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Vocal Presence » Blog Archiv » Introduction to the Human Instrument
   
 
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Introduction to the Human Instrument

teaching singing is basically an oral work.
a work based on melodies and pieces of melodies.
and on listening to one’s own melodies.
singing is the tool that connects us with a very
essential function of our body, our brain.
it accesses the unconscious.
and it transforms a physical tension into a flow of
vibration, into sound.
singing and work on the voice is an emotional dialogue
with oneself,
and with the teacher.
the teacher guides this dialogue.
sometimes in a very challenging way.
the flexibility in this living communication between
teacher and student
cannot be replaced by a book.

teaching singing is a never ending process of
fascinating learning. my work as teacher is to
explain very complex processes in a way that makes
them easy to understand and inspiring enough to be
explored. i need to understand these processes from
the inside out in order to be able to pick the very
essential things and not get lost in details. and this
is just the basis, the voice work.

then of course there is the realm of music itself. the
voice is the tool that makes it possible not only to
listen “into” a perfect landscape of sound but also to
physically explore it.
you can grope along the music with your
sound vibration. one interval is not like another
interval and this relation that you create between one
tone and another is the realm in which you may truly
experience the music in connection with yourself.

then there is text. this is again another level of
exploration: how are the words connected, how do they
relate to the music? which phrasing do i choose when
i think of this sentence? is it composed as i would
speak it or is it composed in another way? is there a
tension between the text and the sound? (is text
another interval layered upon the intervals of music?)

singing connects the conscious with the unconscious,
and this is a very rich source worth exploring.
even a very simple song is a wonderfully complex
thing, and then
when you are tired of exploring it, it can become
again a very simple song. you just sing it and let go
of everything you thought about it.
and then you will find that all your exploration has
become a memory that is stored in your vibration as
you sing that simple song.
you let go and everything is still there.

——————————————————————————

the human voice is a living instrument and what
interests me are
the presence and absence of physical functions and
vibrations
that connect and focus into expression.
and how any expression reflects this presence and
absence of physicality,
a physicality which again reflects the mentality of a
person…
to understand these connections and recognize
differences one must dare to learn to
sense his/her own functions and listen to his/her
voice while becoming aware of how it feels…
this way of working is difficult for some…
what i am trying to find is the easiest access into
the body… an access into experience,
into a process of awareness..

one thing is knowledge about the subject,
another is how this information comes across to
someone
who has not spent many years dealing with the inner
motions that lead to sound,
the inner spaces that form sound and volume
and the qualities of resonance and vibration.

i have developed a certain dramaturgy, a certain
sequence when approaching the topic of voice with my
students.
it is like telling a story, as i said, and of course i
do vary my story
depending on the person in front of me.
but you are not sitting here with me in the same room
-
and because we meet in this virtual chamber of the
written space
i will go with my experience and my imagination of how
it may feel to start thinking about the voice
from the beginning.

to write about the voice is a bit like writing about
eating food. it means bringing the sensual experiences
of the body..
the oral experiences of tasting and swallowing - the
sensations of smelling and listening - encountering
the acoustic space around me
and my own felt and experienced inner spaces and
sensations,
their physical and psychic dimensions-
into the written realm, into an explicable mode.

the voice functions in a spacial way,
and in accordance with our capacity to imagine 3 -
dimensional space.
but we all grew up with a linear logic and as writing
creates linearity in itself, a linear sequence of
information,
one has to bring simultaneous and synchronized movements
into a context that appears chronological.. our
brains, i guess, have constructed this chronology and
linearity in order to make information more accessible
for the consciousness..
it seems to me that our conscious mind, which is bound
to our definitions and semantics and habits, … and the
methods and acceptances of our memory about what is
clear and real and understandable, and how we define
ourselves as a person-
is a turtle-
is working at a totally different, much slower, speed
than our capacity to perceive, access and send out
information.

so this isn’ t merely an act of storytelling
it is an act of translation..
a rendering that is made acceptable for the
linear-oriented mind filter
and becomes spacial within,
within you again…

the instrument

when you learn to play an instrument you look at it
and figure out how it functions before starting to
play.
in my experience there is very little knowledge about
the functions of the voice
because we have more or less successfully been using
the instrument our entire life
without being conscious of them.
even with voice teachers you get differing information
about the voice and i have had many students with
previous voice lessons
who never learned exactly where their vocal chords
were.
i wish to create an understanding of the instrument
which makes the student more independent of the
teacher’s personal taste
for a particular vocal sound.
i started trying out a lot of functional things to
give more access to people without a musical ear.
their approach to the voice is not merely through
listening and imitation of sound but rather an
exploration of physical sensations.
and this dialogue between cause and effect takes away
the stress to produce a certain type of sound or pitch

