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Singing Lessons from Gross Anatomy
November 21, 2015
5:18 am
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Slow Start
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Hey everyone!

Just wanted to check in with some interesting reflections that I had recently. So for background, I recently started med school and we have to take a pretty detailed course in gross anatomy that covers the entire body head to toe. I found that as a singing student, learning gross anatomy in lab and lecture has been extremely beneficial. There are so many things that we talk about and try to cue ourselves and others to do in order to achieve certain qualities in vocal production that now seem so much less mysterious, mystical, and/or unclear to me.

no joke but itImage Enlarger

1. Twang - narrowing of ariepiglottic funnel/space/whatever people want to call it.
I have seen SO many thread about "what is twang, how do we do it"... seriously, cutting into the back of the pharynx and looking at the picture like this (http://i.imgur.com/TPah5Zs.png) taught a very real lesson of how close the muscular back of the tongue is to the epiglottis, which creates the necessary twang to help us negotiate pressure to adduct our vocal folds for good singing. This explains why the cue of "raise back of tongue to molars" can help get the epiglottis to move if the student does not know what it means to "twang". There are three muscles attached to the pharynx called "superior, middle and inferior pharyngeal constrictors", the infrahyoid muscles, and some of the tongue muscles - more on tongue later.

2. Support - If anyone wants any cool pictures of support muscles, please let me know and then tell me how real you want the pictures to look haha I have a better understanding now of... what muscles are used in support, how to use them, do I tighten/tense them or not?! how proper support is almost as easy as learning a few things about what proper "bracing" for daily activities and athletics is from a physical therapist. How you can squeeze your glutes to "set" the spinal alignment before you work on the breath so you KNOW 100% that you are straight. How the pelvic floor contributes. How scapular stability relates to consistent support and expansion. How pulling in from the stomach is invariably requires strength and command of the transverse abdominal muscle, so telling students to "just relax and breathe and pull in but stay relaxed" can be counter-productive because they don't realize they're engaging one muscle while keeping the other muscles in check. Also, Phil is totally right about the "fist into the gut" feeling and Marnell is def talking about the transversus abdominis when he talks about the sensations of support in that 1 hour long video.

3. Soft palate, the nasopharynx, sinuses - After seeing the sinuses in real life and finding them myself, I can definitely say I have a new appreciation for how vibrations and sound and fluid all interact with the sinuses and the nasopharynx. Also a new appreciation for how bad head colds with sinus problems can be.

4. Ken Tamplin's tongue - that's right, I said it. So many questions are asked every year about "wtf his tongue is doing" and if it is okay or not. My personal verdict on the topic is now out: what I learned suggests that it is indeed okay to change the shape of the tongue in the mouth while singing if you want - to a certain extent. The genioglossus (the largest tongue protuding muscle http://imgur.com/7nZRZGp) and some other tongue muscles are attached to a bone can cause unintentional larynx raising (as larynx is also connected to it lol) if the tongue is protruded too far out, but where and how to shape the tongue otherwise is rather individual and totally cool if you can still form your vowels and consonants the way you want (I admit some of Ken's vowels are not how I personally would sing my vowels but I know he likes em and that's cool): this is because the muscles that do that part of tongue shaping "making concave U's or fat lizard tongues or flat tongues" are NOT attached to any bones, making them totally cool to do what you want with them, including help you form consonants.

Stopping myself from going on forever now.

tl;dr: Med school anatomy has confirmed to me and taught me even more about many things in vocal pedagogy that I was not sure about before, feel free to discuss how you guys might have already known this stuff or whatever or ask for cool pictures. Laugh

November 21, 2015
2:45 pm
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mystarryeyes
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This is very cool, thanks so much!

November 21, 2015
8:00 pm
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Slow Start
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@mystarryeyes You are very welcome! Thanks for reading. Hopefully this will be of some use to others who were on the same path but have not pieced some of the first steps together. For others, it'll just be some food for thought about how everything works.

Like, we're all just molecules vibrating in space, mannnnn

February 8, 2016
9:38 pm
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OwenKorzec
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Hey Slow Start, just saw this thread again and read it more thoroughly. I would definitely be interested in learning the stuff you found out about support. I'm still a work in progress on getting familiar with all the motions of the contractions and ways to align the spine and all that jazz!

February 11, 2016
2:28 pm
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Slow Start
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Yeah for sure, man.

So the muscles of breath management are layered but are all related to the same goal. And the list of muscles related to respiration can be broken down into the ones that more primary, starting with diaphragm and external/internal intercostals (external elevate the ribs for inhale, internal depresses ribs for exhale). I think learning to maintain more engagement with the external could aid in learning certain styles of breath management (appogio style).

http://i.imgur.com/ZJF2YFB.png

So in order to try to maintain a symmetrical inhale and also better control, I believe it is important to align the spine properly. One easy way to align the spine is to squeeze the glutes when you're in a standing position, feet shoulder width apart, and not staggered. The glutes (buttcheeks) are designed to extend the hips and pull the spine into a straight and supported position - we take advantage of it by drilling the sensation of inhaling on the supported spine by first squeezing the glutes. You can then do your inhale into that position and feel your core muscles (transversus abdominal muscle, quadratus lumborum, etc) engage. Once the sensation of having control of the "inhale" sensation (ribcage expanded, no excess accessory muscle engagement, *open glottis*), make sure the core engagement is maintained, and relax the glutes. Voila, you're set. And you can exhale and inhale back into that sensation without squeezing your glutes, it should still be reproducible. I feel like it's just an easy way to check to see if the way I'm not letting my spine and posture get tilted. Also, for me, I have noticed that I have a rotated pelvis that I've noticed in my lifting and also had professionals note that in my posture as well. It's not a huge deal but it is something that I find impacts my singing personally and improves when I'm aligned properly and more symmetrical.

Images of where external and internal obliques lie in relation to the transverse abdominal muscles, depth-wise.
http://i.imgur.com/LFAUHMp.png http://i.imgur.com/i0YoUM7.png

Here's a video series by the Karyn O'Connor, the teacher who runs Singwise that gets into exactly the applications that you'll probably be interested in hearing about. She has a great understanding of breath management, but I feel she (like Ken Tamplin) are highly opinionated in their advocating appogio rules. Unfortunately her audio quality was terrrrrrible during that time, so I recommend playing it with VLC and compressing and boosting her audio with the player to make it a more enjoyable listen. The audio improves slightly as her videos go, but it was still not the best yet lol. But the exercises she offers and the progression she suggests... are 10/10 for me. The Farinelli exercise, as she calls it has really helped me learn to control my onsets, but it is a coordination that grows slowly. I find I really just have to practice that sensation by itself as well as attempting to try to do it while singing.

Also rereading Felipe's Support, Breathing and Phonation series. Covers the same concepts from a slightly different angle. Extremely helpful for helping me figure out how much I seriously constrict. When I'm taking exams now, I can't stop trying to breathe as relaxed and unconstricted as possible while reading and answering the questions. It feels a lot better lol

Hope this helps for a start!

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