Open – what is it?

September 3, 2016

Last time, we talked about that thing that gets us heard to the 4,000th seat – called variously, “2800”, “in the mask”, “squillo”, “zing”, etc. Just what is it?

Some of the descriptions tell us about the experience – “in the mask” for instance is where you might feel this resonance. “Squillo” is what it might sound like to the audience; “zing” is in that category as well.

Others are more scientific: “2800” is about the frequency where this happens, “the singer’s formant” is acoustically how it happens.

(A “formant” is a peak in the acoustical spectrum, as we saw last time in Jussi Bjorling’s curve in the chart. That formant is dependent on the shape of the vocal tract, and so is not related to any single overtone. Overtones are related to the pitch, formants are related to the shape. Any overtones close to the formant are amplified.)

None of these descriptions tell us where this sound is formed. Some of them can be quite harmful if not applied carefully, like “in the mask” can be. I’ve seen plenty of singers try to drive the sound “into the mask” causing a lot of squeezing and tension. Aiming for “squillo” can do the same thing.

You may feel this “zing” “in the mask” but it is not formed there. When the soft pallet is lifted, it closes off the nasal pharynx, so the vibrations you may feel in the sinuses are inaudible to the rest of the world. Vennard describes blocking off his nose and filling it with milk as an experiment. It made no difference in his singing. What some of us do for our art!

According to Sundberg (the article I linked to last time), Vennard, and others, this singer’s formant is the result of the larynx being lowered. When the larynx is low, it becomes a separate space with a resonant frequency around 2,800 cps.

So, it happens here, we feel it there, how do we do it? That is a lifelong study, which I’ll start talking about next time.

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