‘WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE VOICE?’
would be my entry / my starting point into focussing the student on what it’s all about..
‘WHAT IS NEEDED TO CREATE A SOUND?’
‘vocal chords’, the student replies..
‘and where are they, what do they do?’
the student points vaguely to the throat and says, ‘they vibrate’…
‘yes’, i reply and show her/him where exactly the vocal chords are (in the larynx) and that the larynx is not in the middle of the throat.. but much higher above almost right under the chin..
- take the highest bone you can touch in your throat and swallow and you will feel how it moves-

‘how do the vocal chords vibrate?’…
‘with air?’
‘yes’, i say, ‘and where does the air come from?’
‘from the lungs..’
‘yes.
ok we have vocal chords now.. we have air… but do we hear a sound? no, it’s like a needle on an old gramophone..
the record spins, the needle is touching the groove, but you hear nothing-
and why not?
because the funnel is missing.. the space above the needle that amplifies the tiny sound that the needle creates.
when you go above the vocal chords, right above there..
what is above the vocal chords?’
‘the room of the mouth… the soft palate.’
‘yes indeed, and when we yawn we feel our capacity to stretch the soft palate.

so we do have that flexible space above the vocal
chords..
which gives us a great potential for flexibility and
control over the sound being produced.
the vocal chords are vibrating and produce a tiny
sound which is to a great extent shaped and reinforced by the flexible
resonance room above.

but how do we control the air? its flow, its density?
what controls the flow of air against these tiny vocal chords?
let’s concentrate on breath for a moment-
when you breathe in in short sequences -
as if there is a scent in the air that you are trying
to define.. when you sniff the air, you can observe
movement in the middle of the body
which is parallel to the sniffing … you can feel it
when you put your hand directly below the breastbone,
the sternum..(where it ’s soft again)-something
expands there.. the diaphragm ..
(actually the diaphragm lies a little higher, behind
the chest bone,
but you can feel its expansion just below there)
sniff in 4 times and then let the air go.. sigh out…
the sighing is relaxing because you probably perceive
the sniffing as a somewhat tense activity..
the diaphragm expands in activity and relaxes as you
let air go out freely and without strain.
‘how can i imagine the diaphragm, how does it look?
‘imagine it as a trampoline on which the breath jumps
up and down,
this trampoline expands and arches downward in
activity and upward in relaxation. (do you mean arches
instead of arcs?)

‘and how can i locate the diaphragm in the body?’
‘you can bend forward and try to grope under the ribs
of your chest bone while you breathe out and relax
your stomach muscles.
sniff in and feel the diaphragm behind the sternum
expand against your groping fingers.
you can also grope your way along the ribs towards the
back and feel how, through inhaling, the whole chest
apparatus is expanded by the diaphragm.
you ‘ll be even more successful in feeling the space
below the ribs in the back, in feeling the flanks
expanding, when you bend the upper part of your body
forward over your knees as you are sitting..
sniff in air through the nose..the more concentrated
the stream becomes, the more connected it will work in
the body.

’so what does the diaphragm do?’ it regulates the
stream of air that flows through the vocal chords and
sets them into vibration.
have you ever made a balloon scream? you blow up the
balloon and pull its mouth into a small slit..
as you keep the air from rapidly escaping as it wants,
as you reduce the stream of air, it produces a
squealing sound..

the diaphragm creates a downward pull - when active it
sucks air into the body to keep it away from the vocal
chords.
as we have a huge amount of air and very small vocal
chords, the chords could be damaged very quickly if
they had to bear all the active air at once.
therefore the diaphragm creates a vacuum while we use
the air in an active way to produce a sound.

what can we say about the energy and strength of a
sound?
how can we make a potent sound without damaging our
vocal chords?
what do we need in order to produce an organic,
powerful sound?
what we need for the flowing sound, for the supple
tone, is a flexible underlying catalyst. a willpower
that supports a dynamic tone, a dynamic expression.
power- energy and impulses are connected to activity
in the body.

