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Vocal PostMix
By Dr Daniel K. Robinson
(2012)

Is it just me, or are all of us getting older? Recently I had the opportunity to feel the harsh tyranny of time when my niece, who is 15yrs of age, started her first part-time job at McDonalds. The fact that I can still remember her waddling around as a toddler is reinforced by the fact that I also had a part-time job (Hungry Jacks) at the age of 15; over twenty years ago! Where does the time go? I have some fond memories from my early years in the workforce, many which include the wonder of learning how things work. I wont scare you with the sordid details of what goes into making fast-food, but there is one aspect of your value meal-deal that provides a helpful illustrative framework for this article: the soft-drink and how it is made. Allow me to explain Simply, soft-drink (or soda for my American readers) is predominantly chilled carbonated water with flavouring added for taste. The flavouring syrup, whether it be cola, orange, or lemonade, is added to the carbonated water as it enters the cup. This process is called post-mix because the syrup is added at the point of dispensing the drink, not at the point of packaging; like in a bottle or can. Without taking the illustration beyond its natural limits, our voices employ a post-mix system. That is, while the sound that our voices generate is formed primarily by the oscillation of the vocal-folds, the additives that flavour the sound (e.g. resonance, articulation, and tuning) are all added post mix at different points along the vocal tract. Lets briefly outline a number of post-mix additives that the singer can learn to skilfully employ. Post-Mix 1: Resonance Perhaps the most easily understood1 post-mix flavouring of the voice is resonance. Many of us have had the opportunity to walk into a large resonant chamber like a cathedral or a cave and enjoy the effect that the space has on the sound produced within it. Actually, every space affects sounds in different ways. Sound engineers often describe rooms, and the manner in which sound behaves within that room, as either live or dead. Bill Gibson (2007) explains that,
A room that is acoustically live contains a lot of hard, flat surfaces that reflect sound waves efficiently, causing substantial ambient reverberation. A room that is acoustically dead contains a lot of soft surfaces that absorb most of the reflections. (p. 311)

Ely Cathedral

It is rare that either extreme (live or dead) is judged suitable; a balance is generally seen as optimal. Achieving resonant balance in the voice is a challenging task. Before your sound, produced at the level of the vocal folds,
Resonance as a specific area of study, under the scientific discipline of acoustics, is extremely technical and thereby difficult to understand. Thus, it is only in the context of this article that I lessen its difficulty. Dr Daniel K. Robinson - 2012 Page 1 of 4
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enters the space in which you stand it must first travel through the space of the vocal tract. James McKinney highlights that resonance is the process by which the basic product of phonation is enhanced in timbre and/or intensity by the airfilled cavities through which it passes (Chapman, 2006, p. 81). The effect that the vocal tract has on the sound will be dependent on how you shape the different spaces (laryngopharynx, pharynx, nasopharynx and oropharynx) through which the sound must travel. For example, a tight pharyngeal wall (back of the throat) might produce a tight sound which is heard as brassy and restricted. Arguably, the beauty of resonance is in the perceptive ear of the beholder. The narrow focussed twang of the Country and Western singer may not be everyones aural preference, but it is acceptable and suitable to that style of music. Post-Mix 2: Articulation I can still hear the voice of my father after one of my performances (during my teenage years) stating that he could not understand the words as I sang them. In an unrefined way, my Dad was critiquing my articulation; or in this case, the lack thereof. Without articulation our sound remains just that sound. I had the good fortune of attending a Cirque du Soleil performance once where the vocalist utilised a nonsensical mode of language consisting of aural shapes, clicks and aspirates; it was beautiful and at times wonderfully haunting. In this instance the singers articulation was purposely crafted to enhance the sound in its raw state; and it was magical. Most of us dont have the luxury of intentionally allowing our sounds to be raw and deconstructed. The post-mix of articulation forms an important, if not necessary, level of flavouring to our sound. Voice scientist and researcher Johan Sundberg (1987) defines articulation as the name for the manoeuvres made in order to adjust the shape of the vocal tract during phonation. This is achieved by means of the articulators: the lips, the tongue, the jaw, the velum, and the larynx (p. 91).

Temporomandibular Joint

It has been my observation that many student singers struggle to achieve the right coordination of these articulators with many allowing their jaws to dominate the articulatory activity. The main task of the temporomandibular joint is mastication (chewing). Consequently, this strong powerful joint is often too slow and cumbersome for the quick agile requirements of clear articulation. Meribeth Bunch Dayme (2009) agrees when she writes, Provided the muscles elevating the jaw are properly balanced, the tongue will do most of the work without interference or antagonism from the muscles of mastication (p. 145). The tongue is agile and malleable and therefore makes an excellent and responsive articulator. This being said speech therapist Christiana Shewell (2009) warns that
The tongue has poor proprioceptive sense, so it sends limited messages to the brain about its exact position in the mouth. Consonant positions are relatively easy to identify, because there is usually actual contact or friction involved, but identifying where the tongue is positioned to make vowels is more difficult. (p. 153) Dr Daniel K. Robinson - 2012 Page 2 of 4

