Friday, October 9, 2009

Training the Muscles of Articulation

Something has happened in my singing life that I didn't see coming, and have been so excited to discover. Something special is happening to the words of my songs. They are coming alive. And they are coming alive because of a totally new physical involvement with these words than I have ever had before. And it feels GOOD.

It's not a matter of merely practicing the words to song. It's not a matter of getting the motor memory of how the syllables connect, and "repping" (repeating) it until you can move from position to position. It's a matter of becoming much more deeply involved muscularly with those positions. It's a matter of making those positions pliable, flexible and strong, so that a person can begin to sing through these words. It's not about merely practicing, but about making it into an athletic workout. It's about not taking any single speck of what one is saying for granted.

Yes, this is what has been on my mind, and I have been over and over again reciting like poetry all the words of all the songs in my life right now. But not merely "reciting" those words, but working them and working them hard. Working them as hard as any Kung Fu workout I ever did, or any ab crunch.

I get the sense now, that the song is like clay that I am molding by using the words as the tools of sculpting. Sometimes I have to squeeze and pinch the clay to get the shape I want. Sometimes I have to cut into it and make grooves. Sometimes have to patiently roll and ease it into the form I want. Using the words.

When I practiced piano, one principle that seemed just about the most important to my training was that of slow deliberate practice. This single pursuit, to play with slow deliberation, was the way to faster playing. I used to teach children to play the piano, and in their eagerness to play quickly they would rush ahead and get it going really fast, only to lose control of their fingers and crash. I used to say to them, "Do you want to know how to play that amazingly fast?"

"Slow Down. Play it amazingly slow. Over and over again."

Of course they didn't want to do that. It's very hard when one is young to have that kind of patience. And it is also very hard at that age to believe, even if you are told, that this is going to do amazing things for your fingers.

Anyway, I have been trying to figure out what the equivalent of that practice principle would be for voice. Yes, we can sing runs and stuff slowly. That may have the same effect on developing the muscular skill in the larynx and support system that the slow practice had on developing the muscles of the fingers, hands and forearms in piano.

However, there was more. That feeling of plodding through molasses, and moving in a slow thick way, a way of "resistance" that can better condition the muscles.

And in the past couple of weeks, I have found it. It is plodding through the words of the song and conditioning, through resistance training, the muscles of the articulators. I have been using the words themselves as the "weights" that offer the resistance to the movements. The consonants, particularly, offer the resistance that stimulates and develops these muscles. Working with resistance makes a person much sharper, faster, stronger when things come back up to speed. I am VERY excited to discover and apply this basic process to the muscular system of articulation.

In the midst of this, I had planned for today to work on words again, but to proceed by "loading" the muscles of articulation with an exagerrated and deeply muscularly involved pronunciation of the words (which I will post in my virtual practice room later).

But in the meantime, as is my way in things, signing in to my computer, I decided to google to see if there was any information out there about exercises for enunciation, or some kind of scientific work for what I am discovering.

What I found was a voice teacher who writes really beautifully of just the thing I am thinking of. I am so happy to read what she has on her web site, Dr. S.A.K. Durga, who teaches in India.

She writes, in a web article Articulation in Singing about what I have been discovering, that the sound quality is affected by this physical involvement with the words. She says,

"Deterioration of the voice quality among many singers is because of incorrect pronunciation of vowels and consonants in singing and the lack of attention in utteraning the words of the text of compositions."

This statement means so much more to me now that I am discovering the physicality of the words. Since I have been using these words as vehicles for the tone more and more, singing through the words and unifying the words with the whole instrument, I have been experiencing a greater connection and involvement with the music than I ever have before.

You see, I thought I was pronouncing words well before. But that's what I was doing. I was pronouncing them. I was going through the motions. This about much more than mere pronunciation. Words seemed like a kind of an outside burden on the singing. Because of that "burden," singers will often learn the songs without the words first, and when it comes time to add the words in, it is frustrating because the words seem to take away from the ability to make the pretty tones we were making without them.

But if one learns to use the words as the vehicle of the voice and meld them with the tone, a unity between tone and the muscular work of the articulators occurs which is absolutely wonderful. It's like a marriage, where two things become one.

I think that this is what Dr. Durga is speaking about in her article when she writes this:

"A singer speaks while producing the melody for it is here that the instrument voice becomes "human" and transcends mechanism. It is the most articulate instrument, since it can be made to alter words according to the musical laws. This is done by modifying the sound produced by the vocal cords into vowels and consonants by the placement of the tongue, the soft palate and the shape of the lips. It conveys poetic thoughts and produces impressive music. Other instruments merely play the tune, while the voice plays and speaks at the same time."

Later: Click Here to observe and listen to a Word Workout

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