where is the physical willpower, the driving force in
the body?
an activity that works independent of breath yet
connects with the activity of breathing?
are energy and impulse and power connected to the
amount of air or do they come from somewhere else?
let us explore another diaphragm: the pelvic
diaphragm.

the pelvic diaphragm becomes active when we get up and
run, when we lift and carry heavy things and when we
jump. as we move our body the pelvic diaphragm lifts
and shifts weight (the pelvic diaphagm lifts and
shifts weight NOT by lifting, but by expansion!) and
relaxes, the weight falls back with gravity as the
pelvic diaphragm relaxes its tension.

as we want to focus solely on activity in the pelvic
diaphragm, we will engage it through a little trick
that connects us with our willpower and driving force
to survive. and with our impulse to start an action.

take your hand and pinch your nose with your fingers
and close your mouth so that no air can move out or
in. close your eyes, too, in order to feel the
sensations within.
you are now inside a vacuum space. relax your stomach
muscles, let your stomach hang out.
what now would engage the pelvic diaphragm? how do you
activate your essential willpower?
the need to breathe is actually a driving force. our
body becomes fully engaged when swimming a long
distance upward under water to get air.

try now to imitate breathing but keep your nose and
mouth shut while doing this. it feels like sucking.
you inhale without letting air in and you exhale
without letting air out (and then you’ll take a break
from the exercise in order to breathe!).
what you can feel in this little exercise is a motion
deep down in the pelvis that expands and widens the
(relaxed) stomach as you imitate the inhalation, and
relaxes as you imitate the exhalation. (as you suck
and relax from the sucking)

with this simple exercise you can activate the pelvic
diaphragm, which performs a movement parallel to the
breathing activity in the diaphragm below the ribs:
when the pelvic diaphragm is activated it expands and
arches down a little bit and when relaxed it
contracts and arches upward.
‘how can i locate the pelvic diaphragm?’ when you
grope with your hand right above the pubic bone, you
can feel its motion when you sniff in or make a
smacking and sucking sound. you can feel its expansion
in the groin. you engage the pelvic diaphragm with
conscious exertion and willpower, not merely with
breathing, as i said,
although once activated it supports the breath in
motion.

you can also make a sound as if you are lifting
something heavy.
when people do that you can observe that they make a
sound,
and then hold breath and sound
while they are lifting the weight.
(it’s like a sigh which is stopped in motion)

try to relax your stomach muscles before you engage
the pelvic diaphragm because you want to explore and
activate a muscular movement BELOW the upper stomach
muscles. (the muscles in the lower abdomen just above,
and to the sides and above, the pubic bone)
when you have problems feeling movement here it might
help to breathe out before making any sounds.
when too much breath is involved, especially when you breathe
solely into your upper chest, when for instance your
shoulders lift up as you breathe… then you work with
air that contains very little energy..
your diaphragm behind your chest bone might move very
little
and when you get up and run or do something more
active
the tension that is generated comes from the stomach
muscles rather than the pelvis,
and you cramp in the diaphragm, which is supposed to control
the air.

this means that the diaphragm is not very relaxed, and
something that is not properly relaxed cannot expand
to its full potential.
now, breathe out and feel how the muscles become
smoother..and then don’t hesitate with the sound.. go
with the activity - and then relax and let go…
sometimes it takes a little while to just coordinate
that.

let me sum up what we have tried to explore:
i will simplify it and ask you to imagine 3
diaphragms: 3 trampoline-like membranes on top of one
another. (imagine them like layers in a wedding cake)
on top we have the SOFT PALATE. the soft palate shapes
the color of SOUND being produced. in activity it arcs
(arches?) up toward the top of the skull, in
relaxation it hangs down, arches down.
in the middle we have the DIAPHRAGM. the diaphragm
controls the distribution of BREATH and consequently
balances air pressure by creating a vacuum that holds
the breath away from the vocal chords. in activity it
arches down toward the navel and the flanks.
in relaxation it ‘hangs up’, it arches upward.
below we have the PELVIC DIAPHRAGM. the pelvic
diaphragm controls ENERGY and POWERFUL IMPULSES, and
balances the tension of these powerful impulses by
creating a vacuum that holds tension away from the
diaphragm above. in activity it arches down
towards the groin. (you can actually feel it when you
sit on the toilet because it is this muscle that you
use when you shit)
in relaxation it ‘hangs up’. it arches upward.

