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Pinching Dimes

What on earth is Patricia preaching about now? I’m not referring to saving money or spending wisely, though those are great values. I’m referring to a technique that some choral directors and voice teachers proffer as a way to sing high notes. And I admit that what I am suggesting here is the opposite of what many well-known teachers tell singers to do. But this add-on technique is one of many techniques that are causing singers at all levels of competency to sound like they are manipulating and forcing their voices, rather than allowing their voices to resonate freely.

The problem is, teachers are suggesting that the feeling one experiences as a result of singing a high note on the thin edge of the vocal cords, without pressure or strain, is the cause of being able to sing the high note. In fact, it’s just the opposite. When well-placed tone, breath pressure and correct muscular support are kept in the proper balance throughout the range of the voice, the voice will easily transition above the upper register shift, or passaggio, into the upper adjustment. As the pitch rises, the feeling of being grounded, aka support, goes lower in the body. If it doesn’t begin to feel like your voice and support are moving away from each other, some other muscles may be involved. This may keep you from accessing the very top of your range easily. I refer to the feeling of very low support in the pelvic region as grounding the voice with tent stakes. But it’s important to note that the support feeling will start to work on its own. Artificially pulling in the lower abdominal area before you start to feel that support will limit the results. Pulling in after you feel the support is another story. That can be helpful.

So, what about this pinching business? As the support goes lower, you may get the sensation of your buttocks muscles tightening, as well as other muscles in the pelvic region. One basso who I worked with had one of those great bass voices that features an extra high extension into the alto range. As he transitioned beyond Middle C I told him that the isolated pinch he was beginning to feel “down there” was correct. The pinch is the result of keeping the breath and pressure in balance. The pinch does not cause the high notes to come out. In other words, the high notes come out because you maintain the balance that causes the pinching sensation.

In this wonderful post, corrective exercise coach Brooke Thomas discusses how the add-on “clench” actually undermines the strength of the overall structure. She talks about “innate” support and, interestingly, also mentions the problem of the overly rigid rectus abdominus muscle. This is another issue which I will tackle in another post. In the meantime, stop pinching!

But do keep pinching those dimes – the ones you put in a jar on the shelf.

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