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Learning to identify the subtle changes in the tongues position and the resulting impact on the tone challenge all singers to embark on the journey of developing heightened kinaesthetic awareness. Adele Nisbet (2010) has suggested, A highly developed kinaesthetic awareness seems to be the hallmark of an advanced performer, so that he is able to concentrate on many things other than vocal technique (p. 109). Clearly, there is a crucial interplay between articulation and resonance. Gillyanne Kayes (2004) writes, By manipulating the tongue, the lips and the jaw, you can tune the oral cavity to enhance specific resonances (p. 90). As is often the case, striking the right task-specific balance is the key. Post-Mix 3: Tuning The final post-mix characteristic that will be covered here is tuning. When considering the tuning of a voice it is customary to discuss pitch. Singing in tune, is the aim of most singers; more specifically, accurate intonation (movement between individual pitches) is the foundational concern of student singers. Otolaryngologist, Dr Robert Sataloff (2006) reminds us that anyone who has pitch variation in his or her speaking voice and can tell whether two musical tones are the same or different can be taught to sing (p. 271). The scope of this article does not afford our attention being directed to intonation or the refinement thereof. Moreover, our review of tuning here will be focused on the initiation of a pitch and what happens to the tuning of that pitch as it travels through the vocal tract.

Tuning Fork

It has been my observation that most people can initiate a tone accurately. That is, if a male singer (Baritone) is asked to replicate an F3 they will generally be able to sing that note precisely. Where things tend to go wayward is when the voice is required to move upwards, for example (on an open vowel), towards an F4. With each semitone increment the unbalanced developing voice will often respond with a tightening and narrowing. The effect of this muscular change seems to deteriorate the accuracy of the note. Is the singer still able to sing the higher notes accurately if sung independent of other notes? Most often, yes. The explanation for the pitch alteration is not always found in the laryngeal tuning of the vocal folds, but in what I refer to as tonal tuning. Shewell (2009) proves helpful here when she writes,
We use the term pitch to refer to how high or low a voice may sound to a listener, and the frequency of vocal fold vibrations is the foundation of pitch. But one voice sound can seem to have a higher pitch than another even if it is at the same frequency. (p. 185)

The challenge of tonal tuning (post-mix tuning) is the skilful coordination of resonance and articulation. That is, certain vocal tract shapes (articulation) affect certain frequencies (resonance) and can either enhance the perceived pitch or detract from it.

Dr Daniel K. Robinson - 2012

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In closing, for many vocal styles (classical and contemporary) its not what you have, but how you use it that counts. Normal anatomy under normal circumstance can produce even and pitch-accurate sound. What makes that sound pleasurable (or otherwise) to the listener is how the sound is treated once it leaves the vocal folds. As I suggested earlier not every sound is enjoyed by everybody. It is the task of the singer to flavour their voice appropriate to the audience; governed by the stylistic features of the chosen genre. I dont really enjoy orange flavoured soft-drink (Im more of a cola or lime man), but the technical process of producing orange, cola or lime soft-drinks is the same: soda (sound) first, flavour (style) second. How attentive are you to your sound as it travels through the vocal tract? What vocal post-mix do you most need to work on? Consideration of these questions should be helpful in achieving a better vocal productnow, Would you like fries with that? References Chapman, J. L. (2006). Singing and teaching singing: A holistic approach to classical voice. San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing Inc. Dayme, M. B. (2009). Dynamics of the singing voice (5th ed.). Austria: SpringerWienNewYork. Gibson, W. A. (2007). The ultimate church sound operator's handbook. New York, NY: Hal Leonard Corporation. Kayes, G. (2004). Singing and the actor (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge. Nisbet, A. (2010). You want me to think about what?!: A discussion about motor skills and the role of attentional focus in studio voice teaching. In S. D. Harrison (Ed.), Perspectives on teaching singing: Australian vocal pedagogues sing their stories (pp. 101121). Brisbane, QLD: Australian Academic Press. Sataloff, R. T. (Ed.). (2006). Vocal health and pedagogy: Advanced assessment and treatment (2nd ed. Vol. 2). San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing Inc. Shewell, C. (2009). Voice work: Art and science in changing voices. West Sussex, United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell. Sundberg, J. (1987). The science of the singing voice. Dekald, IL: Northern Illinois University Press.

Who is Dr Daniel K. Robinson?

Daniel is a freelance artist and educator. In 2011 Daniel completed his Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the Queensland Conservatorium Grif ith University. He has served as National Vice President (200911) and National Secretary for the Australian National Association of Teachers of Singing (200611). Daniel is the principal Singing Voice Specialist for Djarts (www.djarts.com.au) and presents workshops and seminars to church singers across Australia and abroad. He and his wife Jodie have three children and live in Brisbane, Queensland Australia.

Dr Daniel K. Robinson - 2012

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