident. This is exactly what happened in my vocal instruction because
I am NOT a true tenor. Intonation became harder and harder to achieve
because the larynx was too high and the palate too low resulting in feeling
squeezed from both the upper and lower direction. In other words, registration
flips cannot occur healthily if the throat is closed and the vocal sound
driven toward the point of nasality.
Jaw Posture Problem: As I said in the opening of this
article, nasality is a combination of several vocal issues working together
to distort true vocal resonance. One issue in a nasal singer is the thrusting
forward of the jaw, a habit of which many singers are not aware. This
thrusting forward of the jaw encourages a backward pull of the tongue,
a major factor in driving the voice toward the nasal port without enough
opening of the back of the throat. The forward thrust of the jaw creates
a brighter sound inside the singer's internal hearing, a major factor
in why singers assume this kind of jaw function. The jaw should actually
gently wrap back after every consonant. One need only view videos of
excellent singers and views them from the profile to witness this behavior.
Vowel Distortion: In 1977 I had a long lesson with
my friend Martha Rosacker. It was she who convinced me to go to Alan
Lindquest in 1979. I give her credit for beginning my journey of searching
for vocal answers. The lesson was over 1 and 1/2 hours in length,
mainly focusing on the Italian u vowel. During the entire session, my
u vowel was distorted because my tongue shaped like a spoon and shook
with tremendous tension. I applaud her patience and determination. Even
though I did not get my vowel correctly produced in that session, through
listening to it I was able to later diagnose and correct the problem. Vowel
distortion can be a huge problem in nasal singing because the tongue
is not allowed the proper position for the pure vowel sound to be produced.
I will never forget one quote of Mr. Lindquest, “You alter the
vowel with the pharyngeal stretch and you speak the integrity of the
vowel with the proper tongue position.” I use this quote all the
time in my teaching because it is important to know how to speak pure
vowel sounds with an open throat.
High Breathing: If the tongue is bunched or back, creating
a nasal sound, then the quick breath will be high in the body. In all
of my teaching, I have never seen a tight-tongued singer breathe low
in the body. The first of the following series of exercises will help
to release the tongue, making low breathing more possible. One good way
to achieve a low breath is to place the tongue between the lips and take
a slow nasal breath. The singing breath will drop much lower in the body
and you will teach the tongue NOT to bunch or pull back at inhalation.
Exercises: Releasing the Blockages that Create Nasality:
(As you phonate at the cords, roll the tongue slightly forward in an
arched position. This is the exact opposite to the gag reflex and the
tongue will not want to behave in this way. But with practice,
the singer will realize the brilliance of the a vowel with phonation
on the thin edges of the folds.)
Breathing over the hand: Shape your hand flat. Then place it laterally
in the mouth and breathe above the hand. There will be a tremendous
stretch of the soft palate, a wonderful tool in ridding the voice
of nasality. I received this exercise during my study with Dr. Evelyn
Reynolds in New York.
Learn to achieve a healthy facial posture when breath is taken. Lift
the cheeks gently under the eyes (opens the uvula away from the back
of the tongue and lifts the soft palate), sink the cheeks at the
back molars (opens the back wall of the pharynx at inhalation), and
breathe the jaw gently back in order for the larynx to release downward.
Use a mirror to self-supervise this facial posture exercise. This
exercise was presented to me by Alan Lindquest during my study with
him in 1979.
Use the neutral vowel ‘uh’ in the larynx before bringing
focus into the tone. For example, start with the ‘uh’ in
the larynx and then bring the tongue forward as in the ‘i’ vowel. This
way your open pharynx is established first, then the brilliance can
follow while keeping the open feeling in the throat. I worked with
concept during my study with Dr. Reynolds.
Achieving both High and Low Overtones: One constant
search for any singer is finding balance in his/her singing by balancing
high and low overtones. The following exercise is designed to achieve
balance in the middle register and to inspire the production of upper
and lower overtones
The overtone balancing exercise: 5…4…3…2….1…5…4….3….2….1
the hum portion of the exercise with the tongue gently between the
lips. As you do this, feel as though you are stretching a vowel space
behind the tongue. Then sing the 5 vowels. You will find that there will
be a balance in upper and lower overtones or a combination of ring and
open acoustical space working together.
I designed this exercise and
it is represented on my instructional CD, “An Introductory Lesson
with David Jones: A Resource for Teachers and Singers”.
Please feel free to direct any questions to David Jones at www.voiceteacher.com.
© 2006 by David L. Jones
This article was first published in Classical Singer Magazine