Semi-Occluded Phonations & Their Application to Singing

Feb 15, 2012

Semi-occluded phonations or vocal tract postures & vocal warm-ups

Semi-occluded phonations or vocal tract postures are a kind of vocal workout. They are popular singing techniques with voice therapists. Their purpose is three-fold, as I have come to know them at The Vocalist Studio:

1) Semi-occluded phonations balance the sub-glottal and super-glottal air pressure (above and below) the vocal folds and thus help the singer to create more efficient phonation and balance with the increased velocity of air required for singing. Inherently, speech vocal mode is not efficient compared to phonations used in singing, so the semi-occluded vocal tract exercises increase the efficiency of the relationship between the singer’s respiration and vocal folds.

2) Semi-occluded phonations establish a resonant track. They help the singer to get into a seamless passage through the vocal bridges (breaks), thus preparing the voice for good bridging from the lower vocal registers to the higher registers, namely, (chest to head voice).

3) Semi-occluded phonations lift the voice into more healthy and successful “top-down phonation” postures. It excites the resonators (mouth, nose, sinuses), gets the overtone production placed in the “mask” and removes throaty singing.

4) Semi-occluded phonations produce cricoid tilt and thus, set the voice into a twang vocal mode posture that is favorable for singing. “Buzzing” on an “M”, “N” or “NG” will encourage this twang position however, not so much with lip trills, which is arguably one of the draw backs with lip trills.

To call these semi-occluded vocal tract postures “warm ups” do not give them justice. They do far more than just “warm up” the voice and at the end of the day, what does “warm up” really mean? I hope this explanation helps to shed some light on some popular vocal “warm ups” that so many people have done, but may have never really understood why.

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