Voice Placement IS and ISN'T a ThingAug 01, 2022
Yep, voice placement can be very confusing
Placement IS a thing, in that it’s something singers and teachers talk about. Although it’s not fully explained, strong sensations of sound in different areas of your head and body can be a clue as to the general shape and position of things.
That doesn’t mean there are perfect places on your face to feel stuff. Just that there are patterns talked about over *literally* centuries between where something is felt and the type of sound made. The link between a more ‘forward’ placement and clearer, stronger sound is a common one you’ve probably heard of. Maybe you've been trying to work on it yourself, or with your singing students.
Equally, there are a few sensations that generally are pretty crushing to aim for in some scenarios. Hence why trying to make 'chest voice’ a reality, and trying to keep vibrations below the neck, can be a real pain when trying to sound belty in the high range.
The big argument though, is that you can’t place your voice.
And… it is true....
You CANNOT place your voice
We can’t just selectively direct our voices or vibrations into the face. Understandably, many people (especially us teachers) would then entirely reject ‘placement’, based on this fact.
And yet, many report that they are able to do it.
So what is that?
Well, some singers just serendipitously happen upon that ‘skill’ without any idea of how. There doesn’t need to be an explanation for that.
It's about the shape
For those who haven't stumbled on anything, or feel their voice gets stuck in one place (all throaty, for example), we can work with shapes, consonants and vowels that have a strong tendency to be felt elsewhere. These specific shapes also need to be sung at specific ranges, with refined vocal fold closure, to get the more predictable ‘placement’ effect.
So, when you think about that specificity, it’s easy to see why singers and teachers experience such inconsistent results when experimenting. The result? They eventually poo poo it.
You need a process
In the long run, if you have a process to follow that shows you which shapes suit which notes, you can experience a strong and pretty reliable sensation of placement that doesn’t come with any strange vocal contortions or distortions.
Once a process for experiencing placement has been followed for a while, maybe several weeks, the idea of the shape gradually fades. Instead, the repeated placement sensation that was sparked by the shape can then take over as the singers focus.
This is (I think) where the confusion comes in placement. See, although a singer feels like they are just placing things, they may have just gone through this process of transformation. Where several aspects of voice (vowel, pitch, intensity, tongue position, lips, timbre) all get consolidated into one thing - a familiar sense of placement.
Placement is the proxy
Placement can then work like a representation of the bit parts. Essentially, imagery. Imagery that organises your voice and the umpteen muscles involved. That’s great for learning, avoiding an overwhelming amount of instructions (which is an epidemic of anatomical-style teaching these days), and great for having a more external focus.
In our 'Evolve' teacher training course, we have an entire process for this that usually gets voted as the MOST useful module because it is incredibly easy to apply, and the results in vocal strength are so noticeable in a large population of singers.
So, if you've been stuck with placement in the past, or have shunted it out of your teaching entirely, then the was probably a lot missing from the learning process that could really help you. Working through predictable sounds and allowing your nervous system to create that imagery link will often open up completely new and exciting possibilities for you and your singers. Especially for the 'bigger' sounds!
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