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Many Singers, Public Speakers and Actors are constantly seeking new strategies of how they can improve their voice. If you browse the internet to search for answers, you will find many opinions. But, some subjects about achieving powerful vocal performance are not debatable. They are the systems in the body that must perform as a team to produce powerful sound. They are the Abdominal Mucles, the Larnyx or Voice Box and the Throat and Head which I call The Amplifier. The strategies of "how" to operate these systems are many but the basic systems function as they do without our consent. Let's learn important information about these basic body systems.
May I introduce the Vocal Power Team!
The Vocal Power Team - The key to becoming a powerful and understood singer, public speaker or actor.
1) The Abdominal Muscles
2) The larynx
3) The Amplifier
"When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world." George Washington Carver (1864-1943)
I am someone who has always believed in teamwork. When I directed my 75 member choral group, the Capistrano Chorale, we were all dependent on one another to practice and perform to our individual potential. When we all did, the performances were exceptional and when we all didn’t the performances suffered.
We have the same scenario in our body. We have three separate body systems that must operate at their individual potential and coordinate as a team in order for our singing or speaking to be powerful. The following material consists of excerpts from my popular book Singing and Speaking on the Edge of a Grunt. This material is simply an explanation of their basic functions. The answers to how to coordinate them to produce powerful vocal sounds are explained in the book. I hope you learn something special from this material. The body is truly an incredible machine!
1) The Abdominal Muscles
The Abdominal Muscles are located between the ribs and the pelvis on the front portion of the body. There are five muscle groups that combine to completely cover the internal organs. Further, they support the trunk, allow movement, and hold organs in place by regulating internal abdominal pressure.
The five main abdominal muscles groups are:
> Transversus Abdominus - The deepest muscle layer, its main role are to stabilize the trunk and maintain internal abdominal pressure.
> Rectus Abdominus - It exists between the ribs and the pubic bone at the front of the pelvis. This muscle group is commonly called “The Six Pack”. The main function of the rectus abdominus is to move the body between the ribcage and the pelvis.
> External Oblique Muscles - They exist on each side of the rectus abdominus. The external oblique muscles allow the trunk to twist to the left or right.
> Internal Oblique Muscles – These flank the rectus abdominus, and are located just inside the hipbones. They operate in the opposite way to the external oblique muscles. For example, twisting the trunk to the left requires the left hand side internal oblique and the right hand side external oblique to contract together.
The abdominals are an extremely important part of the breathing process, especially during exhale. They assist in forcing air out of the lungs by depressing the thorax. Then, our fifth muscle group begins its very important job. The fifth and arguably most important muscle for our discussion is the Diaphragm.
> Diaphragm - In the anatomy of Mammals, (Yes, we are one of those!) the diaphragm is a shelf of muscle extending across the bottom of the ribcage. The diaphragm separates the thoracic cavity (with lung and heart) from the abdominal cavity (with liver, stomach, intestines, etc.). In its relaxed state, the diaphragm is shaped like a dome or parachute.
2) The larynx
I must first say that I consider the Larynx to be one of the greatest miracles and gifts that mankind has ever been given.
Take a moment and consider life without a larynx. If you could not sing, speak or laugh I think you would agree that your life would change in a major way. We have actually been born with a free instrument. It is better than any instrument created by man because it can not only create pitch, but it can communicate words. No other instrument can do that. With many people, though, they shy away from singing because many students, in my experience, think they sound poor. This is often because, as in my case, somebody close to them laughed at them when they sang and maybe inferred that they had no talent. Unfortunately, with the voice, many people fail to understand that, like any instrument, it must also be trained to reach its potential.
Of course, there exist many people who sound wonderful without any training. The mistake many of these people make is that they will achieve exceptional voices if they submit themselves to effective training. This is because their basic voice is so far advanced without training. Often times I have seen these gifted vocalists conclude they have a natural talent and have a perfect voice that does not require training. Another problem these people with natural voices have, common to everyone, is the lack of knowledge of how to achieve effective breath control. The truth that I have found is that humans do not breathe correctly under normal conditions. All of us must learn this basic and vital ability.
In a comparable example with the steps required to learn another common musical instrument, if you were learning the guitar, you would not expect to immediately be able to play it once you purchased your instrument. That would be ridiculous! Anyone would expect that they must take some kind of lessons. One reason that our approach to training the voice may be different is
that our instrument already works. Since we have used it to communicate, starting with our first scream, we have already developed some level of vocalization and pitch. The important thing to understand is that your basic level of development will be different from everybody else. You must accept your current ability and move forward with confidence and dedication to create a voice that represents your individual potential.
3) The Amplifier
The what? Do I need my electric guitar? No. Actually, an acoustic guitar would be a better analogy. All kidding aside, without the resonating cavities of the neck and head, our little voice box would probably sound like a munchkin from the Wizard of Oz.
Have you ever heard an electric guitar played without an amplifier? No much to hear, is there? But, plug it into a couple of high-end Marshall Amplifier stacks and run it through some crazy effects and you will hear it for a long distance. Here is how this same principle works within our body.
As we have discussed, the vocal cords are two bands of mucous membrane tissue located in the larynx. The larynx is located in the neck at the top of the trachea or windpipe. Vocal cords produce sound by vibrating together as the air passes through them from the lungs, supported by the abdominal muscles. After leaving the larynx, the vibrations travel through the resonating cavities (amplifiers) of the neck and head. When they reach there, the sound is further amplified by resonating (bouncing) against the hard boney surfaces that enclose those cavities, especially the teeth.
This amplified vibration is eventually projected, as a complex sound, beyond the body via the open mouth. Before exiting, the sound is often enhanced by the addition of words. This is accomplished mainly with the tongue, teeth and lips. The result is called diction. We will discuss diction in depth in chapter five. At the end of the process, the resulting outside of body sound is the sound of the individual’s voice. The individual’s voice quality is also partially dependent on the thickness and length of the vocal chords. Further, the shape, thickness, and density of the bones and cartilages, and the size and shape of the empty spaces in the resonating cavities are of prime importance when determining our voice.
I hope this information was helpful.
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See you next time!
Jonathan Morgan Jenkins