Investing in Your Voice
How to Get Discovered as an Opera Singer

The Universal Language

 

It's been a couple of months since I began to incorporate Prof. David Ley's vibrator techniques into my teaching methods. The innuendos and chuckles continue, but all are in agreement: Most everything is more effective and expedient with a vibrator, as well as a lot more fun.

The vibrator is an endlessly versatile means of enhancing a student's awareness, focus, and physical mobility. It therefore makes virtually every aspect of singing technique more swiftly and easily accessible. 

Your voice is your body. If you want to communicate with your body effectively, you have to employ a vocabulary it understands. "The language we have to use to speak to the body isn't English, or Korean, or Japanese," Ley commented when I got back in touch to show him what I'd been up to. "The body speaks a language of sensation and movement. Sometimes we can get to that through imagery, but what the vibrator seems to do is to speak directly to the body using the language of sensation. We then have a harmonizing response to it. So without having to think about it, stuff happens. It's a fast track to something that, contextually, is very hard to find for a lot of people when all they have to work with is words." 

 

Universal translator
Universal Translator (old school)

Here are some of the specific ways I'm now using vibrators to facilitate and accelerate progress in my studio. 

 

A 3D Internal Landscape

Your awareness is instantly pulled to wherever vibration is applied to the body, both on the surface and permeating within. Not only does the vibrator promote greater awareness and mobility, it facilitates awareness and mobility in areas where you previously had little, perhaps even none. When you consider how developing your singing technique relies on your ability to access and coordinate parts of your anatomy that you can't directly see or sense, it becomes clear how valuable it is to have a tool that provides greater contact with and control over your instrument.

Years of studying and teaching people about vocal anatomy have made me skilled at visualizing and sensing the various parts of my instrument. Since I started working with the vibrator, it's as though I exchanged an old VHS cassette for a 3D Multi-Angle Blu-ray. I can feel with great specificity where everything is, how the various parts relate to and interact with one another, and where any tightness, weakness or entanglement may be interfering with what I'm trying to do. 

Awareness is a prerequisite for progress. Someone may be able to point out that your chest collapses while you sing, that you elevate your shoulders on inhalation, or that you tighten and retract your tongue on high notes, but until you are able to observe yourself doing these things in real time you will not be able to change them. 

You need access to your fullest possible range of physical motion if you are to fulfill your potential as a singer. If your rib cage, your laryngeal cartilages, or your jaw or tongue are stiff with chronic muscular tension, then your instrument is unnecessarily limited and a great deal of your energy is devoted to compensating for these limitations.  

There are a variety of practices and therapies that promote kinesthetic awareness and resolve chronic muscular tension, but they can't readily be incorporated into a voice lesson or practice session. These vibrator techniques, however, integrate very easily into whatever you're already doing in the studio. 

 

Vocal Fold Freedom and Feedback

During our first Skype session, Ley demonstrated how vocalizing while applying vibration directly to the larynx increases vocal energy and improves projection and range. When this is done correctly, the result is a fascinating sound: In addition to the basic wave produced by your voice, the vibrator elicits an additional related buzzy wave from the vocal folds. 

Hummed arpeggio with vibrator

Hummed arpeggio, first without using the vibrator and then with it.

When I began to apply this technique while vocalizing myself and my students throughout a wider range, I discovered something very significant. When the voice moved freely and simply from pitch to pitch, the additional buzz continued unabated. However, whenever the voice encountered even the slightest resistance, the voice kept vibrating but the additional buzz diminished or vanished altogether. 

This buzz is produced only when the vocal folds vibrate freely. Do anything at all to interfere with their movement, and you'll lose the buzz. It is therefore a reliable source of feedback. Suppose you are using the vibrator to work on a phrase, and you find that the buzz vanishes when you traverse certain intervals. If you can let go of your expectation of how the voice is supposed to move from pitch to pitch and seek only to maintain a continuous buzz, it will lead you to discover a means of using your voice that keeps the vocal folds free. It may steer you in a direction that you might otherwise never have thought to investigate, but like my students you'll probably figure out how to maintain a continuous buzz with just a few exploratory attempts. Afterwards, you will be able to reproduce the movement without using the vibrator. 

In other words, the vibrator facilitates the free execution of phrases or pitches that you were previously only able to sing with excessive effort, either by pushing or otherwise manipulating your voice. In fairly short order, it gets you to a place that might have otherwise proved elusive or inaccessible for a very long time. Like any new skill, you'll need to practice and reinforce your improved coordination to the point where it becomes habitual, but once you've experienced what it's like to sing these phrases freely you'll have the means to permanently advance your technique. 

It has been fantastic to share this technique with my students and see their progress accelerate. They also find the process fun and interesting. Figuring out how to get from one note to another while maintaining the buzz becomes a problem-solving puzzle. That's a welcome contrast to the pain, frustration and self-flagellation singers more typically go through when they've realized that the old way wasn't working but their attempts to practice the right way initially lead to a series of unearthly squawks. 

I showed Ley how I was utilizing this extra wave as feedback. I was hoping he would explain the mechanics of how it is produced, but this is something that he has not yet determined. "I've tried looking at it with a stroboscope, but you can't," he explained. "Stroboscopy responds to vibration, so as soon as you turn on the vibrator you're confusing the machine and you don't see anything meaningful. I've talked to speech pathologists who have some ideas about what might be happening, but they don't really know." Sophisticated equipment accessible to only a handful of speech scientists will be required to answer this question, and I'm curious to see what Ley and his team will discover once they have had the opportunity to study the phenomenon in greater depth. 

In the mean time, you don't need to understand what's generating the extra wave to benefit from it. It's an outstanding source of feedback and a highly effective teaching tool.

 

Legato 

The ability to execute a perfect legato is a cornerstone of vocal technique. We desire continuity of expressive thought and musical line, uninterrupted by changes in pitch, rhythm, dynamics or articulation. This can be very challenging for singers to cultivate, because these changes so often seem to require fluctuations in breath and energy. Much of the language used to describe singing runs counter to the goal of continuous vocal production - we talk about "holding" pitches, or "hitting" them, when what is needed is their sustained, continuous creation. 

The vibrator demonstrates perfect continuity. Turn it on, and it vibrates at a continuous rate until you do something to alter it. 

There are two ways that this will help encourage development of legato. First, your body will seek to emulate, or "harmonize with" what the vibrator is doing; second, the vibrator will give you the same message over and over again, 100+ times per second. No matter how fiercely you may be training your mental focus on the task of producing a perfect legato, you're not going to be able to send that message 100+ times per second. Even if you could, the language you'd be using to talk to your body isn't the language the body understands. The body speaks a language of sensation and movement. 

 

Learning to sing means training and developing your body. It means optimizing your instrument's strength, flexibility and coordination. A smart, comprehensive concept of vocal technique backed up by an understanding of anatomy will get you far. 

This humble device will get you farther, faster. 

 

These techniques were created using the Lelo Siri vibrator. 

 

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