ZEICHNUNG !!!!

how can i feel the connectedness of these 3
diaphragms? i will give you an exercise that you have
been doing already without giving too much attention
to it– gargling after you brush your teeth.
take a big glass of water. and gargle.
gargle aloud. make a good audible sound as you gargle.

you have your head bent backwards,
the water bubbles very far back in your mouth. see,
there is the funnel i was talking about. feel how far
back the bubbling and the production of sound take
place. now you can play with the shape of the soft
palate
by articulating different vowels as you gargle.
‘u’ (like in smooth or ruth)
and ‘o’ (like in soft or ross)
are very good gargle vowels.
try to switch between them as you gargle.
now concentrate on the diaphragm for a moment
and watch it expanding and relaxing when you stop
gargling/
when you stop the flow of the air. gargle a song,
gargle something high and low
and watch the dance of the diaphragm(s).
as you continue with the exercise,
start concentrating on your pelvic diaphragm. increase
the gargling volume from very soft to louder,
(as if you were calling someone)
and then sing something in a quite staccato way
(very short notes as- if- they-were-cut)
and feel how the pelvic diaphragm works along with it.

some may find the gargling exercise extremely
challenging because they either swallow the water or
tend to spit it on the carpet around them.
this may be because they imagine that the sound should
go outside or feel that too many tensions are engaged
in the activity, or they panic because they are afraid
of swallowing the water or they are somehow irritated
because they think that they are doing things
incorrectly.
in order to relax this tension, hold the water in your
mouth and breathe out through your nose. make yourself
as comfortable as you can. don’t hurry! there is no
teacher around. just you and yourself.
become your own teacher.
you can only observe something if you lose the fear of
doing it all wrong.
the experience is the learning!
finally, have fun with the gargling. play around!!
it is wonderful to imitate a pathetic opera singer
or to try to gargle in all sorts of emotional states.
gargle in rage, in pain, in despair, and take the
water in your mouth as a challenge,
as a form of play along the edge of sinking (don’t
understand what this line means). after all something
always wishes to be expressed when we make sounds.
so listen to what you feel and go along with that.

vibration

in the first lesson you perceived the mechanisms/tools
within the body that produce sound.
you may have gargled with water and you may have
observed the 3 diaphragms –
soft palate, diaphragm and pelvic diaphragm — working
together. you have developed a physical awareness, you
have perceived the basic mechanisms in their
single/separate functions-
and in their work together- in order to produce a
tone, a sound-

- how do i perceive sound itself within my body?
- when you close your ears with your fingers,
you will hear the sounds you make within your head.
(it is a bit like being under water. i call it the
bathtub feeling)
when you open up your ears again and continue to make
a sound (a simple humming for instance) you will
recognize that there is a big difference between the
sound in your head
and the sound in the room.

is there a way to coordinate the inner sound with the
resonating sound in the outside space?

i want to lead your attention now
to the physical and sensual aspect of vibration.
please get yourself a cup of tea or coffee as we go
along,
we will need the cup later.

the sensation of physicality and power in the
vibrating sound.

I once asked a group of managers i worked with how
they would move a wall. Something completely static.
Obviously we cannot move a concrete wall even if we
lean with all our power against it.
I told them that i will show them how to move a wall.
They had no clue how effective their voices can be.

What is it that vibrates when we produce a sound?
What resonates when we hear the sound in a room?
We hear the resonance from the walls surrounding us.
and as the sound that we produce comes from within,
what is it that is resonating within?
what are the walls in our body?

It’s our teeth and bones that conduct the sound–
they conduct our vibration like the walls of a room.

let’s experience this practically:

take your teacup and bring it to your mouth as if you
want to smell the tea.
smile a bit and put your teeth softly against the cup,
the edge of the cup should touch the gums above the
upper front row.
it helps if you put your lip above the edge of the
teacup.
hang your nose right into the cup…
now you have formed a little space in front of your
face that will resonate the sound in a way
that you can observe its vibration outside as well as
inside your body:

hum as if you were responding to someone on the
telephone…
(we tend to just give a sound to the other side
meaning yes i am here (and i am still listening to
you).
it’s not articulated into the word ‘yes’ but is only a
‘hummed yes ‘:hmmh
or a hummed: ‘oh that’s interesting’: hm-hmm.
mostly this is a pretty unconscious thing happening
while we communicate.
we keep listening to the other as we make these
sounds.
and i use these sounds in my work because they tell us
a lot about how the voice works in an organic way.

