“Here’s the science behind singing” October 01, 2016
This PBS article maintains a conventional belief about how the vocal folds (used to be called vocal chords in the Larynx) function. It interviews both Dr. Steven Zeitels, director of the Voice Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and well known opera singer, Renee Fleming, who likens our vocal folds to the strings on a violin or piano. “Think of singing as plucking the strings” she says.
This analogy is fine for the general public, attempting to simplify in an overly simplistic way how the vocal folds do what they do. Dr. Zeitels sees the voice in a more mechanical way too. The problem is that we are not a machine and the analogy can be harmful because many vocal training approaches see the voice as a mechanism and work with it mechanically. But frankly, it is not and any time you deviate from the simplicity of the physiology of speaking, you are reducing the power, color, timbre, raw beauty and resonance of your voice. We are an organism and comparing an organism to a machine is a mistake because the sophistication, simplicity and energy conservation of the organism is incomparable to that of a machine. They are worlds apart in terms of structure and function.
One of the world authorities on neuro-physiology of singing is Dr. Alfred Tomatis. He worked with professional singers in has native France for more than a half a decade. His research has advanced our understanding of how the voice actually functions. The vocal folds are controlled by the inner ear (Cochlear and Vestibular systems of our Central Nervous System). He developed technology that could re-train the audio-vocal loop that improves the singers (and musicians) ability to listen, the essence of singing authentically and with out ever causing vocal damage.
The other part of this equation is that the vocal fold vibration (embryonic vibration) is driven by vowel emission. This is fairly well understood. The thing that many singers have not been taught is that the speech center in the front of the mouth (1,3,5) and the sound center is in the larynx and pharynx (2,4). They are separate sensory-motor functions. In other words, the singer has to keep their function completely separate. When they are kept as separate functions, the higher voice will emerge, based on their synergetic interaction, producing a voice that is greater than the sum of their parts.
Arching your pallet, or dropping your jaw, or manipulating your tongue or doing anything with tension while singing will only reduce its richness, beauty and simplicity, limiting the ability to transmit authentic emotion to your audience. The scientific principle is clear: speaking and singing are the same physiological process. Any departure from the fine motor skills (physical abilities) that are used while speaking will exponentially reduce the voices capabilities.
See also this Forbrain Tomatis technology for home use that can dramatically improve your richness and resonance while singing.