There are many techniques employed in teaching how to sing well. Many are useful and helpful. But there are many which can do more harm than good. We shall not attempt to cover them all in this treatise but shall address a few. When vocal production techniques are a topic of discussion quite often the “yawn” is bantered about. The question is, “Does a yawn help?”
Some say it’s good, others say otherwise. The answer to the question of “Does a yawn help in good vocal production techniques?” depends on whom you ask.
To me, the answer should depend on the results for the student, or the performer.
Let’s begin from the foundation up. Without air, there would be no sound. Sound is a result of pressure waves of air being impressed upon an eardrum. So, air is a necessary ingredient in the production of sound. In the case of singing where the sound is manipulated and regulated, we need a means of control.
In the human being, that system is made up of the lungs and it’s accompanying muscle ensemble. The prominent muscles in this ensemble are the diaphragm and the intercostal muscles. The diaphragm provides the means of intake and regulation of expulsion. The power for expulsion is provided by the intercostal muscles.
We have the power and we have the air. Where do we get the sound? The sound producer is housed in the larynx. The larynx is made up of several muscles and cartilages that work together to accomplish several things besides sound.
The thyroid gland produces certain nutrients that are necessary for our bodies in producing energy. The aretinoid and cryco-thyroid cartilages function as open and closers. They open the vocal folds when we breathe and close them when we swallow. If they did not function correctly we might choke ourselves every time we tried to swallow anything. They also come into action when we exert ourselves to lift heavy loads.
Those are just a couple of many things that they do.
Probably the most important role they play in our lives is that of speaking. It is in the larynx that the initiation of sound begins.
Sound production in the voice begins when air is forced out of the lungs by the intercostal muscles. It flows up through the trachea into the larynx where it encounters an obstacle. That obstacle is the vocal folds. The vocal folds are twin mucous membranes stretched horizontally across the larynx.
When we breathe the arytenoid processes open the opposing vocal folds. When we swallow, they close them so our food does not go into our lungs. They also close them when we speak or sing. The tension expressed in the vocal folds will determine the pitch of the sound. This is determined by the arytenoid process. It not only determines the tension but also the pressure. Tension will determine the pitch. Pressure will determine volume.
The initial sound produced in the larynx would be of little consequence it the larynx was all there was. But, there is more.
Without something to amplify our vocal production, we would all sound like little ant cartoon characters. Fortunately, we have some amplifiers. To modern day people, we think amplifiers are electrically operated means of boosting sound. But long before electricity people knew how to amplify sound.
Even in Old Testament days, they used horns cut off of rams to amplify vibrating lips. They spoke through a small end with the result being amplified in the large end.
Another means of amplification was that of a resonating chamber. Buildings for gatherings were built in such a way that sounds would bounce of walls and compliment one another. This was found in the great cathedrals of the middle ages. It is the resonating chamber that is used by our vocal mechanism.
The two main resonating chambers used to amplify the voice are the pharynx and the mouth. To a minor degree, the nasal cavities play a part. The principal amplifier is the pharynx. This is the area of the throat just above the larynx. It extends from the top of the larynx up to the soft palate which closes the entrance to the nasal cavity. The secondary resonator is the mouth.
The size of the resonator is in direct proportion to the amount of amplification it produces. Therefore, the more open the mouth the greater the volume. The less open the mouth, the lesser the volume.
The principal resonator is the pharynx. How do you make it bigger to increase its potential for volume?
There are two things that must take place to facilitate this. The soft palate, which closes off the nasal cavity, must be lifted. The second can be brought about by lowering the larynx in the throat.
To get the soft palate up form your mouth to say and “AH”, and then inhale. The body’s reflexive action lifts the soft palate. If you do that several times you can begin to get the feeling that you need to maintain.
The other action of lowering the larynx is a little different.
This is where the yawn comes in handy. It is not so much that you are yawning while singing, because that would be almost impossible. Rather, in our training, we shall utilize the “yawn” as a tool to develop the muscles that aid us in lowering the larynx.
There are a couple of areas that the “yawn” will help us in. What is one of the first things that you notice when you yawn? It is that the diaphragm really distends and causes you to take a deep breath. It feels like your belly is filling up with air. That is good. The other thing you notice is that your throat really feels open. It feels that way because the larynx is lowered to it’s lowest possible position.
This is good for relaxing the vocal mechanism. But, it is not the ideal position for the tongue and jaw for singing. So we must find a median that allows for the maximum size of the resonator and ideal location for mechanisms.
In answering the question, “In vocal production techniques, does a yawn help?” we decided we cannot do a full yawn and sing. But there are qualities of the yawn that we would like to incorporate into our singing.
Go back to the beginning of your yawn. As the yawn sets on you begin to feel the relaxation start. It is at this point that you need to take note. The larynx has begun to lower but is not all the way down. The jaw has not come to a situation of being overstretched and out of joint. (For the jaw to complete a yawn it must shift from its normal chewing and speaking position. It relocates itself without dislocating itself.) At this stage, the diaphragm is distended fairly well.
This position is ideal for good singing. To not begin the yawning process would leave the larynx high enough so as not to give maximum volume. The soft palate would probably not be raised to seal off the nasal cavity. Neither would there be the relaxing of nonessential muscles to the singing process. By practicing the yawn we can develop the muscles and understanding needed to build a good resonator for the voice.
In addressing “Vocal production techniques, does a yawn help?” there is no clear specific answer. But there are some good things that can come from studying the yawn.
We are not advocating that one should assume to yawn while singing. But we do believe that the yawn sensation does help with vocal placement. By incorporating the yawn sensation in our practice and warm up we can enhance sound production in the voice.
We should never use any approach that overworks the voice. The goal of every singer is to keep the voice flexible and controlled. To overwork the yawn would put the vocal mechanism in some awkward situations not conducive to good singing.
So, even when incorporating the yawn technique, keep the voice flexible. It should not be too heavy. Though it can be practiced with sustained tones, it should more be with mobility exercises.
Get ready to enjoy a more resonant and bigger voice as you learn to yawn.
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