can you hear how the cup amplifies the sound you make?
and how you can feel the sound?
put your hands around the cup.
and hum yourself through various imagined telephone
calls.

there is another wonderful sound we make
when we like something a lot:
in english we say: yummy!!! mmmmhhhhhmm!
its like an enlarged sound of enthusiasm: oh yes
interesting,
it’s very interesting, its yummmmmmmmmmmy,
mmmmmmmmhhhhhhhhh
and it is a sound of sensual pleasure.
yes be playful-
and as you feel the cup in your hands.. can you feel
the vibration that goes through the cup as you hum?
it’s almost trembling.
if you can’t feel the vibration with your hands, hold
the cup a little tighter.

when you just breathe into the cup, when you breathe
in and out, you may hear the sound of breathing in the
cup but not in the material of the cup. that means the
more air you blow out into the cup as you hum, the
less vibration you will get. try to concentrate on the
vibration. vibration comes very easily, it’s not a big
effort.. it’s as much effort as replying hm-hmmm on
the phone. relax and breathe out. and then hum again.

isn’t it interesting how a little sound can have so
much physical effect that it brings matter into
motion?
of course you can go and conduct your
sound into all kinds of things.

a very nice, fun group experience — a group gathers
around a round table and everybody has a tissue (for
hygienic reasons). someone bends down and puts his
teeth on the table and hums as the others feel his
vibration wandering along the table. this playfully
animates everyone to try it out.

and this is the simplest way i can imagine of showing
the incredible physical effect that the voice has on a
matter. you will also find by concentrating solely on
the vibration of the voice that many breathing
problems disappear.

can you imagine 50 top managers’ faces when i told
them they should hum into the wall in order to move
it?
for some of them it would have been easier to jump out
of an airplane with a parachute…
when it comes to conscious voice production you
approach a person’s privacy. another kind of courage
is required,
the courage to go back to the early years of one’s own
sound production..
and 50 managers with tissues in front of their mouths
kissing the wall is a very funny picture…
but the image was forgotten once they felt the power
of 50 humming voices vibrating a huge wall.

now it’s your turn to have fun and explore your sound
and how it is being conducted.
you can hum into a door, into a wall.. and also you
can hum into your bones.. into your knee, into the
bones of your hands and arms - just get your teeth
in contact with the material.. when you put your teeth
too softly on your hand, for instance.. the skin might
prevent your feeling any vibration because it dampens
the sound like velvet in front of a concrete wall.
when you play with your breath as you hum you bring
the sound into motion
and this will increase the vibration.
vibration is motion,
so don’t push the sound, rather, play with it
as if it were the sound of a motor.
it’s a great way to warm up the voice,
and it has a nice massaging effect, too.

when you have developed a good sense of your sound as
a vibration that you can focus,
try to feel this vibration in your nose, in your skull
and in your neck vertebras.
explore your body with your sound. with your
vibration.

3 Responses to “Introduction to the Human Instrument”

  1. David Says:

    Thank you so much for your time and patience in explaining your experiences. I have read many teacher’s thoughts, but you have taken the time to CLEARLY express yourself, which sometimes is lacking elsewhere. This is very impressive and above all, helpful ….again I thank you!!!!

  2. David Says:

    I am so impressed with the clarity with which you write your explanations and experiences.
    Many people will be helped when they apply your information.
    I have read about singing and technique forever, and yours is one of the VERY BEST I have ever read.
    THANK YOU SO MUCH….
    I would encourage you to continue in your writing, and I eagerly await more!!!!!!!!
    David
    Bass singer, from Chicago, Illinois

  3. admin Says:

    Thank you very much David, Cleo and Erick for your comments, thanks a lot for your interest! Will write more soon. I am just very busy with teaching my students here in Berlin. Recently I have made an attempt to work textbased with someone from Lituania over the internet. He has allowed me to publish our communication but I still need to edit it. I am also thinking of making a few soundclips that give an idea of the sounds, the exercises i work with. Although nothing can replace the work, the immediate interaction of two people in the same room. But let’s give it a try since we do not live in the same town- it’s good for the brain